House of Commons Hansard #193 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was appointments.

Topics

Indian ActGovernment Orders

8:25 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is better than anyone to start to grapple with the question of what a nation-to-nation relationship is. The current government puts out important concepts and words without definitions, and this has consistently concerned me. If we are going to have a nation-to-nation relationship, how are we going to define the nation? How are we going to work with a nation in moving things forward? I have asked these questions a number of times and, to be frank, I really do not have a clear understanding.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples commits to implementation, but we continue to ask for definitions, because if we are going to implement something, we first need to be able to define what we are doing. To put out words without being able to understand what those words mean and how they will lead us forward is certainly a real issue with respect to the relationship between the Government of Canada and indigenous peoples.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

8:25 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was going to say that I am honoured to rise to speak to the Indian Act, but that is not the case. Usually, when I rise in the House, I do it with honour and I consider it a privilege, but that is not the case today.

Earlier, I explained just how deeply opposed I am to this legislation, which has been in place for a very long time and, I would point out, was imposed unilaterally on indigenous peoples across this country. It is a shame that in 2017 we must still rise in the House to talk about something so racist, colonial, and discriminatory as the Indian Act.

We are supposedly one of the most progressive and generous countries on the planet, but the first peoples of this country are subjected to legislation such as the Indian Act. It is really unfortunate. Given the country’s international reputation, this legislation should be done away with as quickly as possible, especially given the promises that this new government made on a number of things, including the new relationship that it wants to establish with indigenous peoples.

The adoption and implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should now be the basis for any discussion in the House. I would like to point out that this was one of the most significant promises made by several parties, including my own, but also by this government.

Regarding this declaration, let us not forget that two of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s main calls to action are calls to action nos. 43 and 44. Call to action no. 44 calls on the government and its indigenous partners to develop a national action plan to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Call to action no. 43 is also important for us in the House. It calls on the federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.

That is important. We cannot say that we support all of the Commission’s calls to action except for call no. 43, because it calls on us to fully adopt and implement the declaration.

It is therefore important to remember the context in which we come to this debate on the Indian Act and the status of indigenous people in this country.

Something that has always fascinated me is that the first peoples of this country are the only people in Canada subject to a law in this way. It is mind-boggling how discriminatory this law is, come to think of it. Indigenous peoples and all other peoples on the planet are equal. Like all other peoples, indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination under international law. Article 9 of the declaration recognizes that indigenous peoples have a right to determine who should be members of their communities and nations.

However, this is not the case, and it is unfortunate that in 2017 we still have this racist, discriminatory, and also sexist legislation.

Whenever I talk about the Indian Act, I am almost tempted at times, very seriously, to rise in the House and propose a Caucasian act. Please excuse my use of a typological understanding of human biology when I limit people to racial terms, especially since the term Caucasian describes people from the geographic regions of Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, and most members in the chamber are from western Europe. Self-identity is not what is important here.

My proposition would be nothing new, as a matter of fact. Five hundred years ago when Caucasian ships began arriving on the shores of this continent, indigenous peoples began devising all sorts of appropriate responses to the invasion. Maybe, at least in the north, invasion is too strong of a word to describe the first contact, but when farmers, entrepreneurs, and business people began to be displaced by foreign investment, when doctors spoke out in alarm of undocumented immigrants bringing high levels of infectious disease onto this continent, and when community leaders began noticing the erosion of the indigenous social fabric, our warriors became our homeland security, and our knowledge keepers became our policy-makers on this continent.

For a while, official policy was to send all Caucasians back to where they came from. I will not lie, that argument still pops up from time to time in discussions with my people, but then mixed marriages, economic interdependence, and the sheer numbers became a reality, and we realized that a more nuanced solution was needed for the Caucasian problem. If I were proposing that act today, I would paraphrase John A. Macdonald and say that the great aim of this legislation is to do away with the European system, and assimilate the Caucasian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of this land as speedily as they are fit to change. I am of course paraphrasing John A. Macdonald.

I can almost hear some of the other members objecting, but will this proposal not deny my fundamental rights contained within the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and violate universal human rights standards? However, I can assure everyone that rights are not important when we consider the creation of a Caucasian act. Power is the most important factor when we consider pieces of legislation designed to control and assimilate one demographic group to the exclusion of all others. Who holds power over the lives of others?

Today, the government has brought to the House Bill S-3, a Senate bill that purports to remove gender discrimination from the Indian Act. The only piece of legislation in this country, I will repeat, that exclusively governs the lives of one demographic group, namely, the indigenous people of this country. When considering this bill, it must be recognized that the colonial system is always about gaining control over another people for the sake of what the colonial power has determined to be the common good.

