House of Commons Hansard #18 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was community.


MacleodVacancyRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation, namely Mr. Menzies, member for the electoral district of Macleod, by resignation effective Saturday, November 9.

Pursuant to paragraph 25(1)(b) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed my warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill this vacancy.

The House resumed from October 25 consideration of Bill C-428, An Act to amend the Indian Act (publication of by-laws) and to provide for its replacement, as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will begin my speech on the bill to amend the Indian Act by addressing some central themes in the presentations that have allowed me to reach thousands of aboriginal people in the country over the last two years.

At the risk of repeating myself, during the first two years of my term in office, I made it a personal mission to reach as many people as possible in remote communities across the country. That is why I travelled to Saskatchewan, among other places, over the summer.

I abide by the principles of realpolitik and direct democracy—in other words, I will meet with the people, not just a few band council officials, but the general population at large. The same concept also applies to the aboriginal people I have met with over the past few years.

I will now go back to Bill C-428, specifically the study of the amendment and ultimately the measures intended to dump the Indian Act. It should be noted from the outset that this is a private member's bill. Ensuring inclusive measures and seeking the consent of Canadians were not necessarily considerations in the development and drafting of this bill.

This is the kind of information that came up again when, for several months—and I must emphasize this point—we examined this private member's bill in committee. For several months, almost all of the stakeholders and various witnesses who appeared before the committee talked about the lack of consultative and inclusive measures that should take precedence when a member puts forward legislation that significantly changes the relationship between the Canadian government and aboriginal peoples.

However, we already know that the Conservatives are always rather reluctant to propose any inclusive measures and that the concept of consultation tends to be avoided or reduced to a bare minimum. We have already seen this during the current mandate of this majority government. The concept of consultation is diminished, and the government seeks public approval as little as possible.

I have noticed that in the current mandate, when it comes to aboriginal matters, the government will often just consult the nine elected officials, or the elected representatives of a community. Looking at my own experience and my own reality, in the case of Uashat-Maliotenam, there are 3,000 people and nine elected representatives. Inevitably, if the government wants people's approval and if it really wants to introduce measures that are culturally relevant, it should be consulting the entire population.

Of course this will involve some costs and staff will have to be hired to poll and meet with the population. However, this is crucial and will help prevent a public outcry later on, like the one that is building right now and has been reported in the media. We already know that aboriginal communities tend to be rather assertive, that measures have been proposed and that there is an outcry. Real inclusion could mitigate, or at least limit, this public revolt.

Based on that observation, it is important to emphasize that the government's failure to seek the approval of the people involved before proposing these measures is reason enough for the lack of support expressed by a wide variety of Canada's political players.

I mentioned that there is a wide variety of players. We spent at least two months in committee studying this particular private member's bill. A number of stakeholders were called to testify. They spoke about the lack of inclusive measures and the basic lack of support for this reform and for revisiting the Indian Act.

I want to stress that this study took several months. I would ask my colleagues to question the motives an individual MP would have for introducing a bill that amends the Indian Act and, in particular, the government's need and willingness to spend hours looking at a private member's bill, given the significant cost to do so in committee.

Were my colleagues given the same preferential treatment when they introduced private members' bills? I am simply asking the question. In this instance, logic and reasoning would suggest that the Conservatives are trying to use a private member's bill for electioneering and publicity purposes, nothing more. They claim to be focusing on the issue and the Indian Act, citing the fact that their colleague introduced a private member's bill to amend the Indian Act. I would ask Canadians, those listening this morning and my colleagues to pay attention: when the member sponsoring the bill speaks, chances are that he will stick to his notes and will not seem overly comfortable with the subject matter. We should be concerned.

Various stakeholders, including a number of top-notch legal experts and members of the bar across Canada, appeared before the committee and raised this problem, which will very likely arise with regard to the shift in provincial regulations governing succession and gifts, for example. The proposed bill will make significant changes to the Indian Act, thereby causing a shift in the provincial regulations governing succession, that is to say, wills and gifts.

I cannot speak for the rest of Canada, but this is going to cause a major problem for Quebec. It is going to be a real problem because it will cause a shift in the provincial regulations governing succession—regulations that fall under the Civil Code of Quebec. It will also cause problems in matters pertaining to succession and gifts on Indian reserves, which until now have been governed by the Indian Act.

In short, the testimony that was given in committee showed that this bill was ill-advised in fact and in law and that there was a very good chance that a significant amount of money would be spent defending the objectives of this bill in court.

It is understandable for a private member's bill to be flawed and problematic in terms of its adaptation, practical application and implementation. However, in this case, given the effort the government is making and the support it is giving this bill, I would say that it would have been extremely advantageous to spend more time talking to experienced legal experts. I am not trying to knock the government's legal experts, but a more in-depth examination of the practical application and implementation of this bill should have been conducted.

The Indian Act must gradually be changed so that it exerts less control over aboriginal governing bodies. That is inevitable. However, as witnesses in committee told us, the proposed initiative violates the existing principles of self-determination. Too little effort was made in seeking public approval and getting all community members on board. Therein lies the problem, since the modernization of the Indian Act is a very contentious and identity-based issue. As I said, the modernization of this act is inevitable, but it should not be done at any cost and in just any way, particularly not through the highly questionable means of a private member's bill.

