House of Commons Hansard #34 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-3.


Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.


LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I am sure most members are aware, in April 2009, the Court of Appeal in British Columbia ruled on the McIvor case, McIvor v. Canada, and certain registration provisions under the Indian Act were unconstitutional and violated equality provisions of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights. The court suspended the declaration for 12 months to April 6, 2010 to give Parliament time to pass this act. In fact, the court extended it further to July 5.

As part of our process, we are trying to ensure that we meet the requirements of the B.C. Court of Appeal to continue on with our process to ensure that those who have been discriminated against will no longer be discriminated against under the new provision under Bill C-3.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.


John Duncan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, the member for Medicine Hat sat on the committee for Indian Affairs and Northern Development and we listened to witnesses for a considerable length of time on Bill C-3. What we heard were contradictory positions and a lack of consensus. People were reluctant to express points of view in terms of possible amendments to the bill because of their concern regarding unintended consequences. We also heard that unaddressed issues will flow from Bill C-3. We have been very straightforward about that, which is why we are launching the exploratory process.

My question is very straightforward. How many new eligibilities will there be across the country as a consequence of the passage of the bill, and what are the consequences of not having Bill C-3 in place?

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.


LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is important that we get this bill passed. As my colleague said, a number of individuals who would be eligible at this point in time have been identified. As an estimate, about 45,000 people would be eligible for registration under the Indian Act.

If we do not put this process and this bill in place, these people will not be eligible. In particular, there will be no new registrations allowed in the province of British Columbia. It is an important process that we are following to get the bill passed.

Second, it is important to note that, in the exploratory process that we talked about, a number of first nations organizations were involved in the early part of it and will continue to be involved in the exploratory process to talk about the various items of registration and citizenship. It is important that we continue on with that process because it allows individuals an opportunity to get these various questions out there in terms of registration, citizenship and belonging to first nations.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

11:30 a.m.


Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak in favour of the motion put before this House by the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. I thank her for taking the opportunity to do that and for giving us an opportunity to debate an issue during what really is an historic time not only within the House but within our committee and the country.

Significant changes to the Indian Act do not happen often. The last time that such significant amendments were being debated was in 1985, 25 years ago. Those particular amendments came about because of huge and momentous court battles and struggles before the United Nations by some very courageous women, women like Corbiere-Lavell, who is now the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, and Sandra Lovelace, who is now a senator.

Subsequent to 1985, another 25 year legal battle took place to once and for all get rid of sex discrimination within the Indian Act. We as parliamentarians are at an historic crossroads where we have an opportunity, once and for all, to rid the very archaic and parochial Indian Act of all sex discrimination.

This motion says that we should instruct the committee to allow the committee to go beyond the scope of the bill to make significant amendments. Why would we do this? We would do it because every witness who appeared before committee said that there would be residual discrimination. Government witnesses tacitly said that this was so. They never explicitly said so, but there was a tacit assumption on the part of even the government's own witnesses, such as lawyers from the Department of Justice and those who work within the Department of Indian Affairs, that there would be residual discrimination.

Beyond those particular witnesses, national organizations, such as the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Native Women's Association of Canada and the National Association of Friendship Centres, put forward possible amendments to the bill at committee and encouraged us to once and for all get rid of sex discrimination. Each of them in their submissions said that there would be ongoing sex discrimination under the Indian Act.

Regional organizations, such as the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and the Quebec Native Women Inc., also made presentations. I will go through some of their specific comments as we debate this in the House.

Legal organizations also came before us, such as the Canadian Bar Association, which represents over 30,000 legal minds in this country, and the Bureau du Québec. These organizations also said that there would be ongoing residual discrimination.

We also heard from individuals, experts, people with their doctorates in the Indian Act and people like Pam Palmater, who came with not only a professional opinion but one also imbued from her studies and from what she had learned throughout her time and in her own family. She brought a personal experience to this issue and she said that there would be residual discrimination.

The person who has waged battle for equality for the last 25 years, Sharon McIvor, came before committee and said that even with Bill C-3, even with what the government has presented to this House and what we are now debating in committee, there will be no true equality under the Indian Act for her and her grandchildren as compared to those in the male line. She also said that there will be continuing gender discrimination.

With all of that evidence in front of the government, why would it want to continue sex discrimination? Why would it not want to now take the opportunity to rid the Indian Act of gender inequality? Why would we as parliamentarians not rise to the task to end gender inequality when we see it and when we know it exists by virtually everyone's admission? The government sometimes talks a good talk about gender equality for women but we do not see it walk the walk. We do not see it step up to the plate.

I will go through what some of the witnesses told us, sometimes through written submissions. I will quote the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund because it lists out three specific examples where gender discrimination will continue to exist, even with Bill C-3. It said, “Aboriginal women and their descendants who regain status under Bill C-3 are not entitled to equal status with their male counterparts. Descendants of women born before 1951 will not be entitled to status, whereas descendants of men born before 1951 are entitled to status. Descendants of women in common-law or other non-marital unions with non-status men are not entitled to status”.

It goes on to say, “Bill C-3 does not address the existing Indian Act policy, pursuant to which all cases of unconfirmed paternity are presumed to be non-status. In response to Bill C-3, individual aboriginal women, aboriginal women's organizations, aboriginal governments and chiefs, including the Assembly of First Nations and legal experts, have demanded the eradication of all sex discrimination under the Indian Act”.

It emphasized the point right in B.C where some of the members opposite like to say that this will have the greatest impact because the B.C. Court of Appeal did apply specifically to the Province of B.C., but the proposes amendments under Bill C-3 would apply across the country.

The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, when it appeared before the committee, said that Bill C-3, Canada's response to the B.C. Court of Appeal decision in McIvor v. Canada, was a limited approach which continues discrimination under the Indian Act against indigenous women and their descendants. It went on to say that we should make a number of amendments to eradicate sex discrimination and gender discrimination from the Indian Act, and it lists them.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, a national organization, also came to the committee and admitted that there would still be gender discrimination under the Indian Act. It said that it wanted to make some changes. One of them was that, as an interim measure, Canada should amend section 6.1(a) of the Indian Act to include the following words, “Or was born prior to April 17, 1985 and was a direct descendant of such a person to Section 61(a) of the Indian Act”.

That is not in Bill C-3. That is in direct contrast to what is in Bill C-3. This would broaden it and get rid of many forms of discrimination. Of course, there were others dealing with other issues, but it was the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples that made that particular submission.

Members of the Quebec Native Women Inc. came to us and said that while they recognized the need to amend the archaic nature of the Indian Act, which is of itself discriminatory, they deplore the restrictive vision of the federal government focusing solely on a patchwork remedy to the specific problem of discrimination brought to light in the McIvor case. They went on to say:

This is a missed opportunity for the Government of Canada to finally eradicate the historical and institutionalized forms of discrimination that Aboriginal women and their descendants have been subjected to under the Indian Act since 1876. The Government’s proposal to amend the Indian Act will indeed cause further destructive divisions within families.

