Mr. Speaker, I am delighted this morning to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-3, the gender equity in Indian registration act, at report stage, and to remind all members that there are two goals this legislation now before us is set to achieve.
First, Bill C-3 would eliminate a cause of gender discrimination in the Indian Act. Second, it represents a timely and direct response to the ruling of the British Columbia Court of Appeal.
We are well aware that there are a number of broader issues related to the question of registration and membership. We heard that intently, during the course of our committee hearings, in testimony from a good margin of witnesses.
However, given the short timeframe and an interest in avoiding a legislative void in British Columbia, we are seeking to implement changes that directly respond to the British Columbia Court of Appeal decision. Bill C-3 offers a solution to the specific issues identified by the Court of Appeal by amending the Indian Act to address the gender discrimination identified by the court.
As I mentioned, we are quite aware of the broader issues of registration and membership, because the consultations prior to the tabling of this legislation involved collaboration with the people who are most greatly affected by it.
Last year, following a thorough review and analysis of the court's decision, officials from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada had technical briefings with representatives of five national 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. Hundreds of participants came to the engagement sessions, and many written submissions were received. Several common themes quickly emerged.
Many people expressed concerns about the broader issues of registration, membership, and citizenship. We appreciate the fact that these broader issues are complex. We saw in committee that even among first nations representatives and leadership there is a diversity of views. One could not conclude that there is even a singular consensus within the population or the community itself.
For these reasons, we will be undertaking a collaborative process with national aboriginal organizations to plan, organize, and implement forums and activities that will focus on gathering information and on identifying more fully those broader issues for discussion.
I would like to quote the first witness we had at the committee hearings on this bill. We heard from the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. He said, “We know that broader reform of these matters cannot be developed overnight” or “in isolation”. He went on to say, “I've announced that over the next few months we will be setting up a separate exploratory process to gain further insight into these issues, as was requested by many first nations during” the McIvor engagement process.
It is that kind of engagement that has given rise to some of the discussion, a two-part discussion, on first, putting legislation in place that addresses the decision by the British Columbia Court of Appeal, and second, on acknowledging and understanding that there is more to be done. Members here this morning have alluded to it. There is much more to be done on the issues of registration and citizenship.
The Government of Canada believes that this separate exploratory process should be collaborative and thorough. The wide array of views on status, membership, and citizenship must be shared and considered carefully. These are issues that cannot be discussed in isolation, as I have said.
However, as important as this work might be, it cannot take precedence over Bill C-3. We must not lose sight of the fact that the legislation now before us responds to a specific court ruling and a prescribed deadline. The ruling and deadline inform the design of Bill C-3. It is for this reason alone that the proposed legislation is precise, compact, and focused.
Let me remind the members of the House of the deadline we are working towards. On March 9, 2010, the government sought an extension of the British Columbia Court of Appeal's declaration of invalidity to avoid a legislative gap in British Columbia. That extension was granted on April 1, 2010, and it extended the original deadline out to July 5, 2010.
We are about six weeks away from the deadline on which there would, in fact, be a legislative gap or void on the issue of registration, particularly and specifically in British Columbia. That could potentially mean upwards of 2,500 to 3,000 registrations per year in British Columbia alone. People who would otherwise, and should, have access to registration would be denied it if this bill, in its limited and prescriptive way, is not passed. That would be the effect. There would be no ability to register those new registrants in the province of British Columbia.
As I have said, if no solution is in place, paragraphs 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(c) of the Indian Act, which deal with an individual's entitlement to registration, commonly referred to as Indian status, will for all intents and purposes cease to exist in the province of British Columbia. This would create uncertainty. Most importantly, this legislative gap would prevent the registration of individuals associated with British Columbia bands.
The positive impact of Bill C-3 should not be overlooked. Based on demographic estimates undertaken by Stewart Clatworthy, a leading expert in the field of aboriginal demography, the proposed legislation would entitle upwards of 45,000 people to have access to register under the Indian Act. That would essentially equate to 45,000 new people in our country having access, as other status Indians have, to non-insured health benefits, post-secondary education funding, and things that they are at the cusp of being able to receive. They can only do so if this bill is passed.
We all know that discrimination is one of those obstacles that prevent many aboriginal people from participating fully in the prosperity of our nation. With the removal of these obstacles, aboriginal people will have more opportunity to contribute socially, economically, and culturally to our country. That is good news for all Canadians.
Bill C-3 represents a timely and appropriate response to the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruling. It proposes to eliminate a cause of unjust discrimination and to ensure that Canada's legal system continues to evolve alongside the needs of aboriginal peoples. I would urge all members to join me in supporting the timely passage of Bill C-3 and the amendments before us today.
We have discussed some amendments this morning. There are two motions. The first motion on clause 3.1 addresses some specific items related to ensuring that the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is responsible for reporting to Parliament within two years of the amendment coming into force. That is the reporting provision.
There has been some debate on clause 9 this morning. I would simply remind members that it is not only the Government of Canada that would be seeking to uphold this legal principle so that it would not be facing untoward legal action. It is also for first nations communities and governments. They too could be in a position of having to face that kind of action and would not be in a position to do it.
This is a legal principle that should be upheld. Clause 9 makes it clear that this would be the case.