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Senate backs down from standoff over Indian Act amendment

10 Nov 17
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An amended bill that aims to rid the Indian Act of its sexist components has been accepted by the Senate despite senators’ expressed concern that the government has given no deadline for eliminating one of the most controversial areas of discrimination.

The vote at the Red Chamber on Thursday afternoon ended debate on a bill, called S-3, that was drafted over a year ago. Its passing will mean that the rules regulating the transfer of Indian status from one generation to another, which have favoured men over women for at least a century, will become gender-neutral.

The vote also finishes an odd standoff between the Senate and the House of Commons that led to an even more peculiar Senate success — of sorts.

Senators expressed serious reservations on Thursday about the fact there’s still no time frame for finishing the rule that says people fathered by standing guys before Sept. 4, 1951, can obtain status and pass it to their offspring, but standing women who married non-status men and had children before that date can’t.

In the long run, they said they would act as watchdogs to make sure the government follows through on its promise to finally take that provision out of the Indian Act.

“I know the Senate won’t let this go. We won’t forget,” Lillian Dyck, the seat of the aboriginal people’s committee, said in urging her fellow senators to support the amended bill despite their worries. “We do not trust the authorities, but that’s why we have the Senate. We’re the house of sober second thought.”

Bill S-3 was meant to deal with a Quebec court judge’s ruling that said a few parts of the Indian Act were unconstitutional and set a deadline for the government to alter them.

This deadline was extended several times as senators decided the invoice before them abandoned many sexist elements of the Indian Act untouched and refused to provide it quick acceptance.

The Senate finally passed the bill last spring, however, in a unanimous vote, amended it to strip out all the sexist elements.

The government wouldn’t take the Senate amendment, in part because it doesn’t have any real idea of how many new people would be allowed Indian status, and the corresponding benefits, if each the sexism were gone from the Indian Act. Some government estimates suggest it would raise the Indian rolls by 750,000 to 1.2 million people — even though the Northern and Native Affairs Department admits it believes those numbers are inflated.

Moreover, some First Nations thing to being asked to discuss their limited land and resources with large numbers of new members.

Hence the authorities stripped out the Senate amendment and sent a message saying it had done so.

The Senate had to accept this message to the legislation to move forward. However, senators refused to consider it.

Faced with the prospect of a protracted standoff along with a new and final deadline set by the court of Dec. 22, the government capitulated.

It created its own amendment that promised to strip the last vestiges of sexism in the Indian Act following an unspecified period of consultation with First Nations which would begin in the new year.

That uncertain timeline gave lots of senators pause.

Senator Patrick Brazeau, who once headed a national Native organization, attempted to amend the bill on Thursday to place a deadline of 18 months on these consultations.

“The authorities should justify to this room, why, in regards to the equality rights of Indigenous women, that they can’t bring themselves to inflict an end date,” stated Mr. Brazeau, explaining that he’s acting on behalf of one of his young daughters.

However, Ms. Dyck responded that she feared that the government would not really pass the bill if the Senate amended it, which could mean the deliberations goes beyond the Dec. 22 court deadline, jeopardizing the enrollment of status Indians across the nation. In the long run, the Senate agreed and reluctantly passed the amended bill.

“We all want that fixed date for execution,” Ms. Dyck said. “I feel the debate now should proceed to the House of Commons.”

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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