House of Commons Hansard #242 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was consultants.

Topics

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November 30th, 2017 / 4 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member has heard the NDP amendments to the bill. We brought them forward because we believe that the government has been dragging its heels on something that is fundamentally important to eliminating the discrimination that exists right now in the Indian Act, and to eliminating the colonialism that we find in the current government's approach. To improve the situation, we brought forward the amendments, but it is very clear that the government is not willing to make the important move of finalizing the legislation. There are a lot of holes. All that the Liberals have committed to is further consultations.

Does the member believe it is important for the government to act, rather than to repair only some of the issues that are in the act and not address others, and then hold out on a faint promise that some day it will act on the other clauses?

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4 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member asked if it is imperative that the government act. One of my great critiques of the Liberal government is that it says a lot of nice things. It says the most amazing things, has crafted the words and made it just right. It has the terms just right, including, for example, that we will have a renewed nation-to-nation relationship. However, that is the extent of it. It recites nice words, such as that it is going to put a tanker ban on the west coast. Those are nice words, but the desired result is never achieved by the government.

Another example is the marijuana legislation. The government is saying it will keep marijuana out of the hands of children, but is going to legalize it at the same time. Again, it says really nice things, reciting what it is going to do, but never achieving it. This is because it is incapable of managing anything. That is what this comes down to.

Canadians have given the Liberals the keys to the car of Canada, who are unable to figure out how to start it. They are unable to put gas in the tank and get it going. That is what this is all about. This particular bill, Bill S-3, comes right back to that. They say they are going to fix gender-based inequities in the Indian Act and come out with this piece of legislation that says really nice things, but it would not give Deborah in my riding any satisfaction whatsoever.

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4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member's questioning the integrity of other members of the House and of whether or not they would deliver on their promises.

In respect of the bill before us, does he intend to support the bill?

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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, at the very end of my speech, I said I am prepared to support the bill.

The whole point of my speech was that a particular constituent of mine would not be helped whatsoever by this bill, even though her scenario is essentially the same one we are being told this bill would fix. Even though she has DNA evidence proving she is the daughter of a prominent chief from the Sawridge First Nation, she is unable to get status let alone band membership. That is the issue I am raising with this particular bill.

I am happy to support the bill. I believe that if someone is first nation, they should have status. There is no doubt about that. I am fairly frustrated by the fact that we are here in Ottawa discussing this, but I know it is important to many people. My own heritage is something I value, and I know first nations people need status to be considered part of their particular cultural and social groups.

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4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Winnipeg Centre.

I am pleased to stand today on Bill S-3, and I would like to acknowledge first and foremost that I do so on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.

The government has always been clear that it is committed to removing all sex-based discrimination from registration provisions of the Indian Act. With the government amendment, which was passed by the Senate, Bill S-3 would remove all sex-based inequities from the registration provisions of the act.

The government is also committed to doing this in a way that is the right way, and therefore it will be launching broad-based consultations next year on Indian Act registration and membership reform. This will include extensive consultations on identifying any unintended consequences of the 1951 cut-off amendment and working in partnership to develop solutions to eliminate or mitigate any concerns by first nation people.

While the balance of the bill would be brought into force immediately, the proposed clause regarding the 1951 cut-off would be brought into force after those consultations and once a comprehensive plan to address the identified issues is developed in partnership so that it can be implemented simultaneously.

Senator Christmas, a senator of Mi'kmaq heritage from Nova Scotia, summarized the issue during his speech in the other place on November 8. He said:

...throughout the consultation that is to occur, the government will need to be attendant to the voices of these communities. There will be a myriad of factors impacting the communities flowing from the numbers of those who will receive status dealing with issues going beyond the matter of gender.

I recall the last time efforts were made to address gender discrimination of the Indian Act in 1985. I can tell you with absolute certainty that my community experienced confusion, felt concern and had a great deal of questions about the process and its impacts, both short term and long term.

It’s a complicated matter for First Nation bands. It will take time, cooperation and assistance in enhancing capacity to make the significant transition both manageable and sustainable. Effective consultation in this regard is critical. The government needs to be certain it’s prepared to go before our First Nation band councils to explain this bill’s provisions to leadership, to band members and to those who will ultimately receive status as a consequence of the bill’s passage.

