After a Quebec judge refused to give parliament more time to pass a bill to fix sex-based inequities in registration, another judge prevented Monday a complete shut-down of the process — for now
by Marie-Danielle Smith, National Post, July 4, 2017
OTTAWA — The Liberal government has prevented — or at least delayed — a complete shutdown of the Indian status registration system via a last-minute effort.
A Quebec judge decided last week not to give parliament more time to pass an already-overdue law fixing sex-based inequities in the registration system. The rules, found to be unconstitutional, were to be struck down this week.
To avoid a complete suspension of registration — not just for people facing some kind of discrimination, but for every Indigenous person — the government launched a Hail Mary at an appeal court judge on Monday, the day before the rules would have been struck down. Justice Nicholas Kasirer decided a panel of judges should hear arguments from both sides Aug. 9.
This is a “safeguard order,” according to David Schulze, the lawyer for plaintiffs in the original Descheneaux court case, meaning the status quo remains in place until the arguments are heard.
The initial court decision two years ago mandated the government to address specific sex-based inequities in status registration under the Indian Act, but, in an unusual judgment, encouraged the government to go further than addressing plaintiffs’ specific issues.
The bill proposed by the Liberal government, S-3, has faced delays at every step. An original version last fall was decried by the Senate Aboriginal peoples committee and the government was forced to seek an initial extension early this year.
The newer version of the bill wasn’t acceptable to senators either, so they amended it in such a way that status eligibility would be extended to a wider group of individuals who may have faced difficulty registering because of past discrimination against women. It was the same change Liberal MPs had voted for in 2010, when the Harper government was making its own legislative fixes. (The amendment did not then make it into law.)
The government argues, however, it would need to conduct further consultation before undertaking such a move. Carolyn Bennett, the Indigenous affairs minister, said there would be a “phase two” response to the Descheneaux court case, including more substantial reforms to the Indian Act.
But the Senate was ready to put up a fight, and when the government struck down the Senate amendment at the end of the spring sitting, senators decided to put off a resolution until the fall, figuring an extension would be granted.
Whether or not that happens in August, the impasse between the Commons and Senate won’t be addressed until at least the latter half of September, when both chambers return from their summer break.
Bennett’s office called the deferral of an appeal decision an “extension” in a statement to the National Post Tuesday. “This extension means the thousands of people who apply each month for status can continue to be accepted,” said press secretary Sabrina Williams.
The government is putting the onus on the Senate for not rubber-stamping its version of the bill. The court ruling “will continue to have to wait until the Senate passes Bill S-3,” Williams said.
“The government remains committed to passing legislation expeditiously to both comply with the court and so the government can move on the important work of further reforms to the outdated Indian Act.”