Estimates 2023: Citizens’ Services

Jun 15, 2023 | 42-4, Blog, Estimates, Governance, Legislature, Video | 0 comments

For the third year in a row, I have spent a considerable amount of my time with Citizens’ Services Minister Lisa Beare discussing the slow pace of change of government adopting technology that can accommodate Indigenous families officially naming their children traditional names.

Each year Minister Beare has assured me the work is both challenging and ongoing. I will continue to raise this issue with the government until this policy is changed and there is no longer a barrier for Indigenous parents.

In the latter part of my time with Minister Beare, I raised concerns of residents on the Southern Gulf Islands, specifically Pender Island, but this response can include Mayne Island as well as the Minister referenced islands that currently do not have a fibre landing scheduled.

I have been reassured by the Minister that those islands will be able to access high-speed broadband and I will continue to seek clarity from the Minister that all residents in the Southern Gulf Island communities will be treated equitably with the roll-out of the publicly funded Connected Coast project.


A. Olsen:
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity and thank you to my colleague from Abbotsford for ceding the floor. A few questions here. I’ve got about half an hour with the minister, and I look forward to this opportunity.

I’m just wondering if the minister can provide an update with respect to the use of First Nations Indigenous names. This is an issue that I’ve been raising for the last three years now in estimates. I’ve been assured that there’s been a lot of work happening, yet we continue to have a situation where Indigenous peoples’ names can’t be reflected on their government identification.

The Chair:
Thank you, Members. We’re going to call a brief recess for a technical issue.

The committee recessed from 4 p.m. to 4:11 p.m.

The Chair:
I call Committee of Supply, Section C, back to order. We are considering the estimates of the Ministry of Citizens’ Services.

Hon. L. Beare:
I want to thank the member for the question. We’ve had some really good conversations over the past couple of years. I know how important it is to the member.

Our commitment on the declaration action plan, action 3.15, to adopt the inclusive font that enables the use of Indigenous languages across government systems like drivers’ licences and birth certificates is vitally important for communities. I very much understand that.

We recognize and acknowledge how much denying Indigenous peoples their name is part of that colonial system here in Canada. It’s a legacy that Indigenous people are still living with today that needs to be fixed. We need to do that work to fix these things like birth certificates and drivers’ licences and business licences.

We’ve talked, over a couple of years, about the significant technical and policy and legislative changes that need to go on alongside this to have that coordinated effort of changes. The scale of this is significant. This is not an easy fix, as we’ve discussed over the years. These integrated systems…. The scale of change that’s required, not only here in British Columbia but across Canada, is enormous.

We know that accommodating Indigenous names in one system can put a potential risk to that individual, from cutting them off from other crucial services, as we’ve discussed over the years. So we want to proceed very carefully to ensure that we are not causing more harm as we look forward, moving on solutions.

There has been some really good work done over this past year, since we’ve last talked, mapping the service dependencies and where it all starts, starting from a birth certificate, and then what is all interconnected to the birth certificate, moving forward. The myriad of systems that that birth certificate then registers next in life — access to education systems, access to health care, all these different things. That enormous mapping of service dependencies had to happen for us to understand not only where the most significant harms are but where the areas of focus that we need to have first are.

That work has been done. We’ve done that in consultation with First Nations people. We’re working with the First Peoples Cultural Council as we’re doing things like integrating the keyboards into our systems, those things that can be adaptable and that aren’t critical on multiple jurisdictions.

We want to ensure that we have that inclusive font in a way that works for everyone. What we don’t want is to have access denied at, say, a federal level to systems that are required and needed through changes that can potentially harm here. We want to make sure that we’re working with Indigenous people to not only map it and figure out where we need to focus first, which we are doing, but then to continue that work.

I expect within this coming year that there’ll be certain records that are going to be accessible for Indigenous people in the language of choice, and it’ll be done in collaboration with a number of other ministries, as the member knows. But also, we need to have these conversations and continue them, because we are having them across federal, provincial and territorial partners.