The government is absolutely committed to dealing with all sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act registration, including circumstances that date before 1951. By convention, a government does not put into any act or law any provision it does not intend in good faith to implement, and so, this amendment is a clear and unequivocal statement of the government's commitment to remove the 1951 cut-off. Consultations will be focused on identifying additional measures or resources required to do this right and working in partnership to develop a comprehensive plan, which can be implemented simultaneously.

Senator Sinclair, chair of the Indian residential school Truth and Reconciliation Commission, noted in his speech in the other place on November 8 that:

I want to point out that this bill attempts to reconcile two different constitutional obligations that the government has: One is, of course, to comply with the Charter when it comes to gender discrimination; the other is to comply with its constitutional obligation to consult with indigenous people.

He went on to say later in his speech:

So while it is with reluctance that I see us delaying the implementation of a Charter right, I can also see the need to do so because of that competing constitutional obligation to consult. And so I am prepared to support this legislation because it enshrines the right.

In a way, it enshrines both rights: the right to be consulted and, of course, their charter rights that one should not be discriminated against on the basis of gender.

Given the government's commitment to co-designing consultations with first nations, it will not accept the addition of a specific coming into force date to the proposed 1951 cut-off clause. It would be counterproductive to the nation-to-nation relationship.

Senator Christmas also said in the Senate on November 8:

For those who might suggest the lack of a firm date for coming-into-force provisions is a weakness or flaw in this undertaking, I would assert otherwise. The reporting-to-Parliament provisions in the bill more than adequately deal with this, in my mind.

I believe it’s also essential to recognize that the consultation with First Nation communities that will flow from the bill’s requirements on consultation and reporting back to Parliament reflect the basis of the Principles respecting the Government of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples announced in July of 2017.

The bill contains numerous clauses holding the government accountable to Parliament regarding the implementation of this legislation.

Bill S-3 requires consultations on implementation of the clause in question, as well as broader Indian Act registration and membership reform, to commence within six months of royal assent. I understand these consultations are expected to commence early in 2018, and the co-design of these consultations with first nations is already under way.

Within five months of royal assent, the government is required to report to Parliament on the design of the consultations and how they are progressing, and provide a further update to Parliament within 12 months of royal assent.

There is also a three-year review clause in the bill. Parliament will have numerous enshrined opportunities to hold the government to account on its progress toward removing the 1951 cut-off.

In terms of how long consultations will take, the government will not prejudge the co-design process but is committed to working with its partners to move forward in an expeditious manner.

If we do not have legislation passed before December 22, which addresses the Descheneaux decision, the sections struck down by the court will be inoperative in Quebec. Based on the most recent extension decision of the Court of Appeal of Quebec, it is unlikely the courts will grant a further extension. The registrar has stated she would not be in a position to register people under provisions found to be non-charter compliant in Quebec, and would also not register individuals under those provisions in the rest of Canada. Ninety percent of status Indians are registered under the provisions struck down by the Descheneaux decision. We must not lose sight of the thousands of individuals who will not be able to register if the court deadline passes and the provisions noted above become inoperable.

I urge members of the House to support Bill S-3. I am glad to hear that members of the opposition are in support of it in the form that was referred to the House by the Senate.

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4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, I know my hon. colleague started off by talking about the consultations that will be taking place for the next phases of this bill. I was wondering about the principle behind these consultations. It seems that, if the government wants to drag its feet on something, if it is trying to delay something or prevent it from happening, it goes into consultations. However, if it is adamant about getting something done, if it wants to make a big, flashy announcement in New York, for example, it has no problem making these announcements with zero consultation. I am referencing in particular the northern drilling ban, for which the premiers of both Nunavut and Northwest Territories were given less than 45 minutes' notice that the announcement was coming down. Then, when the government discovered that, lo and behold, it had forgotten to do the consultation on that announcement, it said that it had made the announcement and would now do the consultations.

