Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-3.
I first want to congratulate Sharon McIvor who fought for 25 years. It is unimaginable to us that she would fight for 25 years for justice and equality, but that has been her struggle. Her case was launched in the late 1980s. Before her, we had women like Mary Two Axe Early, Ms. Sandra Lovelace and Ms. Corbiere-Lavell, all who fought these battles for equality and justice for aboriginal women.
It is unseemly that it takes a generation sometimes to address an issue of inequality, something that could be so glaring that we all can recognize it. However, our system did not allow that to happen.
I said this in my opening speech when we talked about Bill C-3. I really do not care what government was in place at the time. There is something wrong with the system when it takes 25 years to achieve some type of equality or equity for individuals, and in this case many individuals.
Sharon McIvor court case was won at the B.C. Supreme Court. It was at that time a very broad decision that affected many areas of the Indian Act in terms of giving rise to residual discrimination, sex discrimination, gender discrimination.
The Government of Canada appealed that decision to the B.C. Court of Appeal. The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled much more narrowly on the facts and only affected certain sections of the Indian Act.
When the decision came out, the government tried in some way, shape or form to engage first nations people through something called an engagement process. It did not call it a consultation process because a consultation process gave rise to various legal parameters or certain expectations. It called them exploratory processes on something as fundamental as discrimination, as equality. The government did not engage in a consultation process, but rather in an exploratory process.
When the bill came out, it was a disappointment for many aboriginal women in our country and for many aboriginal groups that testified at committee. They said that the government had an opportunity to end sex discrimination under the Indian Act once and for all, but it did not do it. Instead Bill C-3 is very narrowly scoped and only speaks to what the court ordered the government to do.
The court ordered the government to deal with two particular clauses and that is all the government responded to, not saying that the government did not have it in its power or did not have the authority to scope the bill in such a way to end sex discrimination once and for all.
Some of those who testified at committee said that in fact it gave rise to other issues of inequality, where a woman for example would have to discuss the paternity of her child, whereas the same would not take place for a male.
Even though the bill narrowly speaks to the B.C. Court of Appeal decision, there are concerns with Bill C-3. Are they that substantive? Perhaps we should let Sharon McIvor speak, the lady who fought this for 25 years. She does not like Bill C-3. She does not feel the bill responds to the questions that she put to the court as a complainant. She now has taken her fight, where? To the United Nations. She is launching a complaint against Canada, saying that Canada has not responded adequately to the issues that were raised in the court case and Canada has not responded adequately with Bill C-3 in terms of ending gender discrimination once and for all.
When it comes to the person who fought for 25 years, we must be sensitive to her opinion and give some credence to the fact that she is not happy with the government's approach to Bill C-3.
Some will ask if the title of the bill accurately reflects the intent of the bill, which is to provide equity. Many would argue that it tries to achieve that objective, but it would be wrong for the House to think the legislation would resolve all of the issues of inequity based on sex. Now we are at a crossroads.
We get up here at third reading debate and we hash it out, me for 15 or 20 minutes, the parliamentary secretary for 15 or 20 minutes, and somebody else in the other party for 10 or 15 minutes as if we are going to accomplish anything. We are faced with the decision now of whether we should support this bill as it is.
It is not the best bill in the world. We know that. We know that it was not arrived at properly by the government. We know that there are many dissenting voices out there. There are those, too, who believe the piecemeal approach is not the proper way to go forward.
Jennifer Lynch, the chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, said:
The Committee has already heard that the Indian Act has had discriminatory effects, including residual gender-based discrimination.
A case-by-case, section-by-section approach to resolving discriminatory provisions of the Indian Act will be costly, confrontational and time-consuming.
Moreover, the Act places the burden on complainants who do not necessarily have access to legal resources.
The approach by the government is not what one would prefer. It is narrow, not broad, and it does not end all gender discrimination under the Indian Act.
The government says that it does speak to and has spurred debate around other fundamental issues that the bill does not specifically raise. I tend to agree that in some regard the bill does not raise these issues, but they are there in the public purview. They are a matter of debate. Those issues of jurisdiction, of citizenship, and of who determines membership must be talked about. They must be acted upon.
As one of what some people call the “enlightened” countries in the world, we have one of the staunchest pieces of colonial architecture still in place, and it is called the Indian Act. A law in this place, in this House, determines if one is an Indian or not. Issues of culture, descendancy, self-identification, and self-governance do not determine it. We in this House actually determine who is a status Indian, the identity of a person. It could not be more outdated. We know that fundamental change has to come.
The government asks how we will deal with this fundamental change. Again, it is not going to be a consultation. It is going to be an “exploratory process”, as I heard the parliamentary secretary say. We should be thoughtful. We should not rush it.
