Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to express my opinion on Bill C-289, An Act to amend the Indian Act (matrimonial real property and immovables).
As we debate Bill C-289, we are also debating government bill C-44. The latter proposes to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The adoption of these two bills could be prejudicial because they run counter to commitments made by the government in May 2005.
In May 2005, the government promised to renew and strengthen the collaboration of the government and first nations, specifically by consulting the first nations before developing policies that impact them. This principle of collaboration constitutes the cornerstone of the new partnership. The private member's bill of the Conservative member for Portage—Lisgar directly affects this government commitment made to native peoples.
I have the statement made by the Prime Minister on April 19, 2004, and reiterated by the government on May 31, 2005. It states:
It is now time for us to renew and strengthen the covenant between us...No longer will we in Ottawa develop policies first and discuss them with you later. The principle of collaboration will be the cornerstone of our new partnership.
To strengthen policy development, the minister and the Assembly of First Nations commit to undertake discussions: on processes to enhance the involvement of the Assembly of First Nations, mandated by the Chiefs in Assembly, in the development of federal policies which focus on, or have a significant specific impact on the First Nations, particularly policies in the areas of health, lifelong learning, housing, negotiations, economic opportunities, and accountability; and, on the financial and human resources and accountability mechanisms necessary to sustain the proposed enhanced involvement of the Assembly of First Nations in policy development.
The government did not receive the support of the First Nations for the repeal of section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, nor has it received the support of the native women's association for this bill tabled by the member for Portage—Lisgar, as it was introduced without consultation.
Is it unreasonable to believe, in the modern context, that to consult also implies the consideration of at least some recommendations based on cultural values and specific lifestyles?
Subsection 89(1) of the Indian Act exempts personal or real property of a band member located on-reserve from seizure or attachment by a non-Indian or a non-band member.
The provisions of the Indian Act on the rights of surviving spouses to property may be affected by approaches taken to address the issue of on-reserve matrimonial real property, and this would need to be considered.
Is this not good reason to take a closer look at the difficulties encountered in resolving certain situations that may at first appear very straightforward?
It is important to consider the opinions of the people experiencing the problems that need to be resolved or those who are involved in the conflict, in order to examine the necessary corrective action and, as needed, ensure the creation of legislation or regulations.
It seems to me to be a little early—perhaps even much too early—to present such a bill, given that a joint task force was only formed in February 2006 to carefully examine the issue of on-reserve matrimonial property. To pursue this, we would have needed recommendations from both Houses.
The joint task force was set up when the Bloc Québécois demanded that the government consult the Native Women's Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations by acting on the following recommendation made by the Senate Committee on Human Rights in its November 2003 report:
—the Committee recommends that appropriate funding be given to national, provincial/territorial and regional Aboriginal women’s associations so that they can undertake thorough consultations with First Nations women on the issue of division of matrimonial property on reserve. These consultations should be the first step in a larger consultation process with First Nations governments and Band councils with a view to finding permanent solutions which would be culturally sensitive—
The joint task force's mandate included drafting joint consultation documents, touring to consult aboriginal communities in Quebec, Canada and the provinces, and reporting aboriginal recommendations with a view to drafting a bill on the division of matrimonial real property and immovables on reserve.
Unless the hon. member for Portage—Lisgar can announce to us that he is withholding privileged information, more complete than that of the native women's association—which says it has not completed its research—we have to consider this bill as an insult to everyone doing research on this file. Accordingly, we have to recommend that this bill be defeated.
We find that through his bill introduced on May 17, 2006, the Conservative member for Portage—Lisgar has demonstrated political opportunism and lack of knowledge of the process already launched by his government. His persistence to achieve this could hinder the democratic process of the joint committee which, for the first time in 30 years, could have or propose a viable solution to an awkward situation for any democratic country. Furthermore, what are people to think when this involves the “very best country in the world”?
This private member's bill is an affront to the Quebec Native Women Inc., which is a major stakeholder in this working group. This ridiculous, thoughtless and disrespectful initiative undermines the credibility of this association's initiative and its chances for success.
This bill prematurely calls on Parliament to take a position at the very moment when the working group recommended by this House has not concluded its research, the results of which are needed in order to improve the living conditions of aboriginals.
The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada has noble intentions: to undertake consultations to find a solution to the issue of matrimonial real property on reserves in order to improve the rights of aboriginal women and provide them with the same legal protection enjoyed by non-aboriginal women with respect to divorce.
It is critical that aboriginal women be consulted with the utmost respect for their culture. To ensure that the consultations are worthwhile, native women's associations in Quebec, Canada and the provinces must be given the funding and the time they need to meet with all of the communities.
Aboriginal women deserve to have all of the information about the subject of the consultations: the Indian Act (matrimonial real property and immovables). It is even more important that the entire aboriginal population be informed of the impact of a law on the division of matrimonial real property on their everyday lives and in the case of separation.
Quebec Native Women Inc. believes that consultations in aboriginal communities require the expertise of family law and legal rights specialists. The officials conducting the consultations must be accompanied by specialists who can answer all of the people's questions.
Governments change with the tide, yet they stay the same. Whether Liberal or Conservative, their vision and their avoidance tactics are similar.
In conclusion, I feel it is premature to debate this bill because of the lack of consultation with the affected population and the lack of essential but currently unavailable information, a lack of information that could cause problems that will be even harder to fix than those these various bills seek to correct.