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This article was published 19/8/2017 (785 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Manitoba senators have clinched a legal victory in their dramatic standoff with the federal Liberals, after a scathing court ruling Friday slammed Ottawa’s delays in fixing sex discrimination in the Indian Act.
A Quebec judge has given the government until Dec. 22 to pass Bill S-3, which would restore Indian Act status and benefits to some women who married non-First Nation men, as well as their descendants.
In granting a second extension, the judge ordered Ottawa to move quickly when Parliament sits next month, more than two years after a court ruled the act unconstitutional.
"The delays incurred to date... certainly exceed what can be deemed as reasonable," the ruling reads. "The time for Parliament to act is now ending."
The bill has moved slowly as senators, led by Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran, pushed to have it include more people.
"It is heartening to see some movement," McPhedran said. "Further delay in eliminating discrimination makes all of us complicit in these human rights violations."
The federal Liberals tabled Bill S-3 in November 2016, after an August 2015 court case found the policy violated charter rights. The original legislation would fix the lineage provisions of the Indian Act for those who lost their status from 1951 onward, and their descendants.
But McPhedran amended the bill last month to apply to cases dating to 1876, as First Nations activists have long demanded. The government stripped that amendment, saying it would lead to a sudden onslaught of people registering with First Nations groups.
Instead, the Liberals said they wanted to first offer status to roughly 35,000 Canadians under the 1951 law, and then lead a consultation process to find ways to fix earlier cases. Indigenous groups have expressed cynicism over the proposal, noting the issue’s faced multiple court cases over at least four decades.
"The government somehow thinks it makes sense to consult on whether or not Canada should continue to be in violation of international human rights law and the Constitution," McPhedran said.
The Liberals stripped McPhedran’s amendment this spring, which senators threatened to bring back through procedural moves last used in the 1940s. On the last day before Parliament’s summer break, the government suddenly took Bill S-3 off the Senate’s agenda.
Since then, multiple senators have voiced support for the amendment, and McPhedran says that includes all five who represent Manitoba.
McPhedran noted Friday’s ruling didn’t paint the dispute as an impasse, as previous judges have done.
"They are not only urging that Parliament make this a priority... they are expressing good faith that Parliament will do so."
The Senate sits for 12 weeks before rising Dec. 22 for the winter break.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said her government welcomes the extension, because it would have otherwise stopped the Indian registrar from issuing status cards.
"The government remains committed to passing legislation expeditiously," wrote her spokeswoman, Sabrina Williams.
But Saskatchewan Sen. Lillian Dyck blames the delay on bureaucrats. She noted Friday’s court ruling said children born without Indian status are missing out on benefits such as dental coverage, or support for pursuing post-secondary education.
"This is a black-and-white issue," said Dyck, who is Indigenous. "(Senators) are supposed to be defending the rights of minorities and people who are vulnerable, and who’s more vulnerable than Aboriginal women and children?"
The Free Press reported last week Ottawa has commissioned a demographer to probe how multiple versions of the bill would play out — including McPhedran’s amendment. It would also explain how many Manitobans could be eligible for Indian status. But Dyck said bureaucrats should have done that years ago.
"They’ve bungled this whole thing for so long," she said. "They have to get it right this time, or they’re going to look like they’ve totally messed up."
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"