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House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nations.

Topics

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, my colleague makes a good point. The cruise ship industry will be happy if I put on the record the fact that the industry thinks the regulations and fees put on them by Alaska have almost closed down the industry. All the tourists we get off cruise ships in Yukon come from Alaska. That has a huge effect on our tourism industry. We cannot over-regulate to the extent that we put them out of business, which in turn results in tourists not coming to our area.

However, that does not mean we cannot protect the environment. We could provide research for these companies with respect to grey water on their ships as an example. With respect to making cuts in research, research officers in the northern research council are going to be eliminated, and this is absurd.

If we are putting this onus on cruise ships, we could improve the services we provide for them. The north is a very dangerous area, and it is not only the ice that presents a danger. Under the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act of 1970, cruise ships need to be of a certain structure to go in the north. Ice packs move around unpredictably. Part of the Northwest Passage is very dangerous because there are shallow areas and submerged rocks. These need to be charted and the ships need to have navigational aids.

We need to provide better search and rescue services. Companies that go there want to know their passengers will be safe and help will be there for them in an emergency.

These are types of things the Canadian government could invest in to offset the cost to cruise ships and commercial boats. This will result in a win-win situation for everybody.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Yukon feels himself connected to the British Columbia coast and to all of the activities that come from there. He has gone into the commercial ventures. Here today are members from the port authorities of the Lower Mainland, Vancouver, et cetera. He raised an economic development issue that also involves transport that radiates out of that Lower Mainland hub.

Because he spends a lot of time there, could he give us an indication of the nexus between the activity of the port of Vancouver and all the transportation issues that relate as well to Yukon and the north? He actually lives that radiation.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the short answer is that we definitely depend on cruise ship passengers coming from the west coast, primarily Vancouver. That is important for us.

West coast port issues are very important for all of western Canada.

I want to go on record as stating that this is a great time to start this debate. There are some important issues relating to stability in those ports, to the rule of law, to labour setups. We need to ensure we have the best available ports for the world on our west coast so other ports do not get that business.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Marine Liability ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from May 11 consideration of the motion that Bill C-8, 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-8 concerning matrimonial real property on first nation reserves. This is the second time the government has brought the bill forward. Its previous iteration died on the order paper in 2008 when the Prime Minister broke his own policy and called an early election. It certainly undermines the government's position on this and other bills when it claims the importance of its legislative agenda only to pull the plug on Parliament.

This is not to suggest that the issue of matrimonial law and family law in particular on first nations communities is not important, far from it. There is a significant gap in the law and it is important that the gap be filled. It is fair to say that there is broad agreement by the department, by all parties in the House, by first nations governments, by women's equality groups and by members of the family law and first nations bar that something must be done. We can all agree that work has to take place to put a legal framework in place to protect the interests of women, of families and of children when there is a breakdown in a domestic relationship involving matrimonial real property on first nations reserve land.

Where our party differs from the government is on the approach to this complicated question. This is unfortunate. We saw only last week in the case of the Cree-Naskapi act amendments what difference a cooperative and inclusive approach can make. In that case the Cree nation whose interests were directly involved were able to work with government on a bill that received immediate support. It was a matter of intensive negotiation involving those most affected every step of the way.

I realize that reforming matrimonial property law in all first nations reserves is a question that is different and it is unique. It is unique in the sheer number of first nations involved that make the need for consultation and cooperation that much more important.

The minister claims that first nations groups were involved in a comprehensive consultation on this bill, but that is not what I am hearing on the ground. The minister may think he consulted, but the people he should have consulted tell me otherwise. It is incumbent upon government to be inclusive and transparent in its dealings with aboriginal peoples. It has to act in a way which is consistent with the honour of the Crown. The process leading up to Bill C-8 fails this test.

Since Bill C-8 was introduced for a second time at first reading, I have had meetings and other communications with numerous stakeholders. These include first nations women's organizations, first nations governments, regional and national assemblies of first nations, and individuals. The sheer number of representations made to me on this bill far exceeds the number I have dealt with on any other piece of legislation. Not only is the number of contacts striking, so is the virtual unanimity of what they are telling me.

Anyone who has been involved in aboriginal policy for as long as I have can say that we do not often hear many first nations leaders singing the same tune. The diversity of opinions can be stark. The differences of opinion can be animated. But on the question of Bill C-8, I have heard absolutely no one from first nations communities in any capacity speak in favour of the substance or the approach of the bill.

The Native Women's Association of Canada is opposed. Like others, including myself, while we recognize the need for a change to the legal framework, there has to be a recognition of broader issues associated with family law in first nations. There are issues of access to justice, violence prevention and the balancing of individual rights and the collective rights of first nations peoples which are left unaddressed. In fact, NWAC has argued that Bill C-8, far from protecting the rights of women, diminishes them.

