The House resumed from May 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-47, An Act respecting family homes situated on First Nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Ms. Nancy Karetak-Lindell (Nunavut, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-47, the act respecting family homes situated on first nation reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves.
Some people who were speaking to this yesterday brought a lot of dimension to the very difficult situation that exists on first nations reserves. This legislation is necessary because at the moment there is no legislation to which people can turn when there is a need for matrimonial real property laws. This is also an issue of human rights for women and children who live on reserve. Really, it is a human rights issue for the families.
The Liberal Party is certainly a great supporter of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and we do support this measure to extend matrimonial real property rights to first nations. While the Liberal opposition supports the intent of the bill, we do not support the unilateral process taken by the federal government to introduce this piece of legislation.
I am going to speak more on matters of governance and capacity building, also in support of why we would like the federal Conservative government to listen to the people and take the road of real partnership and consultation. What we have been trying to say for the last two years as members of the aboriginal community, members of the aboriginal affairs committee and our party is that if we want to see real solutions in our aboriginal communities, there has to be real partnership and collaboration, and that they not be token gestures.
For me, real partnership is going to be based on respect, collaboration, courtesy and compromise. The negotiations would be on the level of diplomacy that I think most of our communities are very good at. All our aboriginal communities are interested in seeing their communities move forward to being healthier and safer for everyone who lives in those communities, whether they are on reserve or off reserve. These are our homes, our lands and areas of great historical connection. These are communities in which we are going to continue to live.
Of course we want to look for solutions that will see healthier communities able to take care of their own and offer solutions. In order to take steps that will move our communities forward, we need to also look at the governance issues. We need to give people an opportunity to be part of the solution, and to offer solutions to issues that are coming before us, in particular for reserves that have been under the rule of a 130-year-old law, the Indian Act.
We know that none of the solutions is going to be quick. History has a way of coming back and making it very difficult for our people to move forward, especially with people who have lived under the Indian Act.
We were reassured when the government came into power and sought the advice of the aboriginal community, especially by appointing Wendy Grant-John to engage in consultations with the people. NWAC was involved. The aboriginal communities were involved. She came back with a report that many people were comfortable with as the basis from which some legislation would come forth. I am sad to say that none of that seems to have made it into Bill C-47.
NWAC and the AFN have put out press releases giving their opinions on Bill C-47, and they have not been complimentary. They feel that all the work they did in helping with the consultation was not taken into consideration. The communities feel that they have been let down. As with the specific claims process, there was praise given to the government for allowing them to be part of the decision making and working with them to produce the act.
We all know that any legislation that comes to this House will not have the support of each and every person out there. However, as a government and having been in government, we feel that we can move forward with a piece of legislation when many people acknowledge that it is a work of collaboration and good consultation. People feel it is one which they can live with and support, given that they will be given a chance to report on it in three to five years, depending on what is in the legislation and that there will be some opportunity to make some improvements to it. Once there is that kind of feedback from the people who are going to be impacted by the legislation, then we know that there is an opportunity that the legislation will actually be implemented and supported by the communities. However, that is not the case with Bill C-47.
I remember when we worked on the First Nations Land Management Act, some bands were quite skeptical that another piece of legislation was dealing with a tiny piece of the Indian Act instead of an overall deletion of the Indian Act.
I have been a member of Parliament for almost 11 years now, and I am proud to say that I am probably the only member of Parliament who has stayed on one committee for the whole term. I have the good fortune of being able to remember how many pieces of legislation have gone through our committee and the number of witnesses that we have heard from all over on the different pieces of legislation that have come before our committee.
When the First Nations Land Management Act came in, there was some skepticism, but after it was implemented and people started to see the benefits for their own bands, they were very open to trying it out. It was voluntary, but more people were applying to go into that regime than the act was capable of taking on. If we do that type of work with the communities and try to help them in their capacity building and in their own governance, I think we will see more success with legislation being put forth that concerns aboriginal people in this country. Because there was cooperation and less conflict, people were open to suggestions. That is what we want to see with legislation that comes forth. We want people to feel that they can contribute, try something out and see whether it will work for their communities.
