/Senator Lillian Eva Dyck/
Aboriginal senator Lillian Dyck opposed Bill S-4.
Geoff Howe/The Globe and Mail
Ottawa --- From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published on Tuesday, Jul. 06, 2010 8:38PM EDT
Government legislation to help prevent women
who live on reserves from losing their homes
because of a divorce or abuse has won final
approval from the Senate in spite of passionate
last-minute warnings from female native senators
that the bill would leave women worse off.
The Senate voted 45-32 to give third and final
reading to the legislation on Tuesday, but it's still
a long way from becoming law.
Bill S-4, as it is called, is one of a handful
of government bills the Conservatives opted to
introduce in the Senate first. That means it still
must be debated and approved in the House of Commons.
The Harper government has twice attempted to pass the
measures through the Commons, but the legislation died
both times on the Order Paper.
Provincial divorce laws do not apply on reserves.
As a result, women on reserve do not have the same
legal options in such disputes as women who live
off reserve, leaving them to plead their case to
the local band council.
The situation is further complicated by the fact
that homes on many reserves are essentially owned
and managed by the band council, leading some to
view the debate as pitting the individual rights of
women against the collective land rights of aboriginal
Policy experts have long called for an end to the
status quo, but a widely accepted solution has been
The government bill sets up federal rules granting
reserve residents access to the courts to sort out
residency and ownership issues when a spouse wants
protection from an abusive partner, or a couple breaks up.
Critics say the system would be too expensive for
many native women, particularly those in remote reserves.
Liberal Senator Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, who is
from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, rose
in the chamber last week to urge her colleagues not
to support the bill, which she called "terribly flawed"
because there wasn't enough consultation with natives.
"I was that woman that was beaten and kicked out
of my house with my small children because I did not
have resources or housing. I was forced to go back,
only to have it happen time and time again. My own
mother went through the same abuse, as did my daughter.
There are thousands of stories that tell of experiences
of abuse," she said. "I cannot believe honourable senators
would pass Bill S-4 without proper consultation with
the very people it will impact, without knowing what
it is like to feel helpless and without the proper
The Government Leader in the Senate, Conservative
Senator Marjory LeBreton, said in an interview after
the vote that she was "amazed" and "mystified" by the
efforts of Ms. Lovelace Nicholas and Liberal aboriginal
Senator Lillian Dyck to defeat the bill. She said the
legislation is aimed at preventing cases of repeated abuse.
"I think we've talked long enough about it.
It's time to take action," she said. The Assembly of
First Nations also opposes the bill because it
considers the consultations inadequate, and
several chiefs spoke against it when it was studied
"There was a very strong lobby in the aboriginal
community, who perhaps likes things the way they
are right now. That's the only conclusion I can draw,"
said Ms. LeBreton. Asked if she was referring to chiefs
being mostly male, she replied: "That's one argument:
That the chiefs are pretty powerful, pretty strong and
they're mostly male."
(Courtesy of Four Arrows)