Therefore, I am wondering if the member could outline for us the principles behind the government's desire to do consultations, and whether it is just a stalling tactic.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I hear the member and his concerns regarding that. However, when I look at the legislation and our honest, good-faith efforts to consult with indigenous people to ensure respect not only for their charter rights but also for the manner and process by which their charter rights are invoked and protected, for the manner by which people have been registered into their bands, and for any unintended consequences that may result from those changes in registration, I feel the government is moving in the right direction.

The Senate amendments, which have the support of Senator Sinclair as well as Senator Christmas, give me great comfort that this is going in the right way.

However, I understand that, if there is a delay in the process, it will affect thousands of individuals who have a right to be registered. This is why I am also so pleased to see that there are defined timelines in the legislation for when Parliament is to be told what is happening, and that there will be metrics in place to make sure the bill is reviewed at five months, six months, 12 months, and three years. That gives me great confidence.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marwan Tabbara Liberal Kitchener South—Hespeler, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague quoted Senator Christmas, who said that the government will need to pay close attention to indigenous communities. I wanted to ask the hon. member about the importance of consulting, how that process needs to be done efficiently and effectively, and how we can make great efforts after the consultations to ensure that we have proper policies put forward.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is important to remember that the very design of the consultation process needs to be done in connection with indigenous people. That is why the process itself is co-designed. Without this, I think people would rightly feel that the process was being dictated, that people's views were not appropriately being taken into account, and that a true nation-to-nation relationship did not exist. Therefore, the co-design is a very important feature.

What comes into the co-design is not for me to decide. It is something that first nations people and the government will negotiate. I look forward to seeing a robust process that allows voices to be heard, all possible implementation issues and unintended consequences to be vetted, and then a strong process that respects everyone's charter rights to be implemented as soon as possible, so that indigenous people can be registered without sex and gender discrimination.

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am hoping that the representative of the Liberal government can square his government's commitment to hear all voices with the fact that last week the Liberal majority at the indigenous affairs committee blocked a motion to hear from Privy Council Office witnesses on how they are handling money for the murdered and missing indigenous women's inquiry. Then today, in the status of women committee, we learned that INAC has declined our request to participate in the status of women committee study on indigenous women's experiences in the justice system. Can you please reconcile those hypocrisies?

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I remind hon. members to direct their questions through the Speaker and not directly to other members of Parliament.

The hon. member for St. John's East.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Nick Whalen Liberal St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that all committees are masters of their own domain and can determine whether, how, or when they will receive witnesses, but I am confident that the process being proposed under this legislation would allow indigenous communities and the government to work together to co-design a process that would allow people, on whom both groups agree, to take part in the process and to be heard so that good decisions can be made. Obviously, it would not be up to the committee, INAC, or any other. It is going to be something that is decided between first nations and the government.

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

[Member spoke in Cree as follows:]

Niwakoma cuntik Tansai Nemeaytane Awapantitok.

[English]

Mr. Speaker, how we have progressed over the course of the summer. We have had time to talk and discuss, or, as we used to say or say now, consult. Taking the time to talk and discuss in the summertime is a very traditional indigenous way of doing things. It is great to see that over the course of this summer, the government has had the conversation about the ideals of justice, because justice in this bill is perhaps the most fundamental element to it.

I think about my family story, about who is Indian and who is not Indian under the law. My grandmother met a fine young man named James Ouellette from Battleford. His family had come from Batoche. They fell in love around 1939. On September 3 they had a son named James Ouellette, but then the war started just a week later and my grandfather signed up and was sent to Europe to fight. He went to England and fought his way through the Dutch lands and into Germany.

This is a story of many indigenous men, but it is also a story about an indigenous woman, for James was what they called at that time a “half-breed” or a Métis person. My grandmother, though, was a status Indian who had the full rights, responsibilities, and disadvantages of being a status Indian. However, because she married my grandfather, she lost her status upon her marriage. She did not know that the great course of events in Europe would ensure that her husband did not return for five years, that he would be away and that she would have to raise their son alone.

My father remembers as young boy having to go into the fields of farmers in the Battleford area to dig up potatoes in the dead of night to steal them so he and his mother could eat, because they had no food or money. He remembers doing this even at the age of four. They could not return home to the reserve at Red Pheasant, because they were not allowed to, for she was not a status Indian and he was called a half-breed.

