Human rights complaint filed against Indigenous Services claims age and race discrimination

A retired videographer has filed a human rights complaint against Indigenous Services Canada claiming discrimination based on age, race and genetic information after trying for three years to apply for Indian status.

Alan Lawrence has spent 3 years applying for Indian status

Retired videographer Alan Lawrence filed a human rights complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against Indigenous Services Canada claiming discrimination based on age, race and genetics. (Submitted by Alan Lawrence)

Alan Lawrence has filed a human rights complaint saying he's being discriminated against by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) after trying for three years to apply for Indian status.

"I want the Canadian government to recognize an Indigenous person rather than have an agenda of trying to rid the citizenship of Indigenous people," said Lawrence from his home in Toronto.

"I think it's a gentle genocide."

Lawrence, 73, said his mother registered for Indian status with Fort William First Nation in northwestern Ontario in 1985 after Bill C-31 was passed. He never pursued status until retirement, applying in April 2018.

"I'm thinking about my daughter and what her grandchildren may ask her and so I started going down the path of really trying to identify myself."

He received a letter from ISC 11 months later rejecting his application over the eligibility of his maternal grandmother, placing his mother under a 6(2) definition, meaning she cannot pass down Indian status to children she had with a non-status partner, according to the Indian Act.

He was given the option to submit a notice of protest. He submitted new family lineage information and a DNA analysis in October 2020 and received a letter from an Indian Registrar less than a month later referencing an "intent to render a final decision within 90 days."

Lawrence counts over a dozen exchanges with ISC, by telephone, mail and email during a three-year period.

Lawrence is known as "Big Al" to his friends in the media industry where he spent 35 years as a videographer for CBC, CTV and the National Film Board. He has Parkinson's disease and has also been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

When searching his records from child and family services and vital statistics, Lawrence discovered he spent nine years of his childhood in the foster care system.

"When I got the records from child and family services, I could see that my PTSD had nothing to do with my work — 30, 40 years of filming everything from murders to wars."

Alan Lawrence and a CBC reporter embedded with Canadian troops. (Submitted by Alan Lawrence)

He was also known as the only Indigenous director of photography back in the day, he said, something he says attracted diversity hires.

"I would be inundated with proposals for programs that would promote Indigenous communities, not by Indigenous producers, directors and writers but by non-Indigenous people, but [that] needed to have a stamp on that work to get the funding. And I was at the big rubber stamp."

Now he's hoping to get a big rubber stamp from Indigenous Services.

Human rights complaint filed

His complaint, filed in May to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, claims age discrimination for his application not being given priority or special attention due to his birth year (1947).

Lawrence's newly submitted DNA analysis was not acknowledged by the ISC protest unit, which he says is a form of genetic-based discrimination.

He is also claiming racial discrimination based on the difference in the level of service he receives from the Government of Canada's disability benefits department compared to Indigenous Services.

His complaint also names an Indian Registrar in the protest unit at ISC and he said a copy of his complaint letter was sent to Marc Miller, minister of Indigenous Services Canada.

"I can understand the frustration, but it's very difficult for me to comment on this," said Miller.

"The registrar is independent from my function and my capacity for review in these situations is extremely limited."

Miller acknowledged there are complex files and sometimes missing documentation but wasn't able to say how many protests are being investigated where a decision is yet to be rendered.

"We have put a number of resources into making sure that these applications are processed in a timely manner," he said.

Fort William working on citizenship code

Michael Pelletier, CEO of Fort William First Nation, is working on a custom citizenship code that will incorporate traditional Anishinaabe adoption, and permit control over its band member list.

"It could involve ancestry instead of those blood quantum levels that ISC does," he said.

Pelletier said they will need to find money through economic development for any non-status citizens they enrol because funding from the federal government is still dependent on the number of status band members on the Indian Registry managed by Indigenous Services.

While he could not comment on Lawrence's case specifically, he said the process of applying for Indian status can be improved.

"I think the length of time that it takes really depends on the blood quantum levels and the onus really goes back on the person to prove that, whereas the government should know some of these things or develop better rules around them.

"But some approval level has to still come to the First Nation on who are our band members."

Pelletier said the custom citizenship code still needs to go through community consultation on how they want to accept band members but it could be ratified in a year.

Alan Lawrence could potentially be accepted as a non-status band member by the community through a new citizenship code but he would like to be recognized as a status First Nation member of Fort William by the federal government.

Right now all he wants is a decision rendered on his protest with ISC and hopes a human rights complaint will help.

"I don't have any anger or rage about this, I just have anticipation and anxiety," he said.

"I really do want to get my status."

It can take up to three months before the Canadian Human Rights Commission looks at the complaint.


Francine Compton is the Assignment Producer for CBC Indigenous. She is Anishinaabe from the Sandy Bay Ojibway First Nation in Manitoba. Before joining CBC she was the executive producer of national news at APTN. You can find her on Twitter @FrancineCompton