Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-49 and the amendments that have been passed in the Senate.
The reason the bill went to the Senate for amendments was that the Liberal government did not have the courage, or maybe I should say did not want to admit to the serious flaws in the bill when they were brought to their attention late last fall and again early in the spring.
These flaws were not only brought to the attention of the government by the Reform Party but by many Canadians, particularly aboriginal Canadians across Canada and especially those in my home province of British Columbia.
The Senate amendments are a small step in the right direction. They certainly are an improvement to the bill. We had three major concerns with Bill C-49 which we presented to the government in December 1998 and again in the spring 1999. They had to do with the vast expropriation powers granted under the legislation; the lack of matrimonial property rights, particularly for aboriginal women; and the fact that there was no requirement on the part of aboriginal bands and adjacent municipalities to consult with one another on areas of mutual concern and interest when it came to development issues such as sewer, water and road projects and so on.
The bill came back from the Senate. It addresses in a small way our concern with respect to its expropriation powers. However, it does absolutely nothing to address our concerns with respect to the disposition of matrimonial property in the event of a marriage breakdown. It does nothing to address the concerns of adjacent municipalities that wish to be consulted and are quite willing to provide an obligation to consult them on issues of joint concern when it comes to land development.
I will talk a bit about private property rights issues, a key question aboriginal people living on reserves in Canada face today. Aboriginal people do not enjoy property rights like all other Canadians when they choose to live on reserve. The reserve lands are owned collectively. They are not even owned by the band council, by the band or by the collectivity of the particular tribe or tribal council. The underlying title is vested in the crown, which is to say the federal Government of Canada.
When there are no private property rights there cannot be a proper disposition in the event of marriage breakdown. There is not even the ability to provide an inheritance for children and their children when it comes to the house or property parents have resided in all their lives.
Speaking to that point for a minute, I had an opportunity to meet a wonderful lady several months ago. I hope she is watching today. Her name is Mazie Baker and she comes from the Squamish reserve. She has been fighting for a long time for the right to be able to pass along to her children the house in which she has lived all her life, the house she grew up in, the house she considers her home but to which she has no title. She does have a certificate of possession but she does not have title to the home because there is no such thing as title on reserve. There are no private property rights.
Mazie is very concerned about Bill C-49. She is representative of many aboriginal people living on reserve we have talked to. I spent a couple of hours with her in Vancouver in February this year. She asked me how the fruits of her labour, the house that means everything to her and her family, where they had their Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners together, could be passed on to her children if there were no property rights. Then she looked at Bill C-49 and said that it was not taking her closer to a private property right, that it was taking her further away.
The bill is concentrating the decision making power of who is to possess what land and live in what house on reserve in the hands of chief and council. Band members will be dependent on the good will and the sense of fairness and justice of the band council.
In many cases band councils will be fair about it but in other cases they will not. That is human nature. I would not want to be dependent on the municipality I live in right now to be fair about the inheritance of the property I own by my children. I would not want to be dependent on them. I would want something firm and solid, a property right, but that is not granted on reserve.
I want to talk about what happens in the event of a marriage breakdown. Aboriginal women in Canada do not enjoy the same rights as all other Canadian women. I could provide many examples. I think I may have spoken about the case of an aboriginal lady who splits from her husband but it bears repeating.
In the last election I was campaigning in Prince Rupert, a significant community in my riding. A relatively young aboriginal lady came up to me in tears and asked whether I could help. I asked her what was the problem and said I would see what I could do. She had three young children all below the age of 10. If my memory serves me right, two of them were below the age of 5.
Her husband had left her on her own. She could not get a job because she had to look after her kids. Her husband was not paying any child support. He was making good money. He was a fisherman.
I asked why she did not do what what everybody else does, go to court and get a court order forcing him to pay child support. That is what we do in Canada. That is how we protect not the women but the children. That is what it is all about.
She said that she went to court and obtained a court order, but he moved back on to the reserve where the court order was not enforceable.
How is that fair to this woman and thousands of other women who end up in the same situation? How can Canadians sit back and say this is the best country in the world in which to live when that kind of inequity exists?
