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Help Sharon McIvor win equality for Aboriginal Women

by NationTalk on November 14, 20076678 Views

In an historic court victory for Aboriginal women and their descendants, Sharon McIvor, a First Nations woman from Merritt, British Columbia, has successfully challenged the continuing sex discrimination in the sections of the 1985 Indian Act that determine Indian status (http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/Jdb-txt/SC/07/08/2007BCSC0827.htm).

Sharon McIvor’s case challenges the continuing preferential treatment given to males and those whose Indian status is traced from male ancestors, as a violation of section 15, the equality guarantee of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.Amendments were made to the Indian Act in 1985 when section 15 of the Charter came into force. The stated purpose of these amendments was to remedy long-standing discrimination against First Nations women. However, the 1985 amendments were flawed, because they still carried forward much of the earlier discriminatory treatment of First Nations women and their descendants.

The 1985 Act established a hierarchy for registration status. Women and their children who had been disentitled to status because of “marrying out”, or non-Indian paternity, were granted status, but not full Indian status. The 1985Act still reserves full registration entitlement for those who trace their ancestry along the male line. The Act continues to limit the registration rights of First Nations women and their children who trace their ancestry along the maternal line, by relegating them to inferior classes of status. The sex discrimination that is inherent in this continuing registration hierarchy is illustrated by Sharon McIvor’s case.

Sharon McIvor was born in 1948. Because her Indian lineage was through the women in her family – her grandmother and her mother – she was not entitled to registration as an Indian at birth. Also as an adult, Sharon married a non-Indian man. Consequently, her children were also not entitled to be registered. Under the 1985 Act Sharon McIvor was finally granted Indian status, but it is still an inferior category of status, because Sharon McIvor can only transmit half status to her children. And Sharon’s grandchildren are not entitled to status at all.

In contrast, the 1985 Act entitles Sharon’s brother, his wife, and his children and grandchildren to full status, even though his lineage and family status are identical to Sharon’s. Under the 1985 Act Sharon McIvor continues to suffer discrimination as a result of her sex. Although she now has status as an Indian, she does not have equal registration status. Because of discrimination carried forward from previous Acts, she is only able to transmit inferior status to her son and no status to her grandchildren.

In McIvor v. Canada 2007 BCSC 827 the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that the government must take the sex discrimination out of the determination of Indian status and restore equal Indian status to those who have been denied it due to past sex discrimination. This is a ground-breaking judgment that the government itself estimates will affect the status of thousands of Aboriginal women and their descendants.

Sharon McIvor’s important legal challenge would not have been possible without the Court Challenges Program. For 20 years, this federally funded program provided resources to historically disadvantaged individuals and groups to take test cases into the courts to challenge federal laws based on the equality rights in the Charter. It was the first in the world and often lauded as one of Canada’s key commitments to protect our basic human rights.

But in October 2006, with no warning or public discussion, Stephen Harper cancelled the Court Challenges Program, claiming that Canadians no longer needed it. The McIvor case proves that Mr. Harper is wrong.

In June 2007 Judge Carol Ross of the B.C. Supreme Court issued the Court’s ruling, in favour of Sharon McIvor and her son Jacob. The federal government is appealing this ruling. The case will probably not be finally resolved until it is decided by the Supreme Court of Canada. With no more Court Challenges Program funding, Sharon McIvor, now faces the federal government, with no resources of her own, on a very uneven playing field.

As well as working to get the Court Challenges Program back, it is essential to support Sharon McIvor so that she can hold on to her important victory and win basic equality for Aboriginal women and their children and grandchildren.

Please support Sharon McIvor in her challenge to the continuing sex discrimination in the Indian Act. If her challenge is successful, it can help many First Nations women and their descendants to gain their rightful status.

For more information, please listen to Sharon McIvor’s interview on Vancouver Co-operative Radio at the following link: http://www.rabble.ca/rpn/episode.shtml?x=62679

To get more involved in the fundraising campaign please contact: Shelagh Day at sheday@interchange.ubc.ca

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