The Assembly of First Nations has passed policy resolutions supporting a reconciliation of first nations, provincial and federal jurisdictions over matrimonial real property; a reconciliation, not an imposition.

The AFN also supports a broader approach, including both legislative and non-legislative approaches to family law issues. The AFN Women's Council has also rejected the government's matrimonial real property approach, both in this bill and in its former incarnation.

The government defends this bill by invoking the language of rights. I cannot say that I accept that argument, not from a government which continues to drag its heels on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In fact, it is an embarrassment to Canada on the international stage that the Conservative government has so actively opposed that important international document.

Article 3 of the declaration states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

Article 5 states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions...

Article 20 states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and develop their political, economic and social systems or institutions...

Not only is the approach in Bill C-8 inconsistent with international consensus on the rights of indigenous peoples, it is inconsistent with what Canada heard during the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The royal commission recommended that:

Aboriginal nations or organizations consult with federal, provincial and territorial governments on areas of family law with a view to (a) making possible legislative amendments to resolve anomalies in the application of family law to Aboriginal people and to fill current gaps...

I would ask people to note the language that aboriginal nations consult with government, not that government imposes top-heavy legislation of its own. It is troubling that despite being rejected by the very people whom it purports to protect, the government forged ahead with the bill anyway.

Not only that, Bill C-8 also flies in the face of what the government's own ministerial representative recommended. Many of Wendy Grant-John's recommendations were ignored, including those concerning certificates of possession and the registration of spousal interests, the enforceability of first nations dispute resolutions and a statutory review of the legislation after three years.

Legislation on its own, without looking at the broader picture and without taking a holistic approach, may well do more harm than good. Imposing federal legislation is not a positive approach in the new era of relations with aboriginal peoples that should have been opened up with last year's historic residential schools apology. Things have to be done differently.

There may well be a place for federal legislation but only in a way that respects and encourages appropriate and holistic first nations law and non-legislative approaches to family law issues, domestic violence and matrimonial law.

Another issue which has to be addressed as part of a broader solution is that of on-reserve housing. The questions of matrimonial real property, domestic violence and access to recourse on the breakdown of a domestic partnership are intimately tied to the availability of housing on first nations land. That is true both for short-term housing solutions such as family shelters or safe houses and long-term housing, making an adequate number of homes of adequate quality for the needs of first nations populations.

The minister says that Bill C-8 would allow for first nations solutions. However, first nations have not been given the time or resources that would allow them to develop and implement their own family law and other support structures consistent with the diversity of first nations cultures.

The government's approach is one size fits all. It has not worked in the past and it will not work in the present or in the future. Canada learned that lesson the hard way through the residential schools experience.

There are legitimate questions about the verification process and the ratification rules set down which first nations would have to abide by in order to have their own law recognized.

To first nations people, this hearkens back to the days of the Indian agent, when they had an overseer, someone who would say what was right or what was wrong, what was appropriate or inappropriate in first nations communities. It flies in the face of the inherent right to self-government and the nation to nation relationship. It is a colonialist approach, an assimilationist approach, a paternalistic approach, and believe me, I use those words deliberately.

I ask, what about the first nations cultures, traditions and legal customs which are based on matrilineal descent? Many first nations have their own matrilineal or other customary law concerning marriage and families passed down through the generations. There are cultures with matrilineal descent, others which place special emphasis on extended families or family relationships which go beyond the western emphasis on the nuclear family. These aspects of first nations culture, in many cases, form customary law.

Similarly in Canada, outside Quebec which has its own unique civil code, we have customary laws too. They are no less laws because they stem from custom. They stem from an old English custom with an old English name. That customary law is called the common law. These first nations laws can be used to fill the legal gap, which Bill C-8 attempts to do so clumsily. First nations need the time and resources to do so, time and resources which the government, in Bill C-8, fails to give.

All parties need the time for full and transparent consultation. First nations need the time to develop and plan their own solutions, solutions which respect and promote their own cultural values, customary law and particular social and economic circumstances.

Government can and should be a partner in that process with the first nations. Government can and should provide the necessary support, including assisting first nations and first nations women and families to address access to law, law enforcement and enforcement of orders.

Government must act more concertedly to address the broader social and economic issues that are intimately tied up with family law on first nations reserves, including violence prevention, health care, addictions and housing. None of these social ills is unique to first nations. Unfortunately, that is far from being the case.

Government must give first nations communities and their governments just that additional window of time to develop solutions which can be built from the ground up, instead of being imposed from the top down.

A better approach would be to work productively and transparently with first nations; work with first nations governments to develop their own laws and the administrative support for their operation; work with first nations governments and citizens on the full spectrum of approaches, legislative and non-legislative, to family law. Where federal legislation is required, first nations should be brought to the table to help in the drafting of a bill that can obtain a much broader consensus. The government should engage in that intensive consultation that is required.

