Madam Speaker, I have been a member of the House since 2014. In that time as MP, I have seen two different governments and served on three different committees. In all that time, I have never seen a bill studied and pre-studied as many times as Bill S-3. I am not sure how the government will handle phase two, considering how Bill S-3 is turning out.
Many Canadians believe the Indian Act is a good document, meant to help the indigenous people of our country. What they do not realize is how destructive, toxic, and racist this document truly is.
The Indian Act is present in the everyday lives of most indigenous Canadians, often governing their education, health care, and every service that really matters to average Canadians. With this power, the government could do a lot of good across our nation for most vulnerable people in our society. Despite the potential and outstanding recommendations of indigenous communities across the country, I have rarely heard anything good about Bill S-3 without the amendments.
When I joined the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, I was joined by many new members of Parliament. Many of these members came from backgrounds and regions where indigenous knowledge was not as common. To fill the gap, the committee heard from experts across the country.
The Indian Act controls all aspects of aboriginal lives, with limitations on social, traditional, and economic activities. I can say with confidence that the majority of indigenous people across the country want either major revisions to the Indian Act or want it scrapped entirely so we can build a new solution from the ground up, with thorough consultations along the way.
When I joined the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs, it was my hope that I would have the ability to right some of the wrongs the Indian Act created. Bill S-3 seemed like an opportunity to do that when our committee began studying the issues almost a year ago
. When the committee began studying Bill S-3, it was clear that the government was in a rush. It had to meet a looming February 3 deadline, imposed by the Superior Court of Quebec after the government lost the Descheneaux v. Canada case. The case revolved around Indian Act discrimination against women.
What many people do not know is that the Indian Act does not categorize all aboriginals the same way. The government registry differentiates between status Indians, by categorizing them as either 6(1) or 6(2). Before 1985, people could lose their status when they married, depending on gender. Even with the changes, there were outstanding issues. This creates a situation where some cousins would have status while others did not, even though each person had one status parent and one non-status parent.
Descheneaux v. Canada arose because even with the changes in 1985, the Indian Act still robbed people of status due to sex discrimination before 1985. In the Stéphane Descheneaux case, his grandmother had lost her status by marrying a non-indigenous man in 1935 and because his mother was not status, he was not a status Indian either. If we replaced his grandmother with a grandfather, Mr. Descheneaux would be a status Indian today.
Descheneaux v. Canada also brought up the case of Susan and Tammy Yantha, which the Calgary law blog outlined as an issue created by “The version of the Indian Act in force in 1954 held that illegitimate daughters of Status Indian men and non-Status Indian women would not have Status, while illegitimate sons would have 6(1) Status.”
It was clear to the Superior Court of Quebec that changing the sex of someone in both these stories to male would mean they would have a very different relationship with Indigenous and Northern Affairs because they would be status Indian and fully entitled to the benefits that had been withheld from them.
Therefore, this was a violation of section 15 of the charter, which states:
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
The Indian Act is still enforcing discrimination based on sex, which is unconstitutional. Imagine if this rule were applied to being a Canadian citizen. I can assure that this would be resolved quickly. We would not need pre-study after pre-study. We would get it done immediately.
When the committee met first with Indigenous and Northern Affairs officials, the officials described the case and what the bill addressed: differential treatment of first cousins whose grandmother lost status due to marriage to a non-Indian when the marriage occurred before April 17, 1985; differential treatment of women who were born out of wedlock of Indian fathers between September 4, 1951, and April 17,1985; and differential treatment of minor children compared to their adult or married siblings who were born of Indian parents or of an Indian mother but lost entitlement to Indian status because their mother married a non-Indian after their birth between September 4, 1951, and April 17, 1985.
The assistant deputy minister of the resolution and individual affairs sector, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, said that this was just one part of a two-phase process that would take up to 18 months to complete. She also said that the court deadline did “not allow for sufficient time to conduct meaningful consultations”. Even though the department had not entered into meaningful consultations, the deputy minister, when asked if the bill actually did what it claimed to do—eliminate sex-based inequities in registration—said that she was confident.
The next witness was Stéphane Descheneaux, the plaintiff in the case. Right off the bat, he made it clear that he had first heard of the bill only two weeks before appearing at committee. In that short amount of time, he and others had already identified apparent flaws in the legislation.
I have heard the government lecture about consulting for hours. The Prime Minister has shaken many hands and signed a variety of documents with indigenous people across the country. He often followed up these events by repeating that he is focused on a nation-to-nation relationship and consulting. Bill S-3, to me, is an example of a bill that indigenous people should have been part of during its drafting. If the government had spent—