Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-25, an act respecting the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band order. This legislation is a technical piece of legislation. It is comprised of a lengthy preamble, but the bill consists of only four clauses, and only clauses 3 and 4 are at the heart of the matter.
As has been indicated in the House, the NDP is prepared to support this bill going to committee for further review and study, so it is troubling that we once again saw time allocation on a matter that did not appear to require it. It would seem, from what members in the House have said, that all members are anxious to get this bill to committee for study. Therefore, we question what the government's motives were in arbitrarily shutting down debate for no good reason.
With regard to the bill, I want to touch on clauses 3 and 4. Clause 4 is the clause that allows the Governor in Council the power to amend the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band order. This is important because this is the founding list of the band. While the minister has the power to recognize a group of people as a band under section 2 of the Indian Act, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada felt that it needed legislation to amend the founding list. It is not explicit in the Indian Act that the minister can add or remove people from a band once it is recognized, and I will come back to this point a little further in my speech.
The bill that is before the House does not alter the membership criteria. I know there are some concerns being expressed with regard to the membership criteria, but that is outside the scope of this legislation before the House. If people have concerns about the membership criteria, they need to work with the enrolment committee, the government, and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians in order to examine the membership criteria. That is absolutely outside the scope of this bill.
Clause 4 of the bill takes away the right to seek compensation from either the government or the band council, if one's name or date of birth is omitted or removed from the founding members list. People can still sue the government, but cannot make a claim for services or benefits not received because their names were not on the membership list at a certain time. People currently receiving benefits because they were enrolled before they were advised of the agreement in July 2013 will continue to receive benefits. If at some time their memberships are revoked, they will not have to pay back the benefits they have received to that point. That is New Democrats' understanding of the legislation, and that is why we want it to go to committee, so we can hear from independent witnesses about whether that interpretation of the legislation is the correct one.
I want to provide a little background. It is not a normal course of events to have a landless band being established. According to the department's briefing documents, in 1949, when Newfoundland joined Confederation, its first nations were not recognized as Indians under the Indian Act. In 1989, the Federation of Newfoundland Indians brought a lawsuit against Canada seeking Indian Act recognition. Finally, in 2007, the government settled this court action, and this led to the 2008 agreement for the recognition of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq band of Newfoundland as a landless band under the Indian Act. In this case, we are not talking about a treaty or self-government; it is a landless band. This provides for an enrolment process to assess applications for membership in the new band.
As other members have pointed out, based on the membership criteria as outlined in the agreement, there was an expectation of how many people would be applying for membership. Because there was some ambiguity around the process, it resulted in far more applications than anticipated. These applications are assessed by an arm's-length enrolment committee, comprised of two representatives from Canada, two from the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, and an independent chair who is chosen by the parties.
As I mentioned, because of the very unexpected spike in applications, some questions emerged with regard to the integrity of the enrolment process. Canada and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians entered into discussions to examine this issue in the autumn of 2012. In July 2013, the Government of Canada and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians announced the supplemental agreement that treats all applicants fairly and equitably and ensures the integrity of the enrolment process.
I want to touch on a couple of matters with regard to membership. Again, this is at the heart of some of the dissatisfaction with how this process has unrolled. I want to come back to some essential facts around self-determination and membership. I want to turn to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. In article 3, it says:
Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Then, in article 33, it says:
Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions. This does not impair the right of indigenous individuals to obtain citizenship of the States in which they live.
I think that is an important point. The membership criteria was originally negotiated with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and had a very high acceptance rate for that original agreement in 2008 and the subsequent criteria that was outlined.
I want to touch a bit on the larger issue around self-determination and membership because I am sure it informed the process here.
The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs put together an article called “Who are the indigenous peoples?” There are two pieces in this that are relevant. One is self-determination:
Today, many indigenous peoples are still excluded from society and deprived of their rights as equal citizens of a state. Nevertheless they are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories and their ethnic identity, insisting on their right to self-determination.
The other is self-identification:
Self-identification as an indigenous individual and acceptance as such by the group is an essential component of indigenous peoples’ sense of identity. Their continued existence as peoples is closely connected to their possibility to influence their own fate and to live in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.
It goes on in the article to talk about the approach of the International Labour Organization, ILO, Convention no. 169.
The ILO Convention no. 169 states that a people are considered indigenous either:
because they are descendants of those who lived in the area before colonization; or
because they have maintained their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions since colonization and the establishment of new states.
Furthermore, the ILO Convention 169 says that self-identification is crucial for indigenous peoples. This criterion has for example been applied in a land-claims agreement between the Canadian government and the Inuit of the Northwest Territories.
When we come to the supplemental agreement, which leads us to clause 3 in this bill, it is the agreement that arose in 2013 because of some questions around the integrity of the enrolment process.
This supplemental agreement comes back to what I was just speaking about in terms of self-determination and self-identification. Some have argued that simple self-identification is sufficient to say that one is a member of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq. However, the supplemental agreement clarified and gave some background as to how the Federation of Newfoundland Indians negotiated the terms of membership, which relates to clause 3 about whether, as part of the Governor in Council, they are considered part of the foundation band members or are removed from the list.
Under section 8 in the supplemental agreement, it says the following:
Self-identification as a Member of the Mi’kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland.