To that end, I would like to give the government the time it needs to work cooperatively with first nations on the complicated issue of matrimonial real property. That is why I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

“Bill C-8, 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, be not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence”.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The motion is receivable.

Questions and comments? The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Vancouver Island North B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, I would like to express my supreme disappointment at the hoist motion put forward by the Liberal critic on aboriginal affairs. There was no signal that this would happen. The committee has been planning and preparing for witnesses for testimony. The same opposition party, in the last Parliament, expressed every desire to get this bill before committee and it has now done just the opposite.

Contrary to what the member said, there have been all kinds of consultations, There were 103 consultations across Canada during this process.

The member talked about the drafting of Bill C-28, the amendments to the Cree-Naskapi Act, and the responsible approach that was taken. That same approach was taken on the development of this bill. A draft proposal was shared with the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women's Association of Canada and others. Millions of dollars were spent on consultations leading up to and including the development of this. We have heard from a number of vulnerable first nations women who supported this initiative.

The member talked about the United Nations. The UN committee on economic, social and cultural rights slammed Canada in 1998 and then again in 2006 for not giving aboriginal women the same rights on reserve as those off. The same goes for the UN human rights committee in 2006, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people in 2004, the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing in 2007, and the list goes on.

Why is the member for Labrador taking such precipitous action with no notice and with obvious negative consequences for vulnerable people? This legislation is long overdue.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Madam Speaker, this motion is firm. It is rooted in the discussions and in the consultations in the broader sense that we have had with the first nations women and first nations families. Not one individual or group has come forward to support sending Bill C-8 to committee. If we are going to be honest about how we go forward with aboriginal people, if we are going to walk that path together, we must honour their voices and the direction they give to us as parliamentarians.

I can say to the member that it is fine to talk about human rights. Last year the government used aboriginal women, and I will say this very clearly, and put them in the window and said that it wanted to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the exemption.

When that came into force, there was a case brought to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal against the Government of Canada by first nations. What did the government do? It said that the Human Rights Tribunal had no jurisdiction. It talks about rights but it does not put it into practice.

I have no responsibility to give notice but when I spoke with people in the department and in the minister's office I have indicated to them that we did not support Bill C-8. They asked if Bill C-8 would go to second reading and I said that there was no assurance today that it would go to committee anytime soon.

We have listened to what the first nations people have told us and we have respected what they have told us. We look forward to the government's response to moving now to put the right processes in place to make the changes that are necessary to fill the gap we all want filled.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, centuries ago, with the arrival of Europeans to the Americas, the devastation of our first nations, the indigenous people, began.

Many of those first nations are no longer with us and those who are often live in horrible conditions. Even in the last century, under the guise of enlightenment, we put in place paternalistic programs, such as the residential schools program for which we finally tried to make amends a year ago in this House of Commons.

I would like to thank the member for Labrador. In many ways he is a conduit for the aspirations, for the very hopes of our first nations people in Canada. He provides tremendous first-hand insight into the feelings of our first nations and the fears they have. Today he is sounding the alarm. He has stated that there is alarm among our first nations that Bill C-8 has not been a cooperative and inclusive approach, that we are harking back to those days of paternalistic approaches.

If we do not take the time to embrace a consultative process, what, in his opinion, would be the consequence to our first nations?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Madam Speaker, we can only look at what the consequences have been of a colonialist, paternalistic, assimilationist approach: poverty and health outcomes. There is not one outcome where aboriginal people are ahead of the rest of the Canadian population. They have substandard housing, high unemployment, high suicide rates and a massive number of children in care. Some estimate it to be 27,000 people in care with first nations and non-first nations agencies.

This is what the imposed approach, the colonialist, assimilationist approach has done. On June 11 of last year, there was an apology. The apology was supposed to mean something: a way of doing business differently and a way of approaching our relationship with aboriginal people differently.

All of the comments I have heard around Bill C-8, the first nations people say that this reminds them of when they had Indian agents decades ago. It reminds them of the imposition of legislation that has caused this poverty, this breakdown in families and the lack of housing.

My hon. colleague is right. It is about content but it also about process. If we do not get the process right, the content means diddly-squat, to be quite honest. We need to get both right in order for it to be effective.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Madam Speaker, I am not surprised at all by the motion put forward by the member for Labrador. It is indicative of past behaviour by the Liberal Party. We worked quite diligently in the aboriginal affairs committee in the past to extend the Canadian Human Rights Act to first nations people and he and his party stood in the way of that at every opportunity.

Today, for him to essentially quash extending matrimonial real property rights to first nations women, does not surprise me either.

Does the member for Labrador actually support extending the opportunity to first nations women to remain in their marital home should their marriage break down?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Madam Speaker, what a foolish question. I will take no lessons from the member for Winnipeg South. I have been fighting for the rights of aboriginal peoples for the last 12 to 15 years. I have protested and I have been arrested.

