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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was agreement.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Bloc MP for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou (Québec)

Lost his last election, in 2011, with 18% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act May 14th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my Conservative Party colleague for his question. I did not say “revenge”; I said “vindictive”, which is a word used to describe someone who always makes the same mistake or insists on repeating it.

With respect to consultations, I am sure the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development talked about what constitutes consultation. Our position on this, a position shared by all opposition parties, is that the consultation should have been defined, as set out in the 2005 agreement, by the first nations' elected representatives and the government. In other words, the government should have worked with them to define what adequate consultation would be on various issues.

Had that been established from the very beginning, many problems and demands could have been eliminated that have been a waste of time for government members and all members of Parliament.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act May 14th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, in the current context of Bill C-47, we know that laws currently exist in Quebec and the provinces and territories of Canada on matrimonial property that recognize the general principle of equality between spouses. These laws govern spousal rights during the marriage and in the case of marital breakdown. They help define the personal and real matrimonial property of the spouses. They also allow for a system of mandatory rights and protections when it comes to matrimonial property and, in the event of a marital breakdown, the establishment of legal presumption in the equal division of matrimonial property. The laws also include various protection measures for each spouse, for example, in the case of the sale of the family home, where the signature of both spouses would be required.

Nonetheless, between Quebec and the provinces and territories of Canada, there are a few differences when it comes to common law relationships, same sex relationships, rights in the event of the death of a spouse and issues involving family violence.

These laws also apply to first nations spouses off reserve, but do not apply in the same way to people living on reserves administered by the Indian Act, mainly in terms of matrimonial real property, cases of family violence and marital breakdown.

The Indian Act provides for a land management regime that includes a system for making individual allotments of reserve lands to members of the band for whom the reserve has been set aside, but it is silent on the question of matrimonial property interests. It does not provide for a law-making power on the part of first nations in regard to matrimonial property, real or personal.

Bill C-47 concerns family homes situated on first nations reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves. It seeks to close the existing legal gap to ensure respect for basic and matrimonial rights and to offer recourse during a conjugal relationship, when that relationship breaks down or on the death of a spouse.

Basically, the bill seeks to balance individual and collective rights, to clarify the inalienability of reserve lands, and to provide greater certainty to spouses and common-law partners on reserves with respect to family homes and other matrimonial interests or rights.

Bill C-47 would set out provisional federal rules as well as provisions for the enactment of first nation laws. The federal rules would be a provisional measure, but would account for the reality that some first nations may not develop their own laws to address matrimonial interests or rights. The bill would enable communities to develop their own laws. Each first nation would be subject to the provisional federal rules set out in the bill until they adopt their own laws, with the exception of those that already have laws about matrimonial real property.

The proposed bill would be subject to the Charter. It would also be subject to the Canadian Human Rights Act insofar as its provisions fall within the scope of that act.

Not all off-reserve matrimonial real property remedies can be replicated on reserves. Given the collective nature of the reserve land regime, land on reserves cannot be owned outright, and the rights to possession differ between band members and non-members. For greater accuracy, the proposed act therefore refers to “interests or rights regarding family homes on reserves and other matrimonial interests or rights,” rather than “matrimonial real property” which, off reserves, refers to both land and structures.

The bill also proposes some provisions related to separation due to family violence.

I think all my colleagues here will agree that despite all the work that went into this bill, the government has still displayed a vindictive and know-it-all attitude when it once again failed to consult women or the Native Women's Association. Yet again, it managed to forget to resolve major flaws.

This week's visit from the president of the Quebec Native Women's Association, Ms. Gabriel, made this very clear.

The proposed act respecting family homes situated on first nations reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves would fix a major shortcoming in the current legislation.

Although the Bloc acknowledges this, and knows that we must act quickly, for the good of women and first nations communities, we think that the government has failed in its duties in some areas.

I would like to show my colleagues, here in this House, how the government did not fulfill its commitments. I would also like to explain what the Bloc Québécois proposes to fix the major shortcomings not only in this bill, but also in the entire process surrounding the bill.

To back up my comments about how the current government has not fulfilled its commitments in developing this bill, I would like to go back in time to discuss a political accord that was signed in 2005. As we all know, in order to get into power, the Conservatives ran a campaign based on demonstrating transparency and respecting commitments.

The past few months have shown us that this party does not seem to be any better than its predecessors. Allow me to quote some of its members: “It is our duty as elected members to ensure that the public can continue to have confidence in us. We must demonstrate integrity and consistency in our decisions.”

