Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck, pursuant to notice of February 19, 2019, moved:
That the Senate, in light of the decision made by the United Nations Human Rights Committee of January 11, 2019, which ruled that ongoing sex-based hierarchies in the registration provisions of the Indian Act violate Canada’s international human rights obligations, urge the federal government to bring into force the remaining provisions of Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act in response to the Superior Court of Quebec decision in Descheneaux c. Canada (Procureur général), which would remedy the discrimination, no later than June 21, 2019.
She said: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the motion standing in my name. This motion was endorsed unanimously by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples on Tuesday, February 19, 2019. This motion essentially urges the government to fully implement all the provisions of Bill S-3 no later than June 21, 2019. By so doing, all the discrimination against Indian women who married non-Indian men will be removed from the Indian Act. Really, this motion is a continuation of the pivotal role that the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and the Senate played in driving the government to include provisions in Bill S-3 which will accomplish the end of the sex-based discrimination against Indian women and their descendants with regard to Indian status.
On January 11, 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released their ruling in response to a petition brought by Sharon McIvor and Jacob Grismer on the issue of sex-based discrimination in the registry provisions of the Indian Act, specifically the discrimination faced by descendants who traced their First Nation ancestry through the matrilineal line.
As I noted in my senator’s statement on Wednesday last week, this ruling specifically looks at the hierarchy that exists in section 6(1) of the Indian Act. In the determination of the committee, this existing hierarchy constitutes continued discrimination and is in contravention of Canada’s international obligations under articles 3 and 26, read in conjunction with article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In its ruling, the committee provided for a 180-day deadline for Canada to respond and provide remedy to the petitioners.
Honourable senators, a remedy already exists in law, however, it is yet to be brought into force. Senators will remember Bill S-3 and the contributions of this chamber to make significant progress to finally eliminating sex-based discrimination in the registry provisions in the Indian Act. Section 2.1, added to the bill by an amendment from Senator Harder, not only removes the 1951 cut-off, it also eliminates the hierarchy under section 6(1) of the Indian Act.
In my speech on Senator Harder’s motion, I stated:
As I said, and I’ll repeat myself, the Senate can continue to play an active role and act as a watchdog on government implementation of this new amendment.
Senators, that is exactly what has prompted this motion before you. With this new decision from the UN committee, we should continue to play that watchdog role on the government’s implementation of this amendment, as it addresses both the discrimination of the 1951 cut-off and the hierarchy issues addressed in the new UN decision.
Senators, I want to explain why June 21, 2019, was chosen as the deadline for the government to fully implement Bill S-3 and bring into the force the provisions to eliminate all sex-based discrimination in the Indian registry. Colleagues, you will recall Senator Patterson’s speech in November 2017 on Senator Harder’s amendment to the message from the House of Commons on Bill S-3, where he clearly outlined the parliamentary realities related to the coming-into-force dates of bills such as Bill S-3.
While the UN committee has a 180-day deadline, which would bring us into July, the motion is also styled to address the current parliamentary realities. The House of Commons calendar currently lists the last day of their sitting as June 21, 2019. There is enough time between then and now for the normal process of government to bring an order-in-council coming-into-force section of law into force. For instance, cabinet needs to approve the coming-into-force date of June 21, 2019, and the necessary budgetary resources need to be in place. The government is currently consulting and developing a plan on how they will fully implement Bill S-3. This consultation process concludes at the end of March 2019, and by June 12, 2019, the government has to table the report on the results of the consultation and the plan for fully implementing Bill S-3. Thus, the June 21 date in today’s motion accommodates all the steps that the government needs to take to fully implement Bill S-3.
We should also keep in mind that no matter what the report recommends, the UN Human Rights Committee has ordered Canada to remedy the discrimination within 180 days.
Colleagues, some parliamentarians may consider this motion unnecessary; after all, the UN has ordered Canada to comply. But despite numerous provincial court cases and even in some cases Supreme Court rulings on Indigenous issues, Canada does not necessarily act in a timely manner. Some groups are worried that the UN ruling will be set aside and the appropriate provisions of Bill S-3 will not come into force any time soon. Thus, this motion is important to hold Canada to account and undertake action by June 21.
Colleagues, over the last few weeks, since the historic January UN ruling on sex-based discrimination in the Indian registry, several women’s groups have been urging Canada to comply immediately with the ruling. The lawyers representing the plaintiffs have contacted me and the Aboriginal Peoples Committee, urging us to ensure that Canada complies as soon as possible. As I noted earlier, in response, our committee endorsed today’s motion. In addition, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the Quebec Native Women’s Association are calling on Canada to stop their consultation process and implement the UN ruling right now.
