Update of Bill S-3
Posted on June 30, 2017
In August, 2015, Quebec Superior Court Justice Chantal Masse found that some of the sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and ordered the government to make the necessary changes. The result is Bill S-3. The Court provided the government with a deadline of February 3, 2017 to amend the Indian Act. The government applied for an extension and the Court provided an extension to July 3, 2017.
The Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs has been studying Bill S-3. The Senate Standing Committee has heard from First Nations, Indigenous and women’s advocacy organizations, Indigenous women and legal experts during their initial study of the Bill. The Senate Standing Committee agreed with the consensus opinion that the governments Bill falls short of eliminating gender discrimination in the Indian Act.
Senator Marilou McPhedron introduced an amendment to Bill S-3 that would eliminate any remaining distinctions between the descendants of status Indians, regardless of gender, going back to the 1800s. The Standing Committee presented their report with the amendment on May 30, 2017. The Bill received Third Reading, passed by the Senate on June 1, 2017, is currently before the House of Commons, and has received First Reading.
The Indigenous Affairs Minister is asking MPs to pass Bill S-3 but to first take out the Senate amendment. She promised that if Bill S-3 is passed into law by a court-ordered deadline of July 3 to make changes to the Indian Act, she would engage in a second phase of consultation to determine what to do about the remaining discrimination in the document. Among other things, the act makes it easier for some men, than for some women, to pass their Indian status and the associated rights and benefits on to their descendants.
The government has studies that it says show that between 80,000 and two million new status Indians could be created if the amendment were allowed to stand, although it acknowledges that the estimate is based on poor quality data and the range is so large as to be meaningless.
Minister Bennett argues that increasing the number of status Indians could put enormous strain on First Nations communities, which could suddenly experience an influx of new members. For that reason, she said, it is imperative that the government consult with chiefs before going further than the court has ordered.
Minister Bennett told the committee that she has not ruled out making the sort of changes proposed by the amendment, but she wants first to do far more extensive research and consultation. Minister Bennett has asked the committee to pass the bill quickly to meet a court ordered deadline of July 3, with a promise that the government will then embark on a second phase of cleaning up the Indian Act.