That is the system that is prescribed by colonial values, priorities, and objectives. Senators, MPs and expert witnesses have repeatedly told the Liberal government that Bill S-3 must go beyond the limited understanding of what legislative review of the Indian Act means, an understanding limited by colonial prescriptions.

In fact, the minister has already told the Senate that her government will reject one of the senators' amendments to the bill, and members heard, as I did, and as all of us did in this House this evening, that is what she repeated tonight.

As the Indian Act is currently written, indigenous men who married non-indigenous women before April 17, 1985, when the act was re-written to comply with the charter of rights, will always pass their Indian status to at least their grandchildren and, in many cases, to their great-grandchildren. This is the case, even if their children and grandchildren parent with non-Indians. However, indigenous women who married non-status men before 1985 only pass on status up to their grandchildren, unless those grandchildren parent with other status Indians.

Senator McPhedran's amendment to Bill S-3 is intended to eliminate any remaining distinctions between the descendants of men and women who married non-Indians before the charter. It would go back to the creation of the Indian Act in the 1800s, while the government wants to stop at those born after the Indian register was created in 1951.

We are left with the question, why is the government refusing to recognize the indigenous identity of potentially hundreds of thousands of people? Remember, self-identity is not seen as important, human rights are not seen as important. What is important is gaining and maintaining power over a subjugated group of people, meaning the indigenous people of this country.

As Dr. Lynn Gehl has explained, “They don't want to end this discrimination. The ultimate goal is to get rid of status Indians and get rid of treaty rights—so much so, that they'll target women and babies.”

I want to quote what Deborah Serafinchon said to our committee when she appeared not too long ago. She said:

I'm not a lawyer, I'm not into any of this, all I know is that I don't understand the different status of 6(1)(a), 6(1), 6(2), whatever it is. Simply, as far as I'm concerned, an Indian is an Indian. I don't understand why there's different levels of status...I'm Indian enough to be discriminated against, but I'm not Indian enough to get status.

Whenever I hear testimony like that, it bothers me a lot, because this legislation has been around for so long. I remember the day after this Prime Minister got elected, and he reiterated a lot of the promises he made to indigenous peoples. I remember the day, across the river, in December 2015 when he spoke before the chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations. One of the promises he made that day in December 2015, before the chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations, was to review and rescind any legislation that was unilaterally imposed on indigenous peoples by previous governments. He used the word governments, not the previous government, but previous governments. It would have been very logical if he started with the Indian Act 20 months ago. Now we are caught with this, and bound by a deadline set by the Quebec Superior Court.

It is also worthwhile to read into the record what Senator Daniel Christmas said with respect to the Indian Act:

The point I'm making is a very stark one: Life under the Indian Act is a horrible and unproductive existence whose ultimate destiny is insolvency and ruin, both economically and emotionally.

A lot of first nations are in the same boat now that Membertou was in the mid-1990s.

Senator Christmas went on:

I recall the awful feeling of seeing people in my community walking with their heads down. Their community was poor and without any prospects, any hope for improvement, for us or for our children.

That is what he said in the Senate. It is important to remind ourselves that those are important considerations that we need to take into account in any revision that we make to the Indian Act, whether it be to status or to any of the other elements that are contained in the earlier Indian Act.

I also want to remind members that the new government has committed to adopting and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the minister has repeated that commitment and promise on a couple of occasions since the election.

Article 9 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reads as follows:

Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right.

I made an earlier point about the UN declaration. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recommended that we fully adopt and implement the UN declaration as the framework for reconciliation in this country.

There is a bill before this House, Bill C-262, that would implement the TRC's calls to action 43 and 44. I am hopeful that once that bill is adopted, it will be the framework for any proposed legislation in this country, in this chamber, as we move forward, because although a declaration is not the same as a convention or an international treaty, a declaration does have a legal effect in this country. The Supreme Court has confirmed on a couple of occasions now that declarations do have legal effects. Declarations are “relevant and persuasive sources” to interpret domestic human rights law in this country.

My suggestion here is that the UN declaration already has application in Canadian law. That should be the basis of any legislation that stems from this House from now on, or any policy review that we do as a government in this country. It does have application, and that is what Bill C-262 would confirm as well.

I was going to go into a whole list of the effects of the Indian Act, and it is quite a long list. However, I do want to remind this House that one of the things that is still in the Indian Act—and not too many Canadians know this—is the fact that the minister still has the authority to accept or refuse my will when I pass away. It is still in the Indian Act. That is pretty outrageous. It is only for indigenous peoples.