In January, we had a federal-provincial-territorial meeting here in British Columbia that we hosted that focused on digital identity and cybersecurity. The main focus on the digital identity piece was the shared conversation across all provinces on the scope of reflecting Indigenous languages on these key core documents that then need to connect with other services, interprovincial or with the federal government.

That work is being done with my colleagues. We’re meeting again in September to continue on that work. You know, we’re doing great learnings amongst each other on where each of us are and how far along this process we are.

B.C. is really doing some extraordinary work in that mapping piece that we’ve done, so we can actually continue the work in a thoughtful way in partnership with First Nations to ensure that those documents that are causing the most harm are addressed first and how we’re going to address them.

A. Olsen:
I recognize that the minister is likely not intending any offence. However, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we’ve had instances where a mother wants to name her newborn child, has laid out what that name is — it’s an important name in the family — and an English alphabet option was provided. So is it the alphabet that is the problem? Is it the characters that the government can’t handle? It’s not necessarily the name; it’s how it’s spelled.

I have, on my government-issued computer, the keyboard…. Tech loaded it up. I have it. It’s accessible. I can write documents in SENĆOŦEN. When I speak SEN­ĆO­ŦEN in the Legislature, Hansard…. If I say the word SĆÁÁNEW̱ right now, 20 minutes later, Hansard has it written down on the record for everybody to see. You’ll see it, and they’ll get it right. And you know what happens when they don’t get it right? They give me a call, or they call up someone in my office, and they say: “Hey, what did he say? What did the member say?” And then we sort it out. Actually, I think I owe Hansard one right now. Not this one, but another one.

I think the point that I’m trying to make is that we’ve made a commitment to self-determination, and what Indigenous people are hearing from this government is…. This is where I find the government suggesting that the work that it’s done being extraordinary doesn’t match. We can’t name our children meaningful names. We’re not allowed to do that under the current system. I can’t name my child SȾHENEP, a name that has been carried by my uncles, my great-uncles and my family since time immemorial. I cannot do that. This institution will not allow that to happen. I will get S-t-h-e-n-e-p handed back to me, but that is not how it is pronounced properly.

The anglicized versions of these names are not how the names are pronounced, and that is the reason why these parents are asking and demanding for their children to be named with the correct alphabet. It’s so that then….

I was just talking to my colleague here about how challenging it is for us all to be able to read those names. Me too. But once you unlock it, once you understand, then you’re able to say the name properly. Saying the name properly is important because there are differences between different names, just very basic nuances between them.

Currently, right now, for three years, we have been promised that we’ll get there. What it feels like is that this is not a priority. It feels like there is a lack of desire to get this done. This is the third year in a row that I’ve raised this issue.

Earlier today they moved second reading of the bill to remove gender identifiers. We celebrated inclusivity. We celebrated diversity, except when it comes to Indigenous people being able to name their children culturally appropriate and, in fact, the names that they belong to. When are we going to see the ability for a child to be born in this province and have their appropriate name reflected on their birth certificate?

Hon. L. Beare:
I want to say to the member that I completely agree with absolutely everything he said, except for it not being a priority. It is absolutely a priority. We’ve committed to it. I’ve committed to it. I know the member will be asking these questions to the Minister of Health, and he has committed to it. It is absolutely a priority.

I 100 percent agree that this needs to happen and it should happen. We know how important this is for families who want the ability to name their children in the language of their choice. Absolutely. There is 100 percent agreement with everyone in this House that this needs to happen.

The member and I, over a couple of years, have talked. It is amazing that Hansard, you know, in 20 minutes has that name up. This is an independent system that doesn’t talk to other systems within government and doesn’t talk to the federal government and have to coordinate programs.

There are three things when we’re taking a look at alphabets, if you will. We’ve got the font, the keyboard and the database. The first two are easier, the font and the keyboard. You can make those fixes. You can send your email in the language of your choice.

It’s the databases that don’t accept those diacritical markers, as they’re called. It’s that interconnectedness between our provincial programs that work together: the birth certificate that then you need to use to register for your health care, that you need to register for education. It’s those diacritical markers that aren’t interoperable with those fonts and that keyboard.