I submit this respectfully.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River has spoken of his personal experience living under the Indian Act. He stated that he brought forward his private member's bill “to provoke meaningful conversation about the need to repeal this outdated and archaic act and to create a more modern and less objectionable legislative framework in its place”.

I do not doubt that the member had good intentions.

As I have said repeatedly in this chamber, the Indian Act is the embodiment of failed colonial and paternalistic policies. There is no question that we need to find a way to move beyond this outdated and abhorrent legislation. However, there are some fundamental problems with both the process that led to Bill C-428 and with the bill itself.

First, I would like to discuss the process that led to the bill and the unacceptable precedent it establishes in terms of the Crown's duty to consult with first nations on legislation that impacts their inherent and/or treaty rights.

There is no other piece of federal legislation that has more significant impact on the day-to-day lives of first nations than the Indian Act. As such, any process that would successfully move us beyond this legislation has to be first nations led and developed in true partnership with first nations, no matter how well intentioned it is for first nations.

It requires extensive consultation of first nations across the country.

Jody Wilson-Raybould, representing the Assembly of First Nations, spoke to Bill C-428 and explained this to the aboriginal affairs committee:

In terms of fundamental aspects impacting upon first nations from bills such as this that are imposed upon our first nations, the requirement for consultation is extremely high and deep, as they call it. While it may be difficult to speak to every first nation in the country, there is a need to ensure that first nations' voices are heard and that every effort is made to speak with those first nations who hold the rights and will be impacted.

That level of consultation simply has not happened regarding Bill C-428. Further, I think it is important to remember that the duty to consult with first nations on legislative changes like this rests with the Crown and should be conducted on a nation-to-nation basis. This is not a duty that can be delegated to, or assumed by, an individual member of Parliament.

Ironically, the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River summarized some of the key practical considerations himself, when he explained to the aboriginal affairs committee that “a private member's bill in the House of Commons does not have the financial or human resources for me to conduct a full-scale consultation..”.

He further stated:

Currently, the federal government has the mandate to do a formal consultation. They have the capacity. They have the budgets. They have the individuals and human resources to do the formal consultation.

Unfortunately, there has been no such consultation by the federal government on the potential impacts of this bill, and the limited review process that parliamentary committees do is no substitute for that consultation.

Parliamentarians discharging our responsibility to review legislation in the House of Commons and the Senate do not equate with or replace the Crown's responsibility to discharge its fiduciary responsibility to conduct appropriate consultations. Rather, it is incumbent on parliamentarians, as part of any responsible legislative review, to determine if the Crown has engaged in such consultations, and if not to reject the bill.

Witness after witness at the committee told us that although they sympathize with the member's intentions, this was an inappropriate way either to amend the Indian Act or to develop a process to move beyond it.

This bill is not the solution.

That brings me to some of the substantive problems with this bill.

While recently the member has focused his comments more on the objective of encouraging a discussion on this issue, let us not forget that the short title of this bill is the “Indian Act amendment and replacement act”. The member told the aboriginal affairs committee that though this bill was trying to “set up a legislative process for first nations on a year-to-year basis, consult with the government and look at more modern, respectful language that properly reflects today's society”, he went on to note, “Currently in the Indian Act there's nothing that requires the federal government to consult with first nations on a year-to-year basis”.

There is nothing in Bill C-428 that requires the federal government to consult with first nations about moving beyond the Indian Act. All Bill C-428 does is to require the minister to report to the aboriginal affairs committee annually on what has been done, a report that could conceivably be one word: “nothing”.

Ms. Raybould of the AFN made it clear to the committee that “Bill C-428 is not the solution”. She said, “We need strong and appropriate governance, not tinkering with the Indian Act, creating perhaps the illusion of progress”. The balance of the bill is just that, tinkering with the Indian Act in a way that has huge unintended consequences.

Two key examples that we managed to deal with at committee were the sections of the bill that would have overhauled wills and estates in the Indian Act, and ill thought-out out changes to section 85.1 of the act. With regard to wills and estates, the original bill would have created absolute chaos and unintended consequences, in terms of everything from Indian customary adoptions to how a common-law spouse would be treated. Thankfully, all members of the committee recognized the potential harm of these changes and voted them down.

The bill would have repealed section 85.1 of the Indian Act, which would have created complications for first nations that wished to maintain their bylaws that prohibit or regulate intoxicants. This clause also had to be amended to prevent the potentially devastating impact of restricting the ability of first nations communities to declare a reservation dry. In trying to fix this mistake, the member created yet further untended impacts that had to be dealt with through report stage amendments.

Examples like these show that trying to tinker with a piece of legislation as complicated as the Indian Act is not something that should be done through the abridged legislative process for private members' business. Who knows what other unintended consequences still remain within the bill?

Michèle Audette, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, summed it up best when she told the aboriginal affairs committee, “Yes, we need to get rid of the Indian Act, but not this way”.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

November 18th, 2013 / 11:20 a.m.


Jim Hillyer Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured and happy to rise today to support the hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River in his laudable efforts to engage the House in this very timely and historical debate on the Indian Act of 1876. This debate is long overdue.

