AFN National Chief "Deeply Disappointed" that Flawed Legislation on Matrimonial Real Property (Bill C-8) May Proceed



    OTTAWA, May 15 /CNW Telbec/ - Assembly of First Nations National Chief
Phil Fontaine expressed his deep disappointment today that a motion to "hoist"
Bill C-8 did not receive wide support in the House of Commons.
    "I am deeply disappointed that, in spite of a motion by the Liberal Party
to hoist Bill C-8, the other parties did not use this opportunity to reject
this deeply flawed legislation," National Chief Fontaine said. "This is not
about partisan politics. This is about doing the right thing for First Nations
families. This is about our human rights."
    Bill C-8 deals with the division of matrimonial real property (MRP)
on-reserve when relationships break down. "Hoisting" the Bill would take it
off the parliamentary agenda. In its place the Federal government should
enable First Nations to build the capacity to properly develop a meaningful
process and alternate approach that respects First Nations jurisdiction and
existing First Nations processes respecting MRP.
    Bill C-8 has received strong opposition from First Nations, including the
Native Women's Association of Canada, the AFN Women's Council and First
Nations across the country. The Bill itself also runs contrary to the
recommendations provided by the Minister of Indian Affairs' own appointed
Ministerial Representative on MRP, Wendy Grant John, who held nation-wide
consultations with First Nations women and concluded that unilateral imposed
federal legislation is not the answer.
    AFN Women's Council Chair Kathleen McHugh stated, "Bill C-8 does not
work. All Bill C-8 does is force families into provincial courts. This is not
a solution. For many families it is unaffordable and it will also force
families in remote communities to endure long waiting periods before their
case can be heard, if they can even make it to a court."
    Bill C-8 has serious flaws and could be subject to legal challenges
because the government did not meet its duty to consult and the bill itself
infringes on First Nations rights. The National Chief stated that First
Nations and all those who support First Nations families and First Nations
rights should be working to ensure the Bill does not become law.
    "Our people did not create this problem," said the National Chief. "The
federal government created this problem by imposing the Indian Act on First
Nations. The solution is not to impose more flawed legislation on First
Nations, but to work with us in partnership on real solutions that protect
First Nations families and respect First Nations rights. This legislation and
its approach runs contrary to the commitment of the Government and
parliamentarians to the spirit and intent of the June 11, 2008 apology to
First Nations for the Indian residential school policy. This Bill is nothing
short of continued imposition and paternalism. A number of First Nations have
already developed approaches to MRP that are fully supported by their
communities. This is the way to go. We need capacity within our communities to
deal with this important matter. It is unfortunate we may have to use our
energies to fight bad legislation instead of using it to work together on real
solutions."

    The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing
First Nations citizens in Canada.

    Getting Real on Matrimonial Real Property
    -----------------------------------------

    Myth: There are no laws to divide matrimonial property on reserve when a
    marriage breaks down.

    FACT: First Nations have traditional laws and practices dealing with
Matrimonial Real Property (MRP) which balance the rights of women, children
and men, but the Federal government refuses to recognize these legitimate
approaches resulting in what the Federal government has called a "legislative
gap."
    In fact a number of First Nations have already taken steps to address
this issue and have created domestic laws and policies that address MRP. In
other instances First Nations have restored traditional laws and practices. In
many cases First Nations are ahead of the government on this work.
    It is worth noting that First Nations did not cause this situation.
Historically, MRP issues arose after the federal government upset First Nation
laws and practices by imposing the Indian Act which upset the traditional
balance of power and rights of men, women and children. Now the government is
repeating its mistake by trying to impose more ill-conceived rules and laws
for First Nations. Solutions must be made democratically by First Nations
people, based on their cultures and social realities (such as poverty and
housing shortages), or they will not work. This is already happening in a
number of First Nations communities and these efforts must be recognized and
supported for they are the way forward.

    Myth: Bill C-8 provides an immediate and effective solution to the issue
    of Matrimonial Real Property.

    FACT: Bill C-8 does not provide First Nations communities, women,
families or governments any ability or capacity to develop, implement and
enforce an MRP regime.
    Bill C-8 will instead force families into provincial courts. This is not
a solution. It will be unaffordable for many First Nations families, and will
also force families in remote communities to endure long waiting periods
before their case can be heard. Furthermore, Bill C-8 will put women who are
experiencing family violence at further risk by forcing them to wait long
periods for justice without adequate social supports, services or shelters.
    The Bill does not address the social realities that exist in many
communities such as overcrowding and multiple-family homes. Across Canada
there is an urgent need for 87,000 new housing units on-reserve. Overcrowding
persists because investments in First Nations housing fall short of the need.
    Access to justice for First Nation families must be improved, through
non-legislative measures such as local dispute resolution processes. The
urgent need for housing, counseling services and emergency shelters on reserve
must also be addressed.
    The resolution of MRP matters requires collaborative efforts between the
federal government and First Nations. Solutions must address the root causes
of the poor socio-economic conditions faced by First Nations couples that
contribute to MRP issues.

    Myth: MRP is a common reason First Nations women are forced out of their
    homes and communities.