I mentioned earlier that individuals came before the committee presenting testimony. One was Pam Palmater who has a unique family situation with various parentage for various kids within her family and she outlined it to the committee. Under Bill C-3 they would be treated differently. There will be different status for different children just because their grandmother was a woman. They do not come from a paternal line, but from a maternal line, and she outlined that very clearly. She also wrote to the committee. She was quite succinct, but this is how she summed it up:

Canada has introduced a minimalist amendment to the Act and is seeking to deny compensation to those Indian women and their descendants who were wrongfully denied their identities,--

She went on to say:

The Court of Appeal in McIvor found the discrimination to be newly created in 1985 and not prior to the coming into force of the Charter.

So she is also bringing in the issue of the charter that came into force after Bill C-31 and the type of remedy that would be available to people admitting that there was discrimination between 1985 and the present.

She said and I am paraphrasing, to not once and for all get rid of the discrimination is to perpetuate the very negative stereotypes against Indian women that McIvor and others fought against, that they are less worthy, less aboriginal and less able to transmit their aboriginality to their children simply by virtue of being aboriginal women.

She went on to make a further argument that they must be allowed the opportunity to bring forward a charter challenge based on the discrimination that existed since 1985 to the present even with Bill C-3 brought in because we know there will be residual forms of discrimination.

Then we had presentations by the Canadian Bar Association. It has a section entitled “Continuing Discrimination”. It said:

Unfortunately, Bill C-3 would not completely eliminate discrimination from the registration provisions of the Indian Act. The proposals do not address discriminatory aspects of the “second generation cut-off rule” enacted in 1985, which the parties and the court studiously avoided in the McIvor case. Perhaps more important, Bill C-3 would not sufficiently address the source of discrimination identified by the BC Court of Appeal; sections 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(c) violate the Charter to the extent that they grant individuals to whom the “Double Mother Rule” applied greater rights than they would have had under the former legislation.

I have only taken excerpts from certain presentations by witnesses that were made before the aboriginal affairs committee, but I believe this whole debate comes down to the motion. Why not allow the committee to have its scope broadened on the bill and to allow us to make the amendments?

There are probably going to be amendments introduced even later today in committee and someone will rule whether they are in order or they are not in order. We will vote subsequently to that, but why not give the committee the opportunity and the latitude to introduce amendments based on what witnesses have brought before the committee to once and for all end gender discrimination? Why would the government not want that to happen?

I understand that this motion, brought before the House, will give the committee more latitude, more of a breadth of opportunity to make amendments that bring gender equality to all aboriginal women when it comes to provisions of the Indian Act.

Why would the government want to deny us that simple opportunity? Then we can take the time in committee to propose those amendments and once and for all get rid of gender discrimination. Why would the government want to perpetuate gender discrimination when it has the opportunity to eradicate it?

In 2010 we have as parliamentarians, almost at any age I suppose, these opportunities and we should take them and not deny them.

This is all we are asking the government to do. We think it is a sensible approach. The government talks about its extension from the B.C. Court of Appeal where the court granted one year and now it is going until the first week in July. The B.C. Court of Appeal said in its decision that if the government wanted more time, because it knows how significant these issues are and how complex they can be, it would have granted that time to the government.

However, the government talks about the deadline, but when its lawyers come before the committee, the government admits that it really did not have any legal obligation to even bring in Bill C-3. If Bill C-3 falls, who says it will bring in another bill.

If the government is true to its words, true to what it says, it will eliminate gender discrimination. But if Bill C-3 fails, I would ask the government, is it going to bring in another bill to deal with all of the sex discrimination that exists under the Indian Act? If it will not, why would it not? If it has taken the opportunity and made all these arguments about Bill C-3, I would think that the government would live up to its own rhetoric and bring in another bill in a very quick timeframe to deal with the residual discrimination.

It cannot use all of the arguments and rationale for bringing in Bill C-3, then have it fail and say it is not going to bring in another bill. I do not think the government can have it both ways.

I would say to the aboriginal caucus members of the Conservative Party of Canada to fight within their party for the change that is required. They should fight within their party to ensure that the committee can do its work today and for the aboriginal women who have fought so hard for many generations, or else what is an aboriginal committee or a caucus for if they do not fight those battles within their own party.

This is a historic time. It is an opportunity for us all to join together as parliamentarians and end gender discrimination and sex discrimination under the Indian Act once and for all. There is nothing that stands in our way. The House has been given an opportunity to vote on the motion that will allow the committee to do its work and the committee to respond to the witnesses that came before us. If we cannot respond to the witnesses who come before us in committee, what is the use of committees?

We hear witnesses because they are supposed to be able to influence us to make the appropriate changes. There has been unanimity from witnesses who came before us to make changes to end gender discrimination. Why would we not allow the committee the opportunity to do just that?

I am glad to speak to this motion. I invite questions. In speaking here today I want to honour those like Sharon McIvor and other women who have stood with her and indeed many Canadians who have stood with her for the last 25 years to once and for all get rid of gender discrimination. It is the right thing to do.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.


Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the comments and the speech that my colleague just made, given the fact that this discrimination has gone on for years and years even under the Liberal government.

I attended the aboriginal committee dealing with this issue. I heard very clearly from Sharon McIvor that the bill continues to discriminate against women. I also heard that there was an opportunity for the government to ask for more time when the decision was made and the government basically refused. It asked for more time, which was granted, but very little. There needs to be more time for consultation. I am sure the member will agree with this.

We heard from our colleague from Medicine Hat a while ago with respect to how many Canadians this would benefit. I am wondering if my colleague has an estimate as to how many Canadians this will still not benefit. And if he is in agreement with me, with respect to the fact that at committee the Conservative government of the day did hear that this continues to be discrimination against women? Is the member in agreement that the government members certainly heard that loud and clear?

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.


Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, there is always this shot, “You were in government”. I do not care what government was in place, quite frankly. No government has the right to perpetuate discrimination. One may want to take a shot, but that is fine because I will never stand for it, if I can help it, at all. I do not care if it was a Liberal government, a Conservative government or a provincial NDP government. It makes no difference. If we see there is discrimination, we have an obligation to try to eradicate it.

We are all sometimes presented with these opportunities and at times are judged by not meeting the challenge that has been presented. I would hate to think, with the opportunity we have now, that we will not rise to the challenge. Maybe we all will have an opportunity to vote on Bill C-3 and we will see where we stand.

The government estimates that those who may be eligible to register is 45,000, but if this particular bill does not go through, it only affects the people in B.C. where certain provisions of the Indian Act have been struck down. Some estimate that could be up to 3,000 a year, although other experts say that the number impacted would be far less than that because there would still be provisions under the Indian Act by which they could register.

There are also arguments that many who are eligible to register, because of the amendments in 1985, have done so in the last 25 years. The essential point is how do we once and for all eradicate the Indian Act of sex discrimination.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.


Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, having listened to the hon. member's comments on the motion before the House today, I want to ask him to consider the balance that the committee has to deal with.

On one hand, we have the imperative of House procedure, which requires us to work within the scope that the House has referred the bill to committee. On the other hand, we have the urgency of moving forward on a bill that would in fact reinstate the registration provisions of the Indian Act, which would allow, as was suggested here, some 45,000 potential registrants, waiting at the bay, to achieve status. Those people are waiting.