That is why I say the Indian Act needs to go away. There are enough people in this House to make suggestions as to what to replace it with. I think it is grand time that we do it. It is 2017 in this country called Canada.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

8:45 p.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario

Liberal

Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to pose a question. Instead I will provide a comment, but I will start by saying that it remains one of the great honours, perhaps even above and beyond serving in this house as a member of Parliament, to sit in this House with the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. He reminds us not only of the role of our conscience as parliamentarians but also of the work we have to do until that member is satisfied. I commit to him personally that I am not satisfied that the work we are doing will ever be there.

The challenge we have as Canadians, as treaty holders, is the complexity of what we have inherited. It is hard to walk away from it quickly without unintended consequences. We have seen the impact of good intentions on too many communities, and also the impact of bad policy on too many communities. As we move forward, I hope that progress makes its way sometimes. Progress sometimes is a healthy substitute for caution, for being careful. We recognize that we are struggling with this because we have created a mess, a tragic and deadly mess, and we have to deal with it.

The member said he had a list of other challenges that we still have to deal with as a country. In the spirit of reconciliation and our understanding of these new truths, I will ask him to please, one more time, give us a lesson in the work we have to do, and I thank him for it.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will not go into that list, because it is too long and because I do not want to provoke nightmares during our sleep tonight. However, I do want to say in response to the comment that for 150 years, essentially what the Canadian government has done is to wage a legislative war against indigenous peoples, indigenous women in particular. That needs to stop.

We are all committed to reconciliation. I do not think there is anyone in this chamber who is against justice. I do not think there is anybody in this chamber who is against reconciliation. I do not think there is anybody in this chamber who is against human rights, yet for 150 years, throughout the history since Confederation, the federal government has been an adversary to indigenous peoples, an adversary to indigenous rights in this country. If the government is going to continue that, it is not consistent with its promise of reconciliation.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2017 / 8:50 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I too appreciated the comments of my colleague, whom I work with on committee. I appreciate his sentiments around the Indian Act, which he states regularly and consistently.

We have before us this bill, Bill S-3. We have looked at it twice. We looked at in a pre-study in November and we looked at it again recently in another pre-study, in a version very different from the first. Both times, as he is aware, when we asked the officials if this legislation deals with all known sex-based inequities, we were told that it did in November, but there were a number of mistakes. The bar association and Descheneaux's lawyer pointed out the Gehl case. It very quickly became apparent that the bill was lacking. We asked again just this week if the bill now takes care of all known sex-based inequities, and the officials again said it does.

I would like to ask my colleague if he has confidence that the officials are right, or can he perhaps identify any issues that are still there in this piece of legislation?

Indian ActGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, one of the things I often mention in this House, and I want to repeat it again. As members of Parliament we have a duty to uphold the rule of law. I mentioned that to the Prime Minister the other day. What does that mean? According to the Supreme Court of Canada, upholding the rule of law means respecting the Constitution. Our Constitution contains the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and section 35 dealing with aboriginal and treaty rights. Therefore, we need to make sure that every time we discuss legislation, it is consistent with the charter and section 35.

We already have that obligation under the Department of Justice Act. Article 4.1 obliges the Minister of Justice to make sure that before any legislation is tabled in this House, it is consistent and compatible with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We do not have that equivalency for aboriginal and treaty rights yet. That is why Bill C-262 is important for this House as well. Many times when that vetting happens, it is possible that we miss certain legal points. It happened many times under the previous government, and it is bound to happen again here.

I used this example at committee last week. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal said something important that struck me. It stated that the Department of Indian Affairs continues to do exactly the opposite of what the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs says.

There has always been a problem and a struggle between the front bench here and the departments under which they work, so we are bound to miss a couple of points. However, what is important is to have the proper basis for us to move on, and that is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

8:55 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou from the bottom of my heart for setting so clearly before us what we should be talking about instead of Bill S-3, which are the big picture items that we and first nations and indigenous peoples in this country are still living under, and that is a racist, discriminatory, colonial bill. We are now approaching it from the point of view of one aspect of it because of the deadline of a court case, when we should be discussing how to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I am enormously pleased that when the New Democrats and the Greens of British Columbia agreed on how they would govern, they agreed that the Government of British Columbia would operate under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as law. Since we do have Bill S-3 before us, the member quoted Senator Dan Christmas. I want to ask a question with respect to another member of the sovereign Mi'kmaq territory, Professor Pam Palmater, who said clearly to the committee:

There is no reason to consult on whether to abide by the law of gender equality. The laws of our traditional Nations, Canada and the international community are clear on gender equality. There is no optioning out of equality, nor can it be negotiated away.

