If this law passes, another step in the equality of aboriginals with other Canadians get closer. Women usually lost the house with divorce, so now property will be more evenly divided. With a conservative majority, it has a greater chance of passing as it previously failed.

New Senate bill would equalize aboriginal property rights (external - login to view)

New Senate bill would equalize aboriginal property rights

By Peter O'Neil, edmontonjournal.com September 28, 2011

OTTAWA — The Conservative government tabled a bill Wednesday that would provide on-reserve aboriginal couples the same property rights other Canadians have when it comes to dealing with matrimonial property after divorce or death.

Bill S-2 would fill legislative void which Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan says has made women and children particularly vulnerable during marriage breakdown on reserves.

Duncan, who first began working on the issue as a rookie Reform MP in the 1990s, said the goal is to eliminate a human-rights legal deficit.

He said women and children are usually the ones to suffer when marriages end due to “patriarchal” attitudes that often lead to the men keeping the family home.

“They’ve gone from living in a nice house in a community with lots of support, to basically being thrown out on their ear,” Duncan, the MP for Vancouver Island North, told the Edmonton Journal.

“And because of these ramifications, women stay in (abusive) relationships rather than be homeless.”

To highlight the gender rights issue, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, who is also minister responsible for the status of women, issued a statement saying the legislation represents “an important step in ending violence against aboriginal women and girls.”
The legislative void, first highlighted in a 1985 Supreme Court of Canada decision involving a separating couple from B.C.’s Westbank

First Nation near Kelowna, has been denounced on human rights grounds by a Canadian Senate committee and the United Nations.
But attempts by Conservative minority governments to modernize the laws have run into opposition from First Nations groups and opposition MPs, resulting in three separate bills dying on the order paper between 2006-2011.

The bill, introduced in the Senate Wednesday rather than the House of Commons, includes changes that respond to some of the concerns, a government news release says.

The bill provides a “balanced” answer to a “longstanding injustice and legislative gap that affects people living on reserves, particularly women and children,” says the release.

One of the longstanding challenges has been finding the balance between individual liberties in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and collective aboriginal rights also enshrined in the Constitution.

Many homes on reserves are owned collectively by the First Nation and rented to band members, giving the band office the kind of influence on property decisions that wouldn’t exist off-reserve.

Other issues raised during consultations and parliamentary hearings since 2006 include access to family courts, the difficulty of enforcing court orders on reserves and social issues such as poverty and a severe housing shortage, a 2010 Library of Parliament analysis shows.

To meet some of the criticism, the government has removed a controversial feature that required an outside “verification officer” to confirm the ratification process for bands bringing in laws to comply with the legislation.

It also lowered the ratification threshold required to pass the new laws, with Ottawa now demanding a simple majority with a minimum of 25 per cent of eligible voters participating.

And Ottawa is creating a one-year transition period to allow bands to come up with their own laws before the federal legislation takes effect.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which represents off-reserve Canadian aboriginals, backs the legislation, Duncan said.
But he said he expects the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women’s Association of Canada to continue their opposition.
Neither the AFN nor NWAC immediately responded to the legislation after it was tabled, though both were given prior notice by the government of its intent.