Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the bill. I am supporting Bill C-3, but I am supporting it with considerable reluctance and certainly not with much enthusiasm.
There should be no doubt that Bill C-3 moves the agenda forward on addressing gender discrimination in the status provisions of the Indian Act, but it is only one very small partial step toward full equality for aboriginal women and their descendants.
The government has brought forward these amendments as a response to and because of the efforts of Sharon McIvor of British Columbia. In my previous remarks on Bill C-3, I paid homage to the other brave aboriginal women who have fought the battle for full equality and have pushed the courts to recognize discrimination under the law and subsequently pushed Parliament to remedy the injustice. I would like to do so again today.
These women are Mary Two Axe Early, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Yvonne Bédard, Sandra Lovelace and, as I mentioned earlier, Sharon McIvor. Yet in acknowledging these individuals, I feel great sadness for them that the battle for full equality is falling to yet another generation of aboriginal women. We can be sure it will be the battle for aboriginal women. Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination and at some point we must take it upon ourselves as parliamentarians the responsibility to fully eradicate all gender discrimination in the Indian Act.
When Bill C-31 was passed in 1985, Parliament and the government of the day knew that the residual discrimination would remain. I want to read into the record some of the comments made. It is important that we know this because 25 years later we are poised to pass a bill that also leaves residual discrimination.
In April we heard in committee from Martin Reiher of the Department of Justice. He said Bill C-31:
—is a very focused answer to the McIvor decision, given the limited time we had to develop legislation in response to the British Columbia Court of Appeal decision of April 9, 2009. There are other issues that have been raised in litigation that are not dealt with by this bill at this time. Depending on subsequent court decisions, obviously, the government might have to consider how to respond to these other decisions.
I also want to read from Sharon McIvor, an increasing hero of mine, when she said to the committee in April:
—But when the act was changed in 1985, parliamentarians knew there was residual discrimination. [Former Minister] Crombie's records show that they understood that some of us would still suffer from the residual discrimination....yet they forced someone like me to take it through the courts and have the courts decide that it was discriminatory....I am here today to ask you, to plead with you, to include all of those women and their descendants who are discriminated against, not just the narrow view that the B.C. Court of Appeal addressed. As parliamentarians you know that the court does not draft legislation. They just put it back into your lap so you can do what is right.
A final quote from April that I will cite is from Gwen Brodsky, who is counsel to Ms. McIvor. She said:
—the 1985 act was--failed remedial legislation. Bill C-3 is a set-up for yet another instance of failed remedial legislation, for disappointment to aboriginal women and their descendants, who have been waiting for a long, long time for Parliament to do the right thing. That must be dealt with immediately.
Earlier this year the Liberal Party tried to end the cycle and address all the remaining residual discrimination in the Indian Act's provisions concerning entitlement to status. When Bill C-3 came before the aboriginal affairs committee, we introduced amendments that would have granted descendants of status Indian women born prior to April 17, 1985, full status under the Indian Act, exactly what had also been given to the descendants of status Indian men.
These amendments, although passed by committee through the unanimous support of the opposition parties, were ruled inadmissible by the Speaker after Bill C-3 was returned to the House.
We need a comprehensive legislative remedy. The amendments were ruled out of order as being beyond the scope of Bill C-3, which reads “provides a new entitlement to Indian registration in response to the decision in McIvor v. Canada”.
Again, I want to emphasize what others have said about the need for a comprehensive remedy.
Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould said in April at committee:
With respect to discrimination in any form, I do not agree with it whatsoever. I believe that it would be the position of any reasonable person, as you say, to eradicate discrimination wherever and whenever possible in today's age.
Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said again this year that if all discrimination was eliminated:
—then I would think that as aboriginal women, as an aboriginal women's organization, maybe part of our work would be done. We could move on to other things. But that would be really good to see if it took place in the very near while.
One last quote, although I have many comments, is by Betty Ann Lavellée, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. In April of this year she said:
—I want to see any and all forms of discrimination end once and for all, so that our children are not having this same discussion 25 or 35 years from now.
It is unfortunate that the government chose to write Bill C-3 in a way that responds solely to the narrow reading of the B.C. Court of Appeal in the McIvor case without providing the option to Parliament to address further residual discrimination through the legislation.
This regrettable choice has forced all stakeholders and opposition parties to make an extremely difficult choice regarding Bill C-3. How can we say no to equality for some when saying no means equality for none? What we can do, and we have tried, is to improve the bill, but as I will try and explain, the government has made this impossible.
I would like to remind the House that the B.C. Court of Appeal was only able to rule on the gender discrimination in the Indian Act experienced by Sharon McIvor and her son. That was the case before the court, not the full gamut of gender discrimination under the act.
While the court acknowledged that other types of discrimination most likely existed, its decision in the McIvor case could not apply a remedy to those issues as well. Therefore, the court ruled narrowly in favour of McIvor and left it to those of us in Parliament to craft a more fulsome response. Let me repeat, it was the government that then decided what this response would look like.
The government could have chosen to provide a legislative remedy to the McIvor situation, while also leaving the door open for Parliament to expand the legislation through amendments in order to get rid of the residual discrimination. If it had conducted a fulsome consultation with aboriginal leadership, aboriginal women, women's groups and communities, it would have heard a resounding desire to end the discrimination once and for all. That is certainly what we heard at committee. Instead, Bill C-3 was introduced without any real consultation and in a matter that meant all amendments would be out of order.
This is how Bill C-3 came to be, a bill that takes one more step in the long and arduous battle for full equality for aboriginal women, a bill that would extend status to approximately 45,000 aboriginal women and their descendants, but a bill that will leave the fight for full equality once again yet to another generation. Very soon we will be voting on Bill C-3, but at some point, as parliamentarians must decide when we are going to right this wrong.
We are now faced with Sharon McIvor taking her case off to the UN. Sharon announced that she would file a complaint against Canada at the United Nations. She has contended that Canada continues to discriminate against aboriginal women and their descendants in the determination of eligibility for registration as an Indian.
As she said, in taking this case forward:
I contested this discrimination under the charter. It took 20 years in Canadian courts, and I achieved only partial success. Now I will seek full justice for Aboriginal women under international human rights law. Canada needs to be held to account for its intransigence in refusing to completely eliminate sex discrimination from the Indian Act and for decades of delay.
She went on to say:
Because neither Canadian courts nor Parliament have yet granted an adequate and effective remedy for the sex discrimination which has been a hallmark of the Indian Act for more than a hundred years, I will take my case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
I would contend that it is unfortunate and, perhaps some might describe, shameful that this case has yet to go to the UN human rights committee. It will undoubtedly result in a further rebuke to Canada in the international arena, something our country and the government does not need.
As I said at the beginning, I am supporting the bill. I am doing it with reluctance, not with much enthusiasm. I look forward to seeing it move through Parliament.