She also cited as an authority the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I am loath to comment on the Indian Act, Bill S-3, or anything else, since I am not under a Caucasian act, though I did like the member's suggestion that it would make it very clear to people exactly how racist and discriminatory the bill is.

As I understand it, I could vote for Bill S-3 with Senator McPhedran's amendments, but without them I cannot vote for it. Have I grasped this technical, small, yet hugely significant part of a racist and colonial scheme?

Indian ActGovernment Orders

8:55 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member quoted Pam Palmater, who appeared before our committee and the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. What is important to me is that we as parliamentarians make sure we respect the law. We are prohibited from discrimination. This House is prohibited from discriminating against anybody in this country. That is what the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms say, and that is what we need to abide by. The member is right. We have no choice. This is the law, and we have to respect the law.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

8:55 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

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.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

9:10 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, the member for Peace River—Westlock, for what I think is an extraordinarily apt metaphor for what we are doing here tonight, that of a car that is broken down, and one might even say cursed. It is the kind of car one really wants to get rid of. However, we are focused on fixing the one thing that is front of us that we have to fix tonight.

I have often thought, when I heard the hon. member for Peace River—Westlock speak, that we need more people with a background in auto mechanics in this place and probably fewer people like me with law degrees, because I think that really says it all. We are dealing with what we are dealing with. However, the bigger problem is that we have the so-called Indian Act, which is, as we have heard tonight from the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, absolutely a racist and discriminatory act. It is imbued with the vestiges of colonialism in its worst form.

I just want to thank the member for a great metaphor. I do not think I have a single question except to say I wonder if he is prepared to vote for it as long as it has the amendment that would eliminate this one part of the car that we are replacing, the piece that would eliminate gender-based discrimination?

Indian ActGovernment Orders

9:10 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, we are still studying this bill at committee, as the member is aware, and there are possibly a number of amendments that we will be discussing, as well. Based on the outcome of that, I will be deciding on how I will be supporting this bill.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member would discuss a bit more about the testimony he heard from Ms. Deborah Serafinchon at the committee. She is the lady who talked about how she did not really understand 6(1), 6(2), and 6(1)(a) Indians and what that all meant. She talked about how, at the end of the day, her mother was sent to residential school, that she did not have status, how her mother was forced to hide her as a child and flee the hospital because they were going to seize her as a baby, not because her mother was unwed but because she was an Indian, and even though she did not have status, that did not really matter because she was an Indian nonetheless. She said, “I'm Indian enough to be discriminated against, but I'm not Indian enough to get status.”

The member heard that testimony directly. I have seen it on video. I think it is perhaps one of the most poignant I have heard because she is a lady who is not a lawyer, not someone who might be considered an expert, but she is someone who was speaking from the heart, from the heart of her absolute core, about the discrimination that occurs in the Indian Act and the potential to actually make a difference through the Senate amendments on this act.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

9:10 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would just note that our colleague from James Bay did actually read that entire quote into the record a few moments ago.

Deborah Serafinchon is indeed one of my constituents. She did read into the record the fact that she has DNA proof that her father has status and yet she is without status. She has DNA evidence to that point. However, even under the current bill, she would still be unable to get status, regardless of her DNA proof. We will be looking into that in committee going forward, for sure.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was wondering if the member could give a bit more information about some of the Senate amendments that the government received, the difference in those Senate amendments, and what he feels about those Senate amendments. They are obviously very important.

The Senate amendment mentions a parent or guardian or other ancestral person. It has a large introduction, which essentially says:

...the Registrar shall, without being required to establish the identity of that parent, grandparent or other ancestor, determine, after considering all of the relevant evidence, whether that parent, grandparent or other ancestor is, was or would have been entitled to be registered. ...the Registrar shall rely on any credible evidence that is presented by the applicant in support of the application....

Essentially, we are allowing the registrar greater leeway to determine who is an Indian, so it is essentially moving back perhaps to what we used in Canada back in the late 18th century, early 19th century, in allowing people to determine who is an Indian, such as this is someone who looks like an Indian, sounds like an Indian, lives in an indigenous community, so he or she must be an Indian.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite and I have had dinner together. I must commend him for his great advocacy and the work that he has done to bring forward the issue of reconciliation even in his own community. I understand he went on a 900-kilometre walk last summer with respect to the issue of reconciliation. I might be exaggerating that a bit, but that was commendable on his part. I would like to congratulate him for his work on this effort.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

9:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think I speak for most Canadians who feel that the colonial vestiges of the last several hundred years really have no place in modern Canada.

