Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to show my support for Bill S-2, the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act. I stand in favour of the bill and urge all members in the House to stand with me.
First, however, I want to say that I am appalled by the fact that the need for this legislation still exists in 2013. Everywhere else in Canada there is legal protection when a marriage or common-law relationship breaks down or a spouse or common-law partner dies except on reserves. Provincial legislation ensures that matrimonial real property assets are distributed equitably, for instance, and that children and spouses are protected. But there are no similar family laws to speak of in first nations communities.
Provincial and territorial real property law cannot be applied on reserves. This ruling was made by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1986 in two landmark cases, Paul v. Paul and Derrickson v. Derrickson.
At the same time, the Indian Act is silent on this issue. It does not address on-reserve matrimonial interests or rights at all. This unacceptable and long-standing legislative gap means that people who live on reserves have no recourse of any kind when disputes over property or other issues arise following the breakdown of a relationship. This means that a spouse who holds the interest in an on-reserve family home can sell the home without the consent of the other spouse and keep all the money. A spouse who holds the interests in a family home can bar the other spouse from an on-reserve family home.
In cases of domestic violence and physical abuse, a court cannot order the spouse who holds the interests in the on-reserve family home to leave the home, even on a temporary basis. This situation has led to insecurity, financial hardship and homelessness for many aboriginal women and children in Canada.
I would like to bring the attention of my hon. colleagues back to Bill S-2 because at the heart of the proposed legislation is access to basic human rights and protections. Bill S-2 is about ensuring that married or common-law couples living on a reserve have access to the same rights and protections afforded to all other Canadians in case of death of a spouse or a breakup of a relationship.
The proposed legislation has been informed by many years of study, analyses, reports and significant collaborations. The groups that have contributed include the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, provinces and territories, and multiple parliamentary standing committees among others. Thanks to these contributions, the legislation now before us proposes a balanced and effective solution. Bill S-2 consists of two parts. Part 1 is an opportunity for first nations to establish their own communities' specific laws on matrimonial rights and interests, which may be based on their culture and traditions and which respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act as applicable.
Twelve months after Bill S-2 comes into force, part 2 would come into effect. This part provides provisional federal rules on matrimonial rights and interests. These rules would apply only to communities that have not enacted their own laws in this area under Bill S-2 or other legislation. The key word here is “provisional”. The federal rules would cease to apply once a first nation enacts its own laws as provided for in Bill S-2, the first nations land management act, or pursuant to a self-government agreement enacted through legislation. Bill S-2 provides matrimonial real property rights and protections after relationship breakdown including opportunities to access protection for children and their caregivers in situations of family violence. It would provide for continued access to the family home for women and their children in cases where a spouse is being violent.
The bill would also make it possible for those living on reserve to access important legal instruments, such as emergency protection orders and exclusive occupation orders.
To support implementation of this legislation, the government has pledged a public awareness campaign, training and education for front-line policing and justice personnel, and the establishment of a centre of excellence to assist first nations in developing their own laws that meet the needs of their communities.
I expect that everyone in the House can see that the goal of Bill S-2 is to provide men, women, children and families who live on reserves with similar rights and protections that the law affords other Canadians. The legislation now before us offers a long overdue resolution to an urgent bill. Bill S-2 is informed by the work of parliamentary standing committees and the research of independent groups, all of whom recommended legislation similar to what is now before us.
The fact remains that there are individuals and families who have no recourse when a marriage breaks down. They have no legal protection. We cannot continue to condone and accept that the rights of on-reserve residents, especially those of innocent children, are not protected, simply because of where they live. Quite simply, this bill is about ensuring that all Canadians, whether they live on or off reserve, have access to similar protections and rights when it comes to family homes, matrimonial interests, security and safety.
Shamefully, for 13 long years, the Liberals did nothing to address this issue. I am proud to say that our government is standing up for women, children and aboriginal people across Canada. We know that aboriginal women and children cannot wait any longer to access these same rights and protections. Aboriginal women, international organizations and even the Manitoba NDP have all called for this change.
Bill S-2, first and foremost, is about protecting women, men and children who live on reserve. Providing them with basic protections for matrimonial real property interests and rights is something that needs to be done and it needs to be done now. It is shameful that the members of the opposition would vote against rights to protect women and children in situations of family violence. Why do the members opposite think that aboriginal women should have less protection than they themselves have? It is time to do the honourable thing and support the proposed legislation that would do just that.
I urge my hon. colleagues to stand up for the rights for on-reserve residents and endorse Bill S-2.