Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-3, Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act and explain why I encourage all members of the House to join me in supporting it.
Bill C-3 proposes to accomplish two objectives. First, this legislation would remove a cause of gender discrimination in the Indian Act. Second, it would meet the deadline imposed upon Parliament in a ruling of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.
My remarks today will describe not only how Bill C-3 achieves these objectives, but also how it would serve the larger national interest.
In last year's decision by the Court of Appeal for B.C. in McIvor v. Canada, the court ruled that the two paragraphs in section 6 of the Indian Act discriminate between men and women with respect to registration as an Indian and therefore violate the equality provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Rather than have the decision take effect right away, the court suspended the effects of the decision until April 6, 2010, and explicitly called on Parliament to enact an effective legislative solution.
What this means is we have until April 6 to implement a solution and if we fail to meet this deadline a key section of the Indian Act, one that spells out rules related to entitlement to registration also known as Indian status, will cease to have legal effect in the province of British Columbia.
This will have some significant consequences. As the members of the House will recognize, Indian status is a legal concept that confers a particular set of rights and entitlements. Should the two paragraphs of section 6 cease to have legal effect, it would lead to uncertainty and confusion about entitlements to registration in British Columbia.
The legislation now before us proposes to avert these consequences by amending certain registration provisions of the Indian Act. The bill addresses the root of the problem by removing the language that the court ruled unconstitutional.
I have no doubt that every member of the House stands opposed to discrimination based on gender. Despite this conviction, I expect that all members appreciate that equality between men and women is difficult to achieve at times.
Bill C-3 would take Canada one significant step closer to this important goal and this is what this debate is all about, the ongoing effort to eliminate gender discrimination.
Parliament, of course, has played an important role in taking corrective actions to address this issue. For example, the House endorsed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is recognized internationally as a milestone in the fight against discrimination. To understand the origins of the McIvor decision we must go back to the 1980s when the charter was first enacted.
The charter required the Government of Canada to amend or rescind federal legislation that caused, aided or abetted discrimination based on gender. A significant effort was undertaken to amend the Indian Act, which clearly discriminated against women.
Perhaps the most egregious example of this discrimination was the Indian Act's treatment of a status Indian who married someone without status. If the status Indian were a woman, she would immediately lose her status. If the status Indian were a man, he would retain his status and furthermore his wife would become entitled to registration.
So these effects were dramatically different of course on their children. Children of a woman who lost status and her non-Indian husband were not entitled to registration, while children of a status man and his non-Indian wife were entitled to registration.
A provision in the former Indian Act, which was commonly referred to as the “double mother clause”, discriminated against children whose mother and paternal grandmother gained status upon marriage. These children, born after September 4, 1951, would lose their Indian status at age 21.
In an effort to eliminate these types of discrimination, Parliament endorsed a series of amendments to the Indian Act in 1985. These amendments are still known, colloquially, as Bill C-31 changes, and they remain controversial and lie at the heart of the McIvor ruling at the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.
The problem lies with the mechanisms that Bill C-31 used to rectify gender discrimination related to status entitlement and registration. I will do my best to simplify two of the key amendments from 1985.