Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak in favour of the motion put before this House by the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. I thank her for taking the opportunity to do that and for giving us an opportunity to debate an issue during what really is an historic time not only within the House but within our committee and the country.
Significant changes to the Indian Act do not happen often. The last time that such significant amendments were being debated was in 1985, 25 years ago. Those particular amendments came about because of huge and momentous court battles and struggles before the United Nations by some very courageous women, women like Corbiere-Lavell, who is now the president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, and Sandra Lovelace, who is now a senator.
Subsequent to 1985, another 25 year legal battle took place to once and for all get rid of sex discrimination within the Indian Act. We as parliamentarians are at an historic crossroads where we have an opportunity, once and for all, to rid the very archaic and parochial Indian Act of all sex discrimination.
This motion says that we should instruct the committee to allow the committee to go beyond the scope of the bill to make significant amendments. Why would we do this? We would do it because every witness who appeared before committee said that there would be residual discrimination. Government witnesses tacitly said that this was so. They never explicitly said so, but there was a tacit assumption on the part of even the government's own witnesses, such as lawyers from the Department of Justice and those who work within the Department of Indian Affairs, that there would be residual discrimination.
Beyond those particular witnesses, national organizations, such as the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Native Women's Association of Canada and the National Association of Friendship Centres, put forward possible amendments to the bill at committee and encouraged us to once and for all get rid of sex discrimination. Each of them in their submissions said that there would be ongoing sex discrimination under the Indian Act.
Regional organizations, such as the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and the Quebec Native Women Inc., also made presentations. I will go through some of their specific comments as we debate this in the House.
Legal organizations also came before us, such as the Canadian Bar Association, which represents over 30,000 legal minds in this country, and the Bureau du Québec. These organizations also said that there would be ongoing residual discrimination.
We also heard from individuals, experts, people with their doctorates in the Indian Act and people like Pam Palmater, who came with not only a professional opinion but one also imbued from her studies and from what she had learned throughout her time and in her own family. She brought a personal experience to this issue and she said that there would be residual discrimination.
The person who has waged battle for equality for the last 25 years, Sharon McIvor, came before committee and said that even with Bill C-3, even with what the government has presented to this House and what we are now debating in committee, there will be no true equality under the Indian Act for her and her grandchildren as compared to those in the male line. She also said that there will be continuing gender discrimination.
With all of that evidence in front of the government, why would it want to continue sex discrimination? Why would it not want to now take the opportunity to rid the Indian Act of gender inequality? Why would we as parliamentarians not rise to the task to end gender inequality when we see it and when we know it exists by virtually everyone's admission? The government sometimes talks a good talk about gender equality for women but we do not see it walk the walk. We do not see it step up to the plate.
I will go through what some of the witnesses told us, sometimes through written submissions. I will quote the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund because it lists out three specific examples where gender discrimination will continue to exist, even with Bill C-3. It said, “Aboriginal women and their descendants who regain status under Bill C-3 are not entitled to equal status with their male counterparts. Descendants of women born before 1951 will not be entitled to status, whereas descendants of men born before 1951 are entitled to status. Descendants of women in common-law or other non-marital unions with non-status men are not entitled to status”.
It goes on to say, “Bill C-3 does not address the existing Indian Act policy, pursuant to which all cases of unconfirmed paternity are presumed to be non-status. In response to Bill C-3, individual aboriginal women, aboriginal women's organizations, aboriginal governments and chiefs, including the Assembly of First Nations and legal experts, have demanded the eradication of all sex discrimination under the Indian Act”.
It emphasized the point right in B.C where some of the members opposite like to say that this will have the greatest impact because the B.C. Court of Appeal did apply specifically to the Province of B.C., but the proposes amendments under Bill C-3 would apply across the country.
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, when it appeared before the committee, said that Bill C-3, Canada's response to the B.C. Court of Appeal decision in McIvor v. Canada, was a limited approach which continues discrimination under the Indian Act against indigenous women and their descendants. It went on to say that we should make a number of amendments to eradicate sex discrimination and gender discrimination from the Indian Act, and it lists them.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, a national organization, also came to the committee and admitted that there would still be gender discrimination under the Indian Act. It said that it wanted to make some changes. One of them was that, as an interim measure, Canada should amend section 6.1(a) of the Indian Act to include the following words, “Or was born prior to April 17, 1985 and was a direct descendant of such a person to Section 61(a) of the Indian Act”.
That is not in Bill C-3. That is in direct contrast to what is in Bill C-3. This would broaden it and get rid of many forms of discrimination. Of course, there were others dealing with other issues, but it was the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples that made that particular submission.
Members of the Quebec Native Women Inc. came to us and said that while they recognized the need to amend the archaic nature of the Indian Act, which is of itself discriminatory, they deplore the restrictive vision of the federal government focusing solely on a patchwork remedy to the specific problem of discrimination brought to light in the McIvor case. They went on to say:
This is a missed opportunity for the Government of Canada to finally eradicate the historical and institutionalized forms of discrimination that Aboriginal women and their descendants have been subjected to under the Indian Act since 1876. The Government’s proposal to amend the Indian Act will indeed cause further destructive divisions within families.
