Nova Scotia

Human rights protection extended to reserves

First Nations members living on reserves now have the same Canadian human rights protections as other Canadians.

First Nations members living on reserves now have the same Canadian human rights protections as other Canadians.

Until recently, natives on reserves were exempted from the Canadian Human Rights Act. Now band members will be able to file human rights complaints against the federal government, as well as their councils and chiefs.

Elizabeth Marshall, with the Eskasoni Treaty Beneficiaries Association in Cape Breton, hopes the changes can help empower band members.

"If it's an opportunity to empower our people and address some of the abuses and the human rights violations that occur daily on the reserves, then yes, I do applaud it," she said.

The Native Council of P.E.I. is celebrating what it considers an important step forward.

"It's been an issue for quite sometime, if you look at matrimonial property, people involved in housing disputes or domestic disputes," said Jamie Gallant, president and chief of the council.

"I think this is one of the real steps in moving forward in correcting those wrongs that still exist within the system of our reserves."

But bands in the region will need more money to comply with the act, said John Paul, executive director of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs.

With this legislation, he said, communities may be forced to provide services "with money they don't have."

Reserves were exempt from the Canadian Human Rights Act when it was passed in 1977. The exemption was supposed to be temporary to give bands time to prepare.

The House of Commons closed the loophole late last month.

The legislation was first announced in December 2006, but it was put on hold after the opposition demanded a three-year phase-in period and clauses to protect collective native rights.

Bands have three years before they're expected to fully comply with the act. However, the change applies to the federal government immediately.