We proudly and rightly declare that Canada stands for truth, justice, freedom, equality, democracy, independence, and prosperity, but the continued plight of the institutionalized inequality of the first nations people is our great hypocrisy. We cannot bask in our understanding of constitutions and the principles of justice and freedom and celebrate our heritage of liberty and prosperity, and be justified to ignore the continuing plight of those who live in cramped third-world conditions, those who live on our doorsteps, our neighbours.

This plight is not simply the result of past prejudices and abuses. It is not simply a result of insufficient education. There continues to be institutionalized, legally mandated inequality and artificial limitations that shackle first nations.

Whatever the various solutions may be for the various first nations to achieve full sovereignty as nations, we cannot begin to hope for self-determination if the individuals living on reserves are not allowed the same freedoms, which are necessary for self-reliance, that are taken for granted by all other law-abiding Canadians. That is why we must support Bill C-428, an act to amend the Indian Act, which includes the repeal of many of the act's most archaic and oppressive provisions.

The Indian Act of 1876 was derived from the 1857 civilization of Indian tribes act and the culmination of other acts and proclamations before that date. The 1857 legislation was enacted by the British colonial government and declared that Indians who were “sufficiently advanced” education-wise, or “capable of managing his own affairs”, would be enfranchised. That is, they would be given the vote. In essence, the law said that if an Indian man learned to read and was willing to sign a pledge to live as a white, he was allowed to vote, own property and serve on juries, but if he did so, he would lose all his aboriginal rights. Understandably, very few first nations peoples chose to surrender their heritage and ancestry.

The 1867 British North America Act transferred responsibility of Canada's first nations from the British to the new Canadian federal government in Ottawa. At that time Canada had sole authority to negotiate treaties with the Indians and to purchase their land. At the same time, the Canadian government was supposed to shepherding the first nations' best interests. It was and is an inherently flawed principle, open to huge conflicts of interest, and has led to many abuses.

The Indian Act of 1876 incorporated the earlier colonial legislation and essentially made status Indians wards of the Crown, and the Crown was able to completely regulate their lives. Restrictions ranged from rules about how they would elect leaders, how their children would be educated, how their estates would be dealt with after death and how they would engage in commerce. Essentially, it did not allow them to engage in commerce. First nations were allowed virtually no self-governing powers, and it was not just the first nations, individuals had no self-governing powers.

We would hope that we as a nation would have advanced sufficiently to realize the fallacy and futility of those earlier paternalistic documents. I suspect that we do recognize the injustices of the Indian Act, but we have failed to put aside our pride and our politics. We are too worried about who is right and who will get the credit, when we should be committed to what is right and ensuring our fellow countrymen get the quality of life and dignity enjoyed by most Canadians.

Thanks to the hon. member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, who has introduced Bill C-428, we are now confronting the more archaic and even absurd aspects of the original legislation, which are still in the Indian Act.

A striking example of those absurdities is the matter of sale of produce from the land farmed by first nations. First nations people are people of the land. They farm, grow grain and produce, have dairy farms, cattle herds, and apple, pear and peach orchards, among many other crops and produce. They have a respect for the earth and the bounty that derives from it. It is the very essence of their ancient and revered culture, yet the Indian Act makes a mockery of that respect and well-earned bounty.

Any other Canadian takes it for granted that we have the right to the fruits of our labour and to sell, barter, or exchange as we see fit. However, to this day, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs must approve all land transfers. Additionally, if a first nation person sells, barters, exchanges, gives, or otherwise disposes of cattle or other animals; grain or hay, whether wild or cultivated; root crops; or other products from any reserve in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, or Alberta to anyone other than a member of their own band, the superintendent must approve that transaction in writing. This order can be revoked or reinstated to any band at any time by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. Furthermore, if a first nation person violates this order, he or she is deemed guilty of an offence. It is shameful to believe that we have allowed an effective embargo on the fruits of honest labour.

As proposed by the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, Bill C-428 would remove this provision, which prohibits first nations from selling their own goods and agricultural products produced on reserve to non-band members. We must repeal this section of the legislation. Doing so would enable first nation communities to become more productive and self-sustaining contributors to their own long-term wealth and that of their neighbouring non-aboriginal communities.

I live next door to the Blood reserve. A lot of people in southern Alberta see the poverty on the reserve and the poverty of many first nation people who have tried to leave the reserve. Some of them wonder why they do not just work their own land. In fact, I hear that all the time. They ask why they do not work their own land, because they have great agricultural land and great oil reserves. They do not realize that these people do not have the legal right to run a business as we have the right to run a business. They do not have the legal right to sell their produce as they see fit, as every other Canadian does.

Self-respect and self-worth derive in large measure from the ability to self-actualize as individuals and as a people. It is the potential to grow and to reach our goals that makes Canada a wondrous land to call home. It is the right time to right the wrongs that are inherent in the Indian Act. We must repeal the provision that forbids the sale of apples and pears by first nations to any and all Canadians. I know that in this right-minded House, it cannot be seen in any other way.

