[Member spoke in Cree]
Mr. Speaker, first of all thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to this issue, which has been very important to me for many years.
I would like to begin by talking about the context in which we are debating changes to the Indian Act, to eliminate all forms of discrimination, especially against indigenous women who have been treated unfairly for many years under this act.
Earlier, I mentioned just how racist, sexist, colonialist, and outdated I think the Indian Act is. That is why I agree with the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, who suggested earlier that we should simply get rid of the Indian Act for all these reasons.
I find it rather strange to rise today to speak to an act that we should get rid of. Why? To paraphrase the Prime Minister: because it's 2017. We should have gotten a lot further by now, especially when it comes to policies affecting the first peoples of this country.
In December 2015, after the current government was elected, I was in the room when the Prime Minister promised several things to Canada's chiefs. There were five major items in his speech. One of the promises he made in the 2015 speech to all indigenous leaders in Canada was that the government would review every piece of legislation passed unilaterally by previous governments and get rid of them. I was very pleased with this promise made to Canada's indigenous leaders because it is something I have been thinking about for a very long time.
When I heard the Prime Minister making this promise to all of Canada's chiefs, the first act that sprung to mind was the Indian Act. I believe that it is possible to replace the Indian Act with something else, especially in this era of reconciliation in Canada.
One of the other important promises that this government made to indigenous people was that it would adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In my view, this is the most important promise. Why not accept this framework, which would allow us to move forward?
I will read Article 9 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
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.
This is the new framework that must guide our debates on these issues in the House.
I do want to mention that I was pleased to hear the Minister of Justice say last week that the current government would support Bill C-262, which has to do with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I am happy that the government is supporting this bill. This bill addresses the 43rd call to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which calls upon 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.
We should let this framework that is the UN declaration guide all of our debates involving the rights of indigenous peoples, whether on the Indian Act or other agreements. This is what Bill C-262 proposes, and I am happy to hear that the government will support it. We will see how these issues are debated next Tuesday, during the first hour of debate on Bill C-262.
However, as I pointed out in my question to my colleague, even if the bill is passed, it will not include the three lady warriors who fought against the discrimination perpetuated under the Indian Act for nearly 40 years. I think this is cause for concern.
One part of this bill aims to eliminate all discrimination committed under the authority of the Indian Act. As an indigenous person, I would have a hard time rising in the House to support a bill that does not fully eliminate discrimination. I will never rise in support of a bill that continues to discriminate against this country's first peoples. It will not happen.
As the bill currently stands, there remains entrenched sex-based discrimination in the bill. Ideally, the government would respect the wishes of the parties to the case, as well as stakeholders, in keeping with the current international human rights standards, specifically articles 3, 4, 7, 8, and 9, which I have just read, and article 33 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We want all gender discrimination to be eliminated from the bill before it is passed by the House of Commons. We also want the liability clause to be removed entirely. I will never take away the right of an individual to sue the government for past wrongs. I will never allow this place to pass legislation that eliminates that right. Therefore, I will be moving amendments to that effect shortly.
We must remain critical of a bill that does not entirely address all discrimination, and also critical of the slow pace of change and the failure by successive governments thus far to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, since adhering to the declaration would provide a basis for Canada to address all systemic problems within the Indian Act. It is important to do so in this era of reconciliation.
I would like to address the insubstantial nature of what passed the Senate and is poised to be adopted by this chamber. I say this because the government is promising to do only what the courts have ordered. No one should be fooled by the rhetoric into thinking that this bill, as it stands, addresses paragraph 6(1)(a) registration rights for indigenous woman, who have been seeking that status for over 40 years of litigation, namely Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Sharon McIvor and, most recently, Dr. Lynn Gehl. Beneath the rhetoric, the bill represents an insubstantial aspiration that leaves complete discretion to the government to extend 6(1)(a) to everyone because there is no mechanism for implementation or accountability. In fact, this bill leaves so much to be desired that Sharon McIvor and Dr. Pam Palmater are headed to Washington to make a submission to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to ask them to intervene regarding Bill S-3 to make sure this government addresses all gender discrimination.