We do not want to see intimidation. We do not want to see heavy-handed approaches, which is how a lot of decisions were made in the past, especially in the 1960s and even before that, where someone in Ottawa made decisions and told the community what would have to be done. We had no say in any of that. It does not produce good governance or cooperation from the people. It alienates everyone who might have wanted to cooperate to make his or her community a better place to live.
I am sure most Canadians know now that most of the land in our communities are communally owned. I know we are not bound by the Indian Act in Nunavut, but our land is community owned. We have to always take this into consideration when we make any legislation that deals with how one disposes of property, homes or, in this case, matrimonial real property.
Because of these special situations, we need to have an understanding of what solutions will work. This is why it is so important to have the members of a community behind any legislation that will affect their lives.
We know violence affects many homes, whether they are aboriginal communities or not. Unless we have programs to help people, we will not see a lessening of that. Having strictly legal measures to deal with this issue is not the answer. There has to be non-legislative measures also alongside legal measures. That was a very strong point put forth by NWAC, the National Women's Association of Canada. Not only do we need the legal measures and the law that people can go to for assistance, but we also need the measures in the community that will help women usually and children in these cases.
As I said, when I started this debate, we very much support seeing legislation that will help these communities, but how we go about it is fundamental in whether it will be accepted and implemented to the extent that it could help people more if there were more collaboration with the community.
We live in a day and age now where we want to solve more conflicts in the world peacefully and by involving the very people who are in the conflict. We cannot just go in, take over and decide this is the way things should be done. That certainly does not exclude our aboriginal communities. This is what we want to see. We are not saying that there should not be legislation to help families, especially the women and children, but we want to do it in a way that will work.
We are beyond the days of someone saying that they know best how to deal with our communities. It is very sad that we cannot take an opportunity like this to work with the people and have them help Parliament to address the very issues that sometimes end up putting a lot of children in care and our aboriginal people in jail. I do not think families get a real chance to stay together and work things out.
When these children go into care, or some other facility, or jail, it creates another breakdown where one loses their language or their culture, and it is very difficult to heal from that. We cannot keep inflicting damages on communities when we are still trying to recover from mistakes made in the past, such as residential schools, community relocations, people who lost their status and were reinstated, but with no resources for a smooth implementation. We cannot expect communities to move forward in a healthy and safe way when they do not have the capacity to deal with other social situations.
If we do not take into consideration the fact that we have to give the bands the ability to work together with different levels of government, then surely the legislation will fail in the key point, and that is to help women and children live safer and healthier lives.
We all want that. I do not think anyone here will argue that we all have the same goal, but it is how we do it. I cannot emphasize enough that we have to do things the right way with collaboration from the people, with solutions from grassroots. Surely we should know by now that the way we have done things in the past does not work.
I want to see the legislation in committee so we can hear from different witnesses, good experts in this matter, and hopefully see amendments that will improve it.
Committee work is all about that. It is about trying to improve the legislation that comes before us. In the past at committee our experience has shown that the government takes these as attacks, not opportunities to improve legislation. As parliamentarians, our job, as we sit in these chairs inside this chamber, is to provide the best laws and policies we can for our country, to improve it and make it a better country.
Canada is the best country in the world to live. I have seen that as I have travelled a few times internationally. We have a lot to offer, but we also have a lot to learn. The fact that we are open to different ideas and ways of doing things gives a lot of hope to Canadians. They have seen actual changes happen in committee as a result of our listening to witnesses.
We cannot please everyone and come up with the perfect piece of legislation, but at the end of the day, if we all work together, we can come up with legislation with which everyone can live. In a country as diverse as we are, to produce legislation that a lot of people can actually support is a great accomplishment.
I look forward to seeing the legislation in committee. I look forward to hearing from different witnesses. Hopefully we can improve it and make it legislation that communities will be proud to implement.
All those bands will welcome the opportunity to have this type of legislation to work with on their reserves. I do not think we will hear people say that they do not support some kind of legislation, or some kind of rule, or tools or capacity building that will make their reserves healthier and safer communities for their women and children.
When the legislation goes to committee, I strongly urge the government to be open to witnesses and to amendments. No one is arguing that this is not the time for the legislation. It is how we do it, how we implement it and whether we put the resources with it to ensure the communities can work with it in a positive way.