I will listen to the voices of the aboriginal women, not the voices of the member for Winnipeg South or the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development who wants to impose his legislation. I will listen to the voices of women who say that there is a better way to resolve the issue of matrimonial real property on reserves.

If the Conservatives want to respect women, if they want to talk about rights being extended to all women, families and first nations, they should follow that particular process and listen to the voices of women.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, we are discussing an extremely important bill. I, too, am somewhat surprised by my Liberal colleague's position. I do not think that his is the right approach just now, particularly when it comes to the matrimonial rights of aboriginal peoples. This bill has gone by several numbers, of which I will list just two. Bill C-47 died on the order paper last year when the election was called, and now we have Bill C-8.

The Bloc Québécois believes, and I hope the NDP will agree, that this bill should be studied in committee. It is of utmost importance that this bill be debated, analyzed and closely examined with witnesses by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Allow me to explain.

I am aware of the rules of Parliament. By presenting an amendment to delay study of the bill for six months, the Liberal Party knows full well that the bill will die on the order paper. I am absolutely certain that that is not what aboriginal women want. They want respect, and the Bloc Québécois believes that aboriginal women will get respect if we study the matter of matrimonial rights respectfully once and for all.

I hope that my Conservative Party colleagues will not take it for granted that our support for Bill C-8 is firm and unconditional. I want to say right now that we really do not like Bill C-8, not one bit. It does have some good points and measures, but some things in the bill are just not well thought out. If the government is serious about this, and I hope that it is, it will understand that we want to take as much time as we need in committee to properly study this bill, pick it apart and amend it as necessary. This bill must meet the needs of aboriginal women, first nations and aboriginal peoples across the country.

The government will have to explain why it set aside the main recommendations made by Ms. Grant-John, who did an exceptional job of examining this issue. The issue of matrimonial rights has been around for a number of years. With all due respect, the Liberals do not have a leg to stand on when criticizing the Conservatives at this stage regarding Bill C-8. It was the Liberals who introduced the famous Bill C-31 on women's matrimonial rights, the 1985 bill that erased women's rights in their entirety in one fell swoop. They should remember that the bill languished. Although the Conservatives adopted the bill, it originated with the Liberals some time before that.

It is odd because the Liberals know this. An extremely interesting ruling was just handed down by the Court of Appeal. It concerns the rights of aboriginal peoples, especially women's rights. This ruling was handed down on April 6, 2009.

The government will have to take it into account because the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruling overturns several decisions and forces the government to recognize that it imposed a law that discriminated against aboriginal peoples.

In the matter at hand—and we will come to an agreement rather quickly—it is clear that 90% to 95% of the matrimonial rights cases concern women and children in native communities. It is equally clear that the rights of women have been violated. In my opinion, moving forward and adopting the amendment would kill the bill. With all due respect for my colleague from Labrador, and based on my extensive experience, I know that unless the government is forced to act it will not do so. In this case, it is not true that there will be further consultations if we give the government six more months. That is not true. I do not buy it.

We in the Bloc Québécois prefer to move forward, and I hope that my NDP colleagues will feel the same way. I hope that what I am about to say will be well translated and that our friends opposite will understand me clearly. I have just one hope, and that is that they do not seriously believe we are going to pass this bill in a rush and study it quickly in committee. It will take months. I hope they realize that, because if they do not, then there will be trouble. But that is very clear.

I have a few questions. Why is it that Ms. Grant-John's entire report was set aside?

Why is it that none of the recommendations made by the rapporteur, Ms. Corbett, were acted on?

It is odd, because I was looking for support for this bill among aboriginal women in Canada and in Quebec, but both groups said no. I spoke this morning with Grand Chief Picard, who also has problems with this bill. But I will give it a chance.

In my opinion, the Bloc Québécois, probably with the support of the NDP, will be willing to refer this very, very important bill to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development so that it is studied properly in the interest of the rights of women living in aboriginal communities. This problem has existed in aboriginal communities for too long, and we must find solutions. For my part, I believe, with all due respect, that having a minority government is not a bad thing.

We have seen evidence of this. I will give my colleagues opposite the chance to respond. I will quickly give a brief history of Bill C-21, which was passed during the previous session. This bill repealed section 67 of the Indian Act. As a result, aboriginal communities will now be accountable, and complaints can be filed against them with the Human Rights Commission.

Our Conservative colleagues opposite were opposed to all the amendments we had made to the bill. The original bill consisted of just one clause. When it came out of committee, was reported in this House and was passed, it included 12 or 13 clauses. I was very closely involved in the study of the bill, and I can tell you that it was thanks to the aboriginal communities and all the members of the committee that we were able to seriously amend Bill C-21 so that it respected the rights of aboriginal peoples.

