Quebec Superior Court grants extension for update to 'discriminatory' Indian Act

The Quebec Superior Court has given the federal government until July 3 to update provisions in the Indian Act that it says discriminate based on sex.

The case was introduced by 3 members of the Abenaki community of Odanak, Que.

Stephane Descheneaux is one of the three members of the Abenaki community of Odanak who is contesting the discriminatory language of the Indian Act. (Radio-Canada/Marie-Eve Cousineau)

The Quebec Superior Court has given the federal government until July 3 to update provisions in the Indian Act that it says discriminate based on sex.

This is an extension on the original judgement from August 2015, when Justice Chantal Masse gave the federal government 18 months to update the act after it was ruled discriminatory against descendants of some First Nations women.

In a ruling last Friday, Justice Masse accepted the government's request for more time, in light of the approaching deadline on Feb. 3.

Originally introduced in 1876, the law deprived women who married non-native people, and any subsequent descendants, of Indian status. This exclusion, however, did not apply equally to Aboriginal men who married non-native women.

Court decisions have made it possible to reclaim Indian status for some of people who were denied, but they did not put an end to all discriminatory elements in the act.

Family unable to pass on Indian status 

That original 2011 case was brought by three members of the Abenaki community of Odanak, about 40 kilometres northwest of Drummondville, Que.

One of those people, Stephane Descheneaux, was unable to pass on his Indian status to his three daughters because he got it through his Indigenous grandmother, who lost her status when she married a non-Indigenous man.

"Numerous people would have been deprived of their right to registration without any benefit for the victims of discrimination," wrote the judge.

The previous Conservative federal government under Stephen Harper had appealed the 2015 ruling, but the Liberals withdrew that appeal in February of last year.

Masse underlined that this six-month extension makes for a total of 23 months that legislators have had to update the act.

Last October, the Trudeau government complied with the court's order by introducing legislation to address the issues raised. However, the standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples felt that the new provisions required more consultation with the affected Aboriginal communities.

The committee also felt that the bill would not put an end to all inequities of the Indian Act based on sex.

In a December letter to the federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, members of the committee urged the government to seek an extension from the court.

With files from Radio-Canada, Espaces autochtones