Dear Minister Strahl;
RE: Bill C-3
I understand that next week the House will start debate at the report stage of Bill C-3. Please accept this letter as my official request for you to make meaningful amendments to the bill in order to finally end gender discrimination.
Barring substantive amendments, I would ask that you withdraw Bill C-3 as currently drafted and re-introduce a bill that better reflects the values and principles of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our Constitution, and our country as a whole. If you cannot withdraw the Bill for some procedural reason, then I ask that your government vote against it and start over.
Had your government been open to considering reasonable amendments to the Bill in order to address gender discrimination, we, those affected by gender discrimination, would not be put in the position of having to find solutions to the legislative mess created by Canada. The duty always seems to be placed back on the excluded to find ways to make inclusion financially, politically and legally acceptable. This is an unfair burden on Indian women and their descendants who are already disadvantaged from their exclusion.
Indian women and their descendants had no power over which to protect themselves against the assimilationist goals of Canada in 1867, 1951, 1985 or 2010. Furthermore, despite being asked to appear as witnesses and provide more than ample proof that the Indian Act still discriminates against Indian women and their descendants before the Standing Committee, Canada has proceeded as though our unanimous voices do not count in this process. This makes a mockery of the entire process.
The honour of the Crown requires that Canada do more than participate in a superficial “engagement” process which does not consider and take into account our voices, our legitimate concerns and interests and our overall legal rights. By denying our voices, you violate the most basic tenet of the very democracy that Canada holds out as the basis of their nation.
It is time that Canada stopped treating us like wards and started to hear and act on our voices. It is long past the time to stop treating us like museum oddities that are slowly disappearing with time. It is time to stop treating us as though we are only a “race” of people that only deserve a voice if we meet complex, biological calculations of Indian blood. It is time to stop treating us as though we are frozen in time and that anyone who does not wear feathers, obtain a moderate livelihood from hunting or live on a reserve are not entitled to call themselves “Indians”.
We did not go away when you took our lands, controlled our resources, outlawed our customs, dishonored our treaties, sent us to residential schools, enfranchised our women and children, or bullied us into poverty. We are here to stay, regardless of the political backlash we may endure from standing up for our rights. Why not put action behind your words and start a new relationship with Aboriginal peoples?
We have a duty to our ancestors who suffered at the hands of settlers and colonial governments to protect our rights, to protect those rights for our future generations seven generations into the future. Supporting yet another amendment to the Indian Act which will not only NOT address the minimal discrimination found in the McIvor appeal case as between double mother clause and section 12(1)(b) reinstatees, but will create new forms of discrimination is irresponsible, unjust and shameful.
Some may pose the question as to whether some amendment is better than no amendment. I would highlight the long, hard struggle of Sharon McIvor over the last 25 years after the last amendment to the Indian Act. Bill C-31 may have granted limited entitlements to limited numbers of people back then, but it created new forms of discrimination at a time when we all knew better and when our Charter asked us to do better. I do not believe that sacrificing the rights of large numbers of individuals for the immediate gratification of a few is a fair trade. Canada has the power to enact an OIC which treats us like Indians while amendments are made to the Act. Canada did it for the Innu and can easily do it for Indian women and their descendants – it’s a matter of choice.
Canada has an opportunity to finally show some good faith, to act on both its honour and its legal duties and obligations to take the unanimous voices heard before the Standing Committee on Bill C-3, and make an amendment that finally addresses all gender discrimination in the Indian Act. This is not to say that the Indian Act is the ultimate solution. In fact, most consider other alternatives like First Nation citizenship to be the longer term solution. However, we cannot in good faith allow the Act to continue to discriminate against Indian women and their descendants while we take the next 20-30-20-100 years to work out self-government arrangements.
I ask your government and all the opposition parties to either agree to make substantive amendments to Bill C-3 as it currently reads, or if that is not possible, withdraw the bill, or if that is not possible then vote against it and start over with an amendment that finally grants Indian women and their descendants real substantive equality.
I trust you will consider my comments and concerns and implement my recommendations as noted above. Merci beaucoup de votre consideration.
(original signed and faxed)
Dr. Pamela D. Palmater, and on behalf of my children and our heirs and heirs forever.
CC: Todd Russell, MP (on behalf of Liberals)
Jean Crowder, MP (on behalf of NDP)
Marc Lemay, MP (on behalf of BQ)