God forbid we would rush it when this discrimination has existed for generations and it takes a single individual a generation to resolve even some aspects of it. I know we cannot rush it, but we have to give it some prominence. We have to be able to say that the government is sincere in terms of its approach.
Consider what “exploratory” says to a citizen out there, to a first nations person who is just looking at what some of the issues might be. I am sure our relationship with first nations and aboriginal people in this country has given rise to enough issues that we do not have to basically explore them anymore. We have to sit at the table and do something about them.
That is what the apology was supposed to be about in 2008. It was supposed to be about a renewed relationship, a post-apology approach to aboriginal issues in this country that we should try to resolve.
We do not see much of a difference in the government's approach. It is the same old business as usual. Deal with what the courts told us to deal with and only that. Other substantive issues that require change that will affect the well-being of first nations people for generations to come we will talk out in something called an exploratory process.
To me, the government has the ability to go beyond that, to truly engage, to truly consult. I respectfully would ask the government to engage aboriginal people in a substantive way. To me, this exploratory process seems to be just something we put out there so that we could get the support of first nations, or to at least get Bill C-3 through the House.
The minister in public says that we will not touch this exploratory process until Bill C-3 passes in the House.
We could be doing a lot of work prior to this bill actually receiving assent in the House, then in the Senate, and being signed off by the Governor General.
We also need to raise issues around implementation. That was touched on by the hon. member opposite. We asked if the department was ready. We asked if the register of Indians was ready. The government really did not answer those questions satisfactorily.
We asked other questions. Do we have an expedited process for these people who have been waiting so long for registration? Do we have an expedited process to make sure they are not bogged down in bureaucracy for years and years, having faced this gender and sex discrimination for these decades and generations? The government cannot tell us if in fact it has an expedited process, or a way to approach this, that will be acceptable to people.
I am sure many in the House who have first nations in their ridings get letters all the time from people complaining about the process. I received an email from one person who has been dealing with the register of Indians for 20 years about getting status. It is unacceptable.
While the government is touting equality in the House under Bill C-3, it must also put that into practice when it comes to implementation. The onus is going to be on individuals to apply, to provide some very detailed and personal information. It is only incumbent upon the government to make sure there is a process that people feel is fair and they have some confidence in.
We also want to talk about what the impacts are. Mr. Clatworthy, a noted demographer, said that approximately 45,000 may be eligible for registration. That is not to say that they are all going to register on one day or indeed get it in one day, one week, one year, or even two years.
The government said some months ago that it did not have figures. It could not tell us how much it was going to cost. It could not say how much of an impact it was going to have on a band, or a council, or a first nations government. It could not say how much it was going to cost. It could not say how many people would actually pick up for non-insured health benefits or post-secondary education as two programs they would be eligible for without a shadow of a doubt.
The government has not thought out the implementation of it, and I do not believe it has thought out the impacts of it. That, to me, speaks to an issue of sincerity. It does not do just do what it is forced to do. It goes beyond that and makes sure that once something comes into law, it has the means and resources to effectively deal with it.
Otherwise, what will it be like for a first nations woman or her children who can now get status when she finds out that she will be bogged down in bureaucratic red tape at the registration office, or for the new member of a band that does not have the resources to deal with those programs and benefits that the new member should receive as a registered Indian? That will not speak very highly of the government, which touts one thing in the House but does something different outside of it.
At the end of the day, there is a process in the House that I am not necessarily totally comfortable with, but we are part of it. We cannot change the bill. We have to live with what we have. It is not great, but we have to live with what we have.
We will be forced to vote on this particular bill. We may be grimacing or not quite happy doing so, but we may have to support it. That is what we are caught in so many times in the House.
With all sincerity, I believe the government sometimes designs things in this manner. To me, it does not speak well of a government when it designs things in a manner that puts parliamentarians in a very difficult position.
We tried to make amendments to the bill. We did everything in our power to amend the bill, first as a committee when it was referred to committee, and then as parliamentarians. We tried to make it more palatable to all of us here in the House, to make it more palatable to people like Sharon McIvor and other women and other families out there who want to end sex discrimination once and for all. The government shut us down and would not allow us to do it.
The procedure in the House is that we have to have consent many times in order for amendments to be made to a specific piece of legislation. When we brought those amendments forward, the government fought against them and said it did not want to broaden the scope of the bill. It only wanted to deal with what it was told to deal with by the B.C. Court of Appeal. That approach speaks volumes about a government that talks about equity but does something different.
In closing, I want to again thank the women and their families who have given so much of themselves and their lives to fight for equality in this country. Hopefully in the future we as a Parliament can be more open and more respectful to them and their needs in their fight for justice and equality.