Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to voice my support for Bill C-3, the gender equality and Indian registration act.
The rationale behind Bill C-3 originates in a decision rendered last year by the B.C. Court of Appeal. The decision in the case of McIvor v. Canada states that a key section of the Indian Act is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is, therefore, unconstitutional. The court found that two paragraphs of section 6, the section that spells out rules related to status entitlement and registration, constitute discrimination as defined by the charter. Indian status is a concept enshrined in law. Canadians with Indian status enjoy specific rights and entitlements.
As we know, the B.C. Court of Appeal suspended the effects of its ruling for one year to grant the Government of Canada time to develop and implement an appropriate and effective legislative solution. That is why the government moved promptly to develop an appropriate solution.
After engaging with aboriginal organizations to both provide information and seek input on a legislative solution, the proposed legislation was developed and introduced.
Given that the bill addresses an issue of gender discrimination and the potentially serious consequences if it does not pass and a legal vacuum results in British Columbia, I would encourage members on all sides of this House to support the passage of this bill.
The Court of Appeal acknowledged that the government has been diligent in moving forward with legislative amendments without any undue delays in the process. As a result, it responded favourably to the government's request for a short extension in the deadline for the implementation of this decision.
As the previous speaker noted, this bill would address the specific inequality identified by the court. The extension offers us, as parliamentarians, an opportunity to pass this bill before summer adjournment. We all agree that there are larger issues that need to be discussed, which is why, when the bill was introduced, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development also introduced the establishment of a joint process to be developed in conjunction with various national aboriginal organizations and the participation of first nation groups and individuals across the country on the broader issues related to the question of registration, membership, important treaty realities and cultural perspectives.
However, that is a separate process that should not distract us from the need to pass this bill to address the specific cause of gender discrimination identified by the Court of Appeal.
We all know that discrimination is one of the obstacles that prevent many aboriginal peoples from participating fully in the prosperity of this nation. By removing this particular obstacle, first nations would have more opportunity to contribute socially, economically and culturally to this nation.
Bill C-3 would also complement actions and initiatives taken by the Government of Canada in recent years to improve the quality of life for first nations, including actions addressing the quality of drinking water in first nation communities, the backlog of unresolved specific claims and the modernization of on-reserve child and family services and education systems, to name but a few.
In each case, the Government of Canada worked in partnership with aboriginal groups to design and implement an effective strategy. This growing partnership is tremendously valuable. It inspires the mutual trust needed to make progress on additional issues. The engagement process used to develop Bill C-3, including the series of meetings staged by national aboriginal organizations and attended by hundreds of people, furthered this collaborative spirit. The engagement process also identified the need to explore broader issues of status membership as citizenship beyond the scope of Bill C-3.
The Government of Canada believes that this broader process must include opportunities for individuals, leaders and organizations to express their views and ideas. Given the deadline imposed by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia, however, the endorsement of Bill C-3 must proceed on its own merit. At the same time, discussions have already begun with the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the National Association of Friendship Centres, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Métis National Council about how the exploratory process would unfold.
All organizations, along with the Government of Canada, are willing to collaborate on a process designed to gather the views of individuals, communities and leaders on issues related to band membership, Indian registration and citizenship.
Recognizing the complex and sensitive nature of these concepts, the Government of Canada has made no assumptions about the range of activities that will be included in the exploratory process. Initial discussions indicate that the process would likely benefit from a wide variety of information gathering activities and technologies.
To encourage aboriginals to share their views, for instance, the process might feature digital communication technologies. As discussions about the exploratory process continue, it is vital that Canada respond effectively to the ruling of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia. Bill C-3 offers an appropriate response. The proposed legislation along with the exploratory process, strengthened the relationship between Canada and aboriginal peoples.
For all those reasons, Bill C-3 fully deserves the support of all members of the House and I encourage all members to join together with me in endorsing Bill C-3.