Mr. Yvon Lévesque (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, in the current context of Bill C-47, we know that laws currently exist in Quebec and the provinces and territories of Canada on matrimonial property that recognize the general principle of equality between spouses. These laws govern spousal rights during the marriage and in the case of marital breakdown. They help define the personal and real matrimonial property of the spouses. They also allow for a system of mandatory rights and protections when it comes to matrimonial property and, in the event of a marital breakdown, the establishment of legal presumption in the equal division of matrimonial property. The laws also include various protection measures for each spouse, for example, in the case of the sale of the family home, where the signature of both spouses would be required.
Nonetheless, between Quebec and the provinces and territories of Canada, there are a few differences when it comes to common law relationships, same sex relationships, rights in the event of the death of a spouse and issues involving family violence.
These laws also apply to first nations spouses off reserve, but do not apply in the same way to people living on reserves administered by the Indian Act, mainly in terms of matrimonial real property, cases of family violence and marital breakdown.
The Indian Act provides for a land management regime that includes a system for making individual allotments of reserve lands to members of the band for whom the reserve has been set aside, but it is silent on the question of matrimonial property interests. It does not provide for a law-making power on the part of first nations in regard to matrimonial property, real or personal.
Bill C-47 concerns family homes situated on first nations reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves. It seeks to close the existing legal gap to ensure respect for basic and matrimonial rights and to offer recourse during a conjugal relationship, when that relationship breaks down or on the death of a spouse.
Basically, the bill seeks to balance individual and collective rights, to clarify the inalienability of reserve lands, and to provide greater certainty to spouses and common-law partners on reserves with respect to family homes and other matrimonial interests or rights.
Bill C-47 would set out provisional federal rules as well as provisions for the enactment of first nation laws. The federal rules would be a provisional measure, but would account for the reality that some first nations may not develop their own laws to address matrimonial interests or rights. The bill would enable communities to develop their own laws. Each first nation would be subject to the provisional federal rules set out in the bill until they adopt their own laws, with the exception of those that already have laws about matrimonial real property.
The proposed bill would be subject to the Charter. It would also be subject to the Canadian Human Rights Act insofar as its provisions fall within the scope of that act.
Not all off-reserve matrimonial real property remedies can be replicated on reserves. Given the collective nature of the reserve land regime, land on reserves cannot be owned outright, and the rights to possession differ between band members and non-members. For greater accuracy, the proposed act therefore refers to “interests or rights regarding family homes on reserves and other matrimonial interests or rights,” rather than “matrimonial real property” which, off reserves, refers to both land and structures.
The bill also proposes some provisions related to separation due to family violence.
I think all my colleagues here will agree that despite all the work that went into this bill, the government has still displayed a vindictive and know-it-all attitude when it once again failed to consult women or the Native Women's Association. Yet again, it managed to forget to resolve major flaws.
This week's visit from the president of the Quebec Native Women's Association, Ms. Gabriel, made this very clear.
The proposed act respecting family homes situated on first nations reserves and matrimonial interests or rights in or to structures and lands situated on those reserves would fix a major shortcoming in the current legislation.
Although the Bloc acknowledges this, and knows that we must act quickly, for the good of women and first nations communities, we think that the government has failed in its duties in some areas.
I would like to show my colleagues, here in this House, how the government did not fulfill its commitments. I would also like to explain what the Bloc Québécois proposes to fix the major shortcomings not only in this bill, but also in the entire process surrounding the bill.
To back up my comments about how the current government has not fulfilled its commitments in developing this bill, I would like to go back in time to discuss a political accord that was signed in 2005. As we all know, in order to get into power, the Conservatives ran a campaign based on demonstrating transparency and respecting commitments.
The past few months have shown us that this party does not seem to be any better than its predecessors. Allow me to quote some of its members: “It is our duty as elected members to ensure that the public can continue to have confidence in us. We must demonstrate integrity and consistency in our decisions.”
The process leading up to Bill C-47 runs counter to an important agreement signed between the Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada in 2005. I will read an excerpt from this political accord of May 31, 2005, an accord we have been referring to since Bill C-44 was introduced in 2006:
|| No longer will [the government] develop policies first and discuss them with [the members of the first nations] later. This principle of collaboration will be the cornerstone of our new relationship.
