June 15, 2017
(Ottawa: June 15, 2017) Indigenous women are entitled to equality under s. 15 of the Charter, s. 35(4) of the Constitution, a number of international treaties that Canada has signed, and Article 44 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Leading Indigenous activist, Sharon McIvor has argued repeatedly the government cannot legitimately consult on whether she and other Indigenous women should be granted equal status with Indigenous men. Indigenous women leaders, feminist experts and women Senators are asking to meet with the Prime Minister and Minister Carolyn Bennett to ensure that the core of the sex discrimination in the Indian Act is eliminated now.
“Without the McPhedran amendment to Bill S-3 passed by the Senate on June 1st, any changes to the Indian Act do not meet the test of eliminating the sex-based inequities in the Act,” says McIvor. “The Prime Minister made it clear only yesterday when he announced at the Women Deliver Conference that ‘We all need to do more in Canada and around the world to champion the rights of women and girls.’ Why is he ignoring our calls to remove core gender discrimination in the Indian Act?”
Status and membership were divided in the 1985 Indian Act, and status, which is what is at issue here, is a relationship between individual Indigenous persons and the Government of Canada. Bands have the right to adopt their own membership codes, and can make their own decisions about who can be a member and who cannot. The effects that equal entitlement of Indian women and their descendants to s. 6(1)(a) status may have on membership and band resources can, and should be, the subject of consultation in Phase II, along with other broader issues.
In First Nations Family and Child Caring Society v. AG Canada, both the First Nations Family and Child Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations, in their submissions on remedy, state that consultation should not preclude immediate relief from discrimination. Consultation should support the implementation of human rights, not impede or delay it.
“The claim that Bill S-3 without the Senate’s amendment is Charter-compliant requires the Government of Canada to rely on a ruling that feminist legal experts have testified before the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples is wrong, and should not, in good conscience be relied upon by the Government of Canada in 2017.”
“The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that the 6(1)(a) – 6(1)(c) distinction was discriminatory, but the discrimination could be justified under s. 1 on the grounds that it was necessary to preserve the “previously acquired rights” of the male Indians and their descendants,” says McIvor, “even though extending the same rights to the women would take away nothing from the men. There is an irrefutable case to be made to resolve this outstanding discrimination now. Relying on this s. 1 argument in 2017 is not honourable for a feminist and human rights-respecting Prime Minister and government.”