Recognizing and addressing the injustices, embedded racism, and deeply discriminatory aspects, of the Indian Act

On Tuesday, June 13th, 2017 in Debate, Parliament, Speeches
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Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to this bill but doubt very much that I will use a full 10-minute or 20-minute slot. I realize that debate is on the verge of collapsing. I only wish to say more than I was able to say earlier in questions and comments.

It is lamentable that we approach something as critical as the injustices, embedded racism, and deep discriminatory aspects of the Indian Act in an attempt to deal with a deadline for one court case. I think it is unfortunate that the bill began its course in the Senate and has come to us with an important amendment that is not supported by the government but which to many of us on this side of the House, and certainly I think to some others on the Liberal benches, is the only thing that makes it possible to vote for the bill. The amendments that come from the other place would ensure that all gender discriminatory aspects have been removed. It is only through the elimination of the gender discriminatory aspects that one could imagine voting, at least on this side of the House, for the legislation.

I recognize that the policy downsides for the government are the vast unknowns and how many people would then become status Indians within the meaning of the Indian Act and whether there would be knock-on effects and unintended consequences. This is a difficult place for parliamentarians to find themselves.

As we deal with this bill, I remind us all, only at second reading, normally it would be a bill on its way to committee. However, as we heard from members of the committee, particularly the member for Peace River—Westlock, they cannot say how they will vote on this bill until the committee finishes its work. Therefore, we find ourselves in a doubly, perhaps triply, awkward space.

As a parliamentarian, I try to stay on top of all my files. However, Bill S-3 is one that I find not ready for vote in this place. It is going to committee, but I very much fear that positions are already entrenched. The government does not want to approve the amendments that came forward from the Senate. Those amendments are the only things that actually eliminate all the discriminatory aspects of who can inherit the status of their parents, grandparents, and so on. It is certainly an appalling situation that we live under this act, where it is people outside of indigenous communities who decide who is indigenous and who is not. Therefore, the vast Gordian knot of Bill S-3 will not be fixed in this second reading debate tonight.

Given time pressures to get this through by July 3, I doubt very much that it can be fixed at the committee that will now study it before it comes back to this place at report stage. I just want to register, as strongly as I can, a plea that we not treat this as something to deal with using a quick fix for a specific problem but that as much as possible, we open our minds to the bigger question of how we, in 2017, 150 years from Confederation, commit to striking down the oppressive colonial discriminatory act on which South Africa’s apartheid was based. We all know this.

It is an appalling situation that our friend from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou identified. He identified that under the Indian Act, the minister could decide to nullify his personal will and bequest to his family. It is appalling that in 2017, this is still the law of the land, and we are dealing with one piece of it.

I would urge the committee if it can, and the minister and the government if they possibly can, to use this opportunity to signal that we want to get outside, beyond, and out from under this discriminatory piece of legislation. It will be way beyond the mandate of amendments to this bill to actually fix the Indian Act. I know that. However, can we make some bigger commitments to get out from under a racist and discriminatory piece of legislation before the end of the 41st Parliament? If we just push it down the road to another parliament, it will not get rid of it either. There will always be an excuse for why we are not ready.

As the member for Winnipeg Centre asked, how long does a man have to wait for justice? How long does a woman have to wait for justice? How long do first nations children have to wait for equal funding under a law, which they have already been promised? It has been far too long. When I see the calls from Idle No More for July 1 to be about unsettling, I sympathize so deeply with that and understand it, but if anything has defined the response of indigenous peoples on this continent to cultural genocide, abuse, and oppression, it is patience. It is such a deeply moving degree of tolerance and patience for the oppression from settler society.

I cannot add much to the Bill S-3 debate. I cannot vote for Bill S-3 unless it includes the amendments that the other place sent us that create a situation where there will not be gender discrimination, but it is within the fabric of a bill that is entirely about racial discrimination. Therefore, I urge us to do something better and something more with every opportunity that comes our way.

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