Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and speak to Bill C-3. It brings back memories. Already when you were the chair of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, we started discussing this bill or at least the imminent emergence of a bill to amend section 6 of the Indian Act, an act that is probably by far the most discriminatory legislation that Canada passed all last century.
I would like to acknowledge the outstanding job done on this bill by our researcher in the social affairs division, Ms. Hurley, who works for the Library of Parliament. She submitted a superb document, which we received today, on the history and the reasons why we are talking today about the McIver decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal and why we want to amend the Indian Act.
We started trying to deal with the Indians in 1850, of course in a Canadian way. There was the American way. Everyone remembers the American way and Wounded Knee, where virtually all the Sioux and several other aboriginal communities were exterminated. They were driven off their lands through war.
In Canada, we took a gentler approach, although it was just as assimilatory in intent as the American way, which was to exterminate. We decided on a somewhat gentler approach and all the ensuing governments to the present day should look themselves in the mirror and say they are responsible for the fact that we are today debating BillC-3 to hopefully put an end—even if only partially—to unparalleled discrimination against women in Canada and against aboriginal women.
I have rarely seen a bill trying to end such discrimination in an existing piece of legislation. The act was called an Act for the gradual enfranchisement of Indians, the better management of Indian affairs, and to extend the provisions of the Act thirty-first Victoria, chapter forty-two. The bill was passed in 1869. Nothing could be more paternalistic than that.
In 1850, the first statutory definition of “Sauvages” in Canada was brought in. I am going to offer a history lesson on assimilation, for those who are listening to us. A better job of causing a people to disappear could not be done than the job Canada did with the Indians, with the first peoples. That much is clear. The reason some of them survive today is certainly not down to the governments that came one after another; it is because the aboriginal people had great resilience.
In 1850, the first statutory definition of “Sauvages” was inclusive, that is not me saying it, we have to go back to the Act for the Better Protection of the Lands and Property of Indians in Lower Canada, Statutes of Canada 1850, chapter 42. The Indians’ land was taken, and it was the federal government that flatly declared itself the trustee. But there were quite a lot of Indians. A way had to be found for there to be fewer of them.
A law passed in 1869 brought in the first provision under which the marriage of an Indian woman to a non-Indian resulted in the woman and her children losing status. A man retained all his rights and powers, while a woman who married a white man lost all her rights. And that has been the case since 1850.
The Bloc wants to speak out against that situation in the House. Over the next few months, we will try to find solutions. They will not be easy solutions, because the aboriginal peoples of Canada have been the victims of discrimination and assimilation in recent years.
It was in 1951 that an attempt was finally made to incorporate the double mother rule, under which a person who was registered at birth lost their status and their band membership at the age of 21 if their parents had married after the Indian Act came into force, in September 1951, and if their mother and father’s mother had gained status solely by marriage.
In other words, there was no problem if a man married a white woman, if an Indian man married an Indian woman and if an Indian man married a white woman. But if an Indian woman married a white man, she lost all her rights. That is what happened.
As far as I know, it is still women who bear children. Unless and until that changes, very clearly it is women who will be victims of discrimination under the Indian Act. That is still the case today and it will still be the case in the future, even if Bill C-3 is passed.
We are going to solve the problem in committee. We agree that the bill should be studied in committee.
Sometime last year, the House passed Bill C-21 to repeal section 67 of the Indian Act, which states that the Canadian Human Rights Act does not apply on reserve. That was impressive. Under Bill C-21, as of June 2011, the Canadian Human Rights Act will apply to aboriginal communities. Bill C-3 will add to the rights of women in these communities.
I hope that the government will see the light and adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I hope this will happen in my lifetime and during Mr. Speaker's tenure. Sadly, for the time being, we are nowhere near seeing this happen.
What is the McIvor decision? It is not very complicated. I have mentioned the milestones of the Indian Act. There was 1869, and then 1951. Another very important date after 1951 was 1985. That year, the Liberals, who thought they were so clever, introduced Bill C-31. The government at the time had a strong majority, and thus it was able to pass this legislation, which took effect in 1985. The problem is that Bill C-31, as it was passed, did not solve the problems.
Bill C-31 was supposed to remove discrimination, restore Indian status and ties to the band, that is membership rights, and enable bands to take charge of the status of their members on their own. Then the dispute started because, as they say, “The devil is in the details”, “Le diable est dans les détails” or, as you might sometimes hear in Quebec, “Le yâble est dans les détails”. I cannot wait to hear what the translators will do with that. So the “yâble” is in the details.