Many indigenous women's groups have called attention to the provisions of proposed section 10. With this clause, the government is justifying past discrimination and past violations of human rights. If we truly believe in the rule of law in this place, then this cannot happen. With this clause the government is justifying past injustices, and this should not be tolerated.
The government would continue to discriminate with impunity until it chooses to address it or is forced to address it. In my view, this underscores the sense of colonial entitlement. It undermines the rule of law. The crown has a fiduciary responsibility to first nations. It owes fiduciary duties to the people. It cannot be given impunity for its conduct because that would essentially enable breaches of the law and breaches of potential fairness to many people. With this bill, we are giving it licence to do whatever it wants, without consequence.
I want to quote Lynn Gehl, who says:
Not addressing the 1951 cutoff because the court said that the issue was one of matrilineal lineage versus sex discrimination was wrong.
....I’m of the position that the hierarchy created in 1985 between Indian men and their descendants as they are registered as a 6(1)(a) and Indian women who are only registered as a 6(1)(c) must be abolished if you want to eliminate the sex discrimination and end this process of amending the Indian Act.
In their letter that I referenced earlier, Sharon McIvor, Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, and Lynn Gehl wrote to the ministers and said:
We are writing to request confirmation that when Bill S-3 passes in the House of Commons there will be no change to the current category of Indian status accorded to Sharon McIvor (6 (1)(c)), and Jeannette Corbiere-Lavell (6(1)(c)), and Dr. Lynn Gehl (6(2))....
None of us is affected by the 1951 cut-off introduced by Bill C-3 in 2010. Our reading of the motion introduced by Senator Peter Harder in the Senate on November 8, 2017 is that we, and the many Indigenous women who are similarly situated, will not be accorded 6(1)(a) status when Bill S-3 passes.
Again, this is equality delayed and the consequence is equality denied.
I too share the concern about the consultation process. It seems that the government only consults when it is convenient. Yes, I agree with the minister that there is a constitutional obligation to consult indigenous peoples when their rights and interests are affected, but it has to be applied throughout. I do not recall if the indigenous nations affected by the Site C dam, for instance, were ever consulted. In fact, it was to the contrary. They were being intimidated by BC Hydro with lawsuits. That constitutional obligation to consult has to be applied throughout.
In the case of the bill before us, I reiterate that it falls short of settling everything. The bill continues to discriminate. The Indian Act, in fact, is archaic and we need to get rid of it. The no-liability clause, as I mentioned, is a major problem. If we recall, last June I proposed amendments to that effect, which were rejected. If the amendments introduced back in June had been accepted, we would not be here today. We would not be debating this issue anymore. Unfortunately, they were rejected.
Since my time is quickly running out, I will close by saying that it is essential that the House consider the suggestion I just made of getting rid of the Indian Act altogether and giving first nations, Inuit, and Métis the right to decide whether or not to recognize their own members.
I think that is one of the fundamental rights that we successfully negotiated in the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. It is up to indigenous communities to decide who their members are, something that the Indian Act still does not allow them to do.
I am therefore proposing amendments so that the motion would now read as follows:
That a Message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that, in relation to Bill S-3, An Act to Amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration), the House:
1. agrees with amendments 1 to 6, 8 and 9(a) made by the Senate;
2. proposes that amendment 7 be amended by replacing the words “Replace line 3 with the following: 'ly before the day on which this section comes into'” with “Delete clause 10”;
3. proposes that clause 11 of Bill S-3 be amended by adding the following on page 9 after line 33:
“(3) The consultations must be completed within 18 months of the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent.”
4. proposes that amendment 9(b) be amended by replacing “on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council, but that day must be after the day fixed under subsection (1)” with the words “18 months after the date that the order in subsection (1) is made”.
Those are the amendments that I am proposing, and I hope that the House will accept them this time.