It also says:
|| The minister and the Assembly of First Nations commit to undertake discussions:
|| on processes to enhance the involvement of the Assembly of First Nations, mandated by the Chiefs in Assembly, in the development of federal policies which focus on, or have a significant specific impact on the First Nations—
The purpose of the accord was to enhance cooperation between the Assembly of First Nations and this government on the development of federal policies on first nations. Can someone please explain to me why that very Assembly of First Nations, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Quebec Native Women Inc. and the Native Women's Association of Canada are against this bill?
In the process of drafting this bill, it seems clear that an important aspect of communication was forgotten. We can all agree that in a discussion, two parties meet to share ideas. Consultations were indeed held with a whole host of groups representing first nations and with first nations women's groups, since this bill primarily concerns women.
However, it seems that if Indian and Northern Affairs Canada did indeed listen to the first nations representatives, it did not take into account or did not put enough stock in what they said. I do not think the government representatives acted in bad faith, but the spirit of the 2005 accord, where the cooperation and involvement of the first nations should have prevailed in the drafting of this bill, was not respected.
It would therefore make no sense to go ahead with second reading of this bill. That is why the Bloc is asking the House to refer Bill C-47 to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development so that the committee can amend the bill to make it acceptable to first nations communities.
The Bloc Québécois firmly believes that the first nations have an inherent right to self-government, and it will ensure that that right is not undermined by the implementation of this bill. However, we also believe that such a bill can fill gaps in the current regulations while communities develop their own law on family homes.
Bill C-47 could be passed once it has been studied and amended by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, this time in collaboration with designated first nations representatives.
At this point, I would like to give some more concrete examples of the reasons why the Bloc Québécois is asking that this bill be referred to committee.
Many of my colleagues are aware that the first nations are an integral part of the human landscape of my riding. I would therefore like to speak from my own experience with various nations.
One of the concerns that aboriginal women's groups have pertains to the lack of housing on reserves, because one of the provisions of this bill deals with obtaining accommodation after a conjugal relationship breaks down.
Having visited a number of aboriginal communities repeatedly, I can state that this concern is certainly justified. How many times have I seen whole families squeezed into cramped quarters? How many times has the message been hammered home to me, during meetings with chiefs, that the biggest challenge in communities is the lack of housing? I have lost count. In addition, in communities such as Eastmain, on James Bay, some families are living in buildings despite mould problems so severe that the buildings need to be reconstructed. When there is not enough housing, it becomes difficult to relocate families for any reason.
From my experience, I also wonder about another aspect of this bill. It establishes procedures, including referral to legal procedures that do not always take into account the cultural reality and the access that these communities—often isolated or impoverished—have to certain information and certain services. There is nothing in the bill regarding how the communities will be able to access information and legal services.
For the Bloc Québécois, it is crucial that these realities can be considered and these questions addressed. That is why we would like to know how the government plans to implement this, and how it intends to allocate funding to ensure that the people in question can benefit from the bill. I would also like to ask the government how much funding is earmarked for the communities in order to prepare for implementing the legislation. Finally, we would like the government to submit to the committee the studies concerning the impact of Bill C-47 on the communities as well as the measures that will be put in place to encourage communities to develop their own laws concerning matrimonial homes.
In closing, given the importance of the issue and the insecurity it causes for people living on reserves, the government must take action immediately. It must allow aboriginal people on reserves to exercise their matrimonial rights to and interests in structures and lands situated on reserves. It must ensure that all its actions and decisions comply with the recommendations of the main aboriginal organizations and those of the standing committees, while still honouring the political accord reached with the first nations in 2005.
I believe it would be possible to amend this bill and address the dissatisfaction expressed by aboriginal groups, for example, issues pertaining to the implementation of the action plan, available resources and access by women to legal processes. We undertake to work closely with the first nations and the government, whose actions will respect the 2005 agreement, in order to amend Bill C-30 and ensure that it is satisfactory. We will do the same for Bill C-47.
However, I must point out that the Bloc Québécois has questions about the government's plans for implementation of this bill. We also wonder about the funding that will be provided to the communities and about the introduction of measures to make the procedures accessible to the population, bearing in mind the information that must be provided to the population and the poverty and the geographic isolation, which could restrict the practical application of this bill.
