Liberals & Conservatives vote together to indefinitely delay equality for Indigenous women in the Indian Act

Image from Policy Options.

On December 4, the House of Commons voted 241-46 to pass S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration). The Liberals and Conservatives backed S-3, while the NDP, Greens and Bloc Québécois voted against it.

Our allies Sharon McIvor, Pamela Palmater and Shelagh Day write, "The legislation is supposed to eliminate the long-standing discrimination against Indigenous women embedded in the Act, and to go beyond what is narrowly required by the Quebec Superior Court’s 2015 ruling in Deschenaux v. Canada. But the provisions designed to do this won’t come into force with the Bill’s passage, and there is no fixed date for their implementation. That means that, for Indigenous women and their descendants, full equality is put off again to some unknown future date."

The ruling mentioned above relates to Stéphane Descheneaux, an Odanak man who was unable to pass on his Indian status to his three daughters because his First Nations descent came from his grandmother, who lost her status when she married a non-Indigenous man. He challenged that in court and won.

But S-3 still essentially says people fathered by status men and non-status women before September 4, 1951 (when the Indian register came into effect), can obtain status and pass it to their offspring, but status women who married non-status men and had children before that date cannot.

The government has now promised to amend this provision, but it remains intact for now, and no specific deadline has been set to change it. The National Post reports, "A New Democrat amendment to impose an 18-month deadline on that effort was rejected by the House Monday."

The Globe and Mail reports, "There are now about 820,000 status Indians in Canada, according to the 2011 Census. ...The immediate effect of Bill S-3 will be to allow between 28,000 and 35,000 additional Canadians to register as status Indians. ...[But if sexism in the Act were to be removed, it could add an estimated] 800,000 to two million."

That is justice delayed for a lot of people.

McIvor, Palmater and Day write, "Discrimination against Indigenous women is as old as Canada. It is a marker that defines Canada as a colonial, patriarchal nation-state. Since 1876, the Indian Act has treated Indigenous women and their descendants as nonpersons and, more recently, as second-class 'Indians', which is the term used in the legislation. ...The bottom line is that once more Indigenous women and their descendants have been told to wait for equality. They will get it, maybe, at some point, but not now."

They also highlight, "Two investigations, by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, found that sex discrimination in the Indian Act is a root cause of the crisis of murders and disappearances, precisely because Indigenous women have been cast out of their communities and treated like marginal human beings."

The Council of Canadians joins with McIvor, Palmater, Day and all who say that Indigenous women are entitled to equality now.

We are also in solidarity with Lynn Gehl and her demand that prevents Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada from applying the assumption that unknown and unstated fathers are non-Indian as defined by the Indian Act.

Gehl writes, "The 'Gehl clauses' [in S-3] are safe. But due to Canada's refusal to eliminate all the sex discrimination through the '6(1)a All the Way' clause [the clause that would have entitled Indian women and their descendants to 6(1)(a) status on the same footing as their male counterparts] myself, and many other people who descend from Indian women once enfranchised, will continue to be discriminated against and we do not know when it will be addressed."