I come from British Columbia and it is almost entirely unceded territory. Issues of identity and full inclusion in Canadian society are still very much top of mind for many indigenous people in my riding of Vancouver Kingsway and across British Columbia and Canada as a whole.

I am wondering if my hon. colleague could speak to the feeling of urgency he feels or may not feel about resolving treaty claims in Canada and whether he feels that plays any role in helping to resolve some of these issues of status and inclusion in Canadian society today.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

9:15 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will comment on what I do know about. In my riding two groups were missed when the Indian agent came through. They do not have reserves and we are currently trying to settle those reserve claims. The government actually calls it an expansion of reserve because it is already claimed territory. It is all Treaty 8 territory where I live.

One of the reasons I call my riding the promised land is because there is promised land and we are working toward getting reserve status for that land. One of the groups already has its phase one, which is made up of several acres of land. This group is working toward 92 square kilometres of reserve going forward. For them, this is a great source of joy and a great source of pride. There is something about being tied to land. I own five acres of land and it is my slice of paradise up in the promised land.

Indian ActGovernment Orders

9:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am wondering if the hon. member could comment about the diversity of opinion on this issue. There are organizations such as the Native Women's Association of Canada that feels we cannot move fast enough on this. Other organizations such as the Indigenous Bar Association support the principle of the bill. All of us on this side of the House support the principle of the bill. These organizations have some real concerns about the drafting of the bill, the actual words in the bill, as does Senator Sinclair, who had concerns with its drafting but ultimately supported the spirit of the bill.

I am wondering if the hon. member could comment on those concerns.

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9:20 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, I too have concerns. I mentioned my constituent who had DNA evidence that her father was Walter Twinn, one of the senators from years past, and the very fact that she lived without status. The bill would nothing to make that any better. That is one of my concerns and it is one of the concerns we heard at committee. Therefore, we will be working to rectify some of those situations.

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9:20 p.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario

Liberal

Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Mr. Speaker, as I referenced in the comments I made to my colleague, it is impossible, as a Canadian, to stand in the House and speak proudly of the tradition the country has etched in the soul of its aboriginal people and not feel shame, not want to fix, change, and move to a better place with new laws that, quite frankly, in many cases, just have to eliminate past laws.

My family is from Australia. I am the kid of immigrants. People may think they arrive in this country free of that history, but the minute they become citizens, they inherit the responsibility to do right. We have not done right yet in our country. Until the Indian Act is abolished, I do not see a way of achieving that.

Even as we speak of that, we know, as I look across the way to my friend who is a proud member of the House but also a proud member of the Métis nation, it is just one step in a long march toward truth and reconciliation. We have obligations to achieve that. Perhaps we can do much in this Parliament, but my sense is that a country that was founded on 400 years of colonialism, racism, and theft, it will take a long walk out of those shadows, a long way out of that forest before we get to a clearing where we have common ground, and it will be painful.

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

One of the things we encounter very quickly when we have the responsibility and privilege of governance in the House is that we have the capacity to fix things, but in fixing things we have the unintended impact of also breaking things simultaneously. The challenge we face with this law and the challenge being delivered to us from the Senate is that as we seek to fix one part of this colonial tragedy and this colonial knot, we have to acknowledge we are not fixing all of it. In fixing one piece of it we may actually make solving other parts of the problem that much more difficult.

As we think we move toward reconciliation with aboriginal peoples with treaties, we have to understand that may leave the situation of people of nations without treaties in a more difficult situation. As we acknowledge we have the Métis nation and the responsibility to another group of people, differently configured, with different culture, that leaves behind conversations we should be having with our Inuit brothers and sisters. We have inherited a difficult, troubled history.

However, what gives me hope that we are moving in the right direction is we are getting criticized in a way that is fair, legitimate, and responsible. It is the personification of Loyal Opposition. The issues that were just enunciated, the poignant testimony from my colleague across the way, shows that we have not got it right. However, what we do have is a commitment from this side of the House, and I believe it is shared by all parliamentarians, to keep working at it until it is right. The failure to do that would be the failure of the country.

The challenges we have in dealing with the specific legislation in front of us right now is trying to decide whether we are trying to get better or whether we are trying to achieve perfection. The risk of perfection getting in the way of better is that perfection has been criticized by many people, including some of the strongest voices from the first nations community, in fact, some of the voices from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself.

