Mr. Speaker, in the current context of Bill C-47, we know that laws currently exist in Quebec and the provinces and territories of Canada on matrimonial property that recognize the general principle of equality between spouses. These laws govern spousal rights during the marriage and in the case of marital breakdown. They help define the personal and real matrimonial property of the spouses. They also allow for a system of mandatory rights and protections when it comes to matrimonial property and, in the event of a marital breakdown, the establishment of legal presumption in the equal division of matrimonial property. The laws also include various protection measures for each spouse, for example, in the case of the sale of the family home, where the signature of both spouses would be required.
Nonetheless, between Quebec and the provinces and territories of Canada, there are a few differences when it comes to common law relationships, same sex relationships, rights in the event of the death of a spouse and issues involving family violence.
These laws also apply to first nations spouses off reserve, but do not apply in the same way to people living on reserves administered by the Indian Act, mainly in terms of matrimonial real property, cases of family violence and marital breakdown.
The Indian Act provides for a land management regime that includes a system for making individual allotments of reserve lands to members of the band for whom the reserve has been set aside, but it is silent on the question of matrimonial property interests. It does not provide for a law-making power on the part of first nations in regard to matrimonial property, real or personal.
Bill C-47 concerns family homes situated on first nations reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves. It seeks to close the existing legal gap to ensure respect for basic and matrimonial rights and to offer recourse during a conjugal relationship, when that relationship breaks down or on the death of a spouse.
Basically, the bill seeks to balance individual and collective rights, to clarify the inalienability of reserve lands, and to provide greater certainty to spouses and common-law partners on reserves with respect to family homes and other matrimonial interests or rights.
Bill C-47 would set out provisional federal rules as well as provisions for the enactment of first nation laws. The federal rules would be a provisional measure, but would account for the reality that some first nations may not develop their own laws to address matrimonial interests or rights. The bill would enable communities to develop their own laws. Each first nation would be subject to the provisional federal rules set out in the bill until they adopt their own laws, with the exception of those that already have laws about matrimonial real property.
The proposed bill would be subject to the Charter. It would also be subject to the Canadian Human Rights Act insofar as its provisions fall within the scope of that act.
Not all off-reserve matrimonial real property remedies can be replicated on reserves. Given the collective nature of the reserve land regime, land on reserves cannot be owned outright, and the rights to possession differ between band members and non-members. For greater accuracy, the proposed act therefore refers to “interests or rights regarding family homes on reserves and other matrimonial interests or rights,” rather than “matrimonial real property” which, off reserves, refers to both land and structures.
The bill also proposes some provisions related to separation due to family violence.
I think all my colleagues here will agree that despite all the work that went into this bill, the government has still displayed a vindictive and know-it-all attitude when it once again failed to consult women or the Native Women's Association. Yet again, it managed to forget to resolve major flaws.
This week's visit from the president of the Quebec Native Women's Association, Ms. Gabriel, made this very clear.
The proposed act respecting family homes situated on first nations reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves would fix a major shortcoming in the current legislation.
Although the Bloc acknowledges this, and knows that we must act quickly, for the good of women and first nations communities, we think that the government has failed in its duties in some areas.
I would like to show my colleagues, here in this House, how the government did not fulfill its commitments. I would also like to explain what the Bloc Québécois proposes to fix the major shortcomings not only in this bill, but also in the entire process surrounding the bill.
To back up my comments about how the current government has not fulfilled its commitments in developing this bill, I would like to go back in time to discuss a political accord that was signed in 2005. As we all know, in order to get into power, the Conservatives ran a campaign based on demonstrating transparency and respecting commitments.
The past few months have shown us that this party does not seem to be any better than its predecessors. Allow me to quote some of its members: “It is our duty as elected members to ensure that the public can continue to have confidence in us. We must demonstrate integrity and consistency in our decisions.”
The process leading up to Bill C-47 runs counter to an important agreement signed between the Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada in 2005. I will read an excerpt from this political accord of May 31, 2005, an accord we have been referring to since Bill C-44 was introduced in 2006:
No longer will [the government] develop policies first and discuss them with [the members of the first nations] later. This principle of collaboration will be the cornerstone of our new relationship.
