Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to Bill S-3. It is an interesting case. I sit on the committee. We started the pre-study on it, then we stopped the study, and then we got started again. I have not been here very long, but that was a unique situation, I understand, that does not happen often. It is under those circumstances that I begin my debate here today.
We now have studied the bill. We studied it even before it got to this place. That is also interesting. We had to bend the rules of the committee to make that happen as well. It has been an interesting method of using parliamentary procedure.
I come from an automotive mechanic background, and then I came to this place. I thought one thing I had better figure out was how parliamentary procedure works. I did not realize there was a big green book we had to read. However, I did go to the library, and I got Robert's Rules of Order. All parliamentary procedure stems basically from Robert's Rules, so I read it. I had a significant grasp of Robert's Rules, and when I got here, I began to play with the green book and discovered how our parliamentary procedure works. It is much more in-depth than Robert's Rules, but there are some basic principles that apply. We had to massage all those principles to get where we are today discussing Bill S-3. There is also a limited timeline as we go forward.
Bill S-3 talks about membership in a race, essentially. That is what it is. It is tied up with what the act of Canada calls an Indian. Nowadays that term is bound up with a whole bunch of emotion, so we do not use that term nearly as often, but it is the term that is used in the Indian Act. Bill S-3 is a bill that would help to define who is an Indian in the country of Canada. For me, from the get-go, that places me in what I am going to call an icky situation. Bureaucrats in Ottawa are deciding who is an Indian and who is not an Indian. That to me is the very definition of racism, I guess we could say. The government is placing a label on people and not placing a label on them.
On the flip side, however, I am Canadian. I was born and raised here, but I am also a descendent of Dutch people, so I consider myself to have Dutch heritage. I do not need to go to the government to get someone to sign a piece of paper saying that I have Dutch heritage. It is just the way it is.
With our current system, people get a card that says they are Indian. It could happen that a person's entire family has cards that say they are Indian, and all the first cousins have cards that say they are Indian, but that person does not have a card that says he or she is an Indian. To me, that is terrible, in a whole raft of senses, but particularly in this country, where we have seen that our indigenous communities are over-represented in the suicide statistics.
We have done a recent study on suicide in Canada among our indigenous communities. I want to read a quote from Ed Connors about why perhaps the suicide rate is so high among our indigenous peoples. He said that if people cannot answer these questions, their likelihood of suicide is higher: “Where do I come from? Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?”
We have a system in this country in which all someone's first cousins may have a card that says who they are, they are Indians, and he or she cannot have a card and is not entitled to the same things as all his or her cousins. That in and of itself can lead to a sense of not belonging.
Here we are today, in Ottawa, trying to develop a law that will help to ensure that people who have first cousins who have cards are able to get cards as well. This is important, because that will give them some sense of belonging. If they have that card, it will not allow certain individuals to exclude them from certain activities.
We are debating Bill S-3. When I was first elected, this is not what I thought I was coming here to be debating. I think I share the sentiments of my colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou that the very essence of the Indian Act seems to me to be racist in that we are deciding, based on ethnicity, who gets some privileges and who does not. I agree with him that we need to be looking more broadly.
It is like having an old car that is fairly broken and has a number of things that should be fixed, but the one thing keeping it from working properly right now are the wheel bearings, so we are going to put new wheel bearings in a really old car. Perhaps we should think about buying a whole new car. That might be a better deal than buying new wheel bearings to stick in a really old car that has one hundred other problems.
This whole discussion on Bill S-3 seems very icky in terms of how, by definition, we are deciding who belongs to a race and who does not.
Moving from there, we ended up with graphs. We heard from a number of witnesses at committee, particularly Mr. Descheneaux, who brought us a series of graphs on 6(1), 6(1)(a), and 6(2). It was all extremely confusing. I go back to the beginning. I am a Canadian of Dutch heritage. I did not need the government to decide that I was a Canadian of Dutch heritage. I just knew instinctively that I belonged to that community.
What the bill is trying to address is a laudable action. If a grandmother married off the reserve, and her daughter married of the reserve, the children were not entitled to status, but if the grandfather married off the reserve, they were entitled to status, even though the parents might have been non-status. I agree with the member from James Bay that we have to move toward a system where we recognize being a member of a cultural group rather than a defined scenario.
In my riding, I have several first nation communities and Métis. I come from a large riding in northern Alberta. I like to call it the promised land. It is literally flowing with milk and honey. It also has a number of reserves that are still in the process of being made into reserves, so for that reason as well, I call it the promised land.
Deborah Serafinchon was a witness at committee, and she talked extensively about her experience. She had DNA proof that both of her parents were 6(1).
She went with that DNA proof and was told they needed affidavits from a number of people proving that her parents were in fact who she said they were.
That, to me, is very interesting. She has DNA proof of who her parents are but is unable to get status, even under the current situation. It is going to be interesting to see where this goes.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for the time this evening. I would like to thank all the members who spoke on this. I look forward to some questions.