11) INDIAN ACT DISCRIMINATES AGAINST FIRST NATIONS WOMEN, SAYS U.N.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has ruled that Canada continues to discriminate against First Nations women and their descendants by denying them the same entitlement to full s. 6(1)(a) status under the Indian Act as First Nations men and their descendants. The Committee ruled on Jan. 14 that Canada is obligated to remove the discrimination and to ensure that all First Nations women and their descendants are granted status on the same footing as First Nations men and their descendants.
Sharon McIvor who filed the petition with the UNHRC that resulted in this ruling said, “This decision is a game-changer for First Nations women, and for Canada. If the Government of Canada fulfills its obligations and finally treats First Nations women as equals, it will be a new day for us, for our communities and for Canada. First Nations women have been fighting against this discrimination in the courts and at the UN since 1970. I hope that Canada will now bring this devastating discrimination to an end.”
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has estimated that more than 270,000 women and their descendants would be newly entitled to Indian status if 6(1)(a) status were granted to them on the same footing as Indian men and their descendants.
"This is evidence of how profound and damaging the discrimination is" said Dr. Pamela Palmater, Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. "Sex discrimination in the Indian Act has been a very effective tool of assimilation, defining First Nations women and their descendants out of the pool of status Indians to whom the Government of Canada owes recognition and benefits."
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs stated, “Canada has clung to the sex discrimination in the Indian Act despite years of struggle against it by Indigenous women and their allies, in courts, at the UN, and in Parliament when amendments were being debated. Canada admitted in 2017 that the discrimination continues, and it put provisions into Bill S-3 that would eliminate the discrimination, but it never brought those provisions into force. Canada knows how to fix the discrimination. It just needs to do it. And do it now. On September 21, 2017, Prime Minister Trudeau told the United Nations General Assembly that 'the world expects Canada to adhere strictly to international human rights standards ...and that's what we expect of ourselves too.' That is what we all expect: that Canada will live up to its human rights obligations, now. We look forward to the Government of Canada's response."
Several other speakers analyzed the UNHRC ruling at a Jan. 16 news conference hosted by the BC Union of Indian Chiefs.
Feminist lawyer Gwen Brodsky, who has done legal work on this case, said "The UN Human Rights Committee says that Canada is obligated to provide an effective and enforceable remedy. This requires Canada to make full reparations, including: 1) ensuring that Sharon McIvor, Jacob Grismer, and all others excluded by, or granted only a lesser category of status, because of the sex-based distinctions in s. 6 of the Indian Act are granted full 6(1)(a) status..."
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, Secretary-Treasurer of the UBCIC, noted that "This decision brings the Government of Canada's current consultation process into question once again. Some of the questions that Canada is consulting about, the United Nations has answered straightforwardly and clearly. All the women and their descendants who have been excluded by sex discrimination must be granted full status, including those born prior to 1951. There should be no delay in moving registration forward quickly and efficiently."
Shelagh Day, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action: "The fact that First Nations women have been treated overtly, in law, as though they are the property of men, second class, and not equal, has had the effect of marginalizing First Nations women in their own communities and in the broader society... Canada cannot improve the lives of First Nations women and girls, and reduce their risk of violence, until Canada gets rid of Indian Act sex discrimination, completely and for all time."
(From the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.)
(The above article is from the February 1-14, 2019, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)