Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-47, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves.
The NDP will be supporting this bill and getting it to committee. I hope that the committee will have an opportunity to study the bill extensively and to call witnesses who reflect some of the concerns that we are certainly hearing.
Much has been said already about the report from Wendy Grant-John that was presented in the spring. Sadly, there was no response from the government to this report. I want to quote from one particular section of this report because I think it lays a foundation for any further discussion. She states:
Matrimonial property law is intended to provide guidance in resolving conflicts between spouses concerning the disposition of property. Matrimonial real property issues affect the interests of men, women and children. Accordingly, First Nation citizens are concerned that any legislative and nonlegislative responses should promote social cohesiveness while also providing fair and equitable treatment of spouses. First Nation people do not wish to see federal legislation that again divides community members. They feel that this would occur if the federal government acts in a way that would reinforce old stereotypes e.g. that all First Nation governments are antagonistic to the protection of individual human rights or that matrimonial property is a “women’s” issue. It is important to understand that when people say matrimonial property is not a women’s issue they are not denying that there are particular impacts on First Nation women. Rather this means that it is an issue that affects the entire community and communities must determine solutions.
We heard the minister earlier speak about the fact that this was a consultative process and that we should really just all adopt the bill.
Contrary to what the minister was saying, we have actually had a number of people speaking up quite strongly around the bill. Wendy Grant-John is a well-respected first nations woman. She has extensive experience and put together an extensive report. However, this is where the crunch comes. A press release issued by the Native Women's Association of Canada, March 4, states:
'Consultative Partnership' a Sham
The Government of Canada has acted unilaterally in trying to resolve the issue of a lack of matrimonial real property laws that apply on reserve. Despite engaging in a discussion process with relevant National Aboriginal Organizations, the federal government introduced legislation, The Family Homes on Reserve and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, that does not have the support of the Native Women’s Association of Canada...President Beverley Jacobs noted, “we have not experienced our relationship with the federal Department of Indian Affairs as being one of partnership or even consultation but rather it feels like another experience of colonialism”--
The Office of the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations also spoke up about the process and stated:
While it was a positive and practical step forward to engage in dialogue with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the Native Women's Association of Canada in the development of this legislation, the approach falls far short of First Nations' direction that the Crown should fully engage with First Nations in the developing policy and legislation that affects First Nations.
Furthermore, the fact that direction provided through this dialogue does not appear reflected in the tabled Bill, leaves us to conclude that the dialogue was of limited value in promoting and implementing a reconciliation approach regarding First Nations aboriginal and treaty rights and Crown sovereignty.
I believe that when we start on a process, ask people for their input, and then slam the door on them, that is a disrespectful process. Other members have spoken about the importance of having a bill that addresses matrimonial property. I quoted from Wendy Grant-John's report where is speaks about the fact that matrimonial property affects women and children disproportionately. However, it also affects men.
In fact, when meeting with a Six Nations representative, what he said to me was that in a first nations community, and I know this to be true, when there is a family breakup, it not only affects the man, the woman and the children who are involved in that relationship but it affects the aunts and the uncles, the grandmothers and the grandfathers, and the cousins, and it spreads throughout the community.
So, matrimonial property is a very important element that has to be considered in the context of the social impact it has on the entire community. However, I want to provide a bit of historical background, and again, this is from Wendy Grant-John's report. I will not go through the whole piece because it is a lengthy history, but she talks about the historical timelines that have led us to the place where men, women and children on reserve simply do not have a process that recognizes their cultural and social traditions. She states:
Prior to Colonization:
First Nations cultural norms, kinship systems and laws determine outcomes of marriage breakdown
Matriarchal kinship systems and egalitarian values were common
She goes into the colonial period where she talks about the notion of individual property rights and male domination in property and civil rights introduced by colonial governments, and efforts to assimilate first nations people, with the hopes of ultimately eliminating reserves altogether.
Then she goes through the lengthy history of denial of rights to men, women and children on reserves, whether it is the fact that women cannot vote at band councils or aboriginal people in Canada simply did not have the right to vote until the 1960s.
She goes through the whole history of the denial of rights and then addresses the 1985 Bill C-31, which attempted to reinstate women who had married non-aboriginal men. What a fiasco that bill has been, whether it was the fact that adequate resources were not put in place to address the impacts that bill would have on reserve, one of them being housing, or whether it was an illumination of status built into that bill, the second generation cutoff, which is continuing to play itself out, and nobody in the House has taken the time to address it.