This is just one of the legally entrenched injustices that Bill C-428 would overturn. Besides amending the provision against selling produce, it includes the removal of any mention of and requirement for residential schools. We have apologized for residential schools, but that apology is a little hollow if it continues to be the law of the land in actual form, even though it is not practised. A lot of talk against the bill has been that it does not do enough or that it does not have unanimous support. It has been suggested that we should not even attempt to revise the Indian Act nation by nation, rather we have to wait until every first nation across the country is on board. However, to wait for unanimous support is similar to saying that all of our international affairs, treaties and free trade agreements have to cease until we can get one overarching international trade agreement and treaty that applies to every country in the world.

I would say that this is the time when we must move forward. We cannot wait and sacrifice those who suffer on the altar of perfection and unanimity. We must move forward, and this is a great first step.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am speaking on the bill to give voice to the concerns that have been expressed to me by members of the community of Kanesatake, which is in my riding, who would be directly affected by the legislation proposed in the Conservative private member's bill, Bill C-428.

The concerns that have been raised in the bill remind us that we need to move forward and truly work on a nation-to-nation paradigm rather than through this paternalistic, piecemeal, and unilateral approach that the government has been using and continues to use in this bill.

Bill C-428 seeks to amend the Indian Act by deleting sections dealing with wills and estates, sale of produce, trade with certain people, and the sections on residential schools. It also calls on the government to make an annual report to Parliament on its progress on dismantling the Indian Act.

Like pretty well all legislation pertaining to the Indian Act put forward by the Conservative government, the bill has major flaws and does not solve the problems it wishes to address. Although it does delete some archaic provisions of the bill, other deleted sections like the provisions on wills and estates could put first nation citizens living on reserve in legal limbo because there is no guarantee that provincial legislation will cover their situation.

What is more, there was no consultation with first nations before presenting the bill, like pretty well all Conservative legislation on this issue. The overriding issue with the relationship that the Conservative government has with first nations is that of a unilateral, paternalistic one. That is to say, it does not want to wait for everyone to be in agreement; it is the government and it knows best, so it is going to go ahead and do this. This is not an approach that is respectful of what unfortunately is not legally, but should be, the status of first nations in this country.

We all know that what is at the basis of a relationship and should always be at the basis of a relationship is a nation-to-nation relationship. Bill C-428 was drafted without consultation with first nations, reinforcing this unhealthy relationship. Unfortunately, it is not surprising, as I mentioned, that the Conservatives, like the Liberals before them, acted unilaterally rather than engaging in meaningful consultation and collaboration.

I sincerely feel like I have said this many times on many bills. Unfortunately, I feel it is once again important that I state that I strongly believe that there is no greater or more urgent challenge facing us as MPs than the need to resolve the degrading relationship that Canada has with our aboriginal people.

There are clear actions that the government can, must, and could take immediately by using the UN declaration on indigenous peoples as a guide for what actions must be taken toward the sovereignty and decolonization of aboriginal people. Unfortunately, the number one thing that needs to be done in order to respect and address this is completely ignored by the Conservative government when it fails to do any kind of consultation.

At a minimum, we should expect to have a minister responsible for the file introducing a bill such as this. The Conservative tactic of using a backbencher to advance policy is a lack of leadership and demonstrates its chronic inability to move forward in the legislative process honestly and in good faith. The very fact that a government private member rather than the minister responsible is presenting the bill means that the steps that the bill would have to go through to seek legal relevance and the steps that the House would go through, such as the amount of debate that it would go through or the access that it has to information from the ministry, are all greatly relaxed. It means the bill has a lot less oversight than it would if it were presented by a minister.

Acting in this way to begin with, let alone the lack of consultation, means that it really aggravates the problems rather than solves them.

I believe, alongside my colleagues from the NDP, that we must move away from this paternalism that is in the Indian Act toward a paradigm where we have a healthy relationship with first nations, and where we are able to maintain their sovereignty and jurisdiction over their lands and businesses. The bill is a perfect example of exactly the opposite, because it is done in bad faith and lacks the extensive consultation and the nation-to-nation relationship that would be required in order for us to have a healthy relationship that moves away from the Indian Act.

In terms of wills and succession, this bill puts first nations in an area of uncertainty. In any situation not covered by provincial legislation, in addition to creating potential conflicts, the burden of this uncertainty would be placed on the shoulders of tribal councils while Conservatives continue to impose budget cuts and restrictions on these same councils. Conservatives do not seem to understand that this is the reality of what it is like in a band. There is not enough money or land, yet the bills that keep coming forward do not take into account that these are problems.

We saw the same problem with MRP legislation. It does not make any sense, because there is no extra money or land to go along with that kind of legislation. It is not actually addressing the problem in a meaningful way. The member who spoke before me said that it does not mean anything if we apologize for the residential schools and do not actually take action. Action requires money, respect, consultation, and all the things that go along with treating first nations as equal partners in the federation. We cannot just present private member bills and expect that the problem is going to start being addressed.

I have a constituent who came to speak to me who adamantly wanted me to oppose this bill. His name is Denis Gaspé, from Kanesatake. He wrote the following to me so that I could speak his words in the House today:

Consultation with the people has not been undertaken and any future attempts will be seen as suspect unless an attempt is made to include First Nations groups at the community level who have perennially rejected the notion they are subject to the Indian Act.

He is saying that we cannot change the relationship, as I was saying, in the Indian Act, without consultation. What this bill is purporting to do flies in the face of actual meaningful change.

