I want to follow up on my question to the minister and again insist that the bill needs to go to the aboriginal affairs committee, not to the status of women committee.
Regarding the record of the status of women committee, including its recent study, “Improving Economic Prospects of Canadian Girls”, I would refer the members to the dissenting report of the Liberal Party, including the hon. member for York West. We were appalled that despite all of the evidence gathered from people such as Vivian O’Donnell and Susan Wallace, the committee refused to include any recommendations in the report, stating that it would exceed the mandate of the Minister for Status of Women. It thinks its mandate is the 40-year old written mandate for status of women committee, as though it were the responsibility of the current Minister for Status of Women.
It is clearly an issue, as my colleague from the NDP has said, for the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. Given the complexity of dealing with property and aboriginal rights, those can only be properly studied at the aboriginal affairs committee. I cannot repeat that strongly enough. It is totally inappropriate that this go to a committee not used to studying legislation, and which has, in its very last study, refused to deal with the issue of aboriginal girls and young women, stating that it is not the specific responsibility of that minister or her department.
The Liberal Party does not question the need for legislation to address the legal gaps and other problems surrounding family breakdown for first nations living on reserve.
Many national and international reports have called on Canada to address the legislative gap with regard to matrimonial real property on reserves, and a number of parliamentary committees have examined this issue.
However, the bill would not effectively deal with the problems associated with the division of matrimonial property on reserve and would fail to provide first nations with the tools to implement appropriate measures for families to resolve disputes safely and in a culturally appropriate way.
Bill S-2 would not improve gender equality for aboriginal women, as claimed by the Conservative government. Instead, it would create the potential for new open-ended interests for non-first nations individuals on reserve and would fail to address the root causes of family breakdown and domestic violence, namely the lack of housing, inadequate funding for child welfare and inadequate access to legal aid for aboriginal women.
The Liberal Party of Canada believes that all legislation, or policies concerning aboriginal peoples, requires the government to work with, nor for, aboriginal peoples, as we promised to do in the original treaty relationship and as expressed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. It commits Canada to uphold indigenous rights and ensure first nations enjoy the same quality of services and care as other Canadians. It explicitly says that there must be free, prior and informed consent on any issues dealing directly with first nations in Canada.
We also must recognize and affirm aboriginal or treaty rights as laid out in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and Canadian courts. As well, it is imperative that we provide sufficient resources so as to guarantee that aboriginal communities have the capacity to implement the legislation and our policies on which we have worked collaboratively. Unfortunately, yet again, the government has failed to meet any of these criteria in the approach to matrimonial real property on reserve. It is raining down legislation in “thou shalt” kinds of ways without the resources and the support to actually achieve the objectives of the legislation.
Yet again, consultation has been inadequate. Consultation requires both a substantive dialogue and the government to listen and, when appropriate, incorporate what it hears into its approach. Although consultations were done on MRP in general in 2006-07, consultations were not done specifically on Bill S-2, in particular prior to the introduction of the bill.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada is not confident that the legislation will solve the problems associated with matrimonial real property on reserve and has been clear that the current bill fails to address many of the recommendations repeatedly raised each time the legislation has been brought forward. NWAC held meetings with first nations women from its provincial and territorial member associations and produced several reports that included their views to address MRP. Bill S-2 still neglects most of those recommendations.
The Conservative government failed in its constitutional duty to consult the first nations when drafting this bill and did not take into consideration the serious problems identified by stakeholders when the Senate examined Bill S-4, the previous version of this bill, in the last Parliament.
The non-derogation clause in Bill S-2 does not sufficiently affirm constitutional rights to self-government, that is nothing in the act shall be construed “so as to abrogate or derogate from…aboriginal or treaty rights recognized and affirmed under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982”. This is not acceptable.
As my colleague from the New Democratic Party has said, the resources are inadequate to achieve the objectives of the bill. As I said In the letter I sent to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs a year ago August, it is completely unfair to legislate when the resources are not there to implement the objectives of any legislation.
This afternoon we will see the same thing on the water act, that “thou shalt have clean drinking water” and there are no resources to make sure it happens. This is exactly the same thing. In the objective of the bill on matrimonial real property, there are just not the resources to actually give women real choices with their families for them to remain safe in situations of violence.
Any proposed measure must be based on a holistic approach designed to address family breakdowns and domestic violence in aboriginal communities and tackle the problems of poverty, the housing shortage and the tragic legacy of the residential school survivors and their families.
In 2006, then INAC minister, Jim Prentice, announced that the nation-wide consultation on MRP reserves would take place, and appointed Wendy Grant John as the ministerial representative.
The report of the ministerial representative proposed establishing new stand-alone federal legislation that would be based on recognition of first nations jurisdiction and respect for aboriginal and treaty rights, while establishing interim federal rules that would apply until the first nation had exercised its jurisdiction and enacted its own laws on MRP. The report of the ministerial representative also noted:
|The viability and effectiveness of any legislative framework will also depend on necessary financial resources being made available for implementation of non-legislative measures…Without these kinds of supports from the federal government, matrimonial real property protections will simply not be accessible to the vast majority of First Nation people.|
At the time that report was tabled, the time we were able to see it, everybody who we spoke to said it was imperative that the government of the day not be allowed to cherry-pick this report. Yet cherry-pick the report is exactly what the government has done.
The government has not provided any additional resources to help first nation governments build the capacity needed to address the underlying issues, meet their new obligations under the bill, or allow their citizens to have access to the legal system or develop new community-specific laws regarding matrimonial real property.
The provisional federal MRP rules are based on a provincial court system and require first nations and their citizens to take on additional costs to access the court system.
In many rural and remote communities, the cost of legal access, including transportation, can be prohibitive. Yet there is also no commitment to provide funding for alternatives to the court system, like community-based dispute resolution, which would be more cost effective and culturally appropriate.
Further, Bill S-2 was tabled without a plan and without resourcing to address the myriad issues that contributed to family breakdown on reserve and the disproportionately high levels of domestic violence against women.
Witnesses who appeared before the Senate committee mentioned the chronic shortage of housing on reserve, the underfunding of child welfare and the lack of shelters and temporary housing. These are substantive issues that must be addressed as part of the federal government’s MRP approach.
The government has made no commitment to provide resources to help first nations move past the provisional federal rules and develop their own MRP code, other than to promise to create a centre of excellence, subject to further future Treasury Board approval.
The government’s approach to developing the bill has been misguided and the resulting legislation is totally inadequate.
Click here for a full transcript of the debate