That is the story of thousands and thousands in this country, and this is what this bill is about. It is about the ideal of justice so that this never happens again, so that someone can always go home to their lands, home to their traditional territory, home to their people, home to their family and community, and not be denied their birthright of who they are, who their people are.

The bill, as it was originally presented, only went so far. What this bill seeks to address has happened throughout Canadian history for 150 years, when people have been denied their rights because they married someone out of love. They were denied their identity and who they were. However, there have been people who have been brave enough in the Senate to continue this fight, senators like Lillian Dyck, Marilou McPhedran, Senator Christmas, Senator Sinclair, Senator Watt, Senator Patterson, Senator Joyal, and Senator Sandra Lovelace. These senators have led the fight to ensure that this discrimination would no longer occur. This is a fight not about today, but a fight about tomorrow. It is about who has status today and thus who will determine who has status tomorrow.

When we go forward with the ideals of a nation-to-nation relationship, as we start to take the Indian Act and dismantle it and try to reform these nations of what constitutes indigenous peoples and an indigenous nation, as we try to take and put together what was broken 139 years ago, it is going to take time. As I said, if someone has status today, they will have status or citizenship in these indigenous nations tomorrow, and so it is very important.

There are many even today who would continue to deny people's right to return. No matter what the bill may do, there will be some communities that will say that if one is not part of a community, then that person has no right to be there.

That is not our tradition. In ages past, people could marry on or into a community. They could become part of a community. There were many occasions when people who were not even Cree or Blackfoot or Anishinaabe could change their nations. They could become something different. They could learn a language and be adopted into a new family.

I was just at the reserve in Battleford region where I had an opportunity to meet meeting not only a Mosquito but a Poundmaker. Poundmaker had been adopted by a Blackfoot chief even though he was Cree, and it was for peaceful purposes. That is a very powerful relationship.

What we did before is not what we do today. Even today, what we do to each other is not always right. We hear stories from near the Montreal territory of people who marry for love and who are not allowed to stay in their community. This was not our way.

In my house I have an adopted daughter. She is not of my blood, but of my heart. She is half first nations from Saskatchewan and half Jamaican. We did not go through the court system to adopt her, but instead used elders, who worked hard to make sure that we did it in a good way, that we did it in a traditional and spiritual way, that it was according to our customs and our customary law. We love her very much. She is not any less of who I am or any less connected to the territory I am from. In fact, I even have a greater responsibility to her.

This is what this legislation is about. This legislation is about the future. It is about how we treat each other as indigenous peoples. I am not sure why it may be decided in this Parliament, which has not always been friendly toward indigenous peoples.

The bill offers us an opportunity to repair the damage of the past, to welcome home those who have been turned way for too long, to welcome home the great returning of people to their traditional territories, to their communities, to their nations, so that we may rebuild the nation that we have, the vision that was laid down before us by leaders like Poundmaker, like Big Bear, like Louis Riel, people who had in their hearts the long-term future of our children.

We are told to think seven generations into the future. Think seven generations from now what the implications will be of what we decide today.

I am very proud of the stance our government is taking. Even though some may say it is not enough, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Maybe it is not just one step; maybe it is a giant leap.

I lay my faith in the hands of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs to accomplish what we have set out to do, to talk during the summer period in the year to come, when indigenous peoples gather across their traditional lands, to do what we call consultation.

I lay my faith in them to make sure that we come up with something that truly represents what seven generations would look back upon and say, “We are proud of the decisions that were made by the parliamentarians of both the Senate and the House of Commons. We are proud of what the government did, of what the opposition did, of what the third opposition did, what all parties did together, that we pushed forward to create a better Canada that was more inclusive but allowed people to reach their full potential.”

[Member spoke in Cree]

[English]

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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his great speech and would ask him his opinion of the nature of first nations' existence today, in particular, whether it is the nation-to-nation relationship that everyone continues to talk about. Does he think that is beyond Canada, or does he think first nations do exist underneath the Constitution of Canada and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is a very interesting question and I will try to answer it as truthfully as I possibly can.

