Mr. Speaker, I am pleased 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 supports the principle of this bill designed to allow those who suffered discrimination because of Bill C-31 passed in 1985 to reconnect with their origins.
Indian registration is indeed the first step in gaining not only Indian status, but also peer recognition in the community.
Membership is a very important concept, as it entitles individuals to live on reserve, participate in political processes such as the election of band chiefs, own property on reserve and share band resources. It permits recognition of one's origins and the practice of one's culture.
In 1996, many questions were already being raised about the impact of Bill C-31. There were concerns about possible adverse effects on the debate about whether or not someone is a band member, an issue that is not only complex, but also an integral part of a person's identity. To illustrate this complexity, I will read two excerpts from a report prepared by the Library of Parliament in February 1996 and revised in 2003.
The debate over membership is complex and multifaceted. A consideration of the issue leads to questions about what it means to belong to a community, about who has the right to define community membership, and about the changing nature of the Indian population. For many years, externally imposed rules for status and membership have produced internal divisions within Indian communities. The impacts of Bill C-31 have further emphasized political, social and financial concerns and introduced new problems.
The growth in the number of status Indians living off reserve as a result of Bill C-31 has also increased the need to clarify the responsibilities of federal and provincial governments in providing and funding the services required. Problems have arisen, moreover, because many of the programs and funds for status Indians are available only to those who live on reserve. Some of those who wished to live on reserve could not, however, because of a lack of services, such as housing. Furthermore, despite the increase in services, many off-reserve Bill C-31 registrants did not know how to access them and thus did not take advantage of them. INAC has been criticized for not making this information more readily available.
These quotes show just how complex recognition is.
Does the implementation of Bill C-3 raise new questions about the implementation of Bill C-31? The Bloc Québécois thinks it does.
The McIvor decision forced the government to close the loophole created by the 1951 act and the unacceptable amendment to the 1985 act, which was itself trying to close the enormous loophole created by the enactment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The 1876 Indian Act stated that a woman marrying a non-Indian would lose her status and stop being an Indian in the eyes of Canadian law. The act and all of the legislation succeeding it marginalized women in aboriginal society and considerably diminished their social and political role in community life. Indian women were subject to a law that discriminated against them on the basis of their race, gender and marital status.
In 1951, the Indian Act was amended, but still marginalized women marrying non-Indians. Such women could not be registered on the new federal register of status Indians.
In 1985, after new provisions were added to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Bill C-31 attempted to close the loophole in the Indian Act, but women's children still did not have the same rights as men's children.
The federal government waited 25 years to introduce a bill recognizing the Indian status of individuals who had been discriminated against in the past. This issue is not just about First Nations and women. It is about equality and human rights. The Indian Act discriminated against women because it denied Indian status to the grandchildren of aboriginal women, but not to those of aboriginal men. Bill C-3, which was introduced today, will correct part of the problem.
If not for Sharon McIvor's hard work and perseverance, if not for the 2007 British Columbia Supreme Court ruling, which was confirmed by the British Columbia Court of Appeal on April 6, 2009, the federal government would never have introduced this bill.
The bill must go to committee so that various stakeholders can have an opportunity to express their opinions about the effect that Bill C-3 will have on their communities. The committee will also have to come up with a better plan for implementing the bill so as to avoid making the same mistakes that were made in 1985 with Bill C-31.
Count on us to help make that happen. The Bloc Québécois' excellent critic for this file, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, will do everything in his power to ensure that the committee hears what everyone has to say.
At December 31, 2000, more than 114,000 individuals had acquired Indian status.
I will be speaking about Sharon McIvor's struggle, which is the basis for our debate.
In 1985, the federal government amended the Indian Act through Bill C-31, which gave Indian status to women married to non-Indians. However, in many cases, these women could not pass this status to their children.
In 1985, Sharon McIvor, a law student from British Columbia and descendant of the Lower Nicola Indian Band—her mother was a status Indian woman and her father a non-status Indian man—applied to regain her status. She obtained her Indian status but was told her children were not eligible.
In 1987, Ms. McIvor wrote a letter requesting a review of the decision. In 1989, she received a reply upholding the denial of Indian status to her children. She launched a court case challenging the Indian Act.
Shortly before Ms. McIvor's case was heard in court in 2006, the federal government agreed to restore status to her children. Ms. McIvor continued with the court case. In 2006, Ms. McIvor's case was first heard in court.
In October 2006, the federal government abolished the court challenges program, which had helped Ms. McIvor defend her case. It was the Conservative government that made this decision. With the elimination of the program, Ms. McIvor found it difficult to fund the defence of her case. The government's decision came just after Ms. McIvor won her case in the British Columbia Supreme Court.
In June 2007, Justice Ross of the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled in favour of Ms. McIvor. She maintained that the law “implies that one’s female ancestors are deficient or less Indian than their male contemporaries. The implication is that one’s lineage is inferior.”
In July 2007, the federal government announced that it would appeal the decision. In 2008, the case was heard by the British Columbia Court of Appeal. On April 6, 2009, a decision was made in favour of Ms. McIvor. I—