On October 25, 2016, the Senate tabled Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration). This Bill is Parliament’s response to a 2015 ruling by the Quebec Superior Court in Descheneaux c. Canada (Procureur général), 2015 QCCS 3555 (our previous blog posting on this decision can be found here). The Court in Descheneaux concluded that section 6 of the Indian Act violated equality rights under the Charter and called on Parliament to remove the discriminatory provisions once and for all. The text of the Bill can be found here. It is worth noting that although the Bill seeks to address the specific instances of gender discrimination identified in Descheneaux, the Bill in its current form does not address all of the provisions within section 6 of the Indian Act which give rise to differential treatment of the basis of gender.
Further, Bill S-3 does not address the concerns raised by First Nations regarding the structure of the Indian Act status regime as a whole. First Nations have vociferously opposed the antiquated Indian Act status regime and have urged Parliament to implement a system that respects principles of autonomy and self-determination. Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett stated that she is “committed to launching a second stage that will involve working with Aboriginal Peoples to take a broader look at “systemic issues” regarding registration, membership, citizenship and identity for First Nations, Metis, Inuit and non-status Indians.” In light of this statement, it appears that the introduction of Bill S-3 is the first step in what should be a much larger discussion about the fundamental question of whether the Indian Act system should be revisited in its entirety.