Thank you, Madam Chair and honourable members.
My name is Martin Reiher, and I am the assistant deputy minister of resolution and individual affairs at the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Joining me today are: Candice St-Aubin, executive director, new service offerings; Nathalie Nepton, executive director, Indian registration; as well as Karl Jacques, from the Department of Justice.
Thank you for the opportunity to give you an update on the government's response to the Superior Court of Quebec's decision in the Descheneaux case and bring you up to date on new developments since your last meeting on this bill, which was held on November 21 of last year.
As you will recall, in August 2015 the Superior Court of Québec ruled, in the Descheneaux decision, that key Indian registration provisions affecting 90% of the registered Indian population under the Indian Act contravened the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by perpetuating differential treatment in entitlement to Indian registration between a woman and a man and their respective descendants.
In response to that decision, the government announced a two-stage approach. The first stage involves legislative amendments through Bill S-3, which will be followed by a process on broader issues related to registration. That will be a collaborative process with first nations and other indigenous groups.
Bill S-3, introduced in the Senate on October 25, 2016, will remedy situations of known sex-based inequities in registration. For the purposes of Bill S-3 we refer to known sex-based inequities as situations that are solely sex-based and have been found to be discriminatory by the courts or are similar to such situations. Bill S-3 is therefore not restricted to situations in which a court has already ruled but extends to situations in which the courts have yet to rule and where it is clear that a sex-based charter would be found.
During the deliberations of your committee and of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, witnesses and members of both committees expressed concerns about whether BillS-3 addressed all possible situations of sex-based inequities, as well as concerns regarding the level of engagement with first nations and impacted individuals. The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples suspended the study of the bill and requested that the government seek an extension to continue engagement on issues within the scope of the bill.
On January 20, 2017, the Superior Court of Quebec granted a five-month extension to remedy the discrimination identified in the Descheneaux case.
That extension has enabled us to begin a mobilization process and ensure that justice will be done as quickly as possible for some 35,000 individuals who will become eligible for Indian registration once Bill S-3 is passed.
As part of a letter sent to you on February 6, 2017, we shared with you a four-tiered action plan that was developed to guide the engagement activities during the short period of time provided by the court, a plan that built on the engagement sessions held in the fall.
I would now like to provide you with an overview of additional engagement activities that were held. The government was able to conduct 10 additional engagement sessions from January through April 2017. Bilateral discussions were held with the Canadian Bar Association, the Aboriginal Legal Services, and the Feminist Alliance for International Action.
The department provided support to the Native Women's Association of Canada to design and lead a series of engagement sessions with its provincial and territorial member associations, and their report was provided to this committee. The department also provided support to the Indigenous Bar Association to complete a review of the bill to identify situations of sex-based inequities not captured originally in the bill. The report was also shared with this committee.
Finally, technical discussions were held with legal representatives from the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Native Women's Association of Canada, the Indigenous Bar Association, and the plaintiffs' legal counsel in the Descheneaux case.
We know that even with this extension, there was not enough time to truly consult, and we acknowledge the tremendous effort and long hours that organizations put into this work. We heard about a wide range of issues through these different fora, some within the scope of Bill S-3 and others falling outside.
What is evident from these discussions is that people are very passionate and committed to addressing issues of inequity in administration. At the same time, it was highlighted that jurisdiction over Indian registration and band membership should not remain under the government's control.
As mentioned earlier, we provided support to the IBA and NWAC to review the bill. In their reports, issues such as unstated paternity and the 1951 cut-off were flagged, as well as amendments to avoid inequities that would be created by Bill S-3 in its original state.
The government has heard recommendations from this extended engagement regarding outstanding sex-based inequities. During the study of the bill at the Senate committee we welcomed a number of important amendments to the bill, which now addresses some of the situations flagged.
Amendments were made to address further groups identified by the IBA that would be discriminated against based on sex if the original bill had been passed. The committee also adopted an amendment to the bill regarding the issue of unstated paternity, which will enshrine into legislation additional procedural protection as contemplated by the Ontario Court of Appeal in the Gehl decision.
The committee passed a series of amendments to report back to Parliament on a number of occasions and in a number of ways to provide an update on progress towards broader reform.
Lastly, I would like to speak to the amendment—referred to as 6(1)(a) “all the way”—adopted in committee, adding subparagraphs (a.1) and (a.2) to a new paragraph 6(1)(a) of the current Indian Act.
The government is unable to support this amendment, first because as drafted it is unclear and in contradiction with some of the provisions of the Indian Act, and second because its intended effect puts it outside the scope of Bill S-3, which is deemed as addressing known sex-based inequities. The amendment, in fact, contradicts the current state of the law by granting a remedy explicitly rejected by the Court of Appeal of British Columbia in its 2009 McIvor decision as not being in line with charter requirements.
The amendment is also in contradiction to subparagraph 6(1)(c.1)(iv) of the Indian Act, a provision that was not struck down by the courts in the Descheneaux case and is still in the Indian Act.
Moreover, by purporting to provide an entitlement to registration to all direct descendants born prior to 1985 of individuals previously entitled under the old Indian Act, the intended effect of the amendment would affect descendants of individuals who were enfranchised not only due to marriage but also for reasons unrelated to their gender.
Finally, the amendment would not appear to grant membership to the individuals it targets.
Such a broad amendment casts the net much wider than what is required to achieve the goal of Bill S-3 and would have wide-ranging, unforeseen implications. More work is required to understand the implications, and we wish to have more discussions with first nations partners on the best way to address these broader issues.
To that end, stage two will begin, following the coming into force of Bill S-3, and will be the opportunity to examine the broader issues relating to registration, membership, and citizenship, with the objective of identifying options for future reform.
In conclusion, I would like to highlight the consequences of not passing the bill before the revised court deadline of July 3. Let's not lose sight of the individuals directly affected by this bill. About 90% of the registered Indian population is registered under one of the provisions struck down by the court in Descheneaux. As you know, if Bill S-3 is not in force on July 3, these sections will be inoperative in Quebec, and the practical implication for the registrar is that she would not be in a position to register people under those provisions in the rest of the country.
We must ensure that we do not deny justice to the plaintiffs and to the other 35,000 individuals affected by the decision, while also ensuring that meaningful consultation with indigenous groups is conducted adequately to address other complex matters. Consistent with Canada's commitment to reconciliation and a nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous people, the minister gave her personal commitment to co-designing a process with indigenous people, including communities, impacted individuals, organizations, and experts to deliver a substantive report.