Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-3, An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs).
The Bloc Québécois had indicated its support for studying Bill C-3 in committee. Since the bill would allow people who suffered discrimination because of Bill C-31 passed in 1985 to reconnect with their origins, we felt it deserved further study. As I just mentioned, Bill C-3 would repair the injustices created by Bill C-31 some 25 years ago. In other words, the federal government waited a quarter of a century to repair the injustices it had created itself. Even then, it had to be forced by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia ruling in the McIvor case. Thus we cannot talk about Bill C-3 without recalling how this aboriginal mother had to fight to have her rights and those of her children recognized. Sharon McIvor kept up her fight for many long years. Without her and her struggle, we would not be discussing this bill here today in the House.
To understand the implications of Bill C-3, we need to turn back the clock just a bit. Injustices against aboriginal women are nothing new. In 1876, the Indian Act stipulated that an aboriginal woman lost her rights and stopped being an Indian under the act if she married a non-aboriginal man. Obviously, an aboriginal man who married a non-aboriginal woman did not lose his Indian status. Aboriginal women have experienced a great deal of discrimination with regard to their race, gender and marital status. The Indian Act has contributed to marginalizing women and diminishing their social and political role in the communities. Since this legislation has a direct impact on lineage, the children of these women have also been discriminated against.
In 1951, the Indian Act was amended, but again, a woman who married a non-Indian could not be registered in the new federal register of status Indians and therefore could not enjoy the rights that such status entailed. In 1985, following changes to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Bill C-31 was introduced to close the loophole in the Indian Act, but women's children still did not have the same rights as men's children.
Those who are paying close attention will have noticed that more than 100 years after the Indian Act was created, the rights of aboriginal women's children were still not guaranteed. It would take another 25 years for the federal government to introduce a bill to recognize the Indian status of people who had been discriminated against in the past. Were it not for Ms. McIvor's legal journey, the government might never have introduced Bill C-3, which we are discussing today, as a response to this discrimination. Many will say that this bill does not go far enough.
One such person is Michèle Taina Audette, another mother and a representative of the AMUN March, whose battle continues. I will read an excerpt from her testimony at the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development:
In my opinion, Bill C-3...merely complies with the British Columbia Court of Appeal decision in McIvor v. Canada...[and] the department is using this bill to do as little as possible about the problem...there may be serious problems as a result in the short, medium and long terms...Let us put an end, once and for all, to the discrimination that has existed for too long a time already...Aboriginal women continue to be victims of discrimination based on gender....
Bill C-3 would recognize the Indian status of people who have so far not been recognized as Indian and could therefore not benefit from the rights enjoyed by status Indians, such as the right to live on a reserve and to vote in band council elections.
Bill C-3, which was introduced thanks to Sharon McIvor's efforts, corrects these injustices, but it does not go far enough, because it allows certain other injustices to persist. That is why the Bloc Québécois proposed several amendments, all of which were deemed inadmissible.
People will have no trouble understanding that the Bloc Québécois believes strongly in nation-to-nation negotiation. That is why we have always consulted with our aboriginal partners in Quebec when preparing to vote on bills that affect them.
This time is no exception. The Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and Quebec Native Women were among those who felt that Bill C-3 failed to correct certain injustices, so that is why we initially decided to vote against the bill.
Sleeping on issues like this helps, and so does thinking about it over the summer. This summer, members of various Quebec aboriginal groups and associations discussed this matter at length. They decided that it would be better to accept the federal government's offer, so they asked us to apply a “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” philosophy. The Bloc Québécois will therefore vote in favour of Bill C-3. I think this is a good time to share the words of Ellen Gabriel. Here is what she told the committee:
...for membership, you have to be a status Indian. That doesn't necessarily mean that if you have status, you have membership. That's been the problem for a lot of indigenous women who regained their status in 1985 but who are not allowed to live in their communities, to be buried in their communities, or to own land that their parents give to them... If this bill is going to be passed...then we need some guarantees that band councils will also respect it.
Ellen Gabriel is the president of Quebec Native Women.
I must stress that the federal government promised to establish an exploratory process. It committed to working with aboriginal organizations to establish an “inclusive process for the purpose of information gathering and the identification of the broader issues for discussion surrounding Indian registration, band membership and First Nations citizenship.” The government's intention is not very clear, and neither are the objectives of this exercise. Will it be a proper consultation, for the purpose of amending the Indian Act to bring it into line with the expectations of aboriginals? Will the issue of registration, band membership and citizenship be resolved? This exploratory process will take place before the implementation of Bill C-21, which would repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and which would apply to reserves as of June 2011. So it is important to use these consultations to identify the problems with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with respect to the Indian register.
Another problem with the enforcement of Bill C-3 is that the federal government did not do its homework and has not estimated the cost of adding people to the Indian register. The Bloc Québécois does think that we should register new Indians, but not at the expense of those who are already registered. In other words, the federal government will have to increase funding for first nations to ensure that the needs of new registered Indians are met, while still meeting the needs of those who are already registered.
In conclusion, I want to remind all members in this House that they have a duty to ensure justice and fairness for aboriginal women and their children, and I urge members to support Bill C-3. I would also like to remind the federal government that, although it stated its intention in the latest throne speech, it has still not endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That is shameful.