I mention all of this to indicate that there is some urgency to today’s motion, and that is why a number of senators were prepared to speak to it last Thursday evening. However, Senator Woo, adjourned the Senate early before the motion was called, and I was deeply disappointed. I was deeply disappointed by the political tactics on both sides. We were expecting to debate the motion this week on Tuesday, but the opposition senators introduced numerous motions, paired with one-hour bells until midnight, that prevented the Senate from conducting any business. Some of us were ready to speak on both of those days and we were expecting to call the question. It seems the importance and urgency of this motion was not known and was ignored.
Colleagues, as one of the thousands of families affected by the UN ruling, I recognize its profound implications. And as a female Cree senator, member of the Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, I feel a tremendous responsibility and a personal sense of urgency to eliminate as soon as possible the discrimination against women with regard to the status in the Indian registry.
Let me try to explain to you briefly why status is so important. Status as a registered Indian is about maintaining our identity as Indians, First Nations. With status, there are health and other benefits, the right to live on the reserve and be part of your family, your community and your culture. For example, when my mother, Eva McNab, married my dad, Yok Leen Quan, her status as an Indian was automatically revoked. My brother and I were not eligible for status until 1985, when Bill C-31 was passed by Parliament. For my mother, my brother and me, loss of status meant family ties were severed. We grew up isolated from our relatives. We did not have the option of living on Gordon’s. Our cultural knowledge was diminished. We grew up alienated from Cree culture and spirituality. We do not know our own language. We suffered with a loss of identity, which, combined with the racism in White communities, further harmed our self-identity.
That’s why this UN ruling is so important and so historic.
I would also like to point out to the newer ISG senators that it took us “older” senators a year of hard work and creative strategizing by the Aboriginal Peoples Committee to force the government to incorporate the provisions in Bill S-3 that, when brought into force by Order in Council, will end the discrimination against women and their descendants whose status was revoked because they married non-Indian men.
Colleagues, as said before, last Thursday and Tuesday this week, I was deeply disappointed that before this motion was called it was prevented from being spoken to by political manoeuvring. It’s deeply disappointing not to have the chance to speak to the motion, because of its importance and urgency. Some of you may think that waiting a few days is of no consequence, but when stakeholders are counting on us, the Aboriginal Peoples Committee, in particular, and when they are urging us to act immediately, waiting a few more days does make a difference. The hundreds of thousands of people affected by the UN ruling want to be assured that Canada will honour its commitment to the international covenant on civil and political rights and implement the UN ruling.
Colleagues, on Tuesday, February 19, Elder Claudette Commanda conducted a sacred ceremony here in this beautiful new Senate Chamber. She called in our ancestor spirits to help guide and support our work as senators. I could sense my parents. Today, I feel the need to speak for my mother and the thousands of Indian women who, like her, were stripped of their identity as status Indians simply because they married a non-status man. The ruling will allow about 250,000 people to regain their Indian status if they choose to do so. In my opinion, calling an early adjournment of the Senate last Thursday and tying up Senate business on Tuesday this week was disrespectful to them and to the senators who were prepared to speak to this motion. This motion to urge the government to end the sex-based discrimination in the Indian registry is hugely important. We ought to have debated it last Tuesday. We were so close to it. We could have been done by 8:00 p.m., but that did not happen.
Colleagues, it’s 2019. One hundred and fifty years ago, legislation was enacted to cause Indian women to be denied their rightful status as citizens of their nations if they married non-Indian men. Despite numerous complaints and court rulings, the Crown has not acted in good faith. That is why it is critically important for the Senate to continue to push Canada to comply with this historic UN ruling and pass this motion to urge Canada to bring into force by June 21, 2019, the provisions in Bill S-3 that will eliminate the 1951 cut-off and eliminate the section 6(1) hierarchy of categories of status.
Today’s motion is consistent with the Senate’s critically important continued role in pushing this government to fully eliminate sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act and its key leadership role on Bill S-3. Our actions in the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and in the Senate Chamber resulted in this government finally adding the delayed provision that will eliminate all sex-based discrimination in Bill S-3. The push on Bill S-3 was nonpartisan and received support from all groups in this chamber. I trust the Senate will once again show that kind of leadership and adopt this motion unanimously.
Colleagues, we are at a historic moment in this new Senate Chamber. Bill S-3, once fully implemented, will eliminate discrimination against Indian women and their descendants who were denied Indian status simply because of marriage to non-status men.
I ask for your support, as was done in our previous deliberations on Bill S-3, to pass this motion unanimously in this new Senate Chamber.
I am aware that Senator Patterson may like to make some remarks today, but I urge all senators to call the question on this motion today. Let it be the first unanimous motion that continues the excellent nonpartisan work that the Aboriginal Peoples Committee spearheaded and which was supported by the Senate Chamber as a whole. Thank you.