Madam Speaker, as the only elected Métis woman in the House of Commons, I am very proud to say today that I fully support Bill C-3, the gender equity in Indian registration act. I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak at report stage of this proposed legislation.
To appreciate the logic behind Bill C-3, one must first understand the problem it will fix.
Last year, the Court of Appeal for British Colombia issued a decision in McIvor v. Canada. The ruling required the Government of Canada to amend certain registration provisions of the Indian Act that it identified as unconstitutional, as they violated the equality provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The court suspended the effect of its declaration until April 6, 2010, and has since extended that deadline to July 5. If no solution is in place at that time, paragraphs 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(c) of the Indian Act, dealing with entitlement to registration, will, for all intents and purposes, cease to exist in the province of British Columbia. This legislative gap would prevent the registration of individuals associated with British Columbia bands.
Bill C-3 would amend the Indian Act to eliminate the language that gives rise to the gender discrimination identified in section 6. Let me explain how the proposed amendments would affect the rules that determine entitlement to Indian status here in Canada.
Essentially, Sharon McIvor, the plaintiff in the original case, alleged that the 1985 amendments to the registration provisions of the Indian Act, still known today as Bill C-31, constitute gender discrimination as defined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Ms. McIvor, an Indian woman, married and had a son with a non-Indian man. Her son went on to marry and have children with a non-Indian woman. Under the Indian Act, however, those children, Ms. McIvor's grandchildren, are not eligible to become status Indians.
Part of the problem stems from a series of amendments to the Indian Act that were introduced in Bill C-31 and enacted back in 1985. These amendments tried to end the discrimination experienced by specific groups. In its decision, the Court of Appeal for British Columbia stated that Bill C-31 “represents a bona fide attempt to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex”.
However, the approach adopted in Bill C-31 inadvertently introduced a new level of complexity. Allow me to cite two specific examples.
The first involves something known as the double mother rule under the pre-1985 legislation. The rule applied to the legitimate children of an Indian man and non-Indian woman. If the male son of that union married a non-Indian woman, their children lost status at age 21.
The second example involves the case of an Indian woman who marries a non-Indian man. Prior to 1985, the woman lost her status, and the children of that marriage could not register at all.
Bill C-31 addressed these situations in two ways. Subsection 6(1) enabled Indian women who lost status through marriage to regain it, while subsection 6(2) enabled the children of these women to register.
While this approach eliminated gender-based discrimination in the first generation, it created issues for people in subsequent generations. At least part of the reason for this is that the amendments stipulated that if someone who was registered under subsection 6(2) was a parent with a non-Indian spouse, their children would not be eligible for registration.
To appreciate how this approach leads to gender-based discrimination, we must return to the decision of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia in comparing the situation of Sharon McIvor to that of her brother. The brother's children would maintain Indian status under subsection 6(1) of the amended Indian Act. However, Ms. McIvor's son acquired status under subsection 6(2), and when Ms. McIvor's son became a parent with a non-Indian woman, their children were not entitled to registration. This shows that the consequences of two successive generations involving marriage to a non-Indian differ, in that one started from a male line and another from a female line.
The Court of Appeal for British Columbia took issue with the fact that Bill C-31, in eliminating the double mother rule, granted lifetime status to the grandchildren of two successive generations of mixed marriage in the male line, but did not grant the same entitlement in the female line.
The legislation now before us proposes to change the provision used to confer Indian status on the children of women such as Ms. McIvor's. Instead of through subsection 6(2), these children would acquire status through subsection 6(1). This would eliminate the gender-based discrimination identified by the court, and I cannot imagine why anyone would not want to see this pass.
It is also important to recognize that Bill C-3 makes no attempt to address other issues related to registration as an Indian. The bill offers a solution to the issues identified by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia, and does so in a narrow fashion to respect the deadline established by the court. All of us in this House can appreciate the need to act quickly to respond to the court's ruling and to provide new entitlement to registration in a timely manner.
I am convinced this is a wise approach. As parliamentarians, we face a tight deadline, as the court directed us to act prior to July 5, 2010.
Bill C-3 represents a progressive step by a country committed to the ideals of justice and equality. I strongly encourage my hon. colleagues to support it, and I want to mention, as a woman who has seen this time and time again, that it is high time that we provide aboriginal women with the same rights as male aboriginals in today's society. This is long overdue. It is the right thing to do. I cannot understand why other members of the House do not understand how right this is to complete, and why they are continually objecting to our making right, once and for all, what was so wrong.
I implore members of the House to vote for the bill. It is the right thing to do, not only for aboriginal people, but also for aboriginal women in particular, who, for far too long, have suffered and not been given the same rights as their male counterparts.