I have a problem with hoisting this bill. In my opinion, we need to study it and make amendments, and we need especially to heed the protests of the aboriginal women who were not consulted.

There is a Supreme Court decision about consultation with respect to Supreme Court rulings. If this is the case, I do not believe, with all due respect for my colleagues across the way, that such consultation has taken place. They could have taken a few more months. We will set the process in motion during those months and it will take the time it needs to take. The Bloc Québécois wants to see this bill amended to take the rights of aboriginal women on reserves into consideration.

The situation can be easily summarized. An aboriginal couple marries, has children and accumulates assets on reserve. They might, for instance, own a convenience store, a service station or some other business. The couple separates. The woman leaves the marital home, as usually happens, unfortunately, and leaves the reserve. She settles in town or somewhere else. Then comes the issue of who owns the convenience store, the garage or the business. They are located on the reserve and thus on federal territory. The situation is not clear.

The Bloc Québécois wants to examine this bill. A lot of work has been done on it by the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, and they have sent recommendations to us. I have read them and I believe that they need to be taken into consideration because a number of Mohawk communities, and probably some others as well, have what is called a matrimonial property rights tribunal. These are in place in the communities and we must respect what is being done in the communities. We need to take steps to ensure that we respect what is already in place, but the bill as it stands is not clear about this. What is more, the government seems to want to have a degree of control over the settlement of matrimonial property rights on the reserves, but I must admit this is not clear. If the regulations do not work, the federal government could change them. I believe I read that. If the government wants to go ahead with this, there is going to be a serious problem.

However, I want to point out that matrimonial rights have a huge impact on communities. Often, the women and children wind up with nothing and are expelled from the reserve, while the men keep everything. I do not want to generalize, but I would say that this is what happens in 80% or 90% of cases. I know, because I live in Abitibi-Témiscamingue and I have a good idea of what is happening in my communities. We must not be blind or ignore what is happening. We need to pay attention and take into account individual and collective rights.

There will be a serious debate about collective versus individual rights. This bill is not clear. It deserves to be debated and examined in greater detail. I will say to my Liberal colleagues, as I said at the start, that the worst that could happen would be that, if the committee is not happy with the responses and if the amendments we propose are not incorporated, we kill the bill. The three opposition parties can kill the bill, obviously. The government will have to understand that it is in its interest to respect what aboriginal communities want, which is not to be pushed around. They want to be heard. The main groups want to be heard and want to have a chance to speak.

I have asked that they propose amendments. We will have to look at the clauses. I know that aboriginal communities and groups, the Native Women's Association and the Assembly of First Nations of Canada may be opposed to the bill as it currently stands.

In life, it is not enough just to be opposed to something. You have to come up with solutions to the problem. When a party is opposed to the bill, I respect its position. But what solutions does it have? What amendments does it propose? This bill also raises the whole debate about incorporating provincial and territorial laws. The problem of respecting women's rights has never been easy to solve, and it will not be easy to solve with Bill C-8.

But if we do not make the effort to sit down all together at the same table to discuss, amend and adapt this bill so that it respects women's rights, we will miss the boat and pay the price. I especially do not want to be pushed around on this issue. I want us to take our time and study this bill carefully, and I want us to listen to the groups that propose amendments that we will study and analyze. I hope that the government does not think that this bill will be passed before the end of the current session. If it does, then we will have a serious problem.

This is a very important bill. Bill C-21 repealed section 67 of the Indian Act. We took the time we needed, and we did things properly. We also passed a bill about specific claims. We took the time to talk to aboriginal communities and aboriginal association representatives. This is a good bill that should satisfy aboriginal communities.

This morning, the committee—and I am in a position to know—passed Bill C-28 without amendment, or rather, with a small amendment concerning syntax. The bill should be back before the House when we return from the Victoria Day recess or, in our case, the fête des Patriotes. We passed the bill, and the Cree people are satisfied. It took 10 years, but now it is done. I am not suggesting that it will take 10 years to pass Bill C-8, but I think that it will take a few months. We have to take the time to listen to aboriginal community representatives. Important things, such as federal legislation on matrimonial property and recognition of the jurisdiction of first nations, must be taken into account. How will we do that?

I will end with a discussion of a principle that I believe in: if one wants what one has never had, one must be prepared to do what one has never done.

We are about to do something that we have never done: respect aboriginal women. That is what we will do as we study the bill in the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development over the next few months.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, I want to assure the Bloc member, who is a member of the standing committee, that the Conservative Party is not going to take the Bloc position for granted. I want to also assure my colleague that the government is committed to this legislation. The minister made this very clear when he spoke to the bill recently.

My colleague made statements about the ministerial representative. I would like to ensure that people are well aware that the ministerial representative's final report contained 64 conclusions and recommendations, many related to broad issues and non-legislative matters, while 33 recommendations related specifically to the content of the proposed legislation, and 30 of those 33 recommendations are addressed in the bill in a manner consistent with her recommendations.