I want to skip to the 1990s and bring it into the present day. Ms. Grant-John, in her report, outlines the following:
Several commissions of inquiry in Canada draw attention to the issue and the need for some action--
Eight UN human rights bodies express concern about the issue of matrimonial real property on reserves.
Litigation on lack of protection for matrimonial real property rights is launched by First Nation women organizations.
In 2003, the Senate Standing Committee issued its report--
In 2005, the House of Commons Aboriginal Affairs Committee issued a report--
In 2006, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women takes up the issue--
Once again, we had lots of reports and no action.
In addition, I want to quote briefly from one of the United Nations bodies, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. This is the report from March 2007. In that report, it again censures Canada. It talks about the fact that it regrets the lack of substantial progress made by the state in an effort to address residual discrimination against first nations women and makes a recommendation which states:
The Committee urges the State party to take the necessary measures to reach a legislative solution to effectively address the discriminatory effects of the Indian Act on the rights of Aboriginal women and children to marry, to choose one's spouse, to own property, and to inherit, in consultation with First Nations organizations and communities, including aboriginal women's organizations, without further delay.
One of the critical points, of course, is urging the government to adopt legislation but it also talks about the consultative piece.
In that same report, there are any number of human rights violations outlined, including the repeal of section 67 of the Human Rights Act. Of course, Bill C-21, which was before the House, went to committee. The committee amended it after hearing substantial testimony from first nations witnesses from coast to coast to coast. The committee listened very carefully to what was being presented and made some amendments. We are still waiting for the bill to come back to the House.
Again, it is another example of the government's complete disregard when it hears evidence that it does not like. It just disregards the evidence and decides to shelve the bill. We are still waiting for Bill C-21 to come back. In this particular CERD report, it also talks about resources. I will not read the whole thing but in part it states:
--the Committee remains concerned at the extent of the dramatic inequality in living standards still experienced by Aboriginal peoples. In this regard, the Committee, recognising the importance of the right of indigenous peoples to own, develop and control and use their lands, territories and resources in relation to their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, regrets that in its report, the State party did not address the question of limitations imposed on the use by Aboriginal people of their land, as previously requested by the Committee. The Committee also notes that the State party has yet to fully implement the 1996 recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples--
Again, Canada is being censured in an international forum for its lack of progress on the living conditions on reserves.
Wendy Grant-John's report had made a number of specific recommendations. This piece of legislation before the House, Bill C-47, simply fails to address a number of the recommendations, whether it is on first nations jurisdictional rights, comparable rights and remedies, customary practices, alternative dispute resolution, the resources required to implement this bill or on the duty to consult.
It is well and good to talk about going out and consulting, but we have to do something with the information that we hear.
I just referenced the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report from 1996, and I want to refer to volume 3, Gathering Strength. This is an important context for the rights of first nations to self-government and to be treated on a nation to nation perspective. Property rights is an intrinsic part of the rights to self-determination.
In the RCAP report it says:
Acknowledging that it may be some time before full self-government and a new land tenure system for Aboriginal lands are in place, we recommended in Volume 2, Chapter 3 that, in the transition phase, Parliament pass an Aboriginal Nations Recognition and Governance Act to make explicit what is implicit in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982—namely, that Aboriginal nations constitute an order of government within the Canadian federation and can exercise law-making authority in areas they deem to be core areas of their jurisdiction. Such legislation would make resources available to proceed with rebuilding Aboriginal nations in anticipation of nation-to-nation negotiations for the full implementation of a new relationship.
It goes on to talk about the fact that the solution is obvious, and it is talking about the matrimonial matters for Indian persons living on reserve. It states:
Aboriginal communities should be able to legislate in this area. Federal and provincial governments should acknowledge the authority of Aboriginal governments to adopt laws with regard to the matrimonial home and to establish their family law regimes compatible with their cultures and traditions.
This is from the 1996 RCAP report, a document that the Assembly of First Nations in the past has reported on and has said that the past Liberal government and the current Conservative government have simply failed to move forward on the bulk of the recommendations. We see it again in the current piece of legislation before the House.
