Mr. Speaker, here we are again, at the 11th hour, attempting to send Bill S-3 back to the Senate for royal assent prior the December 22, 2017, deadline. I guess we would call this “flying by the seat of our pants” legislation. There is a court-imposed deadline, so the government is going to get it done regardless. We have talked about that in the House most of the day.
Bill S-3 was tabled in response to a Superior Court of Quebec decision, Descheneaux v. Canada, in 2015, and other clearly identified issues. The court found that several aspects of Indian registration under the Indian Act violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, because there were differences between how status was passed down from first nation women compared to first nation men. These provisions were struck down, and Parliament was given a limited time to pass an alternative. The new deadline to pass legislative changes, after two extensions, is next month, on December 22. The court has indicated that it has no interest at all, which we have talked about, in giving the Liberal government a third extension.
When Bill S-3 was first brought to the Senate about a year ago, in fact exactly a year ago this month, the government sought to remedy the situation by bringing it back to 1951. However, several independent senators proposed adding what is known as the “6(1)(a) all the way” approach. This amendment would have all Indians registered as 6(1)(a), with equal rights and entitlements regardless of matrilineal or patrilineal descendants, back to 1869. The government, though, rejected those proposals.
After rejecting them on June 21 this year, the Liberal government undertook behind-the-scenes consultations with senators over the summer months to seek consensus around an alternate proposal. The resulting proposed changes were tabled in the Senate earlier this month, on November 7, and would come into force in two stages. The first one we have talked about. The aspects of the bill passed by the House of Commons in June would come into effect by the court-imposed deadline of December 22. Second, newly added clauses, which would extend the proposed remedies for sex-based inequities in the Indian Act back to 1869, would not be enforced until after a consultation process with indigenous peoples on how to proceed. That is the million-dollar question. No date has been given as to when the process would begin or even conclude.
We have talked a lot about this bill, but let us talk about what the previous Conservative government did. It had a long history of supporting gender equity for first nation women. The Conservative government introduced the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act in 2013, which offers a balanced and effective solution to a long-standing injustice and legislative gap that affects people living on reserve, particularly women and children. As a result, many of the legal rights and remedies relating to matrimonial interests in the family home that are available off reserve, in the context of a relationship breakdown, death of a spouse or common-law partner, or family violence, are now available to individuals living on reserve.
The former Conservative government also reintroduced legislation to guarantee to people living on reserve the same protections that other Canadians enjoy under the Canadian Human Rights Act, which came into law on June 18, 2008. It also passed Bill C-3, the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act, in 2010, in response to McIvor v. Canada in 2009. Bill C-3 allowed for the eligible grandchildren, or women who lost status as a result of marrying non-Indian men, to be entitled to registration if they or their siblings were born on or after September 4, 1951.
It should be noted that the Liberals, including the current Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, actually voted against the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act from 2013, which was introduced and passed by the former Conservative government. It should also be noted that the legislation that made the Canadian Human Rights Act apply on reserves was tabled by the Conservatives, and then all parties worked together to pass the legislation.
Essentially, prior to Bill C-3, the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act of 2010, and the proposed changes in Bill S-3, Indian status was passed down to the next generation from the father but not through the mother. Therefore, if a first nation male had children with a non-first-nation female, his status would be passed down, but not vice versa. That is what we are talking about here today in the House.
I had a call this week from a friend in Saskatchewan. He is from the Cree first nation. He is unequivocally in favour of Bill S-3. He has a status Indian niece who is married to man from Honduras. Not long ago, they celebrated the birth of their first child. My friend said that he is the cutest little Honduran Indian anyone has ever seen. Perhaps with the passage of Bill S-3, that description should change and he would be the cutest little Indian Honduran anyone has ever seen. Would that not be nice? I think that is what we are headed for after December 22.
My friend also had a very good idea that he passed along to me earlier this week. It is regarding the “ 6(1)(a) all the way” approach back to 1869. He suggested giving non-status indigenous people up to 10 years to get their geneology sorted out. That seems like a long time. However, it could be a gradual process. Some people will have their family trees available now, while others will have to dig around and find the right roots and the proof. I think this is a pretty excellent idea he came up with. It would also give the department an opportunity to work through these changes and prepare for the financial implications they would entail.
At this point, it is unknown exactly how many Canadians would become eligible, or would even apply to register, and what the financial implications would be for the Canadian taxpayer. We have no idea whatsoever. It could be 200,000. It could be 400,000. It depends how far back people go in the tree. We need some time to figure this out. I do not know if it would have any implications for roughly one-half of my province's indigenous population.
We, the official opposition, as we have stated all day in the House, support Bill S-3 at second and third readings, because it contains several necessary changes to the Indian Act toward greater gender equality and is the next step beyond the amendments made by the former Conservative government with Bill C-3, back in 2010.
What I do not agree with is this “flying by the seat of their pants” method of legislating by the government. It has had more than enough time to table a good, clean piece of legislation that everyone could get on board with and get passed. Instead, it chose a path it knew would encounter resistance and delays, especially in the Senate.
I do not believe we can please all of the people all of the time, but we as legislators have an obligation to please as many Canadians as possible all of the time. That is our duty, and it really should not be muddied. However, we are going to support Bill S-3. I want to say, on behalf of the people of Saskatchewan, they are excited about the bill and are hoping it passes, and then we can move forward as of December 22.