I noticed that the member talked considerably about collective rights and individual rights. He made a very significant point. Does the member believe that the most vulnerable individuals in the community, mainly women, will come publicly and individually to support Bill C-8 when their views are contrary to their leadership and their political groups?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development for his excellent question.

In response, to give a straight answer, I do not know. There is no way of knowing based on what we have before us today. That is why we want aboriginal women to appear before the committee to explain the problem and tell us what they recommend. We must take those recommendations into account before we move ahead on this matter.

Right now, I am not at all convinced that the government has taken the requests of aboriginal women, either collectively or individually, into account in drafting this bill. Although we do not really support this bill outright, we will vote in favour of it so it may be sent to committee. However, I would like to hear from aboriginal women affected by this problem.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech of my colleague from the Bloc Québécois. I found it very interesting considering that this is such a flawed piece of legislation.

I believe he, more than most in the House, understands how narrow and how prescriptive amendments to a particular piece of legislation can be. There have been other examples of a piece of legislation in the House being scrapped because it was fundamentally flawed. Sometimes a piece of legislation is referred to committee after first reading to allow for greater and broader amendments. None of that was agreed to.

I have talked to aboriginal people and organizations. The AFM had a resolution. I spoke to the AFNQL and the AFN Women's Council in Quebec. All have said they oppose Bill C-8. Not one of them said the bill should go to committee to try and get some amendments. That is what they wanted. We tried to respond to the wants and needs and aspirations of aboriginal people. We are telling the government that it has time to work with them to do something better and bring it back to the House.

We cannot give the government six more months because not much will be done and then keep the bill in committee for a year. It is time to listen to aboriginal people and stop playing politics with this legislation.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, although I respect my colleague, I do not agree with him. I think we should study this bill, and the leaders of those organizations must also understand that women have rights. Clearly, many women are afraid. They will probably be afraid to come and testify; I do not know yet, but one things is certain: if we do nothing, they will continue to live in fear. Women will continue to be denigrated and lose even more rights in aboriginal communities.

I want us to be able to meet with them. It is not true that consultations are going to be held, and if we block this bill now, there would be none in the future.

This bill will force the government to take action, if we amend it based on the rights of aboriginal women, and of course, our respect for them.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I am speaking today to the motion to adjourn debate on Bill C-8 for six months. I, too, will recommend that the NDP not support the motion to amend and that we work toward getting the bill to committee.

It is a very difficult decision. I believe Bill C-8 on matrimonial real property is a deeply flawed legislation. However, it is well past time to work toward solutions. We simply cannot, in good conscience, continue to leave this matter unresolved. I want to explain why I say that.

We have a long, sad and sorry history when it comes to matrimonial real property rights in Canada. Sadly, it reflects on both past Conservative governments and past Liberal governments. This is an occasion where both governing parties hold full responsibility for not taking earlier action.

I want to review a historical timeline so Canadians are well aware of the fact that this issue has had debate after debate and report after report, and we have failed to move toward any kind of solution. It is largely women and children who are impacted by this lack of action, but men and women continue to suffer in aboriginal communities. They do not have any legitimate legal recourse to see an appropriate division of the matrimonial home.

When I talk about the historical timeline, there are a couple of key points. I think this is a good reminder. Prior to colonization, first nations' cultural norms, kinship systems and laws determined the outcomes of marriage breakdown. Matriarchal kinship systems and egalitarian values were common. We have a history where, prior to contact and colonialism, first nations had their own rules and regulations when families disbanded.

Part of what first nations have been demanding is a recognition of those laws and customs. First nations will say that they are fully intent on honouring charter obligations in every respect. However, there is a long history. First nations occupied this land for thousands of years. They had developed systems to deal with marital breakdown.

Many things happened during the colonial period. The notion of individual property rights and male domination in property and civil rights were introduced by colonial governments in an effort to assimilate first nations people, with the hopes of ultimate eliminating reserves altogether. One sees this transition from laws that had been in place for thousands of years to a colonial period, where first nations were severely impacted by a notion of male domination. Many of the kinship and matriarchal systems were disbanded.

Post-Confederation, we had Indian legislation. There was a whole series of things, but first nations women were not permitted to vote in band council elections. There was gender-based discrimination in wills and estate laws. Throughout this period, the notion of equality rights did not exist in Canadian law. Women on and off reserve had very few legal protections from matrimonial property and were at a significant legal disadvantage compared to men. The Indian Act does not address matrimonial property rights.

Finally, in 1986, people started to wake up. Again, this is in the context of why we should not abandon debate. Court cases that took place 1986 finally said that things had to change. Two cases concerning the extent to which provincial laws and matrimonial property might be applied to individual interest in reserve lands reached the Supreme Court of Canada. One of them was Derrickson v. Derrickson. The other was Paul v. Paul.

