Mamidosewin (meeting place, walking together)

Debate on the motion that the Senate concur in the amendments 1 and 3 made by the House of Commons to Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration)

Debate on the motion that the Senate concur in the amendments 1 and 3 made by the House of Commons to Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration)

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: 

I’m very grateful for the long debate we’re having today and the amendment. I thank you, Senator Brazeau, for tabling that motion.

I believe it’s the first time in the 12 and a half years that I have been here that we have actually taken the time to debate a bill related to First Nations with such in-depth debate, and I’m very pleased that that is happening.

I think it’s really important not only to put on the record the good things about what’s in the amendment to Bill S-3 that Senator Harder talked about but also to point out that there are deficiencies, and I thank Senator Joyal especially for that. He’s an excellent and articulate speaker. And thank you, Senator Brazeau, for your thoughts as well.

The reality is we all want that fixed date of implementation. We all want that. I don’t think there is a single senator in this place that doesn’t want that. But we also have to face the reality that we are faced with a majority government. If they had wanted a fixed date of implementation, it would be in the bill now, so quite clearly they don’t want it, for whatever reasons. I know a number of senators have spoken personally to the minister or to various people in her office pleading for that, but it was not successful.

Your amendment is good. If we pass that amendment today, what happens? It goes back to the House of Commons. We have a majority government. They reject it. It comes back here. We haven’t really gained anything, but we have lost time. I know Senator Patterson sort of alluded to this in terms of delays.

The House of Commons is set to adjourn the second week in December. Next week is a break week. There’s not a lot of time. I don’t think the government deliberately waited to force us to make this decision as soon as possible, but I think we’re in the position now where we cannot face any more delays because there is a risk — small, I think — that if we send it back they will do more than just send it back to us as is. They could reject it. That’s why I think it’s really good that we have groups like FAFIA lobbying. I believe the debate now should move to the House of Commons, that we should lobby the House of Commons. They are an elected body and they have yet to really grapple with the ins and outs of this bill.

They have a break week next week. We send it to them. They and their staff get a chance to look at it, and it gives FAFIA and the other groups time to look at it and determine. Press them to do it. Because no matter what we do, it makes no difference. It has to pass through the House of Commons, and then it comes back to us. Anything we do here is not going to make any difference unless we get agreement with them, and we do not have that agreement with them.

I would love to have that date of implementation in there, believe me. I hold my breath. The thing is, the reporting and the consultation are not unspecified. The bill does very clearly say one year, reporting at five months, reporting at 12 months, reporting to both houses. Our committee. Our Senate. I know the Senate will not let this go. We will not forget. It’s not just me; it’s everybody here. We are so actively engaged.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Dyck: You were right Senator Joyal; we should not trust the government. We don’t trust the government. That’s why we have a Senate. We are the house of sober second thought. We stay here regardless of whether we have a Liberal government next time or not. That is one of the values of having the Senate. We have the memory.

We remembered what happened last time, in 2010, with Bill C-3. We pushed and, Senator Brazeau, at that time I tabled amendments. I tabled so many amendments when we had another government with the knowledge that they would not get passed — knowing they would not even get passed in the Senate, let alone in the House of Commons. So it’s really important that you put this forward today to remind us of what’s wrong and that we have to keep pushing because they will not accept it.

I’m very happy you have put this amendment forward because we need to know it’s not perfect and we’re not going to forget because you have reminded us and so has Senator Joyal. They have both done a wonderful job of reminding us that this bill is not perfect but that’s what life is like. In my opinion, we have moved it along to a major milestone.

I would love to have that date of implementation, but we don’t. I fear that if we tinker around now, we will lose. There is a real risk, as Senator Patterson indicated, that if we don’t meet the deadline of December 22, those people covered in the bill, such as the Descheneaux group — 35,000 people — will not get their registration. The register will be shut down.

And we used that tactic to push the government in the past. We knew the government was under pressure, and 11 months ago our committee said that we don’t think this bill has gone far enough. We suspended the study. We forced them to get an extension knowing the chances of their getting an extension was high, and they got it.

They missed the second deadline. We were surprised they managed to get a safeguard order and another extension. And it was great that you quoted from the Court of Appeal. But now there is no more extension available. This is the final deadline. We cannot use delay tactics because now all we will do is imperil the people who were trying to help.

As I said, I would love that we could have it, but I don’t think there is any way. We do not have the tools at our hands to do it. The only tools we have that are effective — and they are effective — is to be the watchdog to implement what we have now, to agree with the motion that we have. We will play the watchdog role. We will ensure that the coming into force does actually happen and that the bill is actually proclaimed.

In the past, as Senator McCoy mentioned, sometimes the proclamations don’t come into force, but that’s because people forget. None of us in this room will forget because we have engaged with this debate and, my lord — I almost swore — I am so happy that we have engaged in this debate. That’s why we’re here. All these words put forward are wonderful and we have to point out the deficiencies as well.

Senator Brazeau, you also mentioned the impact of this on your children. I was also contacted by Lynn Gehl. I responded by telling her essentially what I’m saying today but probably better because I spelled it out in logical words. When you stand up here to speak, sometimes it doesn’t come out so logically.

The FAFIA group said that I won’t be allowed to transmit my status to my grandchildren. Well, they’re not right. I will be allowed to do that. If we pass this bill I will be allowed to do that, but maybe if someone was affected by the pre-1951 date then they won’t be able to do it until, let’s say, a year or 18 months. It’s not going to linger on forever. And the three-year timeline that was brought up was to review the whole thing — to review the impact of the bill as is. At that point, we can say we thought we eliminated it all but there is this one little case here we didn’t catch.

The Indian Act is so incredibly complicated that it’s like a rat’s nest. I spent all summer going through it to figure out what was what. I am confident that the government has drafted a bill that does what it says it does. Other senators have gone through the bill with their staff. Bill S-3 will do what it says it’s going to do, but it does not have that fixed date of implementation. And there are perhaps other reasons why it isn’t in, but we just could not get that commitment. They control what happens in the House of Commons because they are the majority.

I really suggest that the pressure be put on members of Parliament by groups like FAFIA, by Pamela Palmater, Sharon McIvor, Shelagh Day and the others. They need to take action because they have the power at the moment and we do not. So I would say let us pass this motion.

Senator Brazeau, I will not support your motion today, as much as I would like to, because I want the motion as is to be passed today or as soon as possible and put it over to the House of Commons. Let’s pressure them. Let’s make them do the right thing. Let the external people work on them. We’re just not able to do what you want us to do, as much as we would all like to do it.

And that’s pretty much all that I had to say, so thank you.