Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on this particular legislation.
While there is not any major overt controversy on the floor of the House at this time, there clearly appears to be a huge residue of discomfort out there in the real world among our first nations with this legislation and its failure to go a further distance in resolving some of these unresolved issues of equality, in particular gender equality among our first nations.
The legislation deals with the issue, at least on the margins, of who is and who is not a member of a registered Indian band. That has a whole lot to do with the lives of a whole lot of people.
The legal fact of whether or not one is or is not part of a band can affect a person's life hugely in many of our first nations localities. It is not just simply whether one is a member as in whether or not one is a member of the Rotary Club, it has to do with whether one is actually a member of a band, a living organism of people, a group who have a cultural, historic and an existing and dynamic presence in many of the parts of our country today.
This, of course, does not include most of our large cities but as we right these definitions about who is and who is not registered or registerable we are actually dealing with a huge bundle of rights and obligations of these persons as a class.
That, as I said, can have a whole lot to do with what that person is, how that person carries on his or her life, and in this particular set of circumstances that this legislation is intending to cover the court has accepted the allegation that the current definition is discriminatory. In fact, I have not heard anyone say that this is not the case. In fact, I am hearing members say that there is existing and additional discrimination that will continue even if this legislation is passed.
I can only ask the question, why we could not have tried to take a little more time and developed some legislative amendments that would be more comprehensive, more targeted, and hopefully fully address the issue of this legal or illegal inequality.
I know there are probably first nations women out there who would say, “You really ought to do that”, and it seems to me if we were really showing leadership the government through the Department of Justice could have proposed that the government go back to the courts, go back to the litigants in this case and propose a time sequence for consultation, even if it did involve a year--it has already been way over a year--or two or three and get the parties to agree that this was an opportunity for such consultation with some deadlines and attempt to bring on legislation that would fully resolve this bundle of equality issues.
That did not happen and most of my colleagues in my party, if not all who are very active on behalf of constituencies that have first nations communities, are disappointed with that.
Is there a resolution in this bill? No. I understand there were amendments proposed at committee. They were found to be out of order. I know that all of us in the House would be very pleased if there were a scenario that had the first nations somehow coming together with a resolution for us.
I and many of our colleagues in the House have accepted that it is preferable for us in the House not to make law for our first nations, involving first nations matters.
It is much preferable that our first nations manage their own affairs; albeit, under the aegis of our Canadian Constitution and legal framework. I think by now most of our first nations accept that. However, I as a legislator, many times, have had to note the fact that some of our first nation citizens resent this House, our federal institutions, purporting and actually legislating and making policy decisions with respect to first nations when those people who are governed by those laws and policies would prefer very much to make those decisions themselves.
I think over time the policies of the federal government are leaning in that direction of empowering our first nations to do more and more of their own governance. They do much of it now. However, the remaining bits and pieces in the Indian Act still make it a responsibility of this House, of the federal government, of the federal jurisdiction. I guess the buck stops here in Parliament or in Ottawa. If there has to be legislation, if there has to be a policy decision made and there is not a consensus among our first nation communities on how it should be done, then those decisions have to be made.
I recall approximately 15 years ago, at one of our committees, the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, where a particular regulation under the Indian health regulations was found to be unconstitutional. The particular regulation authorized, empowered, federal officials working in the health envelope, where there was a contagious disease found on a first nation's land, to enter into any building, any place, and remove the people and actually destroy the building.
Thinking from the present, it is almost unbelievable that we would have a regulation that would empower somebody to do that, keeping in mind that one of these buildings, one of these places, could have been a dwelling house.
In some ways I suppose we could plead that history has allowed this to happen. Over 200 years ago many of our first nations did not have permanent settlements. They moved from place to place. While that was a very good way of interrelating with the land and was quite sustainable, they tell me, most of our first nations now are permanently settled. This particular regulation allowed federal officials, for health purposes, to go in and just take the people out. They did not need a judicial warrant. They did not need anybody to sign anything. They would just go in and take the people out and get rid of the building. That regulation was actually on the books.
This particular committee, in doing its work on behalf of Parliament, noted this and asked the government to remove the regulation. My recollection is that the committee had to move to a disallowance. It was the committee itself that brought the matter to the House. I believe there was an order from the House to revoke the regulation, and that happened.
Subsequent to that, I am presuming that the government would have re-enacted other regulations to try to deal with those types of situations, but nothing so egregious as to allow federal officials to go in and physically remove people and destroy a building.
That was 15 or 20 years ago. It was also near the beginning of a time in our history where we began consulting much more meaningfully with our first nations.
That has a nice ring to it, but our first nations are not one big happy family in one place. They are spread out across the entire country, from one ocean to the other, to the other. So it is not easy for government to accomplish a comprehensive consultation.
Our first nations are usually willing to engage in those consultations, but the whole concept of consultation has been neglected somewhat in the last number of decades and there is a big distance that we have to go.
As we move to the present, we have the B.C. Court of Appeal decision that determined that the provisions of the Indian Act were unconstitutional because of gender discrimination. When those things happen, it gets sent down the street, and in this case to Ottawa to fix and we had a certain amount of time to do it. This legislation is the result. As I said before, I regret that it is not more comprehensive.
As one legislator out of the 300 or so in this place, and I am probably joining with others, I am prepared to support this bill somewhat reluctantly.
One, it is not comprehensive. It does not deal with the full range of the alleged discrimination. It is alleged and I think accepted, but it does not deal with it.
Two, because of the shortness of time, which I do not think we tried to alter, we did not engage in any meaningful consultation. As a result, we do not have a product that we are proud of that does comply with the court decision. The Department of Justice tells us this.
Therefore, I am prepared to vote in favour of it on that basis. I just hope that in the months and years to come we will find a way, not managed by this House but by the government, to consult meaningfully with our first nations to preempt problems such as this and empower our first nations to deal with these types of issues in the way they should.