To summarize, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-47 being sent to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to study the ins and outs and, above all, to hear the testimony of stakeholders.
But first, we wish to know the intentions of the government concerning the possible amendments to Bill C-47 that it would be willing to accept.
Hon. Shawn Murphy (Charlottetown, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise this afternoon to say a few words on this very complex issue. It involves a number of sub-issues and when we boil it all down, it is not simple.
First, I will support the legislation, when it comes for a vote, to send it to committee. There is some stakeholder opposition. I have read a lot of the points, the memos and the briefs that come in from different interest groups and I have tried to digest them as best I can. However, I will support the bill so it can go to committee, receive a full airing, have the refinements or improvements made and then come back to the House after the committee has deliberated on it.
We have a situation that has developed over the last number of years. We have a clash between what happens on reserves and what has changed substantially and considerably in Canadian society over the past 50 years. Sometimes that is not a bad thing, but in this case it cries out for redress.
My instincts, as a parliamentarian, are to proceed very carefully and cautiously, after much consultation with our aboriginal brothers and sisters, before we move on this issue. However, it is an issue that calls for a legislative solution, and hopefully it will be an interim legislative solution, but it is not an issue that we can ignore as parliamentarians. In my opinion, it is a basic matter of human rights for women and children living on reserves, an issue that cannot be ignored.
To frame the debate, it is interesting to consider the changes we have seen in society over the last 50 years. I started to practise law about 32 years ago. It was changing then, but let us go back a few years before that.
The basic rule of law was that a married woman, if there were separation or divorce, had very little in the way of rights. If individuals were not married, living common law, there were no rights. In most instances the title to the property, whether it be a farm or a home, was in the man's name. This concept has basically disappeared from the legal nomenclature, but there was an interest called dowry. A woman had a one-third life interest in the property and she had to sign off if the property was sold or mortgaged, but that right did not give her any one-half interest if there were a separation or divorce.
We can see how society has evolved and changed over the last 50 years. It was not transformative. It came gradually. We had certain provinces enact family property laws. They were debated, interpreted and changed. We came forward with no fault divorce legislation, where situations, like adultery, did not have to be proven, the best interest of the children became a concept in our matrimonial law. Looking back, from May 14, these are concepts that most Canadians would accept as basic human rights.
Then there is the situation that exists on aboriginal reserves right now. This goes back to a 1986 court decision regarding a situation where a husband and wife, whether legally married or common law, separated. The court decided that the provincial court did not have any jurisdiction to adjudicate upon that land because it was located on a federal reserve, which came within federal jurisdictional powers. It certainly left a very large legal vacuum where people were basically left with no rights. Provincial law did not apply.
Off reserve aboriginals did not face the same predicament as provincial law would apply in this case. If an off reserve couple lived in a city, town or rural area in Canada, outside of an established reserve, and there was a separation, the normal matrimonial laws in the province would apply.
There were a number of problems. The biggest legal vacuum was there was no jurisdiction to adjudicate the problem. Then it was complicated further because of the fact that on most reserves the land is not owned by individuals. It is owned collectively by the reserve. However, the couple or individual would have a possessory interest in the property, which complicated it a little further.
Therefore, there was what I consider to be a tremendous vacuum in the law if a couple separated, especially if it dealt with domestic violence or a situation where the rights, safety or protection of children were involved. In particular cases, the judges were handcuffed. No temporary or permanent restraining order could be issued. The court could not entertain a partition for the sale of the property. There would be nothing to preclude one of the spouses from selling whatever possessory interest he or she had, or a mortgage on the same. Basically, there was a situation where the basic human rights of individuals were and could be violated, which cries out for a legislative solution.
It has been a very significant issue and it is one that has been before the House several times before. It has been a subject of the discussion in debate in at least three parliamentary committees and it has been discussed in the House. As I indicated earlier in my remarks, it does not have the total support of the stakeholders: the Assembly of First Nations, the office of the grand chief and the Native Women's Association of Canada. They all take the position that they are presently against the legislation.
I read their briefs in the preparation of my remarks. I think they are trying to broaden the scope of the whole argument that it does not go to the causes of the particular situation. It does not address situations like poverty, education, health or the lack of access to water. However, that is not the purpose of the bill. The purpose of the bill is to get at this issue.