Others have made a number of recommendations as well in terms of what should be included in Bill C-47 and in reclaiming our way of being matrimonial real property solutions. It is an extensive and respectful report. It talked of elders, women and many communities from coast to coast. It outlines a number of issues, including violence against women and other transitional provisions. However, I want to read one quote from the report about the Native Women's Association of Canada. It said:
NWAC presented recommendations about non-legislative approaches and solutions that would assist women and their children following the end of a marital or common law relationship. While MRP is sometimes narrowly defined as relating only to the matrimonial home, the situation of individuals experiencing this issue brings in a wide variety of related issues. The individuals who attended our sessions spoke of membership, status, and the negative effects of Bill C-31 on individuals and communities. They talked about housing on reserves, including availability, safety, adequacy, repair, and overcrowding.
Earlier we heard the parliamentary secretary ask that if housing were fixed would everything be okay. Of course not. In my question for the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, I referenced the Auditor General's report on first nations child and family services program. In that report, under exhibit 4.1, she specifically talks about the fact that if we do not address the socio-economic conditions:
Many First Nations face difficult socio-economic conditions. Some communities are in crisis. According to First Nations, these conditions present different challenges for First Nations than for mainstream society, but are not taken into account in the child welfare system. There is also a need to address the underlying causes of child welfare cases.
I would argue that the same statement also applies when we talk about matrimonial real property. In Ms. Grant-John's report, in her summary of conclusions and recommendations, she also says that:
If First Nation governments are to be looked to, to provide rights and remedies comparable to those available under provincial and territorial laws, while taking into account the distinct nature of the land regime in First Nation communities, there must be a comparable scope of recognized jurisdiction, resources, capacity and institutional development. Otherwise First Nations would be placed in a catch-22 situation–they would be held to the same standard as provincial governments but not have the resources and capacity to achieve it
Without resources and capacity to achieve some of these things, it is simply an untenable situation and it is the same thing that we saw in the old Bill C-31 from 1985.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in article 18, says:
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.
We have heard the minister say that there was a consultative process. Many of us would argue that it was not a consultative process. Recommendation 18 in Ms. Grant-John's report talks about the elements that need to be in place for a consultative process. She says:
The Department should develop, as soon as possible, specific policies and procedures relating to consultation in order to ensure that future consultation activities can identify and discharge any legal duty to consult while also fulfilling objectives of good governance and public policy...
Then she names six elements that need to be in place. I will not go over these six elements, but they include things such as timely manner, relevant information, an opportunity for first nations to express their concerns, listening to, analyzing and seriously considering the representations, ensuring proper analysis by the Department of Justice of section 35 issues, seriously considering proposals from mitigating any potential negative impact and establishing a protocol for the development of legislative proposals. Much of that is absent in this legislation.
There are other examples in North America. I will cite an example from the United States, where there is a recognition of customary law, of tribal law. This comes from the Harvard study on economic development. This piece was “Lessons Learned from the U.S. Experience”. In this summary it says:
Upon examination, we conclude that the resolution of real property disputes under tribal law and by tribal courts has tended to be more successful than dispute resolution under the alternative regime.
It goes on to say:
In essence, this lesson reiterates several of the observations above. Because they possess complete jurisdiction over all the real property likely to enter the divorce disputes—
Some of the rules are a bit different because they are talking about trust and non-trust property.
—and because they tend to be more knowledgeable of the laws that govern such property and the possibilities for its disposition, tribal forums applying tribal laws are able to make complete settlements that are also generally perceived as fair.
It goes on to talk about the fact and says:
While Native nations that lack rules and systems to govern the division of matrimonial real property can rely on various examples and models to develop this legal infrastructure, they nonetheless face a number of decisions about what will work best for their citizens. Limitations on tribes' financial and human capital also may slow the development of appropriate laws and dispute resolution mechanisms. Thus, decisionmaking about rules and systems takes time, and the time it takes is unpredictable—each Native nation will move at its own pace on these issues, according to its own processes, and subject to its own constraints.
These are examples where first nations have been able to develop laws that do respect the rights of men, women and children on the reserves, that take into account the customary traditions, that allow for mediation or alternative dispute resolution and that involves some of the community traditions. If nations in the United States can do this and come up with laws that respect those human rights, surely we could also look at implementing the same piece in Canada.
The NDP will support the legislation in getting it to committee. However, I expect that we will hear from groups from coast to coast to coast on their concerns around it. I am quite certain amendments will be proposed to address some of the shortcomings in the bill. I look forward to a healthy discussion. Hopefully, once the bill comes back from committee to the House, if it gets through that stage, the government will move forward on proposed amendments, unlike Bill C-21.