Judge Sinclair, the senator from the other place, has said, “I looked seriously at how we could put an amendment together to make it say 6(1)(a) all the way, and I couldn’t come up with wording. This is not the wording that I would have come up with, and I don’t approve of this wording myself.” He voted against the amendment.

If one of the authors of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says do not do something, we have to listen to that wise counsel. He voted in favour of the amended bill to ensure it came to Parliament, to ensure we could meet the July 3 deadline, to try to find resolution to this issue, but he cautioned us. This is the reality. Every time we move on indigenous issues in the country, we unintentionally put someone else in jeopardy, somewhere, somehow.

We have yet to find a perfect way to walk out of the forest quickly into a clearing, into common ground. Those of us who favour a process of incremental, persistent, and consistent improvement and persistent and consistent negotiation and consultation with as wide a range of people as possible are speaking in support of the motion tonight, and that is important. It is not that we do not recognize the harrowing, discriminatory, racial, and patriarchal dynamics that have been clearly highlighted. It is that we cannot solve all of it quickly without knowing in our hearts that we are going to make other mistakes that put other people in harm's way. It is hard to put people in harm's way as legislators, so we try to do things cautiously and carefully. That is why this process of incremental but persistent and consistent advancement is the one that has been chosen.

All of that being said, the thing we need to caution ourselves against most importantly is that we need to be very careful not to position competing perspectives from different aboriginal organizations and individuals against one another and somehow suggest that one is right and one is wrong. It is quite possible that when we propose solutions, they are both right and wrong simultaneously. I hope this process of the last two years, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the legislation that has been coming from the government on a consistent basis, negotiations that have been held on a consistent basis, and consultations that have been held on a consistent basis, is showing those who have no reason to trust the Government of Canada that they can trust this process and this government to make sure that every time it moves it does so cautiously, conscientiously, and carefully.

We will make mistakes and we will not move fast enough for every person who has been affected by colonialism in this country. That is as true as the sun rising tomorrow, but I want to assure people listening and my colleagues in the House that those of us who have taken the notion of truth and reconciliation to heart, soul, and mind are moving forward with our brothers and sisters, even if we do not always agree on every single tactic, every single clause, every single rule and regulation. We will get there. We probably will not get there in my lifetime. We probably will not get there in the lifetime of most members in the House, but I am comfortable in knowing that we are moving in the right direction.

I had the privilege in the last year of consulting with aboriginal elders, Inuit elders, as well as Métis nation authorities and elders in that community, about housing in urban settings across this country. I have talked to folks from coast to coast to coast about what they see as a good housing program and everyone asked me at the beginning of the process to check in with an elder first, before doing wider consultations with the community at large second. It was wise advice that I received and good advice that I followed.

A couple of thoughts, gifts of wisdom, that were imparted to me stick with me to this moment and these are why I am comfortable supporting the government's position on Bill S-3. It was this: every time INAC or the government makes a new rule or regulation as it relates to aboriginal people, the roots of colonialism and racism grow a little deeper in this country. There is truth to that. What happens when a tree's roots grow deeper is that the branches have the capacity to grow wider, tangle, and create even more complex problems. What is really needed is the clearing that I spoke about. We need common ground to emerge and not to grow the roots deeper or the branches more complex.

We need that clearing for new life to spark and take root, a new relationship to grow, and for that to define the relationship between those of us on this side of the treaty table and those on the other side of the treaty table, those who have lived here for thousands of years and those of us who are new arrivals. We need that space to emerge. We need new opportunities, new ideas, and new life to take root, and we need a new future to emerge from the common ground, the clearing ground, in the forest. Otherwise, this country shall remain in shadows and the people who will be hurt the most from that are our indigenous brothers and sisters right across the country.

I said I was from Australia. Australia has also travelled through this painful process and has also struggled to find truth and reconciliation with its aboriginal peoples. Eddie Mabo, who is one of the great warriors for justice in that country, once asked, “What more can they do to me that they have have not already done?”

We can do more harm if we are not careful. That is why I implore this House to take the careful steps to embrace Bill S-3 and to remain committed to truth and reconciliation, because that is the way forward.

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9:30 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am still struggling with this. I understand that the hon. member says that perfect can be the enemy of the good, but in this case no one here is striving for perfection.

We still have the Indian Act before us, which I think we agree, and as his earlier statements made clear, is something that brings shame to the whole country. Now we have amendments proposed by the Senate that would at least ensure that gender discrimination would be removed from it. It is hardly the perfect being the enemy of the good.