There is no attempt, and one could argue it should, to deal with the larger issues, and I do not think anyone in the House or any Canadian would suggest that they should not receive attention from the government. The bill deals with a very specific instance. It should be dealt with and should not be delayed that much longer.
That is where I am coming from in my remarks. It is time to send this to a committee and get further input and dialogue from the major stakeholders dealing with this issue.
Going back to the briefs received from some of the aboriginal leadership, the suggestion is that it does not acknowledge the inherent treaty rights of first nations. This is should be acknowledged. However, this is interim legislation only. It acknowledges in the legislation that the first nations and the bands should take this on themselves. It provides a certain framework for them to do that. It provides a certain time for them to do that. I hope they will go ahead and do what is right and necessary, so the necessary governance is there, so the existing issue will not exist once the first nations develop their own provisions for dealing with this issue.
Again, this is an acknowledgement that they, their governments and their leadership should take on. I consider this to be interim legislation, but it will prime the pump and get the thing going. Hopefully, the various bands across the country will address the situation.
We must not forget that this court case was adjudicated upon in 1986. We are here 22 years after the fact and nothing has happened since then. Until that happens, this legislation will apply.
Again, I think all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, would like to see this happen, in the interim. If there were a situation where a legally married couple or a common law couple separated or divorced, that there would be an equal division of whatever matrimonial assets were in the family. However, no person would be allowed to sell or mortgage any interest in the title, whether possessory or real, in the property. If there were a situation dealing with domestic violence, where the rights and interests of the children could have been affected, this could be subject to either an interim or a permanent court order. At the same time, the bands would be notified of any of these proceedings. This is very important in the whole process.
Again, as I said in my earlier remarks, when I first looked at this issue, it was something with which I wanted to proceed with tremendous caution and with the greatest amount of consultation. However, it is an issue on which Parliament has to move. I hope we are not here in 22 years time talking about that issue.
When I read the briefs from some of the stakeholders, they wanted to tie in a lot of the non-legislative issues, such as poverty, housing, water, access to justice and governance issues, and I agree with what they have said. There is no greater stain on Canadian society than the present plight of our aboriginals.
When I look back, it is something that cries out for action from the government. I look back at the tremendous opportunity missed at the Kelowna accord. In that room we had all 10 provinces, the major aboriginal groups, the Government of Canada and all the major stakeholders ready to sign on the dotted line. I would not suggest that would be the solution to all the problems. However, it was a platform. It was a start. Perhaps it would not have ended the bickering that goes on or the blame and accusations that fly back and forth in here every day, but it would have started the dialogue. I had so much hope for the initiative and I was so disappointed when it did not continue.
Again, however, we have to deal with the present, not the past.
I should say that I chair the public accounts committee, and we are certainly not the solution to these problems at all, but every year and sometimes twice a year we get very unpleasant and troubling reports from the Auditor General of Canada about the plight of our aboriginal citizens presently on reserve. The second-last one was about the education system on reserves or aboriginal communities. It was a distressing and troubling report. The job is not getting done.
The report we received last week talked about aboriginal children in custodial care, about the lack of guidelines and, really, about the lack of care. It is really troubling. We are talking about kids who are from three to seven years of age and they are being treated like this by our system. Certainly it did not come in for a hearing yet, but it is just another troubling chapter that has come to the committee from the Auditor General of Canada.
We make recommendations, but it is the same thing in four or five years. The same department comes back and things are no better. It is such a frustrating experience to see this year in and year out. All I can say is that the present system does not appear to be working in the best interests of our aboriginal citizens.
In conclusion, I will be supporting the bill going to committee. I hope that the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has a long look at it and gives it a full airing. This is the framework. I certainly hope that there will be amendments and changes made to the bill. I hope committee members do not ignore the inherent right of our aboriginal communities, our first nations, and certainly do not ignore section 25 of the Canadian Constitution, and I hope they will come back to the House with a final draft of the legislation.
Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to participate in debate on Bill C-47, which is a proposal to deal with the long outstanding issue around matrimonial property rights on reserves.
All who have participated in the debate have acknowledged that there is a need to finally address a matter that has been left in the lurch since the 1985 Supreme Court decision which ruled that provincial laws regarding division of property after a marriage breakdown did not apply on reserve. That we agree on.
