VICTORIA—A recent Court of Appeal decision striking down two sections of the federal Indian Act as unconstitutional redresses a longstanding injustice against aboriginal women and is an encouraging development for future generations of aboriginal peoples in Canada, says CUPE BC.
In the unanimous ruling, the court found that two sections of the Act continue to discriminate against aboriginal women who married non-aboriginal men and, crucially, their children when it comes to conferring Indian status.
The ruling, which could affect potentially thousands of people who may be entitled to claim Indian status and the financial benefits that status confers, stems from a longstanding dispute involving Sharon McIvor of Merritt, B.C., and her son Charles Grismer.
McIvor lost her Indian status when she married a non-aboriginal man. After the Indian Act was amended in 1985, she applied for reinstatement for herself and her son, a process that ended up taking 20 years.
Indian status opens the door to a range of entitlements, including extended health benefits, money for education and exemption from some taxes. The court also found there are intangible benefits, including acceptance in the aboriginal community.
The B.C. Appeal Court found that 1985 amendments to the Indian Act designed to conform to the Charter’s equality rights actually discriminated against some people who should be able to claim Indian status.
It has been a long, hard tough road for McIvor. With the court challenges program abolished by the BC Liberal government, much of her court costs had to be covered through donations and fundraising.
Earlier this year CUPE BC Diversity vice president (aboriginal) John Thompson invited McIvor to speak to the executive board on her case, following which CUPE BC made a donation to support her case.
“I feel that the impact of this win will reverse the injustices done and return the inherent rights of aboriginal ancestry now and into the future,” said Thompson.
The Court of Appeal has given the federal government a year to amend sections of the Indian Act it says violate equality provisions of the Charter of Rights.