The British Columbia Court of Appeal granted the federal government a three-month extension to implement Bill C-3, an amendment to the Indian Act, on April 1 after the court deemed the bill discriminatory as a result of the McIvor v. Canada ruling.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) now has until July 5 to amend the Indian Act in terms of gender equity so that it no longer violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms as was proven in the McIvor ruling.
Bill C-3, the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act, was brought about to ensure that eligible grandchildren of women who lost status as a result of marrying non-Indian men will become entitled to register for status under the Indian Act.
According to Ellen Gabriel, President of Quebec Native Women Inc, the proposal for the three-month extension was partly the group’s suggestion because the government was so far behind on producing the bill. According to her, they only began their public engagement sessions last September.
“All they did was say how they would deal with the judgment against them and how far they would go. They said they were going to go back to 1951 so that it will cover the grandchildren,” said Gabriel, who is dissatisfied with the government’s progress so far. While she agrees the extension is a good idea, she is wary since parliament does not usually sit until July.
While she said that parliament is currently still hearing witnesses in the process of creating the bill, this is still dissatisfactory as the government has once again failed to do proper consultation.
While granting status to those who have not previously had it is still a step forward, she sees it as one small baby step because the legislation within the bill leaves out a tremendous amount.
“The government did talk about having parallel discussions. It said membership codes would be included in the bill as well as the issue of land and the issue of services, and an increase of funding would be addressed but none of those are in the legislation. The legislation only deals with specific issues. These related topics are missing. They say they are going to have parallel discussions but only with national Aboriginal organizations,” said Gabriel.
In terms of the engagement sessions, Gabriel believes the government is “sidestepping,” the issue in that they are using them to put forth their position but nothing more.
While there will be many who will gain status if and when the bill passes, Gabriel said she feels C-3 will fall short because being Indigenous is not something that can be dictated by a government card. For her, Native identity comes from language, customs and spirituality which for many are closely linked to the land. None of these issues are being addressed by the legislation.
“The thing we are concerned about as an Indigenous women’s group is that the issue is not going to be addressed in the legislation, so in the meantime fix the inequalities. It is not going to fix the gender inequity because even within membership codes you have to be married to someone from the reserve. If the husband is not from the reserve, the children cannot live and reside there and sometimes not even get services,” said Gabriel.
While some individuals may gain minimally from Bill C-3, what Gabriel thinks is really missing from the bill is a guarantee of services and a guarantee of gender equality but doing so would most likely cost the government significantly more annually. As it stands, Aboriginal Canadians living on reserves receive significantly less funding than nearby municipalities that are non-Native. Gabriel thinks money could be at the heart of this issue. She believes it is evident the government is not looking to spend more than they already are spending.
“My answer is to get rid of the Indian Act and land claims, allow us to have access to our lands and resources and then we can be more self-sufficient and not have to rely on the government. We don’t want handouts. We want to be as self-sufficient as anybody,” said Gabriel. She also acknowledged that this scenario is unlikely.
In her opinion, Gabriel does not see Bill C-3 as having an enormous impact. Though many will gain status, it is hard to say whether the band councils that these people belong to will actually accept them.