Monsieur Gaspé's principal objection to the bill is section 10. It raises many problems for him. He stated:

...there is no identification of bylaws as separate from Band Council Resolutions. Manipulation of the publication requirement will bring more unrest.

There are a lot of concerns, and the fact that there are concerns that there has not been consultation means that we cannot move forward with this kind of legislation. We need to set aside the fact that the process we are using right now is not an appropriate one. What is in the bill is also not going to do what it purports to do.

It is long past the time that we address these issues. We need a process that is consultative, that respects UNDRIP, and that brings the nation-to-nation relationship between first nations and Canada into the 21st century.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Ray Boughen Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very certain that we, in this House, can agree that it is time the first nations gained their independence from what is largely a paternalistic, almost feudal, system of governance, one predicated on an act that is almost obscene in its condescension and paternalism.

The Indian Act is archaic. Enacted in 1876, the act is more than 125 years old and is one of the oldest pieces of Canadian legislation. It has no place in contemporary Canadian society. The first nations deserve to have their own truly indigenous system of governance and are quite capable of doing so.

I am therefore proud to stand in full support of Bill C-428 and the remarkable efforts of the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River to bring this matter before the House.

I would point out to hon. members that Bill C-428 is not a full-scale repeal of the Indian Act. Instead, it seeks to amend and replace very specific outdated and antiquated clauses that are either not being enforced or are hindering first nations from achieving lasting cultural freedom and true economic and societal success.

Time and time again in this House, we speak about government accountability, accountability to all our citizens, our constituents, this House, and most critically, our great nation.

Our government remains committed to working with first nations to make changes to elements of the Indian Act that are barriers to first nations governance and economic growth.

Today in this House of Commons, which should and must be representative of all the people of Canada, I would like to speak about another type of accountability, the accountability of first nations governments to their own communities. Bill C-428 would propose to enhance the essential links between those who govern and those who are governed, forevermore.

First nations band councils do not currently have the same opportunities that urban and rural municipalities have to independently develop and enforce bylaws, which are essential for the safe and timely running of their communities.

Unfortunately, there is no requirement for first nations to make their bylaws publicly available to their members. As a result, for years, first nations residents and law enforcement officials have found it difficult to ascertain the specific nature and quality of the bylaws that exist in each individual first nation.

Moreover, in a true testament to the paternalism of the Indian Act, first nations band councils have had to seek out the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to request approval for each and every bylaw they wish to pass into legislation.

This cumbersome process has caused many bands to wait lengthy periods of time for formal approval, or conversely, to discover that their bylaws have been declined. Other band councils have chosen to completely bypass the minister, and as a result do not openly inform their membership of those changes to band bylaws.

Currently, following the submission of new bylaws to the minister, there follows a 40-day period during which the law properly voted on and passed by the respective band council may be disallowed by the minister. No such legislation exists anywhere in any provincial or municipal act within mainstream Canadian society.

In practise, this process often stretches out to well beyond the 40-day limit, a result of the back and forth between the bureaucracy in Aboriginal Affairs and the band council on change requests to the already passed bylaw.

The proposed bill would eliminate the requirement for aboriginal councils to request approval from the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs for bylaws, which are formalized into law as a matter of course in the various other legislative bodies, be it at the borough, village, or municipal level, as they currently exist within greater Canadian society.

Bill C-428 would create a more transparent and accountable process for all first nations band members and would remove the department and the minister from the equation.

First nations councils would be required to publish their bylaws on their websites or via some readily accessible public communication channel, such as a band newsletter, a widely read local newspaper, television, radio, or some or all of the above.

All first nations communities deserve to have the opportunity to hold their councils fully accountable without external, and at times naive and unenlightened, oversight.

I believe that an integrated step in government accountability lies in providing the ability for all first nations to not only make their own bylaws but to publish them.

Bill C-428 would place the responsibility for bylaw-making powers squarely in the hands of the first nations communities, where it belongs. It would provide the grassroots membership of the bands with greater accountability from their band councils. The requirement to make each first nation bylaw publicly accessible would provide clarity for first nations residents, visitors, and law enforcement officials seeking to understand their collective community obligation to either abide by or enforce the laws within the community.

Bill C-428 would repeal sections of the Indian Act, which, though they might remain in law, are no longer enforceable or relevant. This redundancy confuses the real issues facing the Crown and the first nations. However, before we can proceed, we must remove this redundancy so that we, as a House, can begin to see the portions of the Indian Act that substantively affect the daily lives of the first nations people.

Bill C-428 would seek to bring the language and content of the existing statute into the modern era. By taking concrete steps to amend the language and remove outdated and irrelevant sections of the Indian Act, the bill would address some of the challenges facing first nations communities with regard to their political, social, and economic development.

Firm incremental changes such as these would truly pave the way for further legislation to be developed in collaboration with first nations legislation, which, indeed, would benefit all Canadians.

It is only by building on the goodwill of all Canadians, who I believe wish to see us work together on this momentous journey to bring all of our citizens to greater prosperity and a sense of self-worth, that we can begin to share the true potential of this great land we call Canada.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is the House ready for the question?

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The question is on Motion No. 2, and a vote on this motion also applies to Motion No. 3.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt Motion No. 2?

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members



Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


Indian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, November 20, immediately before the time provided for private members' business, and the recorded division will also apply to Motion No. 3.