Would he not agree and could he not consider that Bill C-3 is in fact an interim step? It is a step in the right direction of moving us to where we need to go and that is exactly what this exploratory process that has been committed to by the government will give us. Bill C-3 is by no means a be-all and end-all in terms of addressing all of the issues that the witnesses advanced in committee.

I put it to the member. Aside from his comments, would he not consider that there is some urgency in getting this bill passed even though it recognizes there are still some issues to deal with?

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

11:55 a.m.


Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's comments, but if there was an urgency on the part of the government, it would not have prorogued the House for two months in January. If there was an urgency, this could have been dealt with in a much shorter time span. If there is an urgency, I would think the urgency is to eradicate the Indian Act of all sex discrimination.

The House, which sent a bill to committee within a particular scope, now has the ability, if the government so chooses, to allow a vote on this motion. It now has the ability to broaden that scope and allow the committee to do its work. When it comes to the 45,000 potential registrants, the member is quite aware that it is not 45,000 at the gate, as he would say. This is an individual decision by people on whether to choose to register.

We have not been satisfied that the government has its house in order to ensure that all of those potential registrants will have adequate information and, indeed, that the system can move their applications through in a timely fashion. Many people say now that it is going to take years and years, after a person who makes application to the registrar, for it to go through. There are many dynamics here.

All of these needs can be met if the government would co-operate, allow the committee to do its work, and allow substantive amendments to the bill. All of this could be accomplished within a fairly decent timeframe. All interests would be respected and all would be winners.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings



Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague's remarks. I have a question for him, but I want to preface it.

A committee's job is to make sure that a bill respects the will of Parliament. Unfortunately, Bill C-3, as written, only reflects a single British Columbia Court of Appeal ruling that dealt with one specific issue: can Ms. McIvor and her grandchildren—her grandson—be recognized and registered as Indians?

In reviewing Bill C-3, we realized that it did not go far enough and did not solve the problem of discrimination against women. I will come back to that in a few minutes when it is my turn to speak to my colleague's motion.

In the member for Labrador's opinion, if we do nothing more than pass Bill C-3, how many aboriginal women will experience the same kind of discrimination over the coming years?

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings



Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has certainly spoken passionately in this House before on these issues and before committee.

No doubt that when we looked at Bill C-3, there were doubts as to whether it would resolve all aspects of gender discrimination. Certainly our fears were brought to light. All of the witnesses said that there would be continuing discrimination. I tend to agree with the witnesses, legal experts, individuals and aboriginal organizations, who came before us.

One thing that quickly came to all of us once we examined the bill even from a preliminary perspective was that the Conservative government had taken pains to very deliberately scope this bill in the narrowest possible terms. It seems to me that this was a very conscious decision to scope it very narrowly so that it would apply to the bare minimum that it had to apply to. There was nothing stopping the government from scoping this bill in a much broader way, in being more inclusive and to once and for all get rid of the sex discrimination. There was nothing stopping the government from making that choice. Instead the government chose to scope it very narrowly and we are left with the dilemma that we are trying to resolve here today and in committee.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings



Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House about the motion by the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.

I quite enjoy working with the hon. member on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. When she decided to move this motion, she was well aware, as were we, that the bill does not go as far as aboriginal women want.

If I may, I would like to give a bit of background. British Columbia's Court of Appeal handed down a judgment last year. This ruling gave the Government of Canada one year to remove the discriminatory provision that kept Sharon McIvor from registering her grandsons as Indians. For the benefit of those listening, there is no law in Canada that is more discriminatory than the Indian Act. This law upholds a completely unacceptable form of discrimination against aboriginal women.

To make things perfectly clear, when someone is born, they are registered in a church or with the civil registrar, and this person obtains rights at birth. It is quite amazing that under the Indian Act, an Indian can lose his or her rights at birth. Allow me to explain. If an aboriginal woman marries a white man, this woman's children lose their rights at birth. But when an aboriginal man, an Indian, marries a white woman, his children have the rights set out in the Indian Act. That summarizes a very complex debate. This discrimination has existed since 1876.

In 1951, the Indian Act set out some parameters and two subsections were included, notably subsections 6(1) and 6(2). Under these two subsections, an Indian can be registered or given status at birth. That makes no sense. The current law treats women so unequally that I am surprised we are still debating it in Canada in 2010.

That is exactly what happened in the present case. It took a certain woman to wake up one day and say “enough is enough”, and decide to go to court to assert her rights. That woman was Sharon McIvor and that is what she did in 1985, because in 1981 the Liberal government of the day had introduced the famous Bill C-31, which was passed and which perpetuated the discrimination. Although it eliminated part of it, it maintained other aspects of the discrimination.

It is quite remarkable, because under the Indian Act, each Indian child that is born must be registered as an Indian in order to have the right to live or continue to live as an Indian.

What is quite remarkable is that the government has given itself the right to decide whether to register an Indian boy or girl. In the matter before us, Indian girls have far fewer rights than Indian boys when they are born. That is precisely how things work right now and how they will remain if Bill C-3, which was examined in committee, passes in its current form.

Under subsection 7(1) of the Indian Act, it is up to the government to decide whether an individual, male or female, is an Indian and whether that person is entitled to that status, as set out in subsections 6(1) and 6(2). Those two subsections in the Indian Act are discriminatory and this discrimination has been perpetuated for 25 years.

Thanks to the court challenges program, Ms. McIvor received the financial support she needed to take her case to court and stand up for herself. She won recognition that she had the right to register her grandchildren, both her grandson and granddaughter. What is quite remarkable is that if not for the court challenges program—Ms. McIvor was one of the last people to use it—we probably never would have been debating this issue, for it is very complicated.

Lawyers for Ms. McIvor told the committee that they had studied the matter for 12 to 24 months in order to mount a defence before the courts. This case has been in the courts since 1985 and has moved through all levels, from the British Columbia Supreme Court to the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which handed down a decision last year.

When a court rules on an issue, it rules only on that issue. It cannot address anything other than the issue brought before it, at the risk of having its decision overturned by the provincial court of appeal or supreme court because it went too far.

The court was asked whether Ms. McIvor could pass on Indian status to her grandchildren. The answer is very limited. You have to read the decision and I do not believe that my Conservative friends have done so. The government did not read the decision before introducing Bill C-3. Had they read it carefully, they would have realized that the judge said, in short, that he did not believe that the discrimination complained of by Ms. McIvor would be perpetuated for other aboriginal women, but that he was not called on to settle the matter, which is a political one.

As far as I know, in this place, we are in the business of politics. The matter has arrived in the House. How did it get here? The government did not have a choice. It promised to introduce a bill to amend the Indian Act to eliminate the type of discrimination that Ms. McIvor suffered. The government says that it is required only to introduce a bill to that end. By introducing a bill that deals solely with that issue, the government has taken a very narrow view.