I mentioned earlier that individuals came before the committee presenting testimony. One was Pam Palmater who has a unique family situation with various parentage for various kids within her family and she outlined it to the committee. Under Bill C-3 they would be treated differently. There will be different status for different children just because their grandmother was a woman. They do not come from a paternal line, but from a maternal line, and she outlined that very clearly. She also wrote to the committee. She was quite succinct, but this is how she summed it up:
Canada has introduced a minimalist amendment to the Act and is seeking to deny compensation to those Indian women and their descendants who were wrongfully denied their identities,--
She went on to say:
The Court of Appeal in McIvor found the discrimination to be newly created in 1985 and not prior to the coming into force of the Charter.
So she is also bringing in the issue of the charter that came into force after Bill C-31 and the type of remedy that would be available to people admitting that there was discrimination between 1985 and the present.
She said and I am paraphrasing, to not once and for all get rid of the discrimination is to perpetuate the very negative stereotypes against Indian women that McIvor and others fought against, that they are less worthy, less aboriginal and less able to transmit their aboriginality to their children simply by virtue of being aboriginal women.
She went on to make a further argument that they must be allowed the opportunity to bring forward a charter challenge based on the discrimination that existed since 1985 to the present even with Bill C-3 brought in because we know there will be residual forms of discrimination.
Then we had presentations by the Canadian Bar Association. It has a section entitled “Continuing Discrimination”. It said:
Unfortunately, Bill C-3 would not completely eliminate discrimination from the registration provisions of the Indian Act. The proposals do not address discriminatory aspects of the “second generation cut-off rule” enacted in 1985, which the parties and the court studiously avoided in the McIvor case. Perhaps more important, Bill C-3 would not sufficiently address the source of discrimination identified by the BC Court of Appeal; sections 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(c) violate the Charter to the extent that they grant individuals to whom the “Double Mother Rule” applied greater rights than they would have had under the former legislation.
I have only taken excerpts from certain presentations by witnesses that were made before the aboriginal affairs committee, but I believe this whole debate comes down to the motion. Why not allow the committee to have its scope broadened on the bill and to allow us to make the amendments?
There are probably going to be amendments introduced even later today in committee and someone will rule whether they are in order or they are not in order. We will vote subsequently to that, but why not give the committee the opportunity and the latitude to introduce amendments based on what witnesses have brought before the committee to once and for all end gender discrimination? Why would the government not want that to happen?
I understand that this motion, brought before the House, will give the committee more latitude, more of a breadth of opportunity to make amendments that bring gender equality to all aboriginal women when it comes to provisions of the Indian Act.
Why would the government want to deny us that simple opportunity? Then we can take the time in committee to propose those amendments and once and for all get rid of gender discrimination. Why would the government want to perpetuate gender discrimination when it has the opportunity to eradicate it?
In 2010 we have as parliamentarians, almost at any age I suppose, these opportunities and we should take them and not deny them.
This is all we are asking the government to do. We think it is a sensible approach. The government talks about its extension from the B.C. Court of Appeal where the court granted one year and now it is going until the first week in July. The B.C. Court of Appeal said in its decision that if the government wanted more time, because it knows how significant these issues are and how complex they can be, it would have granted that time to the government.
However, the government talks about the deadline, but when its lawyers come before the committee, the government admits that it really did not have any legal obligation to even bring in Bill C-3. If Bill C-3 falls, who says it will bring in another bill.
If the government is true to its words, true to what it says, it will eliminate gender discrimination. But if Bill C-3 fails, I would ask the government, is it going to bring in another bill to deal with all of the sex discrimination that exists under the Indian Act? If it will not, why would it not? If it has taken the opportunity and made all these arguments about Bill C-3, I would think that the government would live up to its own rhetoric and bring in another bill in a very quick timeframe to deal with the residual discrimination.
It cannot use all of the arguments and rationale for bringing in Bill C-3, then have it fail and say it is not going to bring in another bill. I do not think the government can have it both ways.
I would say to the aboriginal caucus members of the Conservative Party of Canada to fight within their party for the change that is required. They should fight within their party to ensure that the committee can do its work today and for the aboriginal women who have fought so hard for many generations, or else what is an aboriginal committee or a caucus for if they do not fight those battles within their own party.
This is a historic time. It is an opportunity for us all to join together as parliamentarians and end gender discrimination and sex discrimination under the Indian Act once and for all. There is nothing that stands in our way. The House has been given an opportunity to vote on the motion that will allow the committee to do its work and the committee to respond to the witnesses that came before us. If we cannot respond to the witnesses who come before us in committee, what is the use of committees?
We hear witnesses because they are supposed to be able to influence us to make the appropriate changes. There has been unanimity from witnesses who came before us to make changes to end gender discrimination. Why would we not allow the committee the opportunity to do just that?
I am glad to speak to this motion. I invite questions. In speaking here today I want to honour those like Sharon McIvor and other women who have stood with her and indeed many Canadians who have stood with her for the last 25 years to once and for all get rid of gender discrimination. It is the right thing to do.