Suspension of SittingIndian Act Amendment and Replacement ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The chamber stands suspended until 12 noon.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:48 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 noon.)

The House resumed from November 8 consideration of the motion that Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Respect for Communities ActGovernment Orders



Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have a lot to say on this issue.

We are talking about Bill C-2 today, safe injection sites, and I want to start with what the bill should be about.

I think the bill should be about saving lives. It should be about reducing disease. It should be about reducing harm. It should be about public health and also public safety.

When we talk about what a bill should be about, quite frankly, very often it is up to the government to decide, and we take our cues from it; however, in this case, the bill is actually a response to a Supreme Court of Canada decision. Therefore, we know ahead of time what the bill should be about because we can look at the Supreme Court decision and the language in it and know what the bill should be about. However, in looking at the bill, we see it is all wrong. It is not a proper response to the Supreme Court of Canada case.

As members probably know, this Supreme Court of Canada case is about a situation in Vancouver around InSite, which is a supervised safe injection site. This facility receives an exemption from section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

We had a challenge here, and the Supreme Court of Canada was unequivocal in what it said about InSite, which is a model for other safe injection sites. I will read some of the quotes on this case, because they will tell us what Bill C-2 should be about. It is fascinating what the court said.

The court did rule that the minister's decision to close InSite violated its patrons' charter rights and that the minister's decision was “...arbitrary, undermining the very purposes of the CDSA, which include public health and safety.”

It is arbitrary, and I will argue in a few minutes that the proposed legislation is an arbitrary response.

Further in the case, the court said that

The infringement at stake is serious; it threatens the health, indeed the lives, of the claimants and others like them. The grave consequences that might result from a lapse in the current constitutional exemption for InSite cannot be ignored. These claimants would be cast back into the application process they have tried and failed at, and made to await the Minister’s decision based on a reconsideration of the same facts.

The court talks about this threatening the health and lives of the claimants, so we are talking about health here. We are talking about section 7 rights, which are that everybody has the right to “life, liberty and security of person and the right not to be deprived thereof”.

The court actually sets out who has the onus of responsibility here in proving a case. The court said:

...the Minister must exercise that discretion within the constraints imposed by the law and the Charter, aiming to strike the appropriate balance between achieving public health and public safety. In accordance with the Charter, the Minister must consider whether denying an exemption would cause deprivations of life and security of the person that are not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

The court continues a little further on,

Where, as here, a supervised injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little or no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety, the Minister should generally grant an exemption.

I stress “should”. This is not “may”; it is not permissive language. The court has been very forceful here in saying “should generally grant an exemption”.

However, with the bill before us, the onus is actually being reversed.

The courts have said that it will decrease the risk of death and that there is little or no evidence of a negative impact on public safety. However, what do we have before us? We have a bill that would actually force communities to prove the benefits. It would force communities into an extensive application to prove what the benefits would be, what the impacts would be on the community.

It is actually reversing that onus, when the courts have been very clear that there is no evidence to show that safe-injection sites would have a negative impact on public safety. This bill would force communities to come up with scientific evidence demonstrating that there is a medical benefit. Come on; we know there is a medical benefit. There would be a letter of opinion from the ministers responsible, information about infectious diseases and overdoses, a description of the available drug treatment services, a description of the potential impact of a site on public safety, and the list goes on.

This is not an appropriate response, because this bill should be about health. It should be about preventing death. It should be about preventing the spread of disease.

I believe that a bill like this would actually stymie the process. There is one safe injection site in Canada right now, InSite, but if community members believe that their community needs a safe injection site, they should be able to open one, because harm reduction works and the evidence shows that. Therefore, I want to talk about how this bill, in creating these barriers and these obstacles to harm reduction and the obstacles and barriers to saving lives, could potentially impact a community like Halifax.

Halifax does not have a safe injection site, but I would say that the people of Halifax robustly embrace the concept of harm reduction. We have many different harm reduction facilities of different forms in our community, including a needle exchange, housing first principles, a mobile street health outreach bus, and a travelling methadone clinic. Halifax understands harm reduction.

We do not have a safe injection site and there are no plans for one. However, on the heels of this case there was quite a bit of media discussion about whether Halifax would have a safe injection site and about how this court case would allow that to happen. There are no plans for a program in Nova Scotia, but after the Supreme Court of Canada decision, the chief medical officer came forward and said he was happy to hear the Supreme Court of Canada's decision. In The Chronicle Herald at the time, he said:

We're very pleased with this because it leaves the option open down the road. If it's warranted then it's certainly something we may consider in the future.

This is from Dr. Robert Strang. Our chief medical officer has said that the decision was a wise one, and it made him happy to think that we may be able to have a site like this, if needed, in Nova Scotia.

Then what is the problem? Why do we have this reaction in the form of Bill C-2? Why is it that the Conservatives have brought forward this bill that would actually circumscribe or limit communities' abilities to take action and enact this kind of harm reduction in their community?

Well, at the same time that Bill C-2 came out, we saw a really interesting little fundraising campaign by the Conservative Party of Canada called “keep heroin out of our backyards”. I have the website right here, and under “keep heroin out of our backyards”, it says, “Add your name if you demand a say before a supervised drug consumption site is opened close to your family”.