Indigenous sovereignty always existed. These nations existed for a very long period of time. In various groupings, they moved around, semi-nomadically in some cases, using a traditional place because it is much easier to know a territory and always stay within that territory to hunt and engage in other activities.

Also one's spirituality is often related to the land, but we also live in the world today, so as we exist in this world under these laws, we have all come to recognize that indigenous peoples benefit much from the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which are also related to many other international laws like the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man, or Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or even the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

It is not to say they cannot be complementary to each other. The state has to ensure that it does not get in the way of people, so they can craft a life for themselves. Governments should not be about imposing things on people, but creating a framework so that people can be successful and have good interactions with each other, allowing people, nations, and communities to reach their full potential, because if they cannot reach their full potential, there are costs. There are costs to us not only financially, but also emotionally and spiritually, and for all of our relations, including with the land and for who we are.

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4:30 p.m.

Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Yvonne Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying the tremendous passion that the member has for promoting indigenous rights and people in Canada. He certainly comes from a long line of advocates of these principles.

The member knows that together we have all worked hard to do what is right in building on reconciliation with indigenous people in Canada. What are his thoughts on the amendments in Bill S-3, and again, most importantly, what is one of the most important pieces we have to continue to work toward to have full reconciliation with indigenous people?

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, there are two things that need to occur. As a Canadian society, we are trying to work toward reconciliation, but there are more profound conversations that need to happen among indigenous peoples about what type of nation we would like to have and what it would look like. I do not think we are very advanced in that. We are held up too much in our own constructs or prisons of mind that have been created for us surrounding the Indian Act.

There are too many first nation peoples in this country, and even Métis people, who only see themselves through the prism of the Indian Act. We need to take the time to adequately ask what should we actually be doing? Where do we wish to go and how are we going to get there? It is wonderful that people have extended that hand of nationhood and said they are willing to be partners with us, but we have to be able to grasp that hand.

At this time, we have not done that necessary work, though I do salute the work of the chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the native women's organizations, NWAC, as well as the Métis National Council, but we are not there yet. There is still work to be done concerning Bill S-3 about what constitutes an indigenous person. As for the Métis, will they now become indigenous under these consultations? These are profound conversations that must be had among first nations and Métis people about what that means. How are they going to work together, because we do not exist in isolation and should not exist opposed to each other?

Tapwe.

[French]

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Regina—Lewvan, Public Services and Procurement; the hon. member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, Taxation; the hon. member for Hochelaga, Indigenous Affairs.

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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood.

I will attempt to build on some of the comments that my colleague just made in his question and answer period.

I think that anyone in this place would be hard pressed to argue that the Indian Act is anything other than deeply flawed. Passed in 1867, among its many flaws is that it is based upon archaic gender systems. Further, it could be argued that the act was, in its design, never meant to be anything more than a way to entrench paternalism and to assimilate first nations while simultaneously reducing the number of people who could claim status.

The Indian Act paternalistically lumped together a diverse population of people and forbade first nation people and communities from expressing their identities through governance and culture. Subsequent amendments to the act made things worse, not better, for first nations by more deeply entrenching colonial practices into law.

Amendments made in 1884 required first nation children to attend residential schools and made it illegal for first nation people to practise religious ceremonies, such as the potlatch. An amendment in 1914 outlawed dancing off-reserve, and in 1925, dancing was outlawed entirely. Amendments to the Act in 1927 made it illegal for first nations people and communities to hire lawyers or bring about land claims against the government without the government's consent.

Putting it mildly, these issues demonstrate a dark past in terms of the actions of legislators and Canadian officials against first nations people.

The 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples stated that “...Recognition as 'Indian' in Canadian law often had nothing to do with whether a person was actually of Indian ancestry.” Instead “status” was used as a tool of assimilation and cultural destruction. For example, a first nation person could lose status if he or she graduated university, became a Christian minister, or achieved professional designation as a doctor or lawyer.