The process leading up to Bill C-47 runs counter to an important agreement signed between the Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada in 2005. I will read an excerpt from this political accord of May 31, 2005, an accord we have been referring to since Bill C-44 was introduced in 2006:

No longer will [the government] develop policies first and discuss them with [the members of the first nations] later. This principle of collaboration will be the cornerstone of our new relationship.

It also says:

The minister and the Assembly of First Nations commit to undertake discussions:

on processes to enhance the involvement of the Assembly of First Nations, mandated by the Chiefs in Assembly, in the development of federal policies which focus on, or have a significant specific impact on the First Nations—

The purpose of the accord was to enhance cooperation between the Assembly of First Nations and this government on the development of federal policies on first nations. Can someone please explain to me why that very Assembly of First Nations, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Quebec Native Women Inc. and the Native Women's Association of Canada are against this bill?

In the process of drafting this bill, it seems clear that an important aspect of communication was forgotten. We can all agree that in a discussion, two parties meet to share ideas. Consultations were indeed held with a whole host of groups representing first nations and with first nations women's groups, since this bill primarily concerns women.

However, it seems that if Indian and Northern Affairs Canada did indeed listen to the first nations representatives, it did not take into account or did not put enough stock in what they said. I do not think the government representatives acted in bad faith, but the spirit of the 2005 accord, where the cooperation and involvement of the first nations should have prevailed in the drafting of this bill, was not respected.

It would therefore make no sense to go ahead with second reading of this bill. That is why the Bloc is asking the House to refer Bill C-47 to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development so that the committee can amend the bill to make it acceptable to first nations communities.

The Bloc Québécois firmly believes that the first nations have an inherent right to self-government, and it will ensure that that right is not undermined by the implementation of this bill. However, we also believe that such a bill can fill gaps in the current regulations while communities develop their own law on family homes.

Bill C-47 could be passed once it has been studied and amended by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, this time in collaboration with designated first nations representatives.

At this point, I would like to give some more concrete examples of the reasons why the Bloc Québécois is asking that this bill be referred to committee.

Many of my colleagues are aware that the first nations are an integral part of the human landscape of my riding. I would therefore like to speak from my own experience with various nations.

One of the concerns that aboriginal women's groups have pertains to the lack of housing on reserves, because one of the provisions of this bill deals with obtaining accommodation after a conjugal relationship breaks down.

Having visited a number of aboriginal communities repeatedly, I can state that this concern is certainly justified. How many times have I seen whole families squeezed into cramped quarters? How many times has the message been hammered home to me, during meetings with chiefs, that the biggest challenge in communities is the lack of housing? I have lost count. In addition, in communities such as Eastmain, on James Bay, some families are living in buildings despite mould problems so severe that the buildings need to be reconstructed. When there is not enough housing, it becomes difficult to relocate families for any reason.

From my experience, I also wonder about another aspect of this bill. It establishes procedures, including referral to legal procedures that do not always take into account the cultural reality and the access that these communities—often isolated or impoverished—have to certain information and certain services. There is nothing in the bill regarding how the communities will be able to access information and legal services.

For the Bloc Québécois, it is crucial that these realities can be considered and these questions addressed. That is why we would like to know how the government plans to implement this, and how it intends to allocate funding to ensure that the people in question can benefit from the bill. I would also like to ask the government how much funding is earmarked for the communities in order to prepare for implementing the legislation. Finally, we would like the government to submit to the committee the studies concerning the impact of Bill C-47 on the communities as well as the measures that will be put in place to encourage communities to develop their own laws concerning matrimonial homes.

In closing, given the importance of the issue and the insecurity it causes for people living on reserves, the government must take action immediately. It must allow aboriginal people on reserves to exercise their matrimonial rights to and interests in structures and lands situated on reserves. It must ensure that all its actions and decisions comply with the recommendations of the main aboriginal organizations and those of the standing committees, while still honouring the political accord reached with the first nations in 2005.

I believe it would be possible to amend this bill and address the dissatisfaction expressed by aboriginal groups, for example, issues pertaining to the implementation of the action plan, available resources and access by women to legal processes. We undertake to work closely with the first nations and the government, whose actions will respect the 2005 agreement, in order to amend Bill C-30 and ensure that it is satisfactory. We will do the same for Bill C-47.

