UPDATE: Canada’s federal government has brought the outstanding provisions of Bill S-3 into force, as of Aug. 15, 2019. This means the long standing sex discrimination in the Indian Act is finally resolved.
“We suffered with a loss of identity, which, combined with the racism in White communities, further harmed our self-identity. That’s why this UN ruling is so important and so historic.”: Senator Lillian Eva Dyck.
© Lynn Gehl, Ph.D
It was during a 2005 protest organized by then Native Women’s Association of Canada President Beverly Jacobs and then Quebec Native Women’s Association President Ellen Gabriel when I first met Senator Lillian Eva Dyck.
As many know Bill S-3 An Act to Eliminate the Sex Discrimination in the Indian Act was brought into law on December 12, 2017. However, important clauses regarding what has become known as “6(1)a All the Way!” while added to the Indian Act were not proclaimed as law, rather they were “delayed”. The Upper Chamber of Canada is urging the Liberal Government to move forward on this matter.
On February 19, 2019 Senator Dyck tabled a motion in the Senate chamber urging Canada to bring into force the remaining provisions of Bill S-3. It reads and was adopted as:
“That the Senate, in light of the decision made by the United Nations Human Rights Committee of January 11, 2019, which ruled that ongoing sex-based hierarchies in the registration provisions of the Indian Act violate Canada’s international human rights obligations, urge the federal government to bring into force the remaining provisions of Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act in response to the Superior Court of Quebec decision in Descheneaux c. Canada, which would remedy the discrimination, no later than June 21, 2019.”
By fully implementing Bill S-3, all the sex discrimination against Indian women who married non-Indian men will be removed from the Indian Act. “Really, this motion is a continuation of the pivotal role that the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and the Senate played in driving the government to include provisions in Bill S-3 which will accomplish the end of the sex-based discrimination against Indian women and their descendants with regard to Indian status.”
What is more; “On January 11, 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released their ruling in response to a petition brought by Sharon McIvor and Jacob Grismer on the issue of sex-based discrimination in the registry provisions of the Indian Act, specifically the discrimination faced by descendants who traced their First Nation ancestry through the matrilineal line.” The UN ruled this constitutes discrimination “and is in contravention of Canada’s international obligations under articles 3 and 26, read in conjunction with article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” Canada had 180 days to respond and provide remedy to the petitioners.
Senator Dyck explained that “a remedy already exists in law, however, it is yet to be brought into force.” Through Bill S-3 we were able “to make significant progress to finally eliminating sex-based discrimination in the registry provisions in the Indian Act.” Through the advocacy of Indigenous women experts and the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal people, section 2.1 was added to the bill. This section removes the 1951 cut-off and it eliminates the hierarchy under section 6(1) of the Indian Act where the descendants of women are treated less than the descendants of men all born before 1985.
In tabling this motion Senator Dyck explained why June 21, 2019, was chosen as the deadline for the government to fully implement Bill S-3 and bring the “6(1)a All the Way!” clauses into force. She explained, while,
“the UN committee has a 180 day deadline, which would bring us into July, the motion is also styled to address the current parliamentary realities. The House of Commons calendar currently lists the last day of their sitting as June 21, 2019. There is enough time between then and now for the normal process of government to bring an order-in-council coming-into-force section of law into force. For instance, cabinet needs to approve the coming-into-force date of June 21, 2019, and the necessary budgetary resources need to be in place. The government is currently consulting and developing a plan on how they will fully implement Bill S-3. This consultation process concludes at the end of March 2019, and by June 12, 2019, the government has to table the report on the results of the consultation and the plan for fully implementing Bill S-3. Thus, the June 21 date in today’s motion accommodates all the steps that the government needs to take to fully implement Bill S-3.”
Senator Dyck reminds Canada that, “We should also keep in mind that no matter what the report recommends, the UN Human Rights Committee has ordered Canada to remedy the discrimination within 180 days.”
Continuing, “Some groups are worried that the UN ruling will be set aside and the appropriate provisions of Bill S-3 will not come into force any time soon. Thus, this motion is important to hold Canada to account and undertake action by June 21.”
Senator Dyck graciously offers personal testimony to why this motion is important: “As a female Cree senator, member of the Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, I feel a tremendous responsibility and a personal sense of urgency to eliminate as soon as possible the discrimination against women with regard to the status in the Indian registry.” In tabling this motion, Senator Dyck explained,
“When my mother, Eva McNab, married my dad, Yok Leen Quan, her status as an Indian was automatically revoked. My brother and I were not eligible for status until 1985, when Bill C-31 was passed by Parliament. For my mother, my brother and me, loss of status meant family ties were severed. We grew up isolated from our relatives. We did not have the option of living on Gordon’s. Our cultural knowledge was diminished. We grew up alienated from Cree culture and spirituality. We do not know our own language. We suffered with a loss of identity, which, combined with the racism in White communities, further harmed our self-identity. That’s why this UN ruling is so important and so historic.”
Senator Dyck ends with stating, “Colleagues, we are at a historic moment in this new Senate Chamber. Bill S-3, once fully implemented, will eliminate discrimination against Indian women and their descendants who were denied Indian status simply because of marriage to non-status men. I ask for your support, as was done in our previous deliberations on Bill S-3, to pass this motion unanimously in this new Senate Chamber.”
To read the entire Senate motion click here: https://sencanada.ca/en/content/sen/chamber/421/debates/269db_2019-02-28-e#91
© Lynn Gehl, Ph.D. is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. In 2017 she won an Ontario Court of Appeal case on sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Algonquin land claims process. Recently she published Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit. You can reach her through, and see more of her work, at www.lynngehl.com.