What follows is an excerpt from my presentation that I will be delivering to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs which is studying a draft of Bill C-3 – Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act. Once I make the presentation, I will post my entire presentation online on my website: www.nonstatusindian.com.
Part of the problem with Bill C-3 is how to respect gender equality in practice and not just the law. Delayed equality is not full equality. Canada fought the McIvor case for over 20 years and now proposes a minimal amendment that would require another person like Sharon McIvor to spend another 25 years to seek gender equality on essentially the same facts. An undefined joint process that does not have a specific mandate, clear objectives or identified funding for wide-spread participation does not provide any real comfort that gender discrimination, or any discrimination, will be addressed any time soon.
This situation is coupled with the fact that no additional funding has been identified for bands based on their increased membership numbers. This could result in bands feeling that they do not have sufficient resources to accommodate all their members and may amend or create band membership codes which specifically exclude those affected by Bill C-3. Canada often blames Aboriginal peoples for not being of one mind on these issues.
How quickly Canada forgets that this registration system was not only imposed upon us, but we were never consulted about what we wanted and the decision-making power rests solely with Canada. Aboriginal peoples have been living under the dark cloud of the Indian Act for over 130 years. How could Canada expect any result other than exactly what the Indian Act was designed to do – ensure that we were dependent, divided, and without our beliefs guide us. It’s time for Canada to right its wrongs. To do other than address all the gender (and other) discrimination could mean additional and significant delays in justice for Aboriginal women and children with regard to:
(i) equal access to status and band membership;
(ii) equal access to citizenship in self-government agreements;
(iii) equal access to beneficiary status under treaties (historic and modern);
(iv) equal access to beneficiary status under land claim agreements (specific and comprehensive);
(v) an equal political voice in their communities (as electors and/or nominees for chief and council); and
(vi) equal access to programs and services from Canada in relation to health, education, economic development, and tax supports;
(vii) equal access to band programs and services like education & training, headstart, on- reserve schooling, housing, and tax supports; and
(viii) equal access to elders, mentors, leaders, community members, land bases, cultural traditions, customs and practices, cultural events, and language training, etc.
Respecting our Constitution, Charter, CHRA, and international human rights instruments and norms means we no longer have the option to exclude Indian women and their descendants from their birth right on the basis of political compromise, administrative inconvenience, opposition to human rights or added costs. Canada has previously exercised its legislative jurisdiction to amend the Act much more broadly than the litigation required and there is no reason it can’t do so again. Let’s try to get it right this time – my children are counting on you to uphold Canada’s commitment to gender equality and human rights both in the letter and in spirit.
Here are my recommendations with regards to Bill C-3:
(1) I believe that Canada should withdraw the Bill and redraft more appropriate legislation that deals with gender discrimination, in conjunction with Sharon McIvor and other Aboriginal technical experts from the AFN, NWAC, and CAP.
If this could not be done, then I would recommend the following:
(2) Make an amendment to section 2 of Bill C-3, by adding the words “or was born prior to April 17, 1985 and was a direct descendant of such a person” to section 6(1)(a) of the Indian Act, 1985;
(3) Delete sections 3 and 4 of Bill C-3 and any references to a new section 6(1)(c.1) of the Indian Act;
(4) A new section should be added before or after sections 7 and 8 of Bill C-3 that provide protections for Bill C-3 individuals with regards to band membership, especially for those born pre-1985;
(5) Section 9 of Bill C-3 should be deleted in its entirety or amended to provide limited protection for bands and only in relation to status;
(6) Adequate funding be provided to First Nations for band-delivered programs and services based on their increased membership numbers (if any) and funding to enable all bands to draft membership codes, to review their current band membership codes and make the necessary amendments to incorporate gender equality;
(7) Canada, in partnership with AFN, NWAC, CAP, Aboriginal communities and individuals negotiate a process by which to compensate those affected by Bill C-3 (or some other form of the Bill) in the fairest, quickest manner possible;
(8) Additional legislation be drafted in partnership with AFN, NWAC, CAP, Aboriginal communities and individuals to proactively address the remaining aspects of gender discrimination in the Indian Act; and
(9) That Canada, in partnership with AFN, NWAC, CAP, Aboriginal communities and individuals negotiate the mandate, terms of reference, funding structures and deliverable objectives of the joint consultation process that will lead to further amendments dealing with the larger discrimination and jurisdiction issues under the Indian Act in the short term, and negotiate a similar process to engage in longer term solutions like modern treaties, self-government agreements and so forth.
Obviously my presentation contained a great deal more detail about what the actual problems were with Bill C-3, but this lets everyone know what I’m thinking in terms of go-forward solutions. Keep an eye on my website for my entire presentation which will be posted later on this week.