That, on its face, seems as though it might be reasonable, but then we read further into this campaign and we realize it is all about not just raising money for the Conservative Party but also about fearmongering:

Do you want a supervised drug consumption site in your community? These are facilities where drug addicts get to shoot up heroin and other illicit drugs.

I don't want one anywhere near my home.

Parenthetically, Mr. Speaker, we are not talking about putting them beside our homes.

It continues:

Yet, as I write this, special interests are trying to open up these supervised drug consumption sites in cities and towns across Canada—over the objections of local residents and law enforcement.

In parenthesis, I ask, “Really? What objections? Where are they being opened? Where is it that communities are rising up against this? There are no proposals for any of them.

It says, “ I write this, special interests are trying to open up these [facilities].” Is it a special interest to want to keep Canadians alive? I do not think that is a special interest.

I will keep going:

We've had enough—that's why I'm pleased that the [we know who he is] government is acting to put the safety of our communities first.

If members could see this website, they would see that it shows an empty syringe on the sidewalk, instilling fear in all of us.

I biked up to my community office on Monday last week when we were home for our riding week. What did I find in front of my office on the sidewalk? I found an empty syringe. I got some gloves and picked it up. A few doors down is the North End Community Health Centre. It has a sharps disposal container. I dropped it off there.

It is real. The idea that people are using intravenous drugs on our streets is real.

What I actually think is the threat to public safety here is not safe injection sites but the fact that people who have addictions, who may be homeless, who may be struggling with a myriad of other issues, have nowhere to go that is safe and supervised.

I talked to the people at Metro Non-Profit Housing Association, which is down the street from my office. They talk about finding needles in their bathrooms. Why is that? It is because that is where people can go. It is safe and warm, or the safest they can get, and it is warm and private. They can close the door and do their drugs there. Is that appropriate? I think that is more of a threat to safety than safe injection sites.

Behind my office there is a needle drop, a sharps container, that a local community group put in place for people who are doing drugs. It is kind of a dark alley. Stuff goes on there, and we need to acknowledge what is happening in our communities. What happened is that people actually broke into the box to get the needles. That is not harm reduction. Actually creating a supply of dirty needles for people to break into and share is not harm reduction. However, that is the reality of what is happening in our communities.

There was a local cafe maybe four doors down from my office that closed a couple of years ago. It had to put a sharps container in the bathroom. I think having needles in my local cafe is more of a threat to my safety than a safe injection site where the activity is supervised and the needles are clean and disposed of properly. I would much rather have a safe injection site beside my office than know that there are dirty needles behind my office that people are reusing.

This is about safety. This is about public health, and I want to get back to public health for a second, because nowhere in the bill is there even a mention of public health. I find that shocking.

When we are talking about health and what this bill should be about, which is saving lives and stopping the spread of disease, we have stats; we have real, hard evidence from InSite. The rate of overdose deaths in East Vancouver has dropped by 35% since InSite opened. That is pretty good evidence. Something is working.

Harm reduction works. A study over a one-year period showed there had been no fatalities from those injections. In one year, over 2,100 referrals were made to InSite users to addiction counselling or other support services. There is no referral service behind my office.

People who used InSite services at least once a week were 1.7 times more likely to enrol in a detox program than those who visited infrequently and probably a heck of a lot more likely to enrol than the folks behind my office.

There was a significant drop in the number of discarded syringes, injection-related litter, and people injecting in the streets one year after InSite opened.

Injection drug users who use InSite are 70% less likely to share needles. That is a staggering number. Reducing needle sharing has been listed as an international best practice to reduce the rate of HIV and AIDS.

InSite users are more likely to seek medical care through the site. This means fewer trips to the emergency room and an improvement of health outcomes.

There was a pretty big sigh there as I was reading the evidence. The evidence should speak for itself, but it is not, because we have Bill C-2 in front of us to actually make it harder for people and communities to have this kind of success story in their community.

It is all about evidence. Evidence shows that harm reduction, like safe injection, works, and I am really proud of the harm reduction initiatives in my community.

We have Mainline Needle Exchange, where folks can actually get clean needles and maybe get referred to some services.

We have Direction 180, which is a methadone clinic. It has recently had huge success buying a mobile bus to get to some of the communities that are not in the north end of Halifax and to ensure people get their methadone. These folks are trying to deal with their addictions. They are trying to better themselves. We need to have these harm reduction programs in place for them so they can succeed. What is the alternative? Death?

We have MOSH, or Mobile Outreach Street Health, which is a van that goes around to where people are, such as under bridges, in fields and at the homeless shelters, to give them the medical treatment they need.

This is what we need, but unfortunately the government is not interested in harm reduction. I have a good quote from Cindy MacIsaac who runs Direction 180, our methadone clinic. She said:

Ottawa’s new approach is to criminalize what should still be seen as a health issue...You can’t even use the term harm reduction anymore when applying for federal funding. The taps have been turned off.

This bill is all about creating fear. It is not about health or about helping people get better. Bill C-2 is a bill about power, power to the minister and disempowerment to the most vulnerable members of our society.

There is a more powerful argument against the bill. That is the voices of members of my community and communities across the country that recognize the value of safe injection sites as a harm reduction program. They want the ability to set up similar sites where needed.

