Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-3, the gender equity and Indian registration act and I encourage all members of the House to join me in supporting it.
As we debate amendments to this bill today, we must remember that Bill C-3 is time-sensitive. This bill is a prompt and direct response to the ruling of the Court of Appeal of British Columbia in McIvor v. Canada.
As all members are well aware, last year the Court of Appeal of British Columbia ruled that the two paragraphs in section 6 of the Indian Act discriminate between men and women with respect to registration as an Indian and therefore violate the equality provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Without legislation to address the court's ruling, section 6 of the Indian Act would become invalid, meaning that any and all new registrations would be put on hold for the duration of the invalidity. This legislative gap would affect eligible residents of British Columbia and those affiliated with British Columbia first nations. To be clear, in British Columbia over the last few years there have been between 2,500 and 3,000 newly registered people per year. Clearly, the situation is not acceptable.
According to the court's ruling, Parliament was given 12 months to provide a legislative response. The court subsequently granted an extension until July 5. The time to act is now. If we fail to meet this deadline, a key section of the Indian Act, 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. As I have stated, this legislative gap could have serious consequences.
The legislation now before us proposes to avert these consequences by amending certain registration provisions of the Indian Act. What would it do? Bill C-3 would eliminate a cause of gender discrimination in the Indian Act by removing the language the court ruled unconstitutional. In doing so, we take another important step in support of justice and equality.
I believe that every member of this House stands opposed to discrimination based on gender. Bill C-3 would take Canada one significant step closer to achieving gender equality. The debate is about the ongoing effort to eliminate gender discrimination while respecting the responsibility placed on us as parliamentarians to provide a timely and appropriate response to the ruling by the Court of Appeal of British Columbia.
As a modern and enlightened nation, Canada champions justice and equality for all. Canadians recognize that discrimination weakens the fabric of society and that it erodes the public's faith in the justice system. That is why I am pleased to support this legislation to address the gender discrimination in the Indian Act that was identified in the court's decision.
Members of this House have demonstrated by way of example time and time again their willingness to address issues related to individual rights. In 2008, for example, Parliament supported the repeal of section 67 of the Canada Human Rights Act. Section 67 shielded decisions or actions taken in accordance with the Indian Act from human rights complaints. To rectify this situation, members of this House supported legislation to repeal section 67. This is an important and relevant example for the purposes of this debate.
Bill C-3 has much in common with the legislation that repealed section 67. Both strive to protect individual rights and promote equality.
The truth is that addressing issues such as gender discrimination in certain registration provisions in the Indian Act would have a positive impact on Canada as a whole, as did the repealing of section 67.
Bill C-3 is a progressive, responsive and measured response to the court's decision. It is rooted in the principle that all citizens should be equal before the law. What is more important, or as important, Bill C-3 represents a timely and appropriate response to the ruling by the Court of Appeal of British Columbia. It proposes to eliminate a cause of unjust discrimination and ensure that Canada's legal system evolves alongside the needs of first nations peoples.
For too long, first nations people have struggled to participate fully in the prosperity of this nation due to a series of obstacles. With the removal of these obstacles, first nations peoples would have greater opportunities to contribute socially, economically and culturally to this country and to their communities in their respective regions. Parliament, of course, plays a key role in this process.
Putting an end to discrimination against first nations women is advantageous for all communities and that is why I am urging all members of this House to join me in supporting Bill C-3 and the amendments before us today.