Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

3rd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 147, Issue 76

Thursday, December 9, 2010
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Gender Equity in Indian Registration Bill

Third Reading

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Brazeau, seconded by the Honourable Senator Braley, for the third reading of Bill C-3, An Act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada (Registrar of Indian and Northern Affairs).

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise before you to speak at third reading of Bill C-3, an act to promote gender equity in Indian registration by responding to the Court of Appeal of British Columbia decision in McIvor v. Canada.

Bill C-3 was studied by the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, of which I am deputy chair. We heard from the Honourable Minister John Duncan, who stated:

Bill C-3 focuses on two objectives. First, the legislation would eliminate a cause of gender discrimination in the Indian Act as identified by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia. Second, it would meet the deadline imposed upon Parliament in the court’s ruling. Last year the Court of Appeal for British Columbia ruled that two paragraphs in section 6 of the Indian Act discriminate between men and women with respect to registration as an Indian, and, therefore, violate the equality provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Unfortunately, as the committee continued its study, I learned that this particular piece of legislation would not eliminate gender discrimination, nor would it provide equal rights for Aboriginal men and women.

Although I am sure many of you are familiar with Sharon McIvor’s case, for those of you who are not, I will provide a brief background about her battle with the Canadian government.

Sharon McIvor first applied for status in 1985. After completing the application process, she and her siblings were granted section 6(2) status and her children were denied status altogether. This situation prompted Sharon McIvor to begin her battle. Seventeen long years into her quest for recognition, in July 2006, Sharon McIvor received a letter from the Department of Justice acknowledging that the registrar had made a mistake and that she was entitled to section 6(1)(c) status and that her son now had section 6(2) status.

Sharon McIvor, however, was not pleased with this outcome. Although she and her siblings were all now section 6(1) status, her brother’s children were also granted section 6(1) status and his grandchildren were granted section 6(2) status. Sharon McIvor’s son, on the other hand, was granted section 6(2) status and Sharon McIvor’s grandchildren would be denied status all together.

Despite the fact that Sharon McIvor and her brother were born from the exact same set of parents, her brother was in a better position solely because of the fact that he was a male. Sharon McIvor expressed her discontent to the committee:

It is quite bizarre that my brother, who as I said did absolutely nothing, is all of a sudden in a better place only because he is a male.

. . . I was seeking equality, all of a sudden my male siblings got better equality than I did, or they got better status than I did, and I have no equality.

On the issue of 6(1) status, I believe that in order to fully address the issue, I am entitled to 6(1)(a) status, and my son is entitled to 6(1)(a) status. That is the only thing that will bring full equality to my situation.

Honourable senators, Bill C-3 will indeed grant Sharon McIvor’s son section 6(1) status, to which he is entitled. However, I think it is foolish to believe that Sharon McIvor was fighting this battle solely for this purpose.

After hearing her heartfelt testimony, it has become clear to me that Sharon McIvor was not fighting only for her son’s birthright, but instead she was fighting on behalf of all Aboriginal women across the country, who are routinely denied basic human rights.

Sharon McIvor, in her testimony, urged us all to recognize that Bill C-3 did not take into account the illegitimate daughters of Indian men. She explained that a court case in the late 1950s, early 1960s, stated that a male descendant of an Indian man is entitled to status. However, a female descendent of an Indian male is not. Sharon McIvor went on to explain this situation by offering the following example:

I actually have a niece and a nephew, the boy born in April of 1979 and the girl born in June of 1980. The mother is non-Indian; the father is status Indian. My nephew got status at birth. My niece did not get status until after April 17, 1985, Bill C-31. She has 6(2) status and he has 6(1)(a) status. They have identical parents; the only difference is male and female. It stays that way. She cannot pass her status on her own right like her brother can, because she is female.

Honourable senators, if Bill C-3 is an act that supports gender equality, then how is this situation acceptable? How can we support a bill that allows for discrimination based on sex? I understand that there is a perceived urgency to pass this particular bill. However, I think it is important that we all recognize the fact that it took Sharon McIvor 20 years to reach this point. She has fought and continues to fight to ensure that the rights of Aboriginal women are equal to those of Aboriginal men.

Sharon McIvor’s lawyer made a statement at the committee that continues to echo through my mind. Her lawyer, Gwen Brodsky, stated:

Bill C-3 and the exercise we are engaged in today make me very ashamed as a Canadian. It seems that we are having a conversation about whether it is acceptable for Parliament to put its seal of approval on discriminatory legislation. Is this Canada in 2010?

Honourable senators, this is not the Canada that I have come to love. Canada is a country that champions human rights. We advocate for women’s rights all over the world. Why is it that we allow women living within our own borders to be discriminated against in this way?

Throughout my career, it has become painfully clear to me that in our country the rights of Aboriginal women are often inferior to the rights of non-Aboriginal women. This is unacceptable. We cannot allow this to continue. The rights of a woman, regardless of her religion, race or culture, are always equal to the rights of a man. This is not only a Canadian value; it is a universal value that we have a duty to uphold.

Honourable senators, I urge you all not to support Bill C-3.