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Indian Act still discriminates against First Nations women, says UN Human Rights Committee

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The United Nations Human Rights Committee says Canada still discriminates against First Nations women and their descendants through status requirements under the Indian Act despite several amendments since 1985.

In an 18-page decision released Jan. 14, the committee said Canada is obligated to remove the discrimination and to ensure that all First Nations women and their descendants are granted Indian status on the same footing as First Nations men and their descendents.

Sharon McIvor and her son Jacob Grismer filed the petition to the UN Human Rights Committee in November 2010.

“I’m not in this alone and there are hundreds of thousands of women and descendants waiting,” said McIvor at a news conference held in Vancouver.

“I’m very happy with the decision. If Canada follows through as they’re supposed to do, it’s a game changer for a lot of women.”

The fight for gender equity

Prior to 1985, women with Indian status who married a non-Indigenous man lost their status, and their children were denied status. Sharon McIvor’s grandmother was a member of the Lower Nicola band in B.C. who married a non-Indigenous man.

Following 1985 amendments, McIvor was eligible for status but found she and her brother were in different status categories, where he could transmit full status to his children and grandchildren and she could not.

In 2011, in response to the B.C. Court of Appeal’s McIvor v. Canada decision, Canada passed Bill C-3 Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act allowing Indian status to be passed on to the grandchildren of women who lost their status for marrying a non-Indigenous person.

McIvor told CBC News that filing a human rights complaint with the United Nations was necessary because a sex-based hierarchy of status remains in the act, even with subsequent Bill S-3 amendments in 2017. 

Consultations ongoing

The most recent amendments to the act came into force in December 2017, with the exception of a provision related to the removal of a practice of linking registration reform to the date of 1951 (commonly known as the ’51 cut-off). The federal government is currently consulting First Nations on how to implement the removal of ’51 cut-off and broader issues around Indian registration, band membership and citizenship.

McIvor criticized the consultations, saying their purpose has been “to scare status Indians that the addition of the women who are entitled will somehow destroy their rights as they know it,” and that it is “asking if it’s OK to continue to discriminate.”

“You can’t give permission to discriminate,” she said.

‘A grandmother of thousands’

Pamela Palmater, chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, said the decision is more significant than people may realize.

“Sharon McIvor is already a grandmother of thousands of descendants of Indigenous women who have been wrongfully excluded from the Indian Act since before 1985, but also since 1985,” said Palmater.

Pam Palmater said the Liberal government has been slow to implement UNDRIP. (Pam Palmater)

“Now because of this case, she brings within her family even more descendants who have been wrongfully excluded.” 

Palmater said she is one of them.

“I wouldn’t even have my political voice today as a First Nations person if Sharon had not won her original case. My kids are still excluded,” she said.  

Palmater said through McIvor’s work, her own children can “be a part of a larger family that they always should have been but for the sex discrimination in the Indian Act.”

180 days to respond

Viviane Michel, president of Quebec Native Women, welcomed the decision.

“This decision confirms what QNW has been denouncing since its founding 45 years ago: The Indian Act discriminates against Indigenous women and their descendants, and this discrimination continues despite the amendments to the Act since 1985,” she said. 

“This decision represents an important support in our fight for equality, because it sends a clear message to the Canadian government: it must put an immediate end to discrimination against Indigenous women and provide redress to all those who suffer the consequences.”

A look at what an Indian status card is, what it does and how to apply for one. 2:15

The UN committee gave Canada 180 days to report back on the measures taken to remedy the issue. 

“Gender equality is a fundamental human right, and that was why it was a priority of our government to finally eliminate all sex-based discrimination from the Indian Act through Bill S-3,” said Matthew Dillon, spokesperson on behalf of the Office of Crown-Indigenous Relations, in a statement.

He said the government appointed Claudette Dumont-Smith as a Ministerial Special Representative to work with their partners to develop a plan to remove the 1951 cut-off, and broader issues around registration and membership.

“This collaborative process is another step toward ensuring First Nations have self-determination over how they define themselves and their communities,” said Dillon.

“Our government will be reporting to Parliament in June on the implementation plan and next steps.”

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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