Safe injection sites are one way we can help save lives, treat people who suffer from a disease, help people reorient their lives, improve the quality of life for community members and make our cities safer for everyone. We need less barriers to programs like the ones this bill would create. The government is getting in the way of caring for those people who need the most help.

I want to emphasize that addiction is not a choice. It is a disease, and those who suffer from it should be treated with the dignity and the respect we give to other people suffering from chronic illness. When we speak about safe injection sites or harm reduction programs, there is very often a human element that gets left behind in these debates. I want to ensure that we talk about that human element in the House. People who suffer from addiction are also suffering from the stigma and discrimination that follow the disease. This bill lacks the understanding of this human element. It makes it more difficult for safe injection sites to be established in our communities and for individuals battling addiction to receive compassionate care.

When I was getting ready to speak to the bill, I spoke to people at the Brunswick Street Mission and the Mainline Needle Exchange. They said that the people who needed help in my community were increasingly younger people living in shelters, that they were inadequately housed and suffered from severe health issues, including mental health issues and mental illness. The problems face people who suffer from addictions cannot be isolated from housing, health, poverty, education, or addiction. They are all inseparable problems that can overwhelm anyone.

Safe injection sites are an important part of dealing with these issues holistically. At InSite in Vancouver, it is not just a program about drugs. Safe injection sites are about helping people through providing a safe space, peer support services, and health services. Unfortunately, this bill does not look at the whole picture. It makes safe injection sites harder to establish across the country and makes it harder for our community to want to tackle these and other connected issues.

With no safe injection sites and no safe spaces for people fighting addiction, we are pushing those people to the very margins of society, which exacerbates poverty, homelessness, and health and safety issues for our communities.

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12:20 p.m.


Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member for Halifax. I am afraid the terminology that was used repeatedly was misleading. These are not safe injection sites. They are called supervised injection sites. To suggest that putting heroin or other illicit drugs into one's body is somehow safe goes against common sense. All family doctors would probably agree.

I am not aware of any community in Canada, other than the Vancouver Downtown Eastside, that is lobbying for a safe injection site or a supervised injection site. I am making the same mistake as the members did. I am so embarrassed. Putting bad stuff into one's body is not safe. The government has homelessness and affordable housing initiatives. It also has a mental health commission. We are implementing initiatives that will work and not perpetuate the problem.

Could the member agree that it is not safe for—

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12:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Halifax.

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12:20 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, part of what my hon. colleague has raised I will accept, which is on the exact same page as the Dalhousie Women's Centre. There is a difference between safe and safer. I am talking about harm reduction. The women's centre has always been great about reminding me that it is not talking about safe sex; rather, it is talking about safer sex, because we cannot ensure that it is always safe. It is the same here.

I will acknowledge that if I had the time to go back, I would have changed every “safe” to “safer” injection sites. If the hon. member was listening to my speech, he would have heard that in my community, people were shooting up drugs on the streets and under bridges. They are making our communities less safe, so I am talking about a safer injection site.

If he is not aware of any community that is lobbying for a safer injection site in its community, then why is his government making it harder? If he does not think it is an issue across Canada, then why have this bill as a response to the SCC case, which makes it more difficult? That is very contradictory. The bill proves that this is needed in our communities.

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12:20 p.m.


Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Halifax for her heartfelt remarks on this very important but negative bill.

The previous Conservative member said that he was not aware of any communities that were looking at safe injection sites, so I will repeat what I said in my speech: my community is looking at this because in 2011, the last year we have complete statistics for greater Victoria, 16 people died as a result of not having a safer injection site. On Vancouver Island, there were 44 deaths in 2011 alone. People on Vancouver Island are looking for solutions, one of which is the possibility of having what I will still call a safe injection site. I agree it is safer, but what we are comparing it to is people who end up injecting drugs in extremely unsafe situations.

As the member for Halifax pointed out from, InSite has reduced deaths from overdoses, has reduced HIV infections, has had a positive impact on that neighbourhood, and has 80% support in the Downtown Eastside.

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12:20 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's intervention and the fact that he can bring examples from his community here.

What is interesting is that in Ottawa the proponents of a safe injection site have put together a mock site in Lowertown to show people what that would look like and how it would be set up. The idea is to foster community understanding of what a safe injection site would be to hopefully correct the misguided notions of what it is. These sites can work.

We have more of a problem in Nova Scotia with something like OxyContin versus injectables. Therefore, different communities have different needs. We need to create an environment where communities can respond to their needs. If a safe injection site or a needle exchange program is the best thing, then we should go forward with it. It is all about harm reduction. We are trying to save people's lives.

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12:25 p.m.


Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by thanking my colleague from Halifax for her excellent speech.

At present, in the Montreal metropolitan area, people on the Island of Montreal are trying to set up a supervised injection site that would be a little different than InSite, but would work with various partners.

What we should retain here is the phrase “work with different community partners”. The Montreal police force is just one of those partners. In a major study, the police force contacted these partners. The chief of the police station in one of the poorest communities in Montreal, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, said that they have to consider opening safe and supervised injection sites because, among other things, there are very dangerous drug houses in eastern Montreal.

I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about the work being done with various services, such as police services, and also community networks?