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The Minister of Indian Affairs, Bill McKnight, says this was clearly a mistake and his Ministry is correcting it with the amendment to the Act.
McKnight says that Bill C-31 was enacted to bring the provisions of the Indian Act into line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by eliminating discriminatory provisions, restoring Indian status and Band membership to those who were denied Indian status as a result of a discriminatory provision of the Act. Speaking to the amendment to the Bill, Bernard Valcourt, Minister of State for Indian Affairs and Northern Development stated, "As a result of this Act, we have ensured that men and women receive equal treatment, that children are treated fairly, whether or not they were born out of wedlock. And that people who lost their Indian status as a result of discriminatory measures or enfranchisement could recover their status, and finally, that the direct descendents of such persons would also have registration entitlement."
Since the passing of Bill C-31, more than 45,000 Indians have been registered under the new provisions, and Indian Affairs is still receiving applications at a rate of some thirty-five per day. The number of applications led to a large back log in the beginning, but the Department of Indian Affairs says that this backlog is being eliminated and more people are gaining their status quicker.
In making changes, the Minister contacted representatives from the Assembly of First Nations, the Native Council of Canada, and the Native Women's Association of Canada. All gave their support to the amendment. As well, the members of the Standing Committee on Indian Affairs, on both sides of the House, agreed that the amendments should be made as soon as possible.
"Bill C-31 was enacted to bring provisions of the Indian Act into line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by eliminating discriminatory provisions, restoring Indian status and Band membership to those who were denied Indian status..."
The amendments have been made retroactive to April 17, 1985, to ensure justice and fairness not only to future applicants, but also to those whose applications are now in from the Department of Indian Affairs. The Department says that the number of persons affected by the change is relatively small, but it says that this is not the point. I says that Bill C-31 was passed to eliminate discrimination and the amendments will ensure this.