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Legislation to Improve the Rights of Women and their Families Living on First Nation Reserves Comes Into Force

Canada NewsWire

VANCOUVER, BC, Dec. 18, 2013 /CNW/ - Today, the Honourable Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, announced that the first element of the Harper Government's Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act came into force earlier this week. The Act aims to ensure that women, children and families living on First Nation reserves have access to the same matrimonial rights as those living off reserves. It was given Royal Assent on June 19, 2013, and came into force on December 16, 2013.

"With this Act, our Government is ensuring that families living on reserve have similar rights and protections as other Canadians. In particular, Aboriginal women and children will benefit from this important legislation," said Minister Valcourt. "This Act will encourage First Nations to create and apply their own matrimonial real property laws that respect their own culture and traditions."

To assist First Nation communities with the implementation, a Centre of Excellence for Matrimonial Real Property, operated at arm's length from the Government of Canada, has been put in place. Hosted by the National Aboriginal Lands Managers Association (NALMA), this resource centre assists First Nations with the understanding and application of the new Act and helps to guide First Nations who are opting to develop their own matrimonial real property laws. The Centre provides information on the protections and rights available to individuals and families living on reserves, research on alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, as well as the provisional federal rules.

"NALMA is honoured to host the Centre of Excellence for Matrimonial Real Property," said Gino Clement, NALMA Chair. "We realize that the transition into any new legislation always brings challenges. NALMA and the Centre of Excellence welcome this opportunity to assist First Nations to continue their long-standing tradition of caring for families and each other. We are committed to providing guidance and support to First Nations who choose to undertake the development of their own matrimonial real property laws and to facilitate an understanding of the provisional federal rules".

"We are very pleased with the announcement by the Government of Canada and look forward to working with the Centre of Excellence on the important issue of Matrimonial Real Property," said Jeffrey Cyr, Executive Director of the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC). "The NAFC and its centres currently provide transition services for Aboriginal people moving off-reserve through our New Journeys program and those services will be complemented by NALMA and its new mandate."

As announced in June 2013, the Act protects rights connected to family homes on reserves, including matrimonial interests or rights. These protections apply to individuals living on reserve during a relationship, in the event of a relationship breakdown, and on the death of a spouse or common-law partner.

With this Act now in force, judges will be able to issue emergency protection orders, remove violent partners from the family home and allow courts to apply First Nations' own matrimonial real property laws that respect their culture and traditions once those laws are enacted.

"I am very pleased to see that the Bill S-2, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, is now law," stated the National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Betty Ann Lavallée, CD, (Ret'd). "Finally, we have in place legislation to ensure that women and families are protected with the same matrimonial rights as those living off-reserve. We congratulate Minister Valcourt for this significant accomplishment, and offer our ongoing support with the implementation of the Bill."

Today's announcement highlights the coming into force of the first part of the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act. The first element of the Act provides a mechanism for First Nations to enact laws with regard to on-reserve matrimonial real property. This now means First Nation communities can enact and apply their own matrimonial real property laws, ones that respect their culture and traditions. Once the second part of the Actis in force in twelve months, December 16, 2014, the provisional federal rules will fill the legislative gap if a First Nation has not yet developed its matrimonial real property law.

The Government of Canada is delivering on its commitment to close the long-standing legislative gap that has affected many families and entire communities for far too long. By taking measures to implement the Act, our Government is ensuring the equitable distribution of matrimonial real property assets on reserve. The Government of Canada remains deeply committed to further protecting the rights of Aboriginal people.

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