Since the committee is examining the bill, it has asked witnesses to testify. Every single one of the witnesses told us the same thing: if we are going to do it, we must do it right. This means that if we are trying to deal with and resolve the issue of discrimination, we must solve this problem once and for all.

This issue affects aboriginal women across Canada. If this bill is passed as is, these women will continue to be the victims of discrimination and will have to go before the courts. They will also not have access to the court challenges program, so that they can be on equal footing with the government. The government is both judge and judged here. It does not want to solve this problem, and that is clear.

Why not? Because there would be too many status Indians. Bluntly put, the sole purpose of the Indian Act was to assimilate all aboriginals. Is that clear enough? That is what it was for. All you have to do is deprive women of their rights. As far as I know, unless something has changed recently, it is still women who give birth to children, and it is through women that values and Indian status are transmitted. Therefore, it is through women that the right to Indian status can be taken away, and that the problem can slowly be solved. Solving the problem means assimilating aboriginals. That is what the Indian Act was for, and it still is today.

It is 2010 and the situation has not changed. Bill C-3 does not solve the problem. That is what the Native Women's Association of Canada and Femmes Autochtones du Québec told us. The Canadian Bar Association and lawyers' associations from across Canada came to talk to us, and so did aboriginal chiefs. Last week, we heard from Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, Alberta and British Columbia. Everyone had the same thing to say, and that is that Bill C-3 would not solve the problem.

Our position is that if we are going to solve the problem, we should solve it for good. We need to eliminate the discrimination that exists, and to do that, we have to go further than the bill requires. That is exactly what the Court of Appeal for British Columbia told us. It said we should do our jobs as politicians and eliminate the discrimination while we were at it. The bill has to go further and eliminate once and for all the discrimination aboriginal women face.

But the government says that there will be far too many Indians, that the Indian population is expected to increase by 40,000 to 45,000 with Bill C-3, that this makes no sense, that there are already far too many Indians, that it will cost far too much and that assimilation is the answer. That is what we must speak out against in the House.

In a roundabout way, the government is trying to avoid facing up to its responsibilities, which would mean recognizing aboriginal peoples. The government must recognize that aboriginal nations have the right to exist, and it must give them the means to continue to exist. That is what scares it the most. I have a binder here, but we have notes and documents. We have everything we need to solve the problem once and for all.

Even departmental officials who appeared before us are saying that Bill C-3 will not solve the problem. It is true that this will cost more. We have to be honest. It is quite clear that if we allow the amendments to be made to this bill, more Indians will be registered in Canada.

What is wrong with that? It is high time we recognized that these aboriginals have the right to live. Our country does not like discrimination, or so it seems. Our country is democratic. Canada boasts about being a country where discrimination does not exist. Canada is one of the few countries that keeps its aboriginals, its first nations in an unprecedented state of dependence and discrimination. That is the problem and it will only perpetuate if we do not do our job.

Now we are being criticized for doing our job too well. It would be easy to pass Bill C-3 as is and resolve a small problem, but this small problem will persist. We are resolving the problem in British Columbia with Bill C-3, but that is all we are doing. Some 14 similar cases are pending in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The problem will certainly resurface if we do not deal with it once and for all.

All the witnesses, including the Waban-Aki and Odanak people, have said the same thing. Aboriginal women have told us that they have been receiving all sorts of requests and that they were going to set out on a mission and continue to fight.

I hope that first nations people have the right to live in this country without fear of assimilation. What is going to happen? It is very clear that the purpose of this bill is to keep discrimination in place and work toward one single goal: the assimilation of first peoples. That is unacceptable.

We figured that as long as we were doing the work, we should do it properly, so that is exactly what we did. This afternoon, we will present amendments to bring the bill into line with what the first nations people who came before us want. Every single witness we heard from expected us to do our job.

Bill C-3 talks about an exploratory process. I have never seen a bigger pack of lies. The government says that it launched an exploratory process, but what is there to explore? We already know what the problem is.

Once we pass Bill C-3, we will still have to review the whole band council process for registering aboriginals who want to be registered by their band council.

I want to make one final point for those listening. Some of us are doing our jobs properly. We are doing what all of the people who spoke to the committee want us to do. The government needs to understand that it must comply. It does not have a choice. If it does not do what this country's first peoples want it to do, the battle will go on. While people are fighting just to be recognized as aboriginals, they will not be addressing drug and housing problems, not to mention all of the other issues that first peoples are struggling with.

That is why we have to take this as far as first nations have asked us to and eliminate the discrimination in the Indian Act once and for all.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.


John Duncan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague from the Bloc on the aboriginal affairs committee. Once again I am rather interested in the difference between the behaviour, statements and performance of members on that committee during committee proceedings and when we move those proceedings into the House of Commons.

However, there is this description that the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue has portrayed here of unanimity and consensus among the witnesses who have come before the committee. That is simply not true.

The B.C. Supreme Court took a long time to look at this issue because they recognized that there are a lot of things to balance. One of the things to balance is that when a change is made, there are impacts to people who have been living under the current regime in terms of the Indian Act and its provisions. When I talked to the representatives of the Assembly of First Nations, this is one of the reasons they are looking at the exploratory process in a way that will look at registration, citizenship and membership issues. It will take a lengthy period of time to do that, and it will be a lot more comprehensive than anything that this committee could ever pretend to do. There are lots of outstanding issues.

I would like to hear the comments from the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue in terms of describing this in quite a different fashion.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to invite the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to reread the speech I gave in the House when Bill C-3 was first introduced. I had said that we would study it in committee and that we would determine what could be done. I also said that we would support Bill C-3 so that it would be sent to committee, and then we would determine how it could be adapted to the situation in 2010. And that is exactly what we did.

I have nothing against the exploratory process that the parliamentary secretary is talking about to look at how a band council establishes rules for admitting members into its community. However, the exploratory process would work better once the current discrimination is eliminated from the Indian Act. Neither my colleague nor I are wrong, it is just that we are talking about different provisions.

We need to eliminate the discrimination contained in section 6 once and for all. This discrimination will continue to exist if we do not act. And then we can talk about the exploratory process. First nations should sit down and discuss their idea of a band, how they admit members to their community and who is part of that community. We cannot do it the other way around.

With all due respect for my colleague, if we do not resolve the issue of discrimination, it will not go away. They can do what they want, but nothing will have been resolved, and I would bet the parliamentary secretary anything that the exploratory process will be doomed from the outset.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the members for Abitibi—Témiscamingue and Labrador for their excellent speeches regarding Bill C-3.

I want to ask a question dealing with the government's motivation for acting the way it is at committee. I think the last member who spoke got into that a little bit.

The question is, why would a government not seize the opportunity to deal with the whole area of discrimination, rather than focusing the bill on just the very minimum that it has to as a result of the court decision? It seems to me, as several members have mentioned already, that this issue is going to be around and is going to come back 10 or 20 years from now, and we are going to have deal with it then anyway, so why not deal with this issue properly and correctly in the initial period that we are in right now, while it is before committee?

We have heard from the witnesses. We know what the witnesses have said. Why do we not deal with this correctly today?