However, I must point out that the Bloc Québécois has questions about the government's plans for implementation of this bill. We also wonder about the funding that will be provided to the communities and about the introduction of measures to make the procedures accessible to the population, bearing in mind the information that must be provided to the population and the poverty and the geographic isolation, which could restrict the practical application of this bill.

To summarize, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-47 being sent to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to study the ins and outs and, above all, to hear the testimony of stakeholders.

But first, we wish to know the intentions of the government concerning the possible amendments to Bill C-47 that it would be willing to accept.

Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act May 14th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my Liberal Party colleague for her presentation on Bill C-47. She is obviously well versed on this subject given that she has sat on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for a number of years.

I would also like to point out that she was part of the previous government when an agreement was made with first nations stating that each time legislation concerned them and could change their way of life, the government had to consult them.

In this regard, be it with Bills C-44, C-21, C-30 or C-47, is the current government consulting and respecting this agreement?

Specific Claims Tribunal Act May 12th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

I will start by answering his last question about living conditions in first nations communities he visited last summer. Unfortunately, some of those communities are not even considered reserves, and they are not covered by this bill, nor will they be covered unless and until the government recognizes them.

Currently, two villages have no status and cannot initiate proceedings. We know that under this bill, other communities cannot initiate land claims proceedings as such. They can be compensated for rights, but they will not have access to additional lands through the tribunal itself. If they can finalize land claim negotiations before going to the tribunal, then these issues can be resolved between the provinces and Canada. This bill does not really provide for such cases.

With respect to the second question about reviewing the tribunal process every five years, it seems that, unfortunately, first nations were not consulted while this bill was being drafted.

Five years from now, who will be consulted? Perhaps a small group of people who participated in determining the terms for the tribunal advisory committee itself? Once again, this process will fail to recognize communities because they will not have been consulted. The government will always be renegotiating because it did not take the time from the very beginning to consult and come to an agreement with all first nations communities.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act May 12th, 2008

Fine, Mr. Speaker, I will make a note of it. In any event, I had finished reading the newspaper article.

You have to understand the perverse effects of rushing into passing any law: what is most important for all first nations communities is the insult involved when someone, be it the prime minister at the time or the department itself, promises, hand on heart, to consult them on any bill that might bring changes to their lives, their customs or their culture.

As I said earlier with respect to Bill C-44, we criticized the failure to consult at length, to the point that the government thought it better to reintroduce the same bill, without any real additional consultation, under a different name— Bill C-21. And it has been just as severely criticized as its predecessor.

All of the witnesses who appeared agreed that this was a small step, even if it is unsatisfactory. As with the promises to consult, the people who spoke have doubts about the independence of justice in the process presented. The Grand Chief of the First Nations hesitated a long time before supporting this, and we will have to monitor it closely.

In addition to the tribunal, there are other questions relating to historical treaties: claims excluded from monetary compensation, the evaluation of the specific claims resolution process and the improvements needed, establishing the operating rules for the tribunal’s advisory committee, and looking at access to funding, including federal funding for claimants. On this point, the First Nations Chief has given the government assurances of his cooperation in a joint approach on all of the subjects I have just listed, and in establishing a process for recommending members of the tribunal, while ensuring that the process remains confidential.

A number of witnesses were skeptical about whether their recommendations would be taken into consideration. Unfortunately, history shows them to be right. But moving forward, they are agreeing to give it one more chance. There is the analysis of the tribunal process, of how it is working, to be done every five years.

In reality, with an annual budget of $250 million, the government is not committing to a lot of $150 million claims in a single year.

I am at your disposal to answer questions.

Specific Claims Tribunal Act May 12th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, are you asking me to cut the press release short?

Specific Claims Tribunal Act May 12th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Bloc Québécois, I joined my colleagues in voting in favour of consideration of this bill for which, as usual, this government did not consult first nations, despite the many reminders it was given during consideration of Bill C-44.

We also had some concerns about some of the consequences to the first nations communities in Quebec and to certain municipalities, not to mention our concerns about the flexibility of the Government of Quebec's involvement.

The lack of consultation caused some disagreement about the procedure and some of the claims that could otherwise have easily been settled in respectful meetings with the nations.

Establishing a specific claims tribunal that makes binding decisions is a progressive step compared to the usual legal games the first nations have been subjected to so far. However, improvements could have been made to how quickly the claims are processed. It will be a shame to have to come back to this in a few years in order to complete this exercise, which requires a lot of energy, time and money from the taxpayers and from the first nations, when there are other matters to deal with.

