Statement made on 29 June 2010 by Senator Joan Fraser
Hon. Joan Fraser:
Honourable senators, the matter of matrimonial rights on First Nations reserves is surely one of the most difficult that ever comes before Parliament. It has had to come before Parliament too many times because we try and we fail to get it right.
Honourable senators, a few years ago, when Senator Andreychuk was Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, I was a member and participated in a study of this incredibly difficult issue. The testimony we heard only confirmed the extraordinary complexity of what is at stake. Among other things, there are Aboriginal identity; Aboriginal rights in the lay sense, but also Aboriginal constitutional rights; and, also, women's rights.
Like many honourable senators, I feel strong loyalty to the notion that this chamber has a duty to uphold the rights of minorities and disadvantaged groups, including Aboriginal peoples and women. Therein lies the difficulty. It would be so easy to say that we will just do it this way and this one group will win and the other group will have to lump it. It does not work that way in a responsible Parliament. Thus, we come back to this issue again and again; and it is agonizing each time.
No one, not only in Parliament but in Canada, has a greater right to speak to these issues than Senator Lovelace Nicholas.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Senator Fraser: Senator Lovelace Nicholas spoke so movingly yesterday. It is to her that the rest of the country owes its awareness of these terrible questions for the battle that she fought when she must have been very lonely a great deal of the time many years ago. I suspect that then she could hardly have believed that she would be still fighting that battle here today.
When Senator Lovelace Nicholas, of all people, rises to speak against this bill, I suggest that this requires more than ordinary consideration from the rest of us. She knows of what she speaks. She has lived it. Although I did not participate in the committee's current study of Bill S-4, I gather that many members of the committee felt, at the very least, conflicted as they listened to the testimony from Aboriginal peoples about the impact of this proposed legislation.
It is because these matters are so important and go directly to the core of what we believe we are here to do as senators that I am surprised it should not be deemed appropriate to continue debate on this bill. I do not know what the perceived rush is. If we were to pass this bill tonight, nothing would change because this is a Senate government bill and the House of Commons is not sitting. It would simply languish all summer long.
Why should we do that? Honourable senators, at least let us recall that the Senate will continue to sit through next week and quite possibly subsequent days. There is time for more debate on Bill S-4. The one thing I know about matrimonial property rights on reserves is that we should understand what we are doing and it is not easy to understand what we are doing because these matters are so complex. I do not understand why anyone should feel compelled to rush to judgment on a bill as important as this one.
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