June 4, 2009
Justice for Sharon McIvor and all First Nations women - at last!
PSAC is thrilled to celebrate Sharon McIvor’s victory over discriminatory provisions in the Indian Act – a struggle for justice won on behalf of all Aboriginal women in Canada.
On June 2nd, Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, announced that the federal government will not appeal an April decision in McIvor’s favour by the B.C. Supreme Court.
McIvor’s long and difficult road began in 1985 when the federal government amended the Indian Act to correct a century of discrimination against Aboriginal women. Prior to this amendment, an Aboriginal woman who married a non-status Indian (as defined by the Act) lost her own status, as did her children. Aboriginal men, however, not only kept their status if they married a non-status woman, but conferred status to their partners and children.
When McIvor, a professor of Aboriginal law and proud feminist, applied to register her and her children as status Indians of the Lower Nicola Band, she discovered that the sexism in the Act had not been eliminated. It had simply been postponed. While she was able to regain her status, her children could not.
In 1989, McIvor took her case to the B.C. Supreme Court and launched a Charter challenge, alleging that the status provisions in the Act discriminated on the basis of sex and marriage. It wasn’t until 2006, following years of federal government interference, that the court finally agreed with her. Her struggle, however, did not end there.
The Crown appealed to the B.C. Court of Appeal and soon after, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government threw up yet another roadblock. McIvor’s case had been previously been supported by the federally-funded Court Challenges program, which funded court cases that supported language and equality rights guaranteed under Canada’s constitution. Harper cancelled the program, leaving McIvor to make her case unassisted.
Undaunted, McIvor carried on. With the help of PSAC, as well as other unions and progressive organizations, she raised the necessary funds and committed her own legal talents to defend her case at the B.C. Court of Appeal. Again, the B.C. courts agreed with her, ruling that section six of the Indian Act infringes on McIvor’s right to equality under section 15 of the Charter.
The court also ruled that Canada had until April 6, 2010 to make the necessary amendments to the Indian Act.
"I am thrilled to learn that this government has finally recognized that it was futile to carry on with this systemic form of gender discrimination," said John Gordon, National President of PSAC. "We must remain vigilant to ensure that that the forthcoming amendments to the Indian Act reflect the spirit of McIvor’s appeal and the court’s decision."
PSAC’s National Aboriginal Peoples’ Network has been supportive of McIvor’s case, making it a focal point in their postcard campaign to further the rights and social conditions of Aboriginal Peoples."This victory is just one of the many we will continue to struggle for in the coming months," added Gordon. "We will be persistent in our efforts to correct the tremendous inequalities that exist for Aboriginal Peoples and I urge all members to take an active role in making that happen."
Date Modified : 2010/07/29