This blog is a summary of my initial reaction to the debates on Bill C-3 that took place in the House on Tuesday, May 25, 2010. It is quite clear to me that there is a huge divide between the unanimous voices of Aboriginal peoples on this issue and that of the government. Even the opposition parties have noted the rare unanimity of opinion on this issue. What follows are some of the main items that Canada is using to try to justify passing this Bill: (1) The Members of Parliament (MPs) must pass Bill C-3 as there is a strict court-imposed deadline of July 1, 2010. As has already been pointed out by numerous witnesses and the government itself, the court of appeal had already indicated a willingness to grant a longer deadline to amend the Act as it noted the complexity of the Act. If Canada did seek an extension, they would still be well within the norm of 12-24 months given by the Supreme Court of Canada for amendments. (2) The government did extensive “consultations” with the National Aboriginal Organizations and others on Bill C-3. There was in fact NO consultations. There was only, what Canada referred to as “engagement” sessions. In fact, when INAC officials did their presentation to the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples Annual General Meeting in 2009, they were asked directly if this amounted to consultation. The emphatic answer from INAC officials was “No”. Moreover, there was no money provided to First Nations or Aboriginal groups to “consult” on Bill C-3 with their members; there was no full disclosure of key information and documents; nor was there an assessment of the pros and cons of Bill C-3 provided. The government’s “engagement process” was simply telling a few select Aboriginal groups what would happen and the government did not address the legitimate concerns presented by those groups or the individuals, like myself or Sharon McIvor who also put our concerns in writing. Had these few meetings been legitimate consultations as outlined in Supre Court of Canada cases like Haida, Taku and Mikisew Cree, the government would have been legally obligated to consult (not engage) with all First Nations and groups impacted by the Bill, and accommodate (not ignore) their legitimate concerns. If you read CAP’s submission during the engagement process (on their website), they highlight the fact that this engagement process was not consultation. The Assembly of First Nations took a similar position. (3) 45, 000 people will not get to be registered if we dont pass this Bill. The government itself claims that it cannot do any costing on this Bill because it cannot determine how many people will actually apply for and be granted status. If it can’t do that, then it can’t use 45,000 as the number of people who won’t get status if the bill doesn’t pass. The government can’t have it both ways – either it’s 45,000 and cost that out, or its not. The issue is not even that these individuals won’t be registered; it is that there will be a small delay in their registration until the discrimination issue is properly addressed in a more thought-out amendment. I doubt that any potential registrant would mind a delay of several months if they knew that their brothers, sisters, cousins and children will finally be included in registration. I, personally, stand to gain from Bill C-3 by being registered as a section 6(2) Indian for the first time. However, I am not about to make a deal with the devil for my own registration at the cost of my children’s registration. I only want to be registered when my children can be as well. Gender discrimination is not resolved if only some people get a benefit – one can’t even say that gender discrimination is partially resolved – there is no such thing. Gender discrimination is either eliminated or it is not. (4) If we dont pass the Bill, 2,000 to 3,000 people will not be registered in British Columbia this year. First of all, I would challenge this number. I invite any individual to e-mail INAC and ask them for a list of how many people are registered in BC each year over the last 5 years. Then I would ask them to break those registrations down into which section each person was registered under. I think you will see that the vast majority of people are now registered under sections 6(1)(f) and 6(2), both sections of which are NOT affected by the McIvor appeal case. So, even if Canada could not get a court extension, which they should be trying to do now; a delay of several months to a year would impact only a few hundred registrations and only for a short time and only in BC. Everywhere else in Canada would not be affected by this delay. I think the minor delay for a few hundred people in BC to ensure Bill C-3 finally eliminates gender discrimination, is a reasonable balance between the immediate needs of those few hundred individuals and the equality rights for thousands of Indian women and their descendants all across the country who suffer from continued exclusion. (5) It is absolutely necessary to re-include section 9 in Bill C-3 so that Indian women are not fooled into thinking they have a legal right to be compensated for their exclusion from registration based on their gender. Does that sound right to anyone? I mean even writing it felt ridiculous. Canada has to setp up to the plate and register the descendants of Indian women and finally compensate them for what they have lost. The harms they suffered are equal to those who attended residential schools (aside from the physical aspect) and based on the same assimilatory policies for which Canada has already apologized. Another argument they raised in debate is that section 9 is necessary to protect First Nations. If the government is legitimately concerned about First Nations liability, they could amend section 9 to only protect First Nations liability and only for status issues. We all know that this is about protecting Canada from liability for wilful discrimination which continues. By having that provision the government will be able to delay addressing the rest of gender discrimination as long as they deem necessary knowing that they are not liable for the harms suffered by Indian women and their descendants. (6) We should pass Bill C-3 as-is because the joint process will take care of the other issues. Where is the commitment for funding for any First Nation or their representative groups to participate in such a joint process? Has anyone received a penny? Where is a terms of reference for this joint process? Who will direct this process and will it have measurable deliverables? Where is a committment to deal with specific issues like unstated paternity and illegitimate siblings? Where is the commitment to deal with band membership? There is no commitment on any of these essential points, just like there was no real commitment with the repeal of section 67 of the CHRA, despite promises to the contrary. This joint process was meant to be a carrot to get agreement by budget-strapped National Aboriginal organizations who are at the mercy of their funder (the government) to pass an otherwise unacceptable bill. This bill does not address McIvor even in the narrowest terms because Double Mother Clause descendants still have better status than the descendants of Indian women who married out. It is as plain and simple as that. Bill C-3 does not address gender discrimination because it cannot be addressed in part. If the elimination of gender discrimination would mean that 100,000 people would be registered, then a bill which would register 20,000, 30,000 or 45,000 people, does not address gender discrimination. We all see through this “charade”, as so aptly put by MP Todd Russell, and we need to support Indian women and their equality rights by voting against the bill. In the end, I think the majority of Aboriginal peoples and their organizations would gladly accept a delay in addressing registration if it meant we addressed gender discrimination in full. Canada now must live up to its fiduciary and other legal duties and obligations towards Aboriginal peoples and act in a way that lives up to the honour of the Crown. My children and I are counting on Canada to finally eliminate gender discrimination against Indian women and their descendants. I am willing to hold off on obtaining my own status to ensure this happens for my children.