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. My response would be different if those before us had responded differently. I will draw a parallel quickly. When we wanted to abolish section 67 of the Indian Act on the possibility of going before the Human Rights Commission, this did not apply to Indians living on reserve. The government introduced a bill with one clause. By the time the committee was through with it, the bill had a dozen or so clauses and that is precisely what the first nations wanted.

Today, the first nations are telling us exactly the same thing about discrimination. They are saying that this is a can of worms, and that we must resolve this issue once and for all. They do not want to come before Parliament every 10 or 15 years for a new amendment.

I can understand the government sitting down and saying that it will only do what the British Columbia Court of Appeal has asked it to do. But the first nations are wondering what the government is here for. It is here for the first nations. They are asking us to put an end to this discrimination once and for all. That is what we want to do.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.


Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue for his speech and for the passion with which he relayed his words to us.

I want to ask him this very clearly and I want to put it in a bit of context. When the B.C. Court of Appeal made its ruling, it struck down two subsections of section 6 of the Indian Act, basically saying they did not comply with the charter, but it made a point of saying that it is not up to the court to provide the remedy. The remedy must come from the government and from the legislature.

It did not seem as if there were any parameters put upon the government in terms of its legislative approach to remedying the situation. The court did not limit the government. Timelines could have been adjusted. The bill could have been written to deal with all of the sex discrimination. Even at this point, when we are a little hamstrung, the government now still has the ability to vote for this motion to allow us the flexibility at committee to bring in the proper amendments. There was nothing limiting the government, only its own motivations.

Would the member agree with that particular analysis? Why would the government, realizing it was continuing sex discrimination, make a choice to perpetuate it? I do not understand, basically, the government's approach to perpetuating sex discrimination, so I would like his comment on that.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Labrador. I totally agree with him. That is exactly it. I would not go so far as to call today a historic day, but it is an extremely important day.

Will we perpetuate the discrimination that exists? The worst part is that this discriminates against women, not men. It is unacceptable. Furthermore, this systemic discrimination will continue against aboriginal women.

She had the misfortune of being born a girl and then marrying a white man. She loses all her rights and so do her 10 children. That is what is unacceptable. That is what the British Columbia Court of Appeal is telling us to fix. That court said it could not fix the situation, that its role was strictly to rule on the question referred to it. It cannot fix this problem, but it indicated that we as politicians have the power to fix it and that we should seriously consider doing so. That is precisely what we are doing and that is our objective: to put an end once and for all to the unacceptable discrimination found in the Indian Act.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I am proud to speak to the motion put forward by the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan to expand the scope of Bill C-3 so that a grandchild born before 1985 with a female grandparent would receive the same entitlement to status as a grandchild of a male grandparent born in the same period.

There are a few problems with Bill C-3. For example, it attempts in section 9 to take away the right to sue. It is a bit problematic. Some witnesses came forward and said we really need to look at this section again.

Quite a number of witnesses are concerned about the fact that there may not be resources to process applications in a timely way. We saw that when Bill C-31 was enacted. That is another area where there is a bit of a problem, and we need to look at it.

The motion we are speaking to deals directly with the fact that under Bill C-3 there is still gender discrimination, despite the government's attempt to address gender discrimination as a response to the McIvor decision. The Assembly of First Nations made a good comment specifically about this. It said that this legislation would defer discrimination to one or two generations later. It would entrench differential treatment of women.

The AFN is also concerned with other problems, like increased financial pressure, the creation of divisions within some communities and families, and declining status.

Let me get back to the motion before us. The AFN has been very clear that Bill C-3 would not adequately deal with the differential treatment of women.

Permit me to give the House a quick overview of this situation.

This stems from a case that Sharon McIvor brought forward. Ms. McIvor was born in 1948 and was not a registered Indian. She married a non-Indian in 1970. Ms. McIvor did not believe she was entitled to status under the Indian Act, but regardless she would have lost her right to status under the Indian Act when she married a non-Indian.

When Bill C-31 came into force in 1985, Ms. McIvor applied for Indian status on behalf of herself and her children. This was an incredibly long process, but after many years she obtained Indian status. But her son Jacob Grismer was not able to pass his status on to his children because his wife was not a status Indian. Mr. Grismer and Ms. McIvor challenged the 1985 amendments to the Indian Act on the basis that the status provisions contained residual discrimination based on sex. They won their case at the B.C. Court of Appeal.

Even though they won their case, we still find ourselves standing here in the House of Commons debating what is essentially the same issue, residual discrimination based on sex.

Let us look at the government's response to the McIvor decision.

A really good presentation was done at committee by the Canadian Bar Association. It encapsulated the government's response.

The federal government scheduled several sessions with national and regional aboriginal organizations. It accepted written comments prior to the introduction of Bill C-3.

The government has now come up with this bill. There are quite few pieces, but the main amendment proposes the addition of section 6.(1)(c.1) to the Indian Act. It would provide status to any individual whose mother lost Indian status upon marrying a non-Indian man, whose father is a non-Indian, who was born after the mother lost Indian status before April 17, 1985 unless the individual's parents married each other prior to that date, and who had a child with a non-Indian on or after September 4, 1951.

The CBA pointed out, and it is a bit puzzling, that a woman would have to have a child for this to be triggered. It seems there is a bit of discrimination here based on family status because a woman would actually have to have a child to fall under this section of the act. This is a bit odd to say the least.

To look at what this actually does and what this actually means, we can go back to the CBA brief. It put together an excellent chart. Conceptually, this might be a hard thing to think about and navigate in the mind to understand what this means in reality. But it is not actually rocket science. It is pretty clear if we can wrap our heads around the concepts.

The CBA has put together this beautiful chart listing this proposed amendment by Bill C-3. It has two examples: Sharon McIvor, married to a non-Indian man, and a hypothetical brother who is married to a non-Indian woman. If we follow this chart down and see what happens to their children and grandchildren and whether or not they have status, with these changes proposed in Bill C-3, the bulk of the situations would be actually the same. That is great. There would not be any discrimination.

Her son, married to a non-Indian woman, has status. The son of the hypothetical brother married to a non-Indian woman has status. That is great. They are all on par there. Sharon's grandchild, born after 1985, has status. That is great. The hypothetical brother's grandchild, born after 1985, has status. Again, everything is on the up and up.

This is where it comes a bit off the rails. For Sharon McIvor's grandchild, born before 1985, there is no status and therefore continuing discrimination. However, the hypothetical brother has a grandchild born before 1985 too and that grandchild has status. We are not talking about strange, adverse effects, discrimination that is hard to figure out or differential impact. We are not talking about hidden discrimination. This is overt. If we follow the lineage, the grandchild of the brother gets status while the grandchild of the sister does not. It is pretty straightforward if we think about it that way.

I would like to read from a submission of the Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation. They put together a great submission about the siblings rule and give a different situation. We have Sharon McIvor, and they talk about a woman named Susan Yantha. Susan Yantha was born in 1954 from a common-law union between Clément O'bumsawin, an Abenaki affiliated with the community of Odanak, and Anita Paradis, a non-Indian. At the time of Susan's birth, the Indian registration rules did not allow for the registration of “illegitimate” daughters of an Indian father and a non-Indian mother.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Susan married a non-Indian with whom she had a daughter, Tammy. Born from non-status parents, Tammy obviously had no right to be registered in the Indian register at the time of her birth.

