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). It is a long title for a short bill. New Democrats will be supporting this bill at second reading.
It is important not only for the women and their children in Nanaimo—Cowichan but for the women and their children in British Colombia and across this country.
This somewhat technical bill is the result of a long-standing court case that Sharon McIvor had in British Columbia.
I am going to quote from the legislative summary because it deals with some of the technical aspects.The British Columbia Court of Appeal ruling gave rise to Bill C-3. The summary states:
The decision dealt with the case of Sharon McIvor, who had lost status when she married a non-First Nations man and had been reinstated in 1985 under paragraph 6(1)(c) of the post-Bill C-31 Indian Act. Her son, Jacob Grismer, having only one First Nations parent, acquired status under subsection 6(2) but was unable to transmit that status to his children owing to his own marriage to a non-First Nations woman. In contrast, persons in the male line affected by the 1951 double mother rule, which legislated loss of status at age 21, had been reinstated for life under paragraph 6(1)(c) and were thus able to transmit status to their children whether or not they married out. The Court found that this circumstance placed persons in Jacob Grismer's position at a disadvantage amounting to an unjustified section 15 Charter violation, and issued a suspended declaration of invalidity of paragraphs 6(1)(a) and (c) of the Act to allow Parliament to amend the Act before 6 April 2010.
When we talk about paragraph 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(c) and subsection 6(2), it gets very confusing and convoluted but it was an important ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court.
I want to put the whole discussion around citizenship and status in context and give the very big picture. I am going to start with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Article 8 of the UN declaration states:
1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
2. States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural v alues or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration;
(e) Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.
Article 33 of the UN declaration states:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions. This does not impair the right of indigenous individuals to obtain citizenship of the States in which they live.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine the structures and to select the membership of their institutions in accordance with their own procedures.
With respect to the UN declaration the Conservative government indicated in the throne speech that it would take the next steps. That is why it is important to read into the record some of the articles in the UN declaration because it sets the context for why discussions around citizenship and status are so important.
In terms of history, I am sure many Canadians are not aware that first nations from coast to coast to coast have a very long history of making their own citizenship and membership decisions.
In July 2008 the Assembly of First Nations and Indian and Northern Affairs joint technical working group outlined some history in a technical briefing paper. It indicated that early colonial powers relied upon first nations criteria to determine early colonial definitions of an Indian, including birth, marriage, adoption, residency, self-identification, kinship and community ties.
However, the consolidation of colonial legislation policy into the first Indian Act in 1876, which included legal definitions of the terms “Indian” and “statutory criteria” for who was and was not able to register as an Indian essentially laid the groundwork for the complete segregation from those who remained Indian and assimilation through the loss of status and existing rights.
The article goes on to talk about various changes, but I want to talk about other ones. The Gradual Enfranchisement Act of 1869 was the first law denying Indian status to an Indian woman who married out and which prevented her children from acquiring status. This provision was carried forward into the first Indian Act in 1876. From 1869 on, federal Indian legislation included successive Indian acts and introduced and solidified gender-based criteria within the definition of an Indian and in the treatment of Indian men and women.
This included the central role of patrilineal descent requirements and gender-based discrimination in the treatment of Indian to non-Indian marriages whereby Indian women who married a non-Indian lost their status and their children were not entitled to be registered. In contrast, Indian men who married non-Indians retained their status and their non-Indian spouse and offspring were entitled to be registered as Indians.
The article talks about the definition in 1876 and states:
In addition, the Act and subsequent amendments also continued and furthered the policy of enfranchisement, which became compulsory in a number of circumstances. For example, enfranchisement was automatic if an Indian became a doctor, lawyer, Christian minister, or earned a university degree.
Not only did gender discrimination become an integral part of the Indian Act from 1869 until the present day, but there was an enfranchisement policy that if first nations decided to get an education, they lost their status.
The 1951 amendments to the Indian Act further entrenched gender-based criteria in the definition of an Indian and ineligibility for registration and some precedents set by earlier Indian acts continued to prevail.
For example, Indians were defined as male persons of Indian blood and their descendants and wives. A woman derived her status through her father and then through her husband. If she married a non-native, a Métis, or a non-status Indian, she lost her status. Since children derive their status through their fathers, her children and future generations would also be ineligible to register.
The child of an unmarried registered mother would have status unless it was demonstrated that the father of the child did not have status. People who received or whose ancestors received land or money scrip were not considered Indians and therefore not eligible to be registered.
There is a long, long history of many attempts to limit from the outside from what was a colonial government and then turned out to be a patriarchal government later on, who would be considered first nations, or in those days Indian, in this country. Today we are debating a piece of legislation that very narrowly addresses one aspect of that discriminatory practice that became inherent in the Indian Act.
I want to touch on a couple of other things in the history. In 1961, there was an amendment to end the compulsory enfranchisement of men or bands. The rules indicating that if they had an education they no longer could be enfranchised were removed in 1961. This is how long the fight for equality has been going on.
In the early 1970s Jeannette Lavell and Yvonne Bédard challenged the discriminatory language of section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act. Both women had lost their Indian status because they had married white men. The Supreme Court ruled that the Indian Act was not discriminatory as the women gained the legal rights of white women at the same time they lost their status as Indian women. In the 1970s the courts seemed to be saying that it is better to be a white woman than a first nations woman.
This continued to have devastating consequences for women. Indian women who would later marry a non-Indian would lose their status as would the children of their marriage. These disenfranchised women were prohibited from residing on reserve, inheriting family property, receiving treaty benefits, participating in band councils and other affairs of the Indian community, and being buried in cemeteries with their ancestors. Not only did they lose their status, but they also lost the right to be part of their cultural and linguistic community. Many of these women or their ancestors had been leaders in their communities.