The current 784 claims could be processed more quickly and a number of others might be added to the ongoing process, even though the Indian Claims Commission itself has not accepted any new claims since the end of 2007.

Of course there has been consultation, but only after much insistence. Furthermore, it is important to note that a number of communities were not consulted because there was not enough time. There has never been enough time to resolve first nations issues.

The most worrisome thing in all this is the possible accumulation of small agreements here and there into increasingly complex legislation. That is caused by this patchwork approach that has no continuity and will only serve as an excuse not to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People that has been signed by 144 countries.

A number of world leaders are putting Canada in the hot seat and in an embarrassing position on the international stage, which shocks us as representatives of the Quebec nation in particular, to be associated with this country that we do not identify with at all when it comes to its culture, its economic vision or its recognition of individual and collective rights and freedoms.

Despite the repeated calls for consultation that have been made to this government as Bills C-44, C-21, C-30, C-47 and C-34 have been tabled, the government has remained indifferent to what the vast majority of United Nations member states want.

It is truly shameful to see this government in the very small minority that is opposed to this declaration, and it is even more shameful to see members of the governing party from Quebec who lack the courage to go against such a vision.

Hon. members will certainly understand why Quebec is in such a hurry to join the community of nations and why the various communities distrust this government's interference in the legal system.

That is why the chief of the AFN reacted so strongly to the speech the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development gave at the United Nations. I want to quote the various statements the minister made at the United Nations. In a press release, the Minister of Indian Affairs said:

The Government of Canada continues to address a number of key areas for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples, including fundamental human rights through Bill C-2... For 30 years, section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act has exempted First Nations communities governed by the Indian Act from human rights protection. We believe this has gone on too long—

I would like to digress a moment and remind this House that Bill C-44, which sought to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, was vehemently denounced by all the first nations, as well as by the AFN women's council. The first nations were not prepared to welcome a law or be excluded from the Indian Act when they did not have the means to enforce the Human Rights Act, with all the duties it imposes on the various communities.

Canada has long demonstrated its commitment to also actively advancing indigenous rights abroad. But that is not what happened at the United Nations. The minister also highlighted a number of areas where the Government of Canada is making substantial progress: education; resolving specific claims; safe drinking water; protection for women and children; and matrimonial property rights on-reserves

In addition, the minister talked about the important step in the Government of Canada's commitment to the Indian residential school settlement agreement, with the naming of Justice Harry LaForme as the chair of the truth and reconciliation commission. This may be the only good thing this government has done to date. The minister said this:

“Canada remains committed as ever to deliver real results for our Aboriginal population...We believe in moving forward for all Canadians with results that are not simply aspirations or non-binding.”

In response, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, had this to say:

The Conservative government’s sustained opposition to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has tarnished Canada’s international reputation and branded Canada as unreliable and uncooperative in international human rights processes. It is clear that the Conservative government’s domestic political agenda is taking precedence over the promotion and protection of human rights for Indigenous peoples in Canada and worldwide. The federal government’s stance is a particularly regressive and limiting basis upon which to advance fruitful Indigenous-state relations in Canada and abroad. It seems that this government has been unwavering in their resolve for a weak Declaration and weak human-rights standards in Canada despite their rhetoric to the contrary.

The Conservative government’s opinion regarding the UN declaration is contrary to widespread legal expert opinion. In an open letter issued yesterday, more than 100 legal scholars and experts noted that there was no sound legal reason that would prevent Canada from supporting the UN declaration. The same conclusion was drawn by human rights and legal experts, ... and experts within the UN system have echoed the same opinion. As a result, Canada is becoming increasingly isolated on the international stage for adhering to an unsubstantiated position against the declaration and for using their position on the Human Rights Council to achieve their own political goals in Canada. Canada cannot cherry pick which international human rights instruments they will choose to respect. These short sighted decisions have serious long term implications for Canada's international standing on human rights.

Moreover, the Conservative government's decisions have failed to address fundamental fiscal inequities in education, housing, health and other social and economic conditions that are the source of the poverty in first nations communities, despite this government’s claims “about getting the job done”. The National Day of Action on May 29 will draw national and international attention on the shortcomings of the federal government to make meaningful investments or address the serious quality of life issues our communities and people face. Such important policy decisions must be made in consultation and with the consent of first nations.