I am struggling with it, but I do not believe I can vote for Bill S-3 without the Senate amendments that ensure that at least the gender discrimination pieces have been removed.

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9:30 p.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

Mr. Speaker, maybe it is not good getting in the way of perfection; maybe it is adequate getting in the way of perfection.

It comes back to the notion that we have to proceed carefully. If we make wholesale changes quickly, it will be like turning a sailboat too quickly. If the sail has not been tended to, if the waves have not been checked, if everything has not been done right and there is a quick turn of the rudder, the boat will be pitched into catastrophe and people will be put at risk. That was not necessarily the intent; the intent was simply to turn the boat around.

We have to change course as a country, but as we contemplate going about and changing course, we need to make sure that the sails are trimmed properly, that the boat is seaworthy, and that the crew on board and those we have carriage of are safe and know what is about to happen.

The challenge with the Indian Act is that it has set up some complex and very dynamic relationships in the country, and if we turn quickly, it would have the unintended consequences of loading expectations into people's lives and placing demands on institutions that have no capacity. We would be back where we started, because the boat would not actually turn. It would simply stall. We cannot stall on this issue.

If I could continue with the sailing analogy, we are looking for that better wind and that better water. We are not there yet, but it is time to make sure that we sail a little stronger and make a little more progress.

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9:30 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat disturbed by what I just heard the hon. member say.

He is worried about moving too quickly. Frankly, we are talking about the Indian Act. We have spent decades and decades studying this issue. We know exactly where the problems are. I am disturbed that the member would say that we need to exercise caution at this point. Indigenous people in this country have waited long enough.

Moreover, I am disturbed by the fact that my hon. colleague talks about how we might err. How about we err on the side of more equality? How about if we err on the side of giving women equal rights? If there is an error in some way, then perhaps we have gone too far too fast. It would be nice, after 150 years of colonialism in this country and hundreds of years beyond that, if the Liberal government actually had a little bit of daring.

My final point is that this was a considered amendment by the Senate. For decades I have heard the Liberals defend the Senate as a place of sober second thought, a chamber that is supposed to bring concentrated analysis of issues, and we are supposed to take that seriously. Is my hon. colleague saying that the amendments from the Senate are ill-considered or unnecessary?

Why does he not just accept what the Senate says ought to be done, what the members on this side of the House want to be done, what indigenous people across this country want to be done, have some courage and actually make these amendments that are so desperately needed and long overdue?

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9:35 p.m.

Liberal

Adam Vaughan Liberal Spadina—Fort York, ON

Mr. Speaker, the fallacy in that presentation is that there is unanimity among the aboriginal communities as to what the right way forward is, quickly. When we do not have unanimity, we do not act quickly and rationally.

There are many of the amendments that we do accept. There are some we are troubled with. I use the words of Judge Sinclair, one of the authors of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who had problems with the wording on one of these, and to listen to that senator as he said he looked seriously at how he could put an amendment together to make it say 6.1(a) all the way. He supports the position of quick change, but he also cautions against quick change that has unintended consequences. He said he could not come up with the wording.

When there is a lack of unanimity, acting quickly can impede progress. I share the sentiments that it has been too long, that Parliament should have been seized with this 150 years ago, let alone 300 years ago when we first landed and created the mess that we are now trying to untangle.

I am taken back to another phrase by Cindy Blackstock, who said that they have survived their mistakes for 10,000 years; it is our mistakes that indigenous people do not survive. I am guided by that. We all want to do the right thing. Getting there with unanimous thought is what is evading us, so there is part of this bill with which we have concerns, and we will go slower.

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9:35 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I just had an interesting meeting with a lady, Alana Daniels from Long Plain First Nation. She said, “Always speak from the heart”, and so I will. I do not really have any prepared notes and I do not have anything to hold up, just a few little scribbles about my thoughts.

This weekend, I had the opportunity of participating in a sun dance under Chief David Blacksmith. It was out at Spruce Woods. It is a ceremony that lasts a minimum of around a week, but really the main ceremony is around three days. For three days and three nights, there is no food or water taken by the participants. I have done a four-year cycle, meaning four years in a row I have pierced. I do not pierce for myself. I do not ask things of the creator for myself. I ask things for others. I pray for others. I put myself and I humble myself for others. This weekend was my opportunity not to have to dance in the sun dance itself, but to be a helper, a skabe. I ran around picking up garbage, running the sweat lodge, doing the things that needed to be done to make sure that the dance was successful for those who were praying for us.

