UN rules that Canada's Indian Act discriminates against women.
Last updated 4/5/2019 at 2:14pm
VANCOUVER, B.C.—In a decision released January 14, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that Canada discriminates 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. This long-standing discrimination affects First Nations women’s entitlement to status, their right to transmit status, and their equality with First Nations men.
The Committee ruled 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 UN Human Rights Committee 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.”
In December 2017, the Parliamentary Budget Officer 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.”