Mr. Speaker, I had reached the point of discussing the rights of aboriginal women. I was saying that these were treated as secondary.
The main problem, of course, is not with the bill per se, but with the 1986 Indian Act.
Canadian courts have decided that provincial legislation would have no precedence where property on reserves was concerned, and that the Indian Act would govern everything. Unfortunately, that legislation has nothing to say about matrimonial property when a marriage breaks down. There is a serious problem, therefore, a legal vacuum, which places women's status in a precarious position.
Family legislation in the various provinces does not apply on reserves. In other words, aboriginal women find themselves in a precarious situation, one which does not allow them to aspire to the same protection as all other women in Canada, because provincial legislation governing property division does not apply on reserves, as the Indian Act takes precedence. This is a source of considerable concern, in my opinion.
While there is a will to look at the issue and to try to find ways to fill the legal vacuum, nothing has been done yet.
We should look at the possibility of including a clause providing minimal protection to women under this agreement on first nation land management.
It is clearly indicated that the standards and penalties relating to the environment that will be set or amended by the 14 first nations must be at least as effective and as tough as those of the province in which the first nation lives.
We should consider providing similar minimal protection to women, in case of marriage breakdown. Issues relating to marriage and marriage breakdown are always sensitive, since they directly relate to the cultural values and the structure of the societies concerned.
It is the same for basic environmental issues. The environment and natural resources are integral parts of native culture. Still, this should not prevent us from legislating to make sure that minimum standards are recognized, with the approval of all the parties concerned.
We must find a way to ensure that the protection afforded native women in case of marriage breakdown is at least equivalent to that enjoyed by other Canadian women.
I am not in favour of interfering and I believe that the community consultation process will give very positive results. However, should major disagreements occur, we must make sure that native women enjoy a minimum of protection, like other Canadian women. Along with the first nations, it would certainly be possible to find a way to legislate and provide some form of legal recourse for these women in case of injustice.
In fact, knowing how long it often takes to amend legislation such as the Indian Act, I am concerned about passing a bill that regulates land management without a more direct reference to the problem.
I think it is important that we look at whether the legislation provides us with means of legally protecting aboriginal women, as required by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And if it does not, a remedy should be introduced now, while we are at this stage of the proceedings.
A minimal guarantee of protection is required, in my view, so that aboriginal women, like all other Canadian women, can enjoy certain fundamental rights ensuring their well-being and the well-being of their children.
It is important that the position of first nations on this issue be examined in committee and that possible ways of ensuring a minimum guarantee be studied further. It is not a question of interfering in first nations' efforts to achieve self-government. On the contrary, we are merely trying to raise the issue of the legal vacuum when it comes to the division of property and to give thought to the best way of protecting all citizens.
If aboriginal women, represented by credible organizations like the British Columbia native women's association, are of the opinion that such an agreement is a threat to their well-being, we must at least take this into account and give the matter serious consideration.
Of course, the different provisions in each province complicate the already very complex issue of division of property in cases of marriage breakdown, but precautions can nonetheless be taken.
The community process within the first nations that signed the agreement will certainly suffice, like their various decisions on the whole of the land code. However, once again, in order to ensure minimum protection, solutions must be provided.
In closing, I say once again that the Bloc Quebecois will support Bill C-49. I would however point out that we have questions on the possibility of making amendments to respond more directly to the problem of the division of marriage property, with priority given to the community process and to the decisions of the first nations.
There are avenues to be explored and we will explore them, my colleagues and I, in order to prepare for the meetings of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.