In making the Agreement, the Parties were guided by the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R. v. Powley where the Court recognized that belonging to an Aboriginal group requires at least three elements: Aboriginal ancestry, self-identification and acceptance by the group. The Supreme Court stressed that self-identification and acceptance could not be of recent vintage. This formed the basis for the criteria set out in paragraph 4.1(d)(i) of the Agreement.
That is the original agreement.
The Parties intended that the Enrolment Committee assess whether applicants had previously self-identified as Members of the Mi’kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland.
In annex A to the supplemental agreement, it lays out some additional context, which I think is important.
The words “current and substantial" must be given their due importance in the context of the Agreement. The core of community acceptance is past and ongoing participation in a shared culture, in the customs and traditions that constitute a community's identity and distinguish it from other groups. The connection that an applicant must show with a Newfoundland community of the Mi'kmaq Group has to be significant in quality and quantity; it must be true, profound and not of recent vintage. An applicant must demonstrate strong ties with the Mi’kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland that pre-date or were contemporaneous with the signing of the Agreement and continued up to the date of the Recognition Order.
The frequent references to the Mi’kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland in the Agreement show an intention by the Parties to the Agreement that acceptance by the Group must mean more than keeping a connection with one’s own family members. Section 25 of the Guidelines mandates that there be evidence of activities that are directly related to the traditions and culture of the Mi’kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland with an emphasis on belonging to a Mi’kmaq community represented by a band or organization in Newfoundland, or in the alternative, a wider participation with the Mi’kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland in its activities and ceremonies so as to infer acceptance by the Group.
These are important matters, and the annex of the supplemental agreement outlines very specific tests that shore up the integrity of the enrolment process. For example, under “Subsection 25(b) Non-Residents”, it states:
In accordance with subsection 25(b), applicants who, on the date of the Recognition Order, were not residing in one of the locations of the Mi’kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland must demonstrate that, on a regular basis over a reasonably extended period of time, they frequently visited and/or communicated with Members of the Mi’kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland and participated in religious, ceremonial, traditional or cultural activities of the Mi’kmaq Group of Indians of Newfoundland.
As I mentioned, there is substantial detail about how that test could be met. In the regular course of affairs there is an appeal process, so that for members who feel they have met the test but the enrolment committee determines it has not been satisfied there is an avenue for appeal.
Further in the supplemental agreement, it talks about determinations. It says:
The Enrolment Committee will determine whether each applicant is eligible to be enrolled under the Agreement. Every applicant will be advised of the Enrolment Committee's determination of his or her eligibility only after the assessments or reassessments of all applications have been completed.
On the founding members list, it says:
Upon the completion of the assessments and reassessments of all applications by the Enrolment Committee and the determination of all appeals by the Appeal Master, the Enrolment Committee will provide to the Parties a single Founding Members List for the purposes of the Agreement, and the Minister will recommend to the Governor-in-Council that this Founding Members List be substituted for the current schedule to the Recognition Order.
On that particular point, it is clause 3 of Bill C-25, which says:
The Governor in Council may, by order, amend the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band Order , in particular to add the name of a person to, or remove the name of a person from, the schedule to that Order, along with the person’s date of birth.
Our understanding of that process is that the enrolment committee will make recommendations, and it is the enrolment committee that will determine whose names are on or off the founding members band list. That is very important, and it is a matter we certainly want to clarify at committee. We want to know how the process will work. Any of us would be very concerned if the Governor in Council could arbitrarily amend a founding member band list. That is a point that does require clarification.
As well, I had a question to the government about the indemnity clause. We want to clarify that it is as we understand it. We understand that members will still have the ability to sue the government under appropriate errors on the government's part, but that they will not be able to sue the band council or the government for compensation if their names are removed from the list or not added to the list. That is a matter that does require clarification at committee.
There is one matter that is not dealt with. It is with regard to the determination of who could be a member. It is an unfortunate set of circumstances that occurred throughout Canada, and it is referred to as a “sixties scoop”. What happened throughout Canada is that first nations children were removed from their homes and they were adopted.
In many cases, these children did not learn of their ancestry until they were adults. Therefore, there was never an opportunity for these children, who were forcibly removed from their homes and adopted out to non-native families, to maintain those cultural connections with their community and maintain their linguistic connections. We have heard stories from the Qalipu Mi'kmaq about children who were raised in other parts of Canada and were not able to maintain those cultural and linguistic ties and have now discovered that they have those roots.
The enrolment agreement did not address this particular matter. I would suspect there are not large numbers in that group, but I would encourage the government at some point to examine those particular cases where individuals would not be able to meet the cultural and linguistic ties that are required under the enrolment criteria. Except for the forcible adoption, those individuals would have maintained those community ties and connections.
It is a gap in the original agreement. It is certainly outside the scope of this particular piece of legislation to deal with it because, again, it is simply a technical document. It would not amend any of the enrolment criteria that were originally outlined. It would not amend the membership criteria regarding the cultural and linguistic ties that are outlined in the supplemental area. That is a problem for the overall enrolment process.
I will conclude by indicating that, once again, the NDP as the official opposition is supporting this bill getting to committee. We look forward to hearing from witnesses to clarify the intent and the scope of clauses 3 and 4 in the legislation. I expect it will be something that can be dealt with fairly expeditiously at committee.