New Laws

Bill S-3: Removing sex-based inequities from the Indian Act

This bill enshrines in law the removal of all gender discrimination in the Indian Act.


The federal government crafted this legislation in response to a Quebec Superior Court ruling concerning historical discrimination against women and their descendants in registration provisions of the Indian Act. Status Indians have certain rights and benefits, including on-reserve housing benefits, expanded health coverage and exemption from taxes in specific situations. The aim of the legislation was to remedy sex-based Indian Act registration issues to 1951, the year the modern registry came into effect. The Government also pledged to follow up with additional consultations and legislation in the future, acknowledging that there were other significant historical Indian Act registration issues also requiring attention.

The Senate’s Role

Bill S-3 originated in the Senate with Independent Senator Frances Lankin as its sponsor. The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples reviewed the legislation and amended it to require the Government to report back to Parliament—and all Canadians —on its progress toward broader Indian Act registration and membership reform. Another amendment brought forward by Senator Marilou McPhedran, dubbed the “6(1)(a) all the way” approach, intended to provide 6(1)(a) Indian status to all those who had lost status back to 1869 and to all their descendants born prior to 1985. The House of Commons initially sent a message to the Senate on June 21, 2017 indicating that it would accept most Senate amendments but not “6(1)(a) all the way,” which went beyond the scope of the bill, intended to focus exclusively on issues of sex-based inequities.

Over the summer, the federal government commissioned demographer Stewart Clatworthy to research how various changes to the Indian Act might affect registration numbers. The court also extended the deadline to Dec. 22, 2017 for new legislation to respond to its ruling.

The Result

On November 7, 2017, Senator Peter Harder, the Government Representative in the Senate, tabled the demographic information and introduced a motion indicating that the federal government would “enshrine in law the removal of all gender discrimination in the Indian Act,” including prior to 1951. He indicated that the Government would begin necessary consultations early next year to figure out how—not whether—to best bring into force the clause dealing with the 1951 cut-off. “Implementation of the 1951 cut-off clause will still require extensive consultations with communities, affected individuals and experts to make sure we get this right. However, I would emphasize the Government has a clear plan to move forward on implementation,” he said.

Several Indigenous leaders in the Senate spoke in support of the motion, including Senator Lillian Dyck, the chair of the Aboriginal Peoples’ committee and a longtime champion for gender equity in the Indian Act. “We’ve been trying to get this for so many decades. It’s hard to believe that we actually have it,” she said. “Finally, Indian women will be recognized in law as having equal rights as Indian men to transmit their status as registered Indians and all that goes with it—your language, your culture, your connection to your family, your connection to your community.” Senator Dyck also noted that the Senate must and will remain vigilant as consultations and implementation proceed.

On November 9, 2017 the Senate adopted the motion. The House of Commons adopted the message from the Senate on December 4, 2017.

Bill S-3: Removing sex-based inequities from the Indian Act