The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) is urging the Government of Canada to fully adopt Bill S-3 and eliminate discrimination in the Indian Act. The Indian Act historically denied First Nations women the right to pass on their status to their children without proof of an Indian father. While some small corrections have been made, First Nations across Canada continue to be denied status due to discriminatory lineage requirements.
Bill S-3, if fully implemented, would give status to Indigenous women and their descendants, and would eliminate the sexist and colonial status provisions. However, the government is delaying bringing this legislation into force. In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Ministers of Women and Gender Equality and Indigenous Relations, as well as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, LEAF calls on the government to fully bring Bill S-3 into force before the next election. Specifically, the Indian Act must be amended to ensure that First Nations are not denied status because of sex discrimination.
This is essential to ending the systemic discrimination against First Nations women that subjects them to disproportionate levels of violence, poverty and incarceration, and profound marginalization. First Nations women and their descendants who are refused status are unable to access specific government supports, such as health and education benefits. They are also forcibly disconnected from their culture and heritage.
“The ongoing discrimination in the Indian Act is Canada’s shame. It is a root cause of the crisis of inequality and violence facing Indigenous women, it could be easily solved, and yet it remains” says Karen Segal, LEAF counsel. “The time has come for Canada to act and eliminate this discrimination once and for all.”
In January 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that First Nations women and their descendants should be entitled to status without any sex-based hierarchy. LEAF has urged the government to comply with this ruling, Canada’s obligations under international human rights law—including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—and section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
- Read LEAF’s letter here
The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) works to advance the substantive equality rights of women and girls through litigation, law reform, and public education. Since 1985, we have intervened in landmark cases that have advanced equality in Canada—helping to prevent violence, eliminate discrimination in the workplace, provide better maternity benefits, ensure a right to pay equity, and allow access to reproductive freedoms. For more information, please visit www.leaf.ca.
For inquiries, please contact:
Karen Segal, Staff Counsel
Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund