Madam Speaker, I too would like to pay tribute to the women here today from the AMUN March and Ellen Gabriel, and to highlight the problems with Bill C-3. Today we are debating, at report stage, a couple of amendments to Bill C-3, one which we support and the second which we do not.
The member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue asked a very good question during this debate that the government could not answer. He asked why there are no Indian women's organizations in favour of Bill C-3, when of course the whole benefit of such a bill is aimed at first nations women. The government speaker who introduced the bill could not answer the question.
The government member who just spoke talked about working in partnership with aboriginal groups and that Bill C-3 furthered this collaborative process. How could the government have possibly worked with aboriginal groups and further the process when all the aboriginal groups that came before committee were against the bill as written? There were all sorts of major amendments needed that the aboriginal groups brought forward. How could the member have the nerve to get up and say that the government worked in partnership with aboriginal groups, and that Bill C-3 furthered this collaborative process? It is beyond imagination when so many witnesses spoke about the inadequacies in the bill, simple inadequacies that could have easily been rectified by the government had it done a comprehensive removal of discrimination against aboriginal women in the bill.
Another point the government has not explained or answered was why there was no money put in the budget to cover people who will be registered? Conservatives said people may register at different rates, but they are predicting 45,000 people will register. There are enormous costs to that. Imagine if children went to their parents and said they are going to university and the parents are paying. Without any outline of costs, it just does not make any sense at all in a good government planning process. Those costs should have been estimated and put into the budget.
At least two speakers from the government side have said that it was urgent to get the bill through quickly. The courts determined a July 5 deadline. The government has put up a number of speakers saying the same thing over and over again. We will see the test of how serious the government is about getting it through if the debate continues after question period. If it just puts speakers up now so the bill does not get finished before question period and then it changes to another bill, we will see how serious the government is when speaker after speaker has said how urgent it was to get this through quickly as per order of the courts.
Today we are debating two amendments. The first one is an administrative amendment which may broaden the scope slightly and we are totally supportive of that amendment.
However, the second amendment restores clause 9 and puts it back in. Based on what we heard at committee and the reasons brought forward through this debate by my colleagues, we definitely disagree with that.
A very important point was brought forward that this bill bringing justice forward for some aboriginal women would never have come here, as we have said at length, were it not for the funding cuts to the court challenges program. Now the government has ended that program. How are similar forms of justice going to be continued in Canada to make the system better not only for aboriginal women but for all Canadians who would have otherwise used the court challenges program?
What about the Law Reform Commission, which the Conservatives also closed? Aboriginal groups in my community were in the middle of processes under the Law Reform Commission which would have made the laws of Canada better. The government stopped funding the Law Reform Commission of Canada as well.
The minister suggested, and I am delighted that the minister is taking great interest in this bill and can hear this, that if clause 9 is not put back in, then people could indiscriminately sue first nations. There are over 640 of them in the country, I believe, and I am wondering why I have not received letters from a majority suggesting that it was important to put clause 9 back. In fact, I have not received one letter, but if the minister has some I would appreciate his passing them on to help convince me of the importance of this to first nations.
I cannot imagine the federal government saying to first nations people that are not legally status Indians, that, “Oh, yes, you are a status Indian, we have to give you”—I think the example the minister used was—“a house” or whatever, virtually breaking the law and giving out benefits they are not entitled to. No court would ever pass that. As it was the federal government that made the mistake, of course first nations would then sue the federal government if such a situation were ever to occur.
I have not received a groundswell of support from first nations people saying that it is very important to include clause 9 to protect them, and I am certainly not convinced at this time.
The purpose of committee work in Parliament is to study bills in depth, to bring forward witnesses whose expertise is in those areas, to give committee and parliamentarians enlightenment on how they should proceed, and to take advice from those committees. Hopefully, that is how the committee system works and how it should work. It should edify legislation-making in Canada.
I am going to comment on two things we heard at committee with respect to this particular bill, and perhaps the lack of listening to those two things by Parliament. The first thing we heard, and of course we have heard it over and over again during the debate on Bill C-3 and also through the debate on the amendments, is that the bill is not comprehensive, that there are all sorts of first nations women who are still discriminated against.
The second thing we heard is that we should remove clause 9. Once again, the committee has reacted to what it heard and removed clause 9. Unless we ignore everything we heard at committee, we cannot just proceed with Bill C-3 as it is, because it does not at all reflect, and it is amazing, the overwhelming, preponderance of witnesses who came forward to say it was inadequate. It could simply be altered to include, so that no aboriginal women are discriminated against.
I appreciate that the minister has put forward a consultation process, but on the particular items of removing discrimination, as the witnesses said, this is not rocket science, either there is discrimination or there is not. There is no need for an investigation, discussion, collaboration or hearings. The discrimination against aboriginal women could just be removed.
One of the Conservative speakers recently said that this bill is precise, compact and focused. That is the problem. It is focused on a few of the aboriginal women who have been discriminated against, but it is not focused on all the other women, as was stated in committee.
The government could easily rectify that situation by making a couple of technical changes so that aboriginal women are not discriminated against. Then it could go on with its collaboration hearings to deal with a number of the other issues that the minister has rightfully brought forward, relating to membership, the costs that will have to be provided to first nations, et cetera.
I am surprised the bill came forward with such limited clauses related to removing discrimination, if indeed all the collaboration that we heard about occurred before this bill was brought in. Quite often we have had witnesses before our committee who were disappointed that there was not enough consultation with first nations. Obviously the consultation would have raised these problems and it could have been put into the bill before it came to committee.
The government could have moved amendments after the bill came to committee, when it was seen that a majority of people wanted amendments to remove discrimination completely against all aboriginal women.
We do not agree with putting clause 9 back. That is the position of our party on these amendments.