This of course was in stark contrast to first nations men who could marry whomever they desired with impunity. In fact, a non-Indian woman who married an Indian man would gain Indian status. According to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, approximately 4,605 Indian women lost their Indian status by marrying white men between the years of 1958 and 1968.
In 1981, Sandra Lovelace, a Maliseet woman from Tobique—Mactaquac, forced the issue by taking her case to the United Nations human rights committee, contending that she should not have to lose her own status by marriage. Of course, this subsequently led to what is now known as Bill C-31 from 1985. I am going to come back and touch on that in just a moment because, although we are discussing Bill C-3, there are some lessons to be learned from Bill C-31 from 1985.
In the current context, what we have is a very narrow attempt, based on the B.C. Supreme Court decision, to deal with some gender inequities in the Indian Act. I know a number of members in this House were present for the debate on the repeal of section 67 of the Human Rights Act that now allows first nations members to file human rights complaints on a variety of issues. At the time, witnesses came before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to say that what we are in effect doing is beginning to make changes to the Indian Act on a piecemeal basis, and what we can end up with is unintended consequences by not taking a step back and having a more holistic approach to the whole Indian Act.
When we start tinkering with one section, we often do not know what the impact will be further down the road, and I am going to come back to Bill C-31 in that context. However, regarding the current context and what this bill does not deal with, the band council of the Wabanaki Nation has provided a briefing document that talks about the fact that this piece of legislation does not deal with a couple of other problems.
It talks about the sibling rule, where at the time of birth, Indian registration rules did not allow for the registration of illegitimate daughters of an Indian father and a non-Indian mother. It goes on to say that a brother would have the right to be registered at the time of his birth since the Indian registration rules did not allow for the registration of illegitimate daughters of an Indian father and a non-Indian mother, but they did allow for the registration of their illegitimate sons. That is still a case that is outstanding and it is just one example of some of the challenges in the status aspect of the Indian Act which is not dealt by Bill C-3.
Again, I have indicated that New Democrats are prepared to support the bill at second reading; however, I would urge the government to take a much broader look at the Indian Act and its potential impacts.
I want to talk a little about resources, and this is where I am going to talk about Bill C-31 a bit. The Six Nations of the Grand River have prepared a citizenship briefing note, and it raises the spectre around the fact that Indian and Northern Affairs is pursuing an amendment to the Indian Act to respond to the directions from the B.C. Court of Appeal, to be in place by April 6, 2010.
First nations have not been adequately consulted regarding amendments, nor provided clear information on the impact on their communities, and Six Nations is not alone in raising concerns around the impact on the communities.
Just touching briefly on the issue of consultation, the government acknowledges that in this particular case, it has not done consultation. What it has said in that context was that the time was limited, that there was a mandate from the B.C. Supreme Court that it had to move forward. There are some very grave concerns that all aspects of this bill and its potential impacts have not been adequately examined. In fact, the government itself has been unable to give any clear idea of the impacts on communities.
What it has said is that it has estimated that there will be upwards of 45,000 people who could be reinstated as a result of Bill C-3, and that is from Mr. Stewart Clatworthy's report, who is a demographer and has done some work regarding this issue.
There have been no announcements and no budget allocations to deal with the increased administrative duty that comes attached to this bill. Back when Bill C-31 passed in 1985, The Globe and Mail reported that the government officers on two shifts a day were adding more than 500 people per week to the country's official Indian population. The system became swamped with more than 38,000 applicants seeking status for more than 76,000 people. That was in 1985 with Bill C-31.
Of course, we know that Bill C-31 had some other impacts on communities. Bill C-31 created additional problems. There was increased financial pressure on first nations to provide services to newly enfranchised members, and this was housing, health services, education, all of the kinds of services that come along with status.
It created divisions in some communities and families with an impact on community cohesion and identity. Part of that challenge arose because there simply was not enough money to allow people to move back to their home communities.
Just a reminder, some of these women who had married non-status men had been raised in their communities, had the cultural and the linguistic connections, and yet once they regained their status there simply was not enough housing to allow them to move home.
It did create divisions in some communities because of those very limited resources. It has led to a decline in status population and an increased restriction on the ability to transmit status to their children.
I want to turn on that point. There is something called the second generation cutoff in Bill C-31. And again, I would presume it was an unintended consequence because surely the government of the day would not have legislated assimilation, which is in fact what the second generation cutoff does in Bill C-31. The reason I am raising this in the context of Bill C-3 is again that unintended consequence.
In reassessing the population impacts of Bill C-31, Stewart Clatworthy prepared a report on February 26, 2001. Although it is a very lengthy report, I just want to quote from one part of it. Mr. Clatworthy assessed the continuation of the current rules of Bill C-31. He said that if Bill C-31 did not change, if it was the status quo, this is what we could anticipate as the impact of the second generation cutoff. He said:
The number of survivors and descendants who do not qualify for registration is expected to increase from the current level of about 21,700 to nearly 400,000 within two generations.
He was projecting a serious acceleration of the numbers of people who will lose status. He said:
After three generations (year 2074) individuals who are not entitled to registration are projected to form the majority of the population.
Many people have referred to this as legislated assimilation. I want to come back to what I started with when I indicated that prior to contact, and even in the early days of colonial rule, the colonial government of the day took first nations definitions of who was first nations from first nations.
In the context of Bill C-3, although I recognize that there was a court imposed deadline, it could have been an opportunity, once that court decision was issued, for the government to implement a full consultative process to look at all aspects of citizenship and membership.
This was an important opportunity to right some of the wrongs around the gender inequality but also to look at some of the unintended consequences of Bill C-31.
I look forward to having discussions in committee about the complex nature of status and citizenship. I am expecting that we will have some very excellent presentations before the committee that lay out some of the challenges.