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UN Human Rights Ruling: Sex-Based Discrimination in the Indian Act

UN Human Rights Ruling: Canada Has 180 Days to End Ongoing Sex-Based Discrimination in the Indian Act


OTTAWA, JANUARY 17, 2019—The UN Human Rights Committee has ruled that ongoing sex-based hierarchies in the Indian Act violate Canada’s international human rights obligations and discriminate against an estimated 270,000 women and their descendants.

Government efforts to address discrimination in the Indian Act, dating back to the 1980s and most recently, in 2017’s Bill S-3, are criticized as piecemeal. Indigenous women and their descendants, including Sharon McIvor, the petitioner to the UN committee, have been forced to shoulder the burden of decades of delays and have mounted legal challenges on their own, for the recognition of their rights and the rights of countless others.

“I am not in this alone,” said Ms McIvor. “There are hundreds of thousands of women and their descendants waiting for this. ... If Canada follows through as they are supposed to do and as they have committed to do, it is a game-changer for a lot of women and their descendants.”

In response to the UN decision, Dr. Pamela Palmater, Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, commented: “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. ... [This decision] means that Canada is culpable. It has knowingly and purposefully discriminated against Indigenous women and children.”

Following the UN committee’s ruling, the government has a 180-day period to provide full reparation. Indigenous women and children are still waiting for equality. The Senate of Canada moved amendments to Bill S-3 addressing these concerns, but their coming into force was delayed indefinitely by the House of Commons. Senators Pate, Boyer, Lovelace Nicholas, McCallum and McPhedran urge the government to act immediately: “The history of denial, deferral, and with Bill S-3, the delay, of rights of Indigenous women and their descendants must end now.”

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