In anticipation of Canada’s sixth periodic review by the United Nations Human Rights Committee from July 7-8, representatives from Canadian civil society organizations gave statements before the Committee this morning in Geneva.

Sharon McIvor spoke on behalf of FAFIA.

Read the full statement below.

Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action

Statement for Formal Meeting with United Nations Human Rights Committee, July 6, 2015

Sharon McIvor

My name is Sharon McIvor. I am a First Nations woman and a member of the Lower Nicola Indian Band. I speak today on behalf of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action or FAFIA, which is an alliance of more than sixty women’s organizations.

During the period under review, women in Canada have moved dramatically backwards. Today we have chosen to highlight two issues: murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women and girls; and sex discrimination in the Indian Act.

Murders and Disappearances of Aboriginal Women and Girls

Violence against Aboriginal women and girls is extreme. 2,000 murders and disappearances over 20 years have been documented.

FAFIA and the Native Women’s Association of Canada requested investigations of this crisis by the Inter‑American Commission on Human Rights and the CEDAW Committee. These bodies issued their reports in 2015. Both found that Canada is failing to fulfill its obligations to address the violence. The CEDAW Committee found that Canada’s failures amount to grave violations of human rights. Both bodies noted the systemic failures of the police and justice system to respond adequately.

They also concluded that the root causes of the violence lie in Canada’s history of colonization and in Aboriginal women’s social and economic marginalization. They concluded that the murders cannot be prevented, unless Aboriginal women fully enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights.

Canada’s response is piecemeal, unco‑ordinated and insufficient to alter the pattern of violence. Both the IACHR and CEDAW made extensive recommendations to Canada, including that Canada call a national inquiry in order to develop a co-ordinated national action plan.

But Canada refuses, and the rights of Aboriginal women continue to be violated. 

Indian Act Sex Discrimination

In 2010 Parliament passed Bill C-3 in response to court decisions ruling that the 1985 Indian Act was discriminatory. Bill C-3 improved the situation of some, but it also carried forward the bulk of the sex discrimination.

Aboriginal women and their descendants who were victims of sex discrimination under former versions of the Indian Act are assigned to inferior categories of status. Women who were penalized by the infamous “marrying out” rule, which this Committee dealt with in the 1981 Lovelace case, can never have full Indian status. [1], [2]

Furthermore, under Bill C-3 some groups are still categorically excluded from eligibility for status, based solely on the ground of sex. [3]

During the Bill C‑3 legislative process, the Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs acknowledged that Bill C-3 does not deal with all the sex discrimination in the Indian Act.[4], [5]

The 2015 decisions of the IACHR and the CEDAW Committee also found that the Indian Act continues to discriminate based on sex.[6] [7]

Aboriginal Women’s Equality Rights Cannot be Consulted Away

There are many things that Canada should consult Aboriginal communities about. Continued Indian Act sex discrimination is not one of them. The right to be free from legislated discrimination by Canada is a non-negotiable right of Aboriginal women.

Aboriginal communities call for the complete removal of sex discrimination from the Indian Act.[8]



[1] Full status under the Indian Act is “6(1)(a)”. Consigning women to the inferior “s. 6(1)(c)” status category devalues them. That is an extremely serious harm, and FAFIA says, a violation of the Covenant, in itself. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights explained in its 2014 decision, “the presence of this intermediate status classification can rise to the level of cultural and spiritual violence, since it creates a perception that certain subsets of indigenous women are less purely indigenous than those with ‘full’ status.” It can have “severe negative social and psychological effects on the woman in question, even aside from the consequences for a woman’s descendants.”

[2] The current scheme grants non-transmissible s. 6(2) status to the grandchildren born prior to April 17, 1985, whose grandmothers are Aboriginal women who married non-status men and bore children who married non-status partners. In contrast, grandchildren born prior to April 17, 1985, to status men who married non-status women and whose children married out are eligible for full 6(1)(a) status.

[3] The excluded groups are: 1) Aboriginal grandchildren born prior to September 4, 1951, who are descendants of status women who married non-status men, (comparable grandchildren of status men are eligible for status);

2) Aboriginal grandchildren, born prior to April 17, 1985, to status women who parented in common-law unions with non-status men (comparable grandchildren of status men are eligible for status); and

3) Aboriginal female children of male Indians, born prior to April 17, 1985, referred to in the legislation as “illegitimate” (in contrast, male “illegitimate” children of status men are eligible for status).

[4] OBSERVATIONS to the Sixth Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights (Bill C-3) December 7, 2010

[5] Sandra Lovelace, who is now a Senator, said:

where is the equality and justice for …Aboriginal women? … I apologize to my people and their descendants that the Government of Canada will let Bill C-3 pass without amendments. As far as I can remember … all Aboriginal women and their issues are always at the bottom of the totem pole.

[6] The IACHR found that:

  • in addressing only particular subsets of indigenous women who face discrimination, the Indian Act as amended by Bill C-3 fails to fully address remaining concerns about gender equality
  • historical Indian Act sex discrimination is a root cause of high levels of violence against indigenous women and the existing vulnerabilities that make indigenous women more susceptible to violence; and
  • addressing violence against women is not sufficient unless the underlying factors of discrimination that originate and exacerbate the violence are also comprehensively addressed.

[7] The CEDAW Committee found that the Indian Act discriminates based on sex, and recommended that:

Canada amend the Indian Act to eliminate discrimination against women with respect to the transmission of Indian status and in particular to ensure that Aboriginal women enjoy the same rights as men to transmit status to children and grandchildren….

[8] FAFIA recommends that:

Canada establish a national inquiry on murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women in order to develop a coordinated national action plan that will fully implement the CEDAW Committee’s recommendations.

Canada remove all sex discrimination from the Indian Act.