    FACT: The Conservative government has taken the approach that MRP is
purely about First Nations women. The fact is that MRP issues affect all First
Nations citizens. This is about First Nations families.
    Bill C-8 does not address the most common reason First Nations citizens
are forced from their communities. The Indian Act continues to discriminate
against First Nations women and their children - boys and girls - by removing
their Indian status and their ability to pass status onto their children. As a
result, thousands of First Nations citizens do not have the legal right to
possess property on a reserve, vote in band elections or otherwise participate
in community decision-making.
    The federal government has full control over Indian Status.
    The Assembly of First Nations and First Nations chiefs have long
supported the issue of restoring status to women. Chiefs have passed at least
3 national resolutions calling on government to immediately address this
issue. The AFN has developed policy and legislative options to end
discrimination against First Nations women and to return jurisdiction over
First Nation citizenship and status to its rightful place: First Nation
governments.
    Recently a First Nations woman in B.C., Sharon McIvor, challenged this
discriminatory clause in the courts. The federal government chose to engage in
a long court battle to protect the discriminatory clause rather than working
with First Nations leadership to resolve the issue.

    Myth: The division of MRP is an issue that affects only women.

    FACT: The division of Matrimonial Real Property (MRP) upon marital
breakdown is not an issue that pertains only to women. The division of MRP
affects the whole community, including women, men, boys and girls. MRP is
first and foremost about First Nations families.

    Myth: First Nations women support Bill C-8.

    FACT: There has been no effort by the federal government to help First
Nations women or families understand this legislation. Bill C-8 does not
reflect the input of First Nations women and is not consistent with the
position of First Nations women as articulated in reports by the Native
Women's Association of Canada, the AFN's Women's Council, the AFN and the
Minister of Indian Affairs' own Ministerial Representative on MRP, none of
whom spoke in support of the approach defined in Bill C-8.

    Myth: The AFN, First Nations leadership and First Nations women were
    consulted and had input into the development of Bill C-8.

    FACT: The federal government did not fulfill its duty to consult and
accommodate the views of First Nations.

    The Minister of Indian Affairs appointed a Ministerial Representative to
oversee and review consultations with First Nations. The Ministerial
Representative prepared a final report with options to deal with the issue.
Bill C-8 ignores the recommendations of the Ministerial Representative.
    The AFN submitted a report to the federal government entitled Reconciling
First Nations and Crown Jurisdiction Over MRP On Reserves and Addressing
Immediate Needs of First Nations Families. That report set out a process for
real engagement that would result in First Nations-driven solutions. The
government ignored these recommendations and drafted the current, flawed MRP
legislation.

    Myth: The MRP Bill allows First Nations to develop their own community-
    specific laws.

    FACT: The proposed legislation sets up federal laws that will be imposed
on First Nations. First Nations laws on MRP would have to be confirmed
according to a government-defined bureaucratic process before they can be
enacted.
    Existing MRP laws, which have already been approved by First Nations
communities (and, in some instances, INAC) would also be subject to this
process. This means existing laws could be struck down and replaced with
federal laws against the wishes of First Nations citizens. This is not
democratic and is inconsistent with the values of First Nations and Canadians.
    It is unlikely that the strict parameters imposed on First Nations will
allow communities to create solutions that reflect their traditional laws,
cultures and realities (including realities such as geographic remoteness,
lack of access to the court system, inability to afford lawyers, overcrowding
and multiple family homes and a lack of emergency shelters).
    Far from enabling First Nations to develop MRP solutions, the legislation
diminishes and undermines First Nations authority and infringes on First
Nations' right to self-government.

    Myth: First Nations do not want to solve MRP issues.

    FACT: We do, and we are already working on solutions. It is the inherent
right of First Nations governments to develop solutions that are arrived at
democratically based on full discussion with all the citizens of their
community. These are the only solutions that will work for First Nations
communities. This will ensure that solutions are consistent with community
perspectives and traditions and, moreover, that they directly address the
needs of the community.
    First Nations are working to restore the equal balance of power and
rights that existed for men and women prior to the imposition of the Indian
Act.
    The federal government must not repeat the mistake - made so many times
in our shared history - of dictating and imposing ill-conceived approaches on
First Nations citizens. First Nations have the right and the authority to
develop their own solutions to these matters.

    Myth: "Bill C-8 is part of a much larger strategy to improve the quality
    of life experienced by residents of First Nations communities. This
    strategy involved working in collaboration with first nations
    organizations and other willing partners to identify and attack the root
    causes of injustice and inequality." (Minister Strahl May 11, 2009)

    FACT: Both the process and substance of Bill C-8 violates the UN
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It also violates best
practices and the highest standards of human rights which Canada claims to
support. Despite the government's assertions that they have "consulted" First
Nations, they have ignored our recommendations, our views on this Bill and
once again they have imposed their will on us. This not only contrary to the
spirit and sincerity of the June 11, 2009 Government of Canada Apology, it is
contrary to the principles of "free, prior and informed consent" which is the
cornerstone of meaningful partnership and mutual respect.
    Article 3 of the UN Declaration acknowledges the right of
self-determination of Indigenous peoples. Article 4 states that "Indigenous
peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to
autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local
affairs..." In addition, article 5 provides that "Indigenous Peoples have the
right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic,
social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate
fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life
of the State." Bill C-8 not only violates our right to self-determination, it
weakens our internationally and constitutionally recognized human rights as
Indigenous peoples.
    In the end, the unilateral approach in drafting this Bill violates
article 18 of the UN Declaration: "Indigenous peoples have the right to
participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights,
through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own
procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous
decision-making institutions". This Bill was not drafted in full consultation
with First Nations and First Nation women and does not reflect our realities
or perspectives. It does not address our needs despite the claims of the
Government to the contrary.




For further information:

For further information: Karyn Pugliese, Health Communications, (613)
292-1877, kpugliese@afn.ca


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