Madam Chair, thank you.
As tabled at this committee, I am moving to delete proposed subparagraphs (a.1) and (a.2) from Bill S-3, essentially lines 5 to 16 on page 2.
I cannot describe to you how troubling this piece of legislation is overall, and to me personally. Bill S-3 sets out to amend a deeply racist act, the Indian Act, a foundational document that essentially legalizes oppression of our first nations people.
Amending a deeply flawed piece of legislation, one that is centred on racism, is highly problematic. We are, however, at this juncture because of a court decision and the timeline set by the court for the government to respond to amendments to the Indian Act in order to address the issue of sex-based discrimination. We must therefore act as a government to address this issue.
At the outset I want to acknowledge the work of so many people who have fought on this issue for decades. I want to thank them for the many calls and emails and the conversations I've had in the last two weeks. I particularly want to thank the Senate for the considerable work they have undertaken in making changes to Bill S-3. I especially want to thank Senator McPhedran for her work on this issue as well as her lifetime of work in advancing rights.
I was in the House two nights ago where my friend and colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre, spoke quite passionately about this issue and in support of the Senate amendments we're now deleting.
I think we all have received the correspondence from Senator Sinclair that outlines some of his concerns.
Based on all of this I think there is broad consensus on two points. First, the federal government should not be defining who is and who is not an “Indian”. Second, in the interim the federal government needs to ensure that the definition is void of discrimination. That's the consensus that I see among all the parties.
The long-term goal of Canadians, and I think for this government, ought to be to develop a nation-to-nation relationship ensuring that each nation has the absolute right to define its own peoples and to eliminate the Indian Act altogether.
In the interim, we need to ensure that we eliminate discrimination of all forms under the Indian Act.
The issue at hand was triggered by the court decision in Descheneaux. As Senator Sinclair has pointed out, we have a court-imposed deadline of July 3. While the parties seek to extend the timeline, we as legislators have a responsibility to ensure that we make our best efforts to meet the deadline, especially since we have been given an extension of five months.
Consequently, the framework, with the proposed deletion in this bill, will ensure that we can move forward in the near term, meet the set court deadlines, and enfranchise up to 35,000 people.
Madam Chair, I want to be absolutely clear. We are committed to addressing the broader issue raised by proposed paragraph “6(1)(a) all the way”. Unfortunately, the current language in the Senate amendment seeks to address a wide range of registration issues beyond sex-based inequities. These issues are beyond the scope of this bill, and there is insufficient information on how the lack of meaningful consultation would impact first nations' communities or individuals.
We are committed to co-designing a process with first nations to achieve comprehensive reform rather than a piecemeal approach, which has failed time and time again. We will launch a process on broader reform within six months of passing the bill, and we will report to Parliament within 12 months of that launch. These timelines are now in the bill itself.
Experts like the Indigenous Bar Association, whom we have heard from, have made it clear that the wording of proposed paragraph 6(1)(a) is ambiguous, contradicts other sections of the act, and could have wide-ranging, unintended consequences.
We need to address broad-based reform of the registration provisions in the Indian Act, but we need to do so with the benefit of meaningful consultations with those who are impacted, both the communities and individuals, and with the understanding of what the intended and potentially unintended consequences could be.
In the meantime, this bill will recognize the rights of up to 35,000 people we know are being discriminated against—and incidentally, it's been almost two years since the initial ruling—and provide legislated procedural protection for situations of unknown or unstated paternity.
We need to pass this bill to provide justice to tens of thousands of people now, and move forward with broader registration reform to address other historical registration issues the right way, and once and for all.
Finally, I know that those who have fought for this for a very long time are rightfully skeptical of the government. The government says, “Trust us. We will do the right thing.” They have heard this time and again. Notwithstanding the past, I am convinced our government will do the right thing, Madam Chair.
In fact, Minister Bennett and Minister Wilson-Raybould have advocated for “(6)(1)(a) all the way” in the past. They are personally committed to ensuring that, in the near term, the government consults in a way that comes up with a proper framework for everyone involved. Together, we will ensure that our government moves swiftly toward addressing these issues.
I look forward to the conversation here, keeping in mind that we are all in a very difficult situation in trying to define the rights of people who have an inherent right and whose membership and identity are something neither I nor anyone in this committee, nor in the House, can actually in any way restrict or enfranchise.