In 1961, the government finally removed section 112, the so-called “compulsory enfranchisement” section, to end this and other assimilatory practices, but the damage had been done. For nearly a century, first nation people were given an impossible choice: try to live traditionally in spite of the outlawing of many cultural and religious practices, or attempt to interact with non-indigenous society and risk losing status. All of this is in addition to the patriarchal system that the Indian Act imposed.

The patriarchal system of the Indian Act is the crux of our debate today.

Bill S-3 was tabled in response to a Superior Court of Quebec decision, Descheneaux c. Canada and other clearly identified issues. The court found that several aspects of Indian registration under the Indian Act violated 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 by the courts, and Parliament was given a limited time to pass alternatives. The new deadline to pass legislative changes, after two extensions, is December 22, a date that is quickly approaching.

Aspects of the bill that directly respond to the Descheneaux decision should come into effect upon the bill receiving royal assent. Essentially, these amendments seek to remedy gender inequity in the Indian Act for those born after 1951.

The Liberal government added new amendments to Bill S-3 on November 7. Now embedded in the legislation is a consultation period to discern how to best remedy gender inequity for those born between 1869 and 1951. No date has yet been given of when these consultations will begin or when changes will come into force. There have been two court extensions and three different deadlines to get this passed. I note the court has indicated it has no interest in giving the Liberal government another extension. The clock has run out, and it is unfortunate to see that this was not properly planned to encompass consultations ahead of the passing of the legislation.

In a failed attempt to meet the original court-imposed deadline of February 3, the government engaged in very little consultation prior to tabling. In November 2016, members of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs heard from numerous witnesses that consultation was inadequate, and that indigenous organizations had little time or opportunity to submit their reflections. Additionally, the plaintiffs were not even consulted or contacted in any way by the department or the minister's office. The litigant said that the first time he knew about the bill was when he was called to committee to testify.

Mr. Stéphane Descheneaux said, “we've never been called or asked which way we saw that stuff...I was thinking that they would come to the band and meet us, and say that they're going to go that way, or they're looking to go this way.”

Chief Rick O'Bomsawin said:

[They] told us that we were consulted, that they consulted with chiefs last summer. I have not found one chief that they consulted. They've never consulted me, and it was our case. They never even called us.

This is problematic, and while I agree with the spirit of the bill and its attempts to correct its wrongs, Lord knows that across political stripes and different governments we have tried to correct wrongs. It is clear that the Liberal government needs to own up to the fact that its consultations with first nations on this legislation have been poorly planned. Furthermore, the Indigenous Bar Association testified that the bill was riddled with technical flaws and in no way would do what the title suggested to “eliminate all sex-based inequities in registration.”

After a great deal of pressure from opposition, senators, and indigenous organizations across the country, including the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, the Liberals withdrew the legislation from consideration by the Senate aboriginal peoples committee, went back to the court to ask for an extension, and returned the bill to the drawing board. The bill we are debating today is the end result of this process. As I have noted with past examples, there is a real human cost to getting this wrong. That said, the legacy of getting this wrong would have future costs as well.

Lalana Paul, a consultant with the Native Council of Prince Edward Island, says that in the Indian Act, “You see so much sexual discrimination, it's appalling that it's still in there.”

Lisa Cooper, president and chief of the native Council of Prince Edward Island, said, “I have the right to live a traditional and cultural life that I should be able to pass on to my kids.”

Lynn Gehl, a 55-year-old writer whose grandmother belonged to a first nation, fought a 22-year-long legal battle and was finally able to win partial status. However, thanks to the Indian Act, she remained unable to pass her status down to her children. This meant that she was deprived of the chance to vote for her indigenous government and live on land reserves, as well as access to tax breaks and expanded health coverage that she would have otherwise been entitled to receive. She said, “I should be able to pass on my status but I can’t because of gender discrimination.”

Sharon McIvor said that because of the Indian Act, “Aboriginal women and their descendants have been separated from their families and communities, treated as less worthy, less human, less Indian, and not full members of their cultures and communities.”

These stories tell of the deep human impact on first nations of the choices that Canada's legislators make. Given the history of ongoing discrimination, it is imperative that we get this one right.