People also knew at the sun dance that I am a member of Parliament, and even though it is not a time for politics, the women at this sun dance asked me again and again about Bill S-3. They asked me, “What are you doing about Bill S-3, and why is the government willing to take away our rights? Why is the government willing to remove our birthright? Why is the government not giving back our birthright to our children, to our grandchildren, to our descendants, and their descendants?” This is a debate that has been going on for many generations in this country, and it is a painful thing for me to stand here, because I do not want to be standing here taking this position. I was hoping that it would not come to this moment, but I must have the courage.

We have been talking about this since 1978 when Sandra Lovelace went to the United Nations with others, and they fought to get their rights back, to remove the discrimination in the Indian Act. The government said it was going to give them back their rights, but it was like when we rub the lamp of a genie and the genie comes out and gives us our wish and says, “I grant you three wishes”. The wish the government gave was “I'll give you equal rights”, but it reduced the rights of men and created first- and second-class status Indians. They could see the termination of their status within the lifetime of their descendants, of their grandchildren. If they married out for love, if they met someone they happened to love, they could not bring the person into the nation as the men could before. In fact, they would see the termination of their status because they married for love, even men are like that today. That is a denial of the birthright of indigenous peoples.

We might not like the Indian Act—no one loves it—but at the end of the day, it is what we have and it defines who is an indigenous person in this country. It defines our citizenship in this country. Therefore, in 1985 when the government passed its legislation, I remember being only 10 years old and knowing about Indian status and who in the family had it and who did not have it, which cousin had it and which cousin did not have it. That is a painful thing. Why should a 10-year-old have to know who has more rights than another, who is a full citizen and who is not a citizen, who can go on the traditional territories and who cannot?

In 2010, the government was once again, after a court case, faced with making a decision. It made a decision. It was to do two rounds, a second round of consultation afterward to see if there should be additional amendments. We are still waiting for that second round of consultations to lead to legislation. Now here we are in 2017. I am 40 years old, and we have been debating this for my lifespan. Here I stand as a member of Parliament and it comes before me. I am asked to support a position that I cannot support.

Who am I to deny the birthright of my cousins, of my brothers and sisters in the sun dance? I simply cannot do it. It is absolutely shameful that we are debating this. Why should a man have to wait for justice? Why should a woman have to wait for justice. Why should the children have to wait for justice? Have we not waited long enough for justice?

Yes, the bill that the senators have sent us may be imperfect. Yes, it may not be the best type of bill, the greatest bill that the lawyers of the Justice Department had decided we should consult or debate in the House of Commons. Nonetheless, it is the bill that was submitted. INAC had an opportunity for many months since the Descheneaux case to actually come up with a solution and multiple plans, yet here we are facing an ultimatum of July 3, because they could not do the task that was laid before them by their minister. That is a disgrace about the Indian affairs department.

They ask us to trust them, and we have been asked to trust them for 150 years, only to be asked to trust them again for another two years and to hopefully see it happen. I know the minister has a good heart and cares about this issue, but what happens if the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs is shuffled out of that position and it is someone else whose priority is not justice? Are we to wait again and again?

This is truly from the heart. I was going to read some stuff, but at the end of the day I do not care about what is there. I remember listening to the lady at the Indian affairs committee. I am an Indian. I assumed that name Indian because my grandfathers call me an Indian and we use it among ourselves. I am an American Indian, a North American Indian. I am also nehiyo, even more important, Cree.

When I think about the Indian Act, it is discrimination, but it does not mean that the Indian Act must continue into the future as it is. We can make those adjustments, but today the Indian Act is so important because tomorrow it will decide who will be the citizens of the indigenous nations of this land. If people have status today, they will be citizens tomorrow. If they have no status today, there is no guarantee that tomorrow they will have that status and will be able to exercise that status within an indigenous nation, nor will they have access to their traditional territories, nor to who they are and what makes them a nehiyo, Anishinabe, an Inuit, a Métis, a Michif.

This is the basis of the future indigenous nations, taking the Indian Act, which granulated us down into little components fighting among ourselves, and hopefully we will be able to come together. Yes, it is going to be difficult. Yes, it is not going to be fun, but we need to have this debate and we need to be forced into that debate.

The indigenous leaders of our country needs to be forced to face reality as they were in 1985. No chief wanted these bastards back on their territory, yet here we are, and we are still asking to be let in. We are still banging on that door; we are still saying let us into the eastern, the southern, the western, and the northern doors. Let us into our traditional territories because we have a birthright, and it is a birthright that should not be denied in 2017.

[Member spoke in Cree]

[English]