I do not think there is anybody in this chamber who disagrees with the fundamental principle at stake here and the need to advance legislation to fill the vacuum. We all recognize that there must be legislation to ensure proper division of property and assets upon a marriage breakdown, whether the people are living on reserve or off reserve.
That principle we support. The question today is this: does this legislation actually fill the bill? Does it respond adequately to the situation at hand?
I listened very carefully to the member for Charlottetown suggesting that it may not be perfect, but heck, we have to act on something, and it is so long overdue. We have to put in place an interim arrangement and this might be it, he suggests. We will go through committee and we will see, it is suggested, and this is only intended to deal with this one narrow piece so let us get on with it.
However, I cannot separate the whole question of equality of matrimonial property from the issue of equality in general. We cannot simply say that we will deal with one tiny piece and leave everything else in disarray or neglected. We cannot put a little bandage on a situation in the hope that we can stop the hemorrhaging.
I suppose it would not hurt to get the bill to committee so we can hear from the various informed players in our society today just how badly the bill meets the requirements, just how much off the mark it really is, and just how little the consultation that did happen was reflected in the bill itself.
I will read again for members the words of the minister responsible for the legislation, who said, as he did just yesterday, that “laws are much more likely to succeed when drafted with the input of the people who would be affected by them”. I agree. The problem with this bill is that the government chose to ignore the bulk of the evidence that was presented to it, as well as the majority of the suggestions that were made and that should have been included in the legislation.
Therefore, the government is masquerading today. It is pretending that it has consulted, that it has addressed the vast array of interests and concerns in this area, and that here all of it is in the bill.
That is far from the truth. We only have to look at some of the key players. Let us go right to the Assembly of First Nations, a broad governing body of the first nations in this country. Obviously it was consulted. The minister would like to pretend that its input was included in the bill, but that is not what Phil Fontaine says.
Phil Fontaine makes it very clear, in fact, that the consultation took place, but the suggestions that were made are not reflected in the bill. I want to quote from his letter of April 8, in which he says:
||--the fact that direction provided through this dialogue does not appear reflected in the tabled Bill, leaves us to conclude that the dialogue was of limited value in promoting and implementing a reconciliation approach regarding First Nations aboriginal and treaty rights and Crown sovereignty.
Where is all this input from the community that the Conservatives are talking about? There is something strangely amiss in this place when the minister stands in the House and says that this bill was based on what the aboriginal people wanted and yet those people who were consulted say it is not there.
The same is reflected in material produced for all members of Parliament from the Native Women's Association of Canada which wrote as recently as yesterday that the association held extensive meetings with aboriginal women across Canada to identify solutions to the complex issues comprising the matrimonial real property problem. NWAC believes that the voices of these aboriginal women and the solutions they develop must be respected and included in the government's approach. This has not happened. I hope members are listening. The Native Women's Association of Canada says that this has not happened. Instead, the government has turned the processes that preceded the introduction of this bill into a farce by failing to include the elements that aboriginal women identified as important to them.
I hope that the members on the government benches are not making disparaging remarks about the Native Women's Association of Canada or the Assembly of First Nations. I hope that they are listening to the fact that these voices, these well-established organizations, these reputable organizations in our country today, feel that their concerns are not reflected, are not included in this bill. That is important. It goes back to what the minister himself said yesterday, that the best legislation around is that which reflects the feelings of the people it affects.
If this bill does not do that, we have to change it. We cannot simply let it go on and say that this is it. We cannot do as the member for Charlottetown said, that this is an interim measure, we will have some consultations and then we will get on with it. No. We have to fix the problem. If we are going to send it to committee, we have to do it on a real basis, on a substantive basis, and the government has to indicate it is prepared to accept the amendments and changes that the groups want.
Clearly, we have touched a sore point. The members on the Conservative benches are starting to heckle. I guess I am getting under their skin. I hope so.
There is no point in trying to deal with an issue that is so important and which has been neglected for so long in a half-hearted way. We have to do it in a comprehensive way, with the voices of those people who are affected, who say that this legislation in fact still allows the minister to strike down first nations laws regarding matrimonial interests. This legislation neglects to consider the welfare of children. This legislation, which has been a priority for first nations women since 1985, however, puts the value or the importance, the priority of individual rights ahead of collective rights, which is so paramount to how we deal with issues pertaining to first nations communities on reserves.