In 1985, the federal government adopted Bill C-31 in a stated effort to eliminate discriminatory registration rules from the Indian Act. Pursuant to the new rules, Susan only had a right to section 6(2) “non-transmissible status” because she only had one Indian parent, her father. As a result, her daughter Tammy had no right to be registered. It goes without saying that Tammy's daughter, now aged four, has no right to be registered either.

Let us compare Susan's situation and that of her descendants to that of a hypothetical brother of hers, born in the same circumstances, and the situation of his descendants. That brother, whom we will call Arthur, would have had the right to be registered at the time of his birth. While the Indian registration rules did not allow for the registration of “illegitimate” daughters of an Indian father and non-Indian mother, they did allow for the registration of their “illegitimate” sons.

If Arthur had married a non-Indian, as Susan did, his wife would have acquired Indian status by marriage. Had Arthur and his wife had a child at the same time as Tammy was born, that child would have had the right to Indian status as a legitimate child of a status male, but would have lost that status upon reaching the age of 21 years because of the double mother rule.

With Bill C-31, Arthur, his wife and their child would have each been conferred transmissible 6(1) status in 1985, the goal of Bill C-31 being also to preserve the “vested” rights of those who had Indian status at the time the new rules were introduced. As to Arthur's child, his status would have not only been preserved but also enhanced, since under the new rules he would have enjoyed status indefinitely, not only until the age of 21, and could have passed on his status.

As a result, the child of the child of Arthur, or Arthur's grandchild, would have the right to non-transmissible section 6(2) status. This blatantly discriminatory treatment was described by the Minister of Indian Affairs in a letter written to Susan Yantha in 2002. As I said, that was a submission of the Grand Council of the Waban-Aki Nation.

It is pretty obvious there is discrimination. Also, to be blunt, it is obvious there is a solution and it is right in front of us. There have not been changes to the Indian Act concerning this issue since 1985. This is the golden opportunity, in 2010, to make sure the act does not discriminate against any women who fall under the Indian Act. The solution that has been brought forward by government is so narrow in its scope that all it does is address the injustice in which Sharon McIvor found herself. What we are going to have to deal with 25 years from now is the injustice that the next Sharon McIvor in a different situation will have experienced.

I would like to talk about solutions. My colleague from Labrador talked about how at committee witness after witness has come forward and has said that they know how to fix this. Witness after witness has said that there are some problems with funding and how to process applications and there is a problem with section 9, but at the very least, can we at least get the discrimination piece right?

There was a submission made by LEAF, the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund. It has followed this case through its entire history. It made a submission to committee. LEAF confirms its support for an amendment that will achieve the goal of eliminating all forms of discrimination against aboriginal women and their descendants. LEAF submits that the committee has the jurisdiction to propose amendments to the bill to achieve this end and believes the committee has jurisdiction because the bill is very broad in its scope. LEAF stated, “It is an act 'to promote gender equity in Indian registration' by 'responding' to the BCCA”--B.C. Court of Appeal--“decision in McIvor. The response by government can and should be comprehensive and should fully eradicate any vestige of inequality in the determination of Indian status”.

That is pretty straightforward. LEAF does have a legal eye and calls into question whether or not the committee has the jurisdiction to deal with this issue. It is important that LEAF raised this. It says that if it does have the jurisdiction then this is what the committee should do, but of course, it talks as well about if there is not the jurisdiction. In the event that the committee determines it is beyond its scope to propose amendments to fully eliminate sex discrimination, LEAF submits that consistent with the submissions made by aboriginal women and their organizations, the bill should be withdrawn and a new bill which fully redresses the discrimination suffered by aboriginal women should be introduced.

I find that very interesting. I am in agreement with the idea that the committee does have the jurisdiction to amend it. We can amend, but if the committee finds it does not have that power, then why are we only responding to the very narrow situation in which Sharon McIvor found herself? Why are we waiting for the next court challenge to come down the pike to deal with the residual discrimination in the act?

On that note, Dr. Pamela Palmater, a Mi'kmaq woman from New Brunswick and also the chair of Ryerson University's study of indigenous governments made a submission to the committee. I would like to read part of her submission about the conclusion. She said:

Part of the problem with Bill C-3 is how to respect gender equality in practice and not just the law. Delayed equality is not full equality. Canada fought the McIvor case for over 20 years and now proposes a minimal amendment that would require another person like Sharon McIvor to spend another 25 years to seek gender equality on essentially the same facts. An undefined joint process that does not have a specific mandate, clear objectives or identified funding for widespread participation does not provide any real comfort that gender discrimination, or any discrimination, will be addressed any time soon.

On that point, we have heard from the parliamentary secretary several times about this process to which Ms. Palmater referred. There is nothing bad about this further exploration process. That is fabulous. Let us explore away. Let us come up with great ideas. Let us be visionary and think about the future.

We do not need to actually envision the future when it comes to this bill. We do not actually need to pull in the best ideas on how to make this bill better because they are already here. All of the best ideas were put forward in committee about how to actually address gender discrimination under this section of the Indian Act. It is stunning to me that we are not seizing this opportunity.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on committee either last week or two weeks ago when the Canadian Bar Association appeared. I read its recommendation. It even drafted the section for us on how we could make the bill better and stronger. Of course, when it made its submission and I saw the writing in black and white about how to change the act, I thought it was a great idea, that those CBA folks are pretty smart and thank goodness they came because now we are going to fix the bill. I certainly was wrong and I am surprised because I find it mind-boggling that we would not actually bring in that provision.

I want to read the end of Ms. Palmater's submission to the House:

Let's try to get it right this time - my children are counting on you to uphold Canada's commitment to gender equality and human rights both in the letter and in spirit.

That says a lot. Those are very heartfelt words from Ms. Palmater about what we need to do.

In conclusion, I strongly support this motion by the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. I am thrilled she brought it forward and applaud her for doing so. It was the smart thing to do and the right thing to do. I am completely baffled as to why we are not actually implementing the recommendations.

As my colleague from Labrador said, every single person who came forward in committee said this has to change and we can seize the moment and address gender discrimination. We are not doing it and I stand here wondering why. I hope my colleague is successful in this motion.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.


Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, I recall that the member spent one session in committee when we heard from witnesses on this important bill.

I would like to ask her to think about the question pertaining particularly to sections 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(c). These are provisions that were actually ruled by the B.C. Court of Appeal as being discriminatory and essentially were suspended for a year. The member will know we have an extra three months to correct that.

If those two sections are not reinstated in the Indian Act, as has been suggested through Bill C-3, it leaves the whole question of registration particularly in British Columbia, but it would also have ramifications for registration across the country insofar as there are other claims before the court. Presumably, if this is not corrected, it will accelerate some of the same claims in other jurisdictions across the country. It leaves a serious void.