I know the government has made a commitment to restore relationships with first nations. I could read the list of accomplishments our previous government attempted to do in this regard. However, we need to do better. I have not spoken to this topic very often in the House of Commons, but it is the quiet meetings that I have in my office with chiefs, leaders, and members of first nations communities that really impart to me that all of us in this place need to have a different look at how we approach these relationships. When I look at the process on how the bill has gone back and forth and the consultation process going forward, it is concerning.

Again, I know my colleagues in my party have made it clear that we support the spirit of the bill, and I want to commend the work of my colleague who is the opposition critic in this area. It does build upon previous attempts to clarify and remedy some of the wrongs in this regard. However, I would implore the government members to be clear on what this consultation process means. They need to be transparent with affected members of first nations communities so we can get this relationship thing right.

I want to acknowledge the comments of my colleague from Winnipeg. We are going somewhere. I would like to be going in the right direction. I encourage all members of the House that perhaps we can do a bit better than this.

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4:45 p.m.

Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador

Liberal

Yvonne Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is fair to say that the member was part of the previous government that continued to govern under this very racist and discriminatory legislation, and chose to ignore it even though three court cases at that time said the government needed to amend the Indian Act.

Today we are making those amendments. We would prefer to be repealing the act, but unfortunately, in good prudent governance, we need to replace that with something else. However, there is no reason for us to delay, as former governments did for the last 150 years, making the right changes, changes that will ensure sex-based inequities are eliminated in the act and women are treated fairly.

The member is concerned that it is not going far enough, fast enough. However, for 10 years your government did nothing. There was complete inaction. There were no amendments to the act to correct sex-based gender inequities for that full period of time.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Once again, I want to remind the hon. members to direct their questions through the Chair and not directly to other members.

The hon. member for Calgary Nose Hill.

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4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I find it unfortunate that my colleague, who I have great respect for, rather than listening to my speech, read a bunch of stuff off her talking point paper. She did not listen to the content of my speech and what I tried to say to here. Since the member has taken a partisan attack her, which I was trying not to do in my speech, I will make three points.

First, the member said that we did nothing. That is just wrong. I am looking the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act of 2010, a response to McIvor v. Canada. I was so proud to stand in the House of Commons and support the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act of 2013, which gave long overdue rights to first nations women, 25 years overdue.

This is the problem. We stand in here on these topics, and we make them partisan. Then we go out during campaigns and sell these promises that we never follow through on, instead of talking about how we can get this right. It is just disgusting. It is so difficult to stand and talk on these topics, because we have all gotten it wrong. We have all made attempts. We have all tried to do things right, but we continue to fail.

The government stands and points fingers on stuff like this, rather than asking what the consultation process is going to look like, or how we are going to remedy this. Rather than saying we really have not done a super fantastic job on it, it is the “Hey, Stephen Harper” talking point. That is not creating a new relationship with first nations. We all just have to completely reject that and move forward with a different line of thought.

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, recognizing that Bill S-3 before us does nothing to remedy gender equality rights for the indigenous women, Sharon McIvor, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, and Lynn Gehl, collectively, have been fighting this in court for 40 years, as has Chief O'Bomsawin, elected to represent the members of the Descheneaux case. They all oppose this.

Next week Sharon McIvor is going to Washington to address the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and to testify that the time delay in the government's version of Bill S-3, the time delay for the elimination of discrimination against indigenous women, returns us to what we debated on June 21.

This is a flawed bill. I would like to hear my colleague's views on that.

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4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I share my colleague's concerns on how we, as Canada, eventually get this right.

In the interim, we are staring down the barrel of a court deadline that is not going away. We have to pass some legislation, and that is why I stood in this place to say that I agreed with the spirit of the legislation, even with it being an interim measure that is going to keep incrementally moving us forward.

I want to commend the women the member mentioned for their advocacy and their fight in this regard. Without those voices, things do not change.

One of the things I wanted to focus on in my speech was the fact that no date was given on the consultation element, which was added on November 7. During debate today, the government could have provided a lot more information on that. Perhaps that would have remedied some of the concerns of my colleague.

This is not perfect. We need to continue to fix it but, in spirit, it is an incremental step that needs to proceed.

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4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

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.