We need to send it back. We need to rewrite the bill. If we do it at committee, great. There is no problem with that. However, we cannot also neglect the social and economic context in which we find ourselves today.
I know that others in this House have said that yes, they know about all those problems with housing, water, health, child welfare, suicide, but they cannot all be dealt with in this piece of legislation. Then I ask, when can we deal with them? When will this government finally deal with the neglect in its own areas of jurisdiction, like child welfare on reserves? Why does it not act when there are independent reports such as Judge Guy's in Manitoba as a result of teenage suicides on reserves? Why does it not act after hearing from the Auditor General repeatedly, as we just heard this past week, about the situation with respect to aboriginal children and teenagers on reserves?
The evidence is in. There is a connection between neglect of people and worth of an individual, an entitlement to property when a family is in trouble or a marriage breaks down. There are connections to be made.
We all know that marriages sometimes break down because of socio-economic issues. Are we in this place not interested in trying to protect and preserve the family and the institution of marriage? Are we not interested in providing for equal access to property upon a dissolution of a marriage, which means looking at the inadequacy of the resources on the reserve in the first place?
What is the point of dividing up property and suggesting that one person in that marriage should leave the matrimonial home and find on the reserve another home that does not exist? What is the point in acting if we cannot find a way to deal with the violence against women which seems to be no longer on the government's agenda? What about the missing women and stolen sisters in this land? Did we not learn anything this past weekend when women marched in the streets of cities right across the country about the absence of programs to help missing women and to respond to situations facing women in domestic disputes?
In Winnipeg alone, women were marching the streets, responding to messages from people like Bev Jacobs of the Native Women's Association of Canada, from Gloria Enns, who is with the Dufferin Avenue women's drop-in, from Kim Pate, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, and from Jackie Traverse, who is an artist and part of the whole movement to address the situation of missing women. Where is the government? Where is the response?
Is that not important in terms of matrimonial property and division of assets? Is it not important to look at the situation facing women and children?
As we speak, a campaign is being organized around the whole question of family violence in aboriginal communities. It is called the Awareness Campaign Against Family Violence. It flows from the recent documentation of the Auditor General and other reports showing in fact that the underfunding of services is an important issue when we are dealing with the issues before us today. They talk about the existence of a discriminatory bias that aboriginal families are undergoing whereby an alarming rate of children are apprehended to be placed in non-aboriginal families everywhere in this country. We learn that the quasi total amount allocated by the government in Ottawa for child care and family services is directed to child placements. Crumbs are allocated to prevention.
We cannot simply carve off a piece of the issues at hand and say we are going to fix this without even consulting or including the advice of those affected.
We have two problems with the bill that have to be fixed at committee. One, the bill on its own in terms of the division of matrimonial property on reserves is flawed. Two, the government's approach is flawed when it comes to dealing with the situation facing aboriginal people on reserves.
The government has failed to live up to the responsibilities under the Constitution for which it has responsibility. It is in dereliction of duty when it comes to responding to issues facing children and teenagers on reserves. It is in dereliction of duty when it comes to responding to violence facing women on reserves. The government has shown dereliction of duty in terms of its commitment to ensure proper health and social services for all people within its jurisdiction. There is no shortage of material to make this case.
Mr. Speaker, you will know that I have tried to seek consent from you to have an emergency debate on the question of adequate protection for aboriginal children on reserves. That flowed from the fact that the discrepancy between what the provincial government in Manitoba pays for children in welfare off reserve is so much richer, appropriate and responsible in comparison to the allocation of resources provided by the federal government for children on reserve, children in trouble on reserve, which is under the federal government's jurisdiction.
When will the government actually live up to its responsibilities and take seriously the needs of aboriginal people? That is the real question of the hour, because kids are dying. Suicides are happening every day. We only have to refer to what is happening in Shamattawa, Manitoba, and see the number of suicides that are mounting each and every day.
This is the opportunity when we can address the issues facing women, children and families on reserves, to give them the right to be treated as equal citizens in this country, to be given respect and to be treated with dignity and equality.