The UN Declaration is a foundational document that sets out “the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples” (Article 43). With an overwhelming majority of 144 states and only 11 abstentions, the UN General Assembly adopted on September 13, 2007 a Declaration which upholds the human, political, spiritual, land and resources rights of the world's Indigenous people. Only Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States voted against the Declaration. Australia has since reversed its decision and has declared its support of this unique human rights instrument to advance Indigenous rights in Australia and abroad.

That is what the first nations national chief thinks of our minister's statement at the United Nations.

Immediately after that, Chief Conrad Polson, from Timiskaming, submitted a text to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. A press release from the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador explained:

Speaking on behalf of the chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), he delivered a message about the precarious funding conditions of First Nations education in Canada.

Year after year, the Canadian government continues to close its eyes on the recommendations of more than 35 years of studies, consultations and various working groups, most of which it has contributed to. In refusing to consider these recommendations, the Canadian government keeps First Nations institutions in a highly precarious position.

Our schools and post-secondary establishments are underfunded. A number of our students cannot undertake their post-secondary studies because of a lack of finance.

This is why, on behalf of the Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, I regard it as my duty to denounce this situation loudly and clearly, stated Chief Polson.

“It was important for us to call on the United Nations so that all can be done to put an end to this situation. We must ensure that the wrongs we have suffered do not worsen so we reach the point of no return,” declared Ghislain Picard.

As stated in a press release issued in New York on May 2 and distributed by CNW, at the end of the seventh session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Mr. Picard declared that Canada had lost all credibility. He attended the session with an important delegation that spoke. At the meetings, they were “able to give a clear picture of first nations' situation in Canada. Today, the Canadian Government has lost all credibility in this respect on the international scene,” he said, reiterating Mr. Fontaine's comments on this subject.

The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development claims he did everything he could for education. The following is from a Radio-Canada article:

For months, Mashteuiatsh, Essipit and Nutashquan chiefs have been trying to meet with the Minister of Indian Affairs...The chiefs want to move forward the negotiations that were the result of the Agreement-in-Principle of a General Nature concerning Innu self-government, signed in 2004 by the government—

The process has been stalled since the appointment [of the minister] last fall.

However, the minister...has declined the offer. “He told us that for the time being, he is not able to meet with us, despite our insistence. We need to speak with the federal government about the main issues of the negotiation,” said Mashteuiatsh Chief Gilbert Dominique.

[The minister] said that he did not have enough time for a meeting that he did not deem necessary.

Gilbert Dominique said that he doubted the Conservatives had any desire to sign territorial agreements with aboriginals when they were elected in 2006. He wonders if the fact that the Innu signed the first-ever agreement in Canada to protect the ancestral rights of an aboriginal community has not put the brakes on the government.

The Innu have called on Premier Jean Charest to try to convince Stephen Harper—

I am quoting the article; I am not naming the Prime Minister

Specific Claims Tribunal Act May 12th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague who sits on the committee with me for her presentation and, at the same time, for her diligence in defending the interests of her constituents in this matter.

I would like to ask my colleague if, during her work on specific claims settlement, she saw any other way that first nations, band councils or aboriginal communities could go about obtaining from the territories or provinces what negotiations with this government failed to provide?

Gala des Olivier May 12th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the 10th annual Gala des Olivier, hosted by Martin Petit, was held yesterday. The gala highlights and rewards the outstanding achievements of comedians on stage and television. The gala also promotes the comedy industry, contributes to the industry's development, and showcases the industry's artists, writers, producers and comedians.

Several Quebec comedians received awards at the gala. Martin Matte was honoured four times in the comedy show, writer—with François Avard and Benoît Pelletier—comedy DVD and most popular show of the year categories. Rachid Badouri's debut show was awarded two Olivier awards, and Louis-José Houde was named comedian of the year.

My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I are delighted to congratulate the winners, paragons of Quebec-style humour, all.

Business of Supply April 1st, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague on his speech. This morning, I heard an English-speaking Liberal colleague complaining that we were not protecting her rights in Quebec. If memory serves, her party offered Montreal’s McGill University $10 million to teach Francophone nurses in English so that they could serve Quebec anglophones.

We recognize the needs of the anglophone community in Quebec, and we give proper recognition to immigrants, too, by endeavouring to integrate them and refraining from practising multiculturalism.

I would like to ask my colleague to what extent Quebeckers are able to accommodate both the anglophone community and immigrants coming to Quebec.