Would the member not agree, notwithstanding some of the valid comments today in terms of the continuing issues and concerns with membership and registration, that we owe it to first nations at least to move forward with this legislation, cure this problem that the B.C. Court of Appeal has put in front of us and then move on to deal with the other issues through the exploratory process?

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question. He is the chair of the committee and welcomed me warmly.

Yes, I agree. I get it; I know what this means. We were going to strike this down. The government needs to act. We need a new provision. That all makes complete sense to me. We need to act. I am in agreement with the member on that point, but here we go. Time me: “(c.2) that person is a child born after September 4, 1951 and before April 17, 1985 of a parent entitled to be registered under section 6(1)(c.1)”. Done, there it is. That is actually all we need to do to make this better.

I am all for an exploratory session on many of the things that need to change about the Indian Act, but if we are going to vote on Bill C-3, why can this piece not be in there to effectively address gender discrimination in the act? It is not onerous. It is not really time consuming. How long did that take me, 30 seconds?

We know what the answer is. I do not understand what is happening. It is to be stubborn and to have one's head in the sand not to see the opportunity to at least do this.

Note that we do not have a motion about section 9. Note that we do not have a motion about addressing the lack of funding that would be necessary to process applications. We do not have motions about those things. Let us have an exploratory process about those things. I do not even know if section 9 would stand up to a charter challenge, to be frank.

We are just talking about one simple tiny passage that could change everything and prevent what would be more injustice for women under the Indian Act and exacerbate the historical injustice they have already faced.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.


Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to the motion of the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan who, I must say, makes a tremendous contribution to our committee work through her knowledge and experience that she lends each and every day that we are in committee.

Today we are dealing with a very complex question, as I am sure hon. members know. It is a question that has peaked our interest these last few weeks and has been an ongoing claim before the court,s particularly from Ms. McIvor, but there are others as well who wish to address some of these provisions of the Indian Act that raise difficult questions relating to membership and registration.

Last month our government was proud to introduce Bill C-3, the gender equity in Indian registration act. The primary objective of the legislation is to remove a cause of gender discrimination under the act.

The second objective is to meet the deadline imposed upon Parliament in a ruling of the Court of Appeal of British Columbia. That is an important point because initially the court gave Parliament until April 6 to correct this. It ruled certain sections of the Indian Act invalid, discriminatory and having no effect, but allowed Parliament one year. It then understood, as we resumed the session early in March and that provided Parliament was getting to work on these amendments, that it would see to it to give us an additional three months.

We all realize that there is a time limit and we need to get the bill through the House to at least address the critical issue that the Court of Appeal identified for us.

Rather than have its decision take effect right away, the court suspended the effects of the decision until this year and required us to enact effective legislation to solve the problem. The court has given us until July 5, but if we fail to meet this deadline, a key section of the Indian Act, which is the one that spells out the rules related to entitlement to registration, also known as Indian status, will cease to have legal effect in British Columbia.

This takes us right back to the question I just asked the hon. member for Halifax. The consequences are the area of question, the almost limbo that it would put the whole essence of registration in British Columbia, but it also calls into question the fact that paragraphs 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(c) that would be reinstated under Bill C-3, if they are not reinstated it would not take too long I would suspect before other decisions would come forward in other provinces that would throw those registration provisions into question. Should the two paragraphs of section 6 cease to have legal effect, it would lead to uncertainty and would produce a legislative gap that would prevent the registration of individuals associated with British Columbia bands.

In many ways, this is the crux of our approach to Bill C-3. It is essential that we respond as directed by the decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal and also that we implement this response, which is Bill C-3, with extremely tight timelines, as I have just described.

The legislation now before us proposes to change the provision used to confer Indian status on the children of women, such as Ms. McIvor. Instead of subsection 6(2), these children would acquire status through subsection 6(1). This would eliminate the gender based discrimination identified by the court.

I believe that every member of the House stands opposed to discrimination based on gender, of that we are all well aware and it is clear. Despite this conviction, however, I expect that all members appreciate that equality between men and women is difficult achieve. Bill C-3 would take Canada one significant step closer to this important goal. This issue is all about the ongoing effort to eliminate gender discrimination, and it is ongoing, as I will describe.

The government's approach has always been to act in collaboration with the people directly affected by these issues at play. Bill C-3 is no exception. Last year, following a thorough review and analysis of the court's decision, departmental officials had technical briefings with representatives of five aboriginal organizations to discuss the decision and Canada's proposed response.

Following those briefings, 15 engagement sessions were held throughout the country to present Canada's proposed response to the McIvor decision and to solicit feedback. To help focus the sessions, the Government of Canada researched, published and distributed copies of a discussion paper. Hundreds of participants came to the engagement sessions and many written submissions were received.

Several common themes emerged during the sessions and in the written submissions. Many people were expressing concerns about broader issues of registration, membership and citizenship. We know that the broader reform on these matters cannot be developed overnight or in isolation, least of all just within the context of a parliamentary committee with a short timeframe.

Based on the views expressed during that engagement process, we have announced that these broader issues will be considered in another exploratory process, a process that will extend beyond the scope of this bill before us and that will be taking place over the next few months.

I think all members should recognize that this is something that came directly from those who were involved and participated in the consultations in advance of Bill C-3. This is not something that was just picked out of the air as a way to create a more expeditious route for the adoption of Bill C-3. This is something that was recognized, suggested and recommended by the leadership of various aboriginal groups right across the country.

This will be done in partnership with national aboriginal organizations. It will involve the participation of first nations groups, organizations and individuals at all levels. The findings of the exploratory process will inform the government's next steps regarding initiatives on these issues.

Far from being conclusive, Bill C-3, by its very nature, recognizes that it will solve the question and the problem of the case of McIvor v. Canada that was before the B.C. Court of Appeal. It was necessarily narrow and concise in its scope so as to solve that problem but to not give up on the question of moving forward to address some of these other issues around membership and citizenship.

I am confident that the exploratory process will provide an opportunity for a comprehensive discussion and assessment of these broader issues. This work, however, as I pointed out, will be done separately from the legislation. It allows us to focus our attention on the legislation that is now before us and the solution that it offers to the specific concerns that were identified by the B.C. Court of Appeal.

As important as this work might be, it cannot take precedence over Bill C-3. It must not lose sight of the fact that the legislation now before Parliament responds to a very specific court ruling and a prescribed deadline, as I said earlier, of July 5. The ruling and the deadline informed the very design of Bill C-3 and it is for this reason alone that the proposed legislation is, as I say, very precise, very compact and focused.

Not for one minute have any of the members, certainly not the members around our committee, suggested otherwise, that there are not other issues that need to be dealt with. As a matter of fact, none of the committee members, although I cannot speak for all of them, would have been surprised by what we heard from the witnesses. The member for Labrador commented earlier this morning about what we heard from the witnesses. He is absolutely correct. None of us were surprised by that because we knew, even through the consultation process, that these discriminatory issues existed and needed to be dealt with. However, we also had the urgency of the McIvor question, something the court handed to us that we had to deal with urgently.