It also says:
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—
The purpose of the accord was to enhance cooperation between the Assembly of First Nations and this government on the development of federal policies on first nations. Can someone please explain to me why that very Assembly of First Nations, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Quebec Native Women Inc. and the Native Women's Association of Canada are against this bill?
In the process of drafting this bill, it seems clear that an important aspect of communication was forgotten. We can all agree that in a discussion, two parties meet to share ideas. Consultations were indeed held with a whole host of groups representing first nations and with first nations women's groups, since this bill primarily concerns women.
However, it seems that if Indian and Northern Affairs Canada did indeed listen to the first nations representatives, it did not take into account or did not put enough stock in what they said. I do not think the government representatives acted in bad faith, but the spirit of the 2005 accord, where the cooperation and involvement of the first nations should have prevailed in the drafting of this bill, was not respected.
It would therefore make no sense to go ahead with second reading of this bill. That is why the Bloc is asking the House to refer Bill C-47 to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development so that the committee can amend the bill to make it acceptable to first nations communities.
The Bloc Québécois firmly believes that the first nations have an inherent right to self-government, and it will ensure that that right is not undermined by the implementation of this bill. However, we also believe that such a bill can fill gaps in the current regulations while communities develop their own law on family homes.
Bill C-47 could be passed once it has been studied and amended by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, this time in collaboration with designated first nations representatives.
At this point, I would like to give some more concrete examples of the reasons why the Bloc Québécois is asking that this bill be referred to committee.
Many of my colleagues are aware that the first nations are an integral part of the human landscape of my riding. I would therefore like to speak from my own experience with various nations.
One of the concerns that aboriginal women's groups have pertains to the lack of housing on reserves, because one of the provisions of this bill deals with obtaining accommodation after a conjugal relationship breaks down.
Having visited a number of aboriginal communities repeatedly, I can state that this concern is certainly justified. How many times have I seen whole families squeezed into cramped quarters? How many times has the message been hammered home to me, during meetings with chiefs, that the biggest challenge in communities is the lack of housing? I have lost count. In addition, in communities such as Eastmain, on James Bay, some families are living in buildings despite mould problems so severe that the buildings need to be reconstructed. When there is not enough housing, it becomes difficult to relocate families for any reason.
From my experience, I also wonder about another aspect of this bill. It establishes procedures, including referral to legal procedures that do not always take into account the cultural reality and the access that these communities—often isolated or impoverished—have to certain information and certain services. There is nothing in the bill regarding how the communities will be able to access information and legal services.
For the Bloc Québécois, it is crucial that these realities can be considered and these questions addressed. That is why we would like to know how the government plans to implement this, and how it intends to allocate funding to ensure that the people in question can benefit from the bill. I would also like to ask the government how much funding is earmarked for the communities in order to prepare for implementing the legislation. Finally, we would like the government to submit to the committee the studies concerning the impact of Bill C-47 on the communities as well as the measures that will be put in place to encourage communities to develop their own laws concerning matrimonial homes.
In closing, given the importance of the issue and the insecurity it causes for people living on reserves, the government must take action immediately. It must allow aboriginal people on reserves to exercise their matrimonial rights to and interests in structures and lands situated on reserves. It must ensure that all its actions and decisions comply with the recommendations of the main aboriginal organizations and those of the standing committees, while still honouring the political accord reached with the first nations in 2005.
I believe it would be possible to amend this bill and address the dissatisfaction expressed by aboriginal groups, for example, issues pertaining to the implementation of the action plan, available resources and access by women to legal processes. We undertake to work closely with the first nations and the government, whose actions will respect the 2005 agreement, in order to amend Bill C-30 and ensure that it is satisfactory. We will do the same for Bill C-47.
However, I must point out that the Bloc Québécois has questions about the government's plans for implementation of this bill. We also wonder about the funding that will be provided to the communities and about the introduction of measures to make the procedures accessible to the population, bearing in mind the information that must be provided to the population and the poverty and the geographic isolation, which could restrict the practical application of this bill.
To summarize, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-47 being sent to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to study the ins and outs and, above all, to hear the testimony of stakeholders.
But first, we wish to know the intentions of the government concerning the possible amendments to Bill C-47 that it would be willing to accept.