The Supreme Court decided that provincial laws could not apply in any way that would change any individual property interest that a first nation person may hold under the Indian Act. Further, it went on to say:

Silence of the Indian Act and the non-recognition of First Nation jurisdiction on the matter means many basic protections not available to male or female spouses on reserves; women are particularly negatively impacted by the legislative gap because they still are more often the primary caregivers of young children.

Twenthy-three years ago Supreme Court rulings indicated that the federal government was allowing provincial law to erroneously apply on reserve and that there needed to be a federal resolution to recognize the special status on reserve. This is one of the primary reasons New Democrats believe we need to get this to committee so we can talk about the availability of other solutions. What proposals are the men and women in first nations communities putting forward?

We have the national organizations, but there are other voices in these communities to which we need to listened. We know some customary laws are already in place. Let us take a look at some of those examples.

From 1990 to the present, and again this is the sad history, eight United Nations human rights bodies have expressed concern about the issue of matrimonial real property on reserves. Internationally we are being pointed to for this lack of movement on matrimonial real property. Litigation on lack of protection for matrimonial real property rights is launched by a first nations women's organization. Women's organizations have been saying they need solutions to this.

In 2003 the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights issued its first report calling for legislative action on the question, consultations with first nations and first nations organizations.

In 2005 the House of Commons Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development issued a report calling for legislative action on the question and recognized the inherent rights of first nations respecting matrimonial real property.

In 2006 the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women took up the issue of matrimonial real property on reserves and it continues to monitor it.

In that context, with so many different bodies, both internationally and within Canada, calling for us to move towards some action, I believe it is important. The Liberal member talked about playing politics. It is important that we do not play politics with this matter and that we take the opportunity to get it to committee so we can call in witnesses from across the country, so we do not play politics with it.

I want to refer back to the government response to the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, this was AANO 38-1. It talked about the fact that since 2001, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has done significant research and has produced a number of publications on the issue of matrimonial real property, including a comprehensive discussion paper to better understand the issues from a sociological and legal perspective.

Since all of this work has already been done, it seems important that we look at it, that we look at the sociological and legal perspectives and that we look at some of the proposals that have come forward.

I want to turn to some international reports I had cited. I quoted from one within Canada. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued a report on this, and this is the context for why we should debate this motion and the bill and get it to committee for a fuller review. It states:

The Committee notes with regret the lack of substantial progress made by the State party in its efforts to address residual discrimination against First Nations women and their children in matters relating to Indian status, band membership and matrimonial real property on reserve lands, despite its commitment to resolving this issue through a viable legislative solution...

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 organisations and communities, including aboriginal women's organisations, without further delay.

Once again, an UN report notes the lack of movement and the lack of action in Canada. I do not know how many more reports we need to have to say that we need to take action.

The Liberal member suggested that we put this in abeyance for six months. This is referred to as a hoist motion, which effectively kills the legislation. I have no faith that during the six months this bill is on the back burner, we will see the kinds of consultation required to ensure the bill will meet the needs of first nations women and men.

I want to talk about consultation. That is part of the challenge of the bill before us. The government claims that there was consultation. However, when we hear from the organizations tasked with doing the so-called consultation, their feedback has been it simply has not been consultation. It has been discussion and perhaps education. However, it does not meet the terms of what has been set out as meaningful consultation.

I want to refer to recommendation 18 that came from the “Report of the Ministerial Representative of Matrimonial Real Property Issues on Reserves”. Her report was supposed to be the precursor to this legislation. However, most of her recommendations were not included in the legislation. It is not that New Democrats think this legislation will solve the problems. We think this is an opportunity to look at other solutions.

I want to quote from the report about consultation. It states:

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 by:

1) Ensuring First Nations have relevant information to the issues for decision in a timely manner;

2) Providing an opportunity for First Nations to express their concerns and views on potential impacts of the legislative proposal and issues relating to the existence of a duty to consult;

3) Listening to, analyzing and seriously considering the representations and concerns of First Nations in the context of relevant legal and policy principles including their relationship to other constitutional and human rights principles;

4) Ensuring proper analyses by the Department of Justice of section 35 issues relating to any proposed legislative initiative are thoroughly canvassed before, during and after consultations;

5) Seriously considering proposals for mitigating potentially negative impacts on aboriginal and treaty rights or other rights and interests of First Nations and making necessary accommodations by changing the government’s proposal

6) Establishing, in consultation with First Nations, a protocol for the development of legislative proposals.

That is a clearly outlined process of what consultation should look like, and we know that is not what happened in the development of Bill C-8.

Witnesses coming before a committee should not be constituted as consultation. The duty to consult rests between the government and first nations. It is not the responsibility of the aboriginal affairs committee to conduct the consultation on behalf of the government.