As Bill C-3 proceeds through the process, we must and will continue to work in partnership with first nations and other aboriginal groups and organizations to identify and discuss these critical issues. This is a process we have talked about that will remain separate, and we will proceed on that basis.

Bill C-3 is progressive, responsive and measured. It is rooted in the principle that all citizens should be equal before the law. Bill C-3 represents a timely and appropriate response to the British Colombia Court of Appeal's ruling. It proposes to eliminate a cause of unjust discrimination and ensure that Canada's legal system continues to evolve alongside the needs of aboriginal peoples. In essence, Bill C-3 represents a forward step by a country committed to the ideals of justice and equality.

I know there have been a number of comments and discussions by members in questions and comments and, through the course of this debate, it has been identified that there are other areas of membership and registration that members and the government should be considering in terms of making the Indian Act more responsive to these gaps and questions that continue to be raised by aboriginal leaders and individuals across the country.

I would encourage members, certainly those members on committee, to read, if they have not already read it, the B.C. Court of Appeal's decision to see what the appeal judge said in respect of why the Court of Appeal narrowed the scope of that decision, because it had some justification to do that. It was looking at Bill C-31, which was passed in 1985. This legislation, at that time, had been around for 24 years, and because it had been in place for such a long time, people, in this particular case aboriginal people, had become acclimatized to the provisions of that bill. Families and aboriginal organizations had each made decisions based upon that legislative regime that existed.

When a Parliament comes along and decides to change and amend the very regime by which people had made decisions and existed in the course of 24 years in this case, there is no question that one can look back and say that yes, some discrimination occurred there. The court clearly has upheld that assertion that there was discrimination there.

However, once we go back and amend it, we need to be careful, because what we might also be doing by conferring rights and privileges to one group of people is upsetting the equality and certainty that existed among those families that were there.

It is a rather interesting principle to get one's head around, but I would like to read one section of the decision that I think squarely hits the nail on the head. In this case, the Appeal Court judge is talking about Bill C-31. It reads as follows:

The legislation at issue has now been in force for 24 years. People have made decisions and planned their lives on the basis that the law as it was enacted in 1985 governs the question of whether or not they have Indian status. The length of time that the law has remained in force may, unfortunately, make the consequences of amendment more serious than they would have been in the few years after the legislation took effect.

Contextual factors, including the reliance that people have placed on the existing state of the law, may affect the options currently available to the Federal government in remedying the Charter violation. It may be that some of the options that were available in 1985 are no longer practical.

That gives us a sense of the difficulty that we have with amendments to the scope of Bill C-3.

Members will know that Bill C-3 was passed at second reading, and by our own procedural rules we are not allowed to expand its scope. Indeed, that is the very reason we are here today: we are discussing the question as to whether the House would consent to allowing the committee to expand the scope of the bill.

This is a question that deserves serious consideration. We have to tread very carefully. Committee members know that the kinds of issues brought to us by the witnesses we heard are legitimate. As the member for North Vancouver mentioned, there is far from being a consensus of opinion. There are differences in what we heard in terms of how some of the registration provisions would be implemented, particularly at the community level.

The member for Labrador mentioned, for example, the remarks of one of our witnesses, Pam Palmater, who is from Ryerson University. I must say that Ryerson is my alma mater as well; I had to throw that in.

Ms. Palmater was very clear. She brought a different perspective to our committee because she spoke as an aboriginal person who did not have status and lived off reserve. She had a perspective different from what we heard from people who came from a different experience, having lived on reserve all their lives.

There is no doubt that anyone would be challenged in trying to understand some of the intricacies in the bill, but what remains clear is that we have a mission in front of us to carry on.

As I outlined, the first thing we need to do is address the issue that the British Columbia Court of Appeal put in front of us in regard to the weaknesses in Bill C-31 as they apply to the McIvor v. Canada case. That is before us and that is what Bill C-3 does.

We recognize that there are other issues. That is the exploratory process that we now need to put in place. We need to bring some certainty to the registration provisions, sections 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(c), so that we have a position that people can depend on going forward. We need to continue to work with aboriginal groups right across the country to refine some of the citizenship and membership questions.

I will leave it at that. I invite questions from members. Some members will actually be working together in committee this very afternoon on this question, and I know the discussion will continue.

I must say that it has been a fruitful discussion. This is an issue that we do not always get a chance to talk about, particularly here in the House. It is a rare occasion when we can have such a full debate on a question that is very important to aboriginal people right across the country.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.


John Duncan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Madam Speaker, I have a very simple question for the member, who has given us a good and comprehensive speech on this subject.

Can the chair of the aboriginal affairs and northern development committee, after hearing all the witnesses and all the discussion among the various political parties on this subject, foresee any circumstance in which a bill could be crafted that would eliminate concerns from one quarter or another about the contents of the bill?

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.


Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, that is a very pertinent question. Simply put, within the context of the work that the House referred to our committee, the answer is no.

We were given a very set bill that had a certain scope to it. We are required to work within the scope of that bill to achieve a very specific end. After a year of consultation, a year working with aboriginal groups, we recognize that this bill is going to fix the difficulties. It will address the very specific and narrow decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal.

This bill is not going to solve all the problems, but it certainly is going to focus on and correct this one that the court has sent back to us.

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Madam Speaker, I could ask my question in a more far-reaching manner. Members of the opposition have made very broad statements in the House today, talking about a one-size-fits-all solution under a bill. Presumably they see the vehicle as being changes to Bill C-3.

If we were to remove all impediments and concerns about the scope of the bill in terms of registration, membership and citizenship complexities and ramifications that are of great concern to first nations, and if we were to think only about some of the statements made by the members opposite, would there be a one-size-fits-all solution that would have any form of consensus agreement from the very people who are most affected by this, namely the residents and people in our aboriginal communities and potential new applicants?

Bill C-3--Gender Equity in Indian Registration ActRoutine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.


Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, there is no doubt that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work here. Measures have been identified in all goodwill and in context by the witnesses we have seen in this very short time period since the committee has had this bill in front of it. It has become very clear to me and I am sure to all members that the only way forward to address these other measures is a more expansive discussion with aboriginal leadership.

We saw in committee that there is not really a consensus, even among some of the different voices we heard. From individuals to aboriginal leadership, for example, there are many questions, and they do need to be addressed. That is why the government has proposed an exploratory process to do that.

However, in terms of the member's question, I thought he might be interested to know that before one can really answer that question, we have to have some comprehension of the history of how registration has evolved in our country since 1951.

In 1951 a registration process was put in place by the government of the day that would allow and confer status to first nations people across the country. In 1985, 34 years later, Bill C-31 was brought forward. That bill obviously did not foresee some of the gaps that came to be understood by what we are talking about today in Bill C-3. However, for all the right reasons, Parliament passed the bill. It put Bill C-31 in place in 1985 to bring registration into balance.

While members may point to certain aspects of the registration provisions that still put one class in a different class of registration from others, we can conclude, going forward from 1985, that men and women are treated in the same way. There is an equality of treatment under the Indian Act going forward from 1985. It is this transition period between 1951 and 1985 that is the subject of our work.