If one spends time talking with aboriginal people and visiting them on reserve and off reserve, one will find out that most often when an aboriginal woman marries a man she moves on to his reserve. Most of these communities are small communities with small populations, so he is living in a community where he is either related to or has a very close association with some of the people on the band council.
They live in a house which is not owned by them but by the band. They may get a certificate of possession if they are lucky, but the band decides who will live where. People in the community do not decide that; the band council decides that.
Let us take the situation of a couple that is married for some 5, 10 or 15 years. For whatever reason marriages breakdown, they decide to live apart and their marriage is dissolved. In that situation who will be out on the street?
Most of the time it is the woman because she has no private property rights. She is not protected by any of the other laws that protect Canadian women from coast to coast. The chief and council make the administrative decision about who will retain possession and custody of the house.
Is that what we in Canada want to see? Is that fair to women who are already dependent on government because of the paternalistic system that has been constructed around aboriginal people over the last 130 years?
Is it fair for the Government of Canada to do that? I would argue that it is not. I would argue that we have a very serious moral and possibly even legal obligation. Certainly we have a moral obligation to make sure that aboriginal women who end up in that situation are protected.
Bill C-49 does nothing to address that issue. It puts the decision making power in land management and land use in an even more concentrated form into the hands of the chief and council. How will that advance the cause of aboriginal women?
I know all parliamentarians have received pleas for help from aboriginal women. The Aboriginal Women's Association of British Columbia and the Aboriginal Women's Association of Canada have come to us. We were not the ones who raised the issue. These people came to us when they became aware of Bill C-49. They came to me and to my colleagues on all sides of the House and asked us not to compromise their interests but to do something in the bill to protect them so they have the right not only to protection for themselves but for their children.
When a marriage breaks down, most often it is the woman who ends up with the care and custody of the children. We said this to the government last fall in the debate on Bill C-49. In committee we asked the government to rethink the bill and to include some clauses in the legislation that would provide some guaranteed protection for aboriginal women in the event of marriage breakdown.
Some kind of property right should be included even if it is not the fee simple land ownership the rest of us enjoy, something that moves further in the direction of the private property rights we all enjoy. The government said no, that it would leave that up to the chief. It did not want to interfere in what the chief and council were doing.
We have an obligation. We live in a democracy. The party across the way and some of the other parties in the House have lost sight of this fact. I say very seriously that in a democracy we ought to have a deeper commitment and a deeper obligation to the rights of individuals over the rights of collectivities.
That is the crux of what is wrong with the bill. It speaks to the rights of collectivities. I know our friends in the NDP would be happy with that because they believe very much in collectivities. We believe in individual rights. Democracies are founded on the principle of individual rights. The bill is not founded on the basic principles of democracy. It talks about buttressing and strengthening collective rights.
There are collectivities in all democracies and there is nothing wrong with collectivities. The Reform Party of Canada is a collectivity of some sort. There is no question that collectivities are legitimate and have a place in society, but we must ensure individual rights supersede collective rights.
The government across the way has been in government for most of the past 30 years but not all of it. Our friends close to the door were in government for about 9 of those years. However our friends in the Liberal Party have lost their way.
Back in the latter part of the 19th century liberalism meant something completely different from what it means in modern day terms. A liberal in the latter part of the 19th century was a person who was very much committed to the notion of individual rights, a person who was very much committed to the equality of all people in society. They have lost this and the bill reflects that point very clearly.
I will talk a bit about what happened when the bill went to the Senate. The government and some of its backbenchers, actually the member for Vancouver—Quadra made statements that were printed in the Vancouver newspapers. He talked about the fact that this bill was seriously flawed and needed to be fixed. He said that before the bill went to the Senate. The government did not have the courage and not just that, I submit it did not want to suffer the embarrassment of acknowledging in the House that the bill was flawed. It would put its own political interests ahead of doing what was right.
What the government did is it made some backroom deal. The evidence of that is everywhere now. It has spilled out to the media. Some of the government's own backbenchers said they were not going to deal with the problems in this bill in the House. They said they would send it over there and instruct the Senate to bring in the amendments to fix it. So the government sent the bill to the Senate as it was unwilling to address the serious flaws in the bill.