However, the committee can bring forward solutions and recommendations, which the government can choose to adopt. It does not prevent the government from withdrawing the current legislation and developing legislation that more accurately reflects the concerns and the proposed solutions, which we know first nations communities and organizations will bring forward.

I know we are debating the hoist motion rather than the actual legislation at this point, but part of the challenge we face with the legislation is the difficulties of implementing it in communities.

I want to again come back to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. People say that the legislation will solve the problems around matrimonial real property in communities, and that is simply untrue. What it will do is provide a legal mechanism to determine the division of the matrimonial home, but it will not provide solutions to the severe housing crisis that exists on most reserves across the country.

In its report of 2007, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said that it remained concerned at the extent of the dramatic inequity in living standards still experienced by aboriginal peoples.

In this regard the committee, recognizing the importance of the right of indigenous peoples to own, develop, control and use their lands, territories and resources in relationship to their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, regrets that in its reports 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:

In the light of article 5 e) and of general recommendations 23 (1997) on the rights of indigenous peoples, the Committee urges the State party to allocate sufficient resources to remove the obstacles that prevent the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by Aboriginal peoples. The Committee also once again requests that the State party provide information on the limitations imposed on the use by Aboriginal people of their land, in its next periodic report, and that it fully implement the 1996 recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples without further delay.

Again, in the context of this delaying motion, the reason it is important to talk about matrimonial real property is that it is urgent that at the committee we also talk about non-legislative solutions and what is really needed to support families on reserve, whether it is adequate housing, access to education or access to conflict resolution and mediation that could actually prevent family breakup.

In the report on the first nations child and family services program, the Auditor General talked about the fact that there is so little investment in preventive measures that children are being removed from their homes. The agencies have a mandate to remove children, but they do not have a mandate to support families, keep those families together and keep the children in their homes.

I would argue that rather than delay talking about these very serious issues, we should welcome the opportunity to talk about non-legislative options. We should welcome the opportunity to talk about what kind of housing is needed on reserve to support families. If a family does need to break up, the reality right now is that women and children can be forced to leave their reserve, their home community because there is not any housing for them.

I find it difficult to support the delay of talking about these very serious fundamental human rights issues. I would suggest that first nations communities from coast to coast to coast do have some solutions that would be welcomed by all members of the House.

I am running out of time, but I want to touch on a couple of other issues. Several first nations organizations across this country are working on issues around citizenship. That is fundamental to what we are talking about. Who gets to determine who has citizenship in a particular nation? I know that Six Nations and NAN are working on citizenship codes. This would be an opportunity to bring forward those citizenship codes to the committee in the context of matrimonial real property. Fundamentally, that is what we are talking about. We are talking about who has a right to live on reserve, who has a right to the house, and who has a right to that citizenship.

Perhaps it will also give us an opportunity to talk about the 1985, Bill C-31, which reinstated the citizenship of women who married non-aboriginal men and lost their citizenship. But of course there were not the non-legislative solutions to deal with the housing issues these women were facing.

This is an opportunity to have a much broader discussion on human rights, on the aspects that are impacting on families, on the more creative solutions, the more respectful solutions, the more traditional solutions that would serve first nations and their families in a reasonable fashion.

I believe it is important that we get the bill to committee for a full discussion.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan for her eloquent and concise remarks on the bill this afternoon, and in particular on the hoist amendment, as it is referred to.

On that point, the Liberals have moved what is known as a six month hoist amendment. It would appear they do not have the courage and directness to vote against the bill at second reading. To be clear, it really means that they want to kill the bill.

As a point of background, I want to quote from the procedural compendium for the benefit of other hon. members: “The adoption of a hoist amendment is tantamount to defeating the bill by postponing its consideration. Consequently, the bill disappears from the order paper and cannot be introduced again, even after the postponement period has elapsed”.

Let us be clear, this is a motion on the part of the Liberal Party to end discussion on this particular bill. I wonder if the member might comment on why the Liberal Party is against expanded rights for women and children, particularly on reserve?

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, the member serves as chair of the aboriginal affairs committee, and I would like to compliment him on his fair and even-handed approach in that committee.

There is no question that there are some very serious problems with Bill C-8. The NDP's speaking against the hoist motion is not tantamount to full support for the bill; it is a statement that New Democrats believe the injustice against women and children and families on reserve has gone on far too long.

It is now 23 years after that court case in 1986, and we still do not have any resolution. I believe this is the third time the bill has been introduced in the House to attempt to deal with this. They were all deeply flawed bills. I believe we need to get the legislation to committee to consider some of those solutions we know are there in first nations communities.

When we talk about playing politics with the lives of women and children and their families, I believe it is time to put that aside. Perhaps all parties could come to the table to look at those solutions that will actually make a difference in the lives of women and children in their communities.