Monday, October 22, 2012

It's time to abolish the Indian Act

Every once-in-a-while political parties, regardless of their position on the spectrum, propose policies that are long overdue and just make sense.

Today, the Liberal Party did exactly that by proposing the IndianAct be outright repealed.

Conservative Member of Parliament Rob Clarke introduced Bill C-428: The Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act back on June 4, 2012.  This Act proposes, in its own words
“… To require band councils to publish their by-laws and repeals certain outdated provisions of the Act.

It also requires the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs to report annually to the House of Commons committee responsible for Aboriginal affairs on the work undertaken by his or her department in collaboration with First Nations organizations and other interested parties to develop new legislation to replace the Indian Act.”

But today the Liberal Party suggested the Conservative government should go further than Clarke’s bill and repeal the Act altogether.

Bob Rae called the Indian Act “an international embarrassment” for Canada.  Some would go further to call it what it really is: Canada’s apartheid system.  A system which blatantly says certain people – depending on their race – should receive special privileges and should live distinctly separate from the rest of us.

Former Auditor General Sheila Fraser was clear in her report which stated that aboriginals were in their present position for reasons beyond their personal control: she said “structural impediments severely limit the delivery of public services to First Nations communities and hinder improvements in living conditions on reserves.”

What’s more, aboriginal reserves have become a magnet for financial abuse: creating starving, dilapidated communities which seem better suited for a third-world nation rather than Canada.  Dozens of reserve chiefs made – and continue to make – over $300,000 per year while their communities struggle to maintain dry houses and adequate schools.

It is clear that repealing the Indian Act is welcome news.

But what would we replace the existing Indian Act with?

Why not nothing?

The Indian Act was passed in 1876 and is a relic of that time.  It was a time when Europeans felt it was their duty to grant special protections to the “others” with whom they were sharing the land.  Among other affects, it creates:

·         The reserve system.  S. 18 creates reserve lands which are owned and managed by the Crown, but lent out to aboriginals while also giving them healthy, unaccountable subsidies to remain destitute on those lands.
·         Permanent reliance on government.  S. 20 states that no aboriginal ever owns his own land, unless the band’s council has specifically allotted him that land.  And under subsection 4, even if the band has allotted this land, the minister can overturn the decision.  Every Canadian should have the right to her or her own private property.
·         A lack of ambition or desire.  When aboriginal lands (er, government lands loaned to aboriginals) are located above valuable resources such as oil, their communities see none of the profit.
·         A double standard for law enforcement.  Trespassing under the Criminal Code is a summary conviction, yet the Indian Act says trespassing on a reserve is only punishable by a $50 fine or one-month jail term.
·         A dangerous black market, or no market at all.  Under s. 32, aboriginals in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta are not allowed to sell or barter cattle, animals, grain, hay, or root crops, unless the minister personally exempts them.  Yet if you travelled outside those reserves to Saskatoon, Winnipeg, or Calgary, you’d be hard-pressed to find the same laws.
·         Undue interference in private contracts.  S. 46(1) allows the minister to void all or part of a person’s will or last testament if it is “against the public interest.”  But the rest of Canada has a court system in place to try wills and estates, and they seem to usually do an okay job.
·         Unfair red tape.  An aboriginal wishing to take out a loan must submit a request to the minister, who in turn may request money from the Minister of Finance in order to make loans to aboriginals.  But at any one time, the minister is not allowed to have loaned out any more than $650,000 to all aboriginals.  Ridiculous laws like this prevent aboriginals from owning their own private property, especially important investments such as houses.

It’s time for the Indian Act to go – not just amended, but abolished.

Abolishing the Indian Act would mean Canada would no longer handle certain races separately than others.  It would, gasp, mean all Canadians are equal.

And that’s something all Canadians should agree on.