We are doing that work. That work is happening. It’s ongoing. As I said before, I think we’re going to see in this year, I expect, some of these key documents to be available for people to name their children in the language of their choice. Of course, the member is going to have a lot more of these questions for Health. I’m the business and registry side. I know the member is going to go deeper into this when he gets the Minister of Health in front of him.

There are areas where it’s simple, like this Hansard example. Then there are areas where we have interjurisdictional connections with databases that connect, and we want to make sure that we’re not cutting people off from services that they require. We absolutely need to ensure that those critical services that people require are there for them when they need it.

As we’ve said, mapping out what needs to happen first and where the potential harms are in each of those documents, then we can proceed in that thoughtful manner so that we’re not cutting off people or denying people, accidentally, the services that they need.

I 100 percent understand the member’s frustration. This is a long journey. This is decolonizing and dismantling 20-year-old systems that were designed to keep those names not usable for families. Doing that work, which we’ve committed to in the action plan…. I personally have committed to the member. I know the Minister of Health has committed to this.

We are doing this work. I believe that when we have this conversation next year, it’s going to be a different conversation.

This year, in getting to the places we’ve done, in working with First Nations, in doing those critical services, in mapping out all the services that are required off of each specific document, that big work, that heavy lifting that’s being done…. We’re going to keep going. We’re going to keep working until we get this and we get it right so that people who have the right to name their children in the language that they wish will be able to do it.

A. Olsen:
I’m sincerely hoping that we don’t…. I was hoping this year that this was not going to be a conversation, and I’m hoping next year that this isn’t a conversation. I’m hoping that I’m not still here five years from now asking these questions. I mean, it’s one thing that these….

Time passes, in this place, very quickly, but this is the third year. Each time there’s yet another group of children that have been kept from the names that they belong to.

I can walk across Blanshard Street. I can walk across Douglas Street. We can go through this city, and we can understand what the meaning of a name is. I recognize that the minister is saying that it’s not a small change, but it’s not a small thing that every single place around here is named after those colonial markers. Everywhere we go, we can easily see the wrong place-names for those.

It’s about how people can take ownership of places. It’s about how people can take ownership of where they belong. Currently, right now, in an official capacity, Indigenous people are not able to properly belong to the places that they…. They can’t achieve that in a way that Blanshard could or Douglas could. I hope that next year we’re not having this conversation again.

I know that we’re pushing up against the clock here. I do want to ask….

I was on Pender Island last week. We were talking about the Connected Coast program. There’s a specific question about the maps. The minister and I…. Again, this is another one of those legacy conversations that we have every year in estimates.

The Connected Coast project is doing a great job of bringing rural and coastal communities online with fibre broadband. It’s a wonderful program. Going back, at the beginning of the program, it was: which communities are not connected in any way? Let’s get those connected.

I’ll use the example of Piers Island. It was left out. Piers raised their hand and said: “It’s left out.” I sent the minister an email. I said: “Hey, what’s going on with Piers?” “I don’t know. We’ll look into it.” Now it appears that the group has figured out a way to get Piers….

That is the spirit of what this program and this project are. It has progressed. I think it’s in stark contrast to what we were just talking about. It is a project, within this ministry, that has progressed very quickly and that is evolving.

One of the challenges with Pender and Mayne and, maybe, Galiano is…. There are services that exist there. I recognize that there are some services, which exist by a certain provider, where…. The claim of the speed of the service is one thing, and the reality is something completely different, specifically on Pender and, I think, on Mayne.

The current provider…. I’m not going to get into naming names. There are lots of providers out there, but there is a provider that is making a claim that their service is the Cadillac version. I think it’s…. I’m naming names now. What’s the opposite of the Cadillac? Anybody want to help?


A. Olsen:
The Pinto version, yeah, although the Pinto…. I think everyone would want a Pinto right now.

Anyway, the idea is that, basically, the claim that the service is as fast…. It’s a high-speed broadband service, and the actual delivery…. Getting Netflix or getting access to your Zoom meeting is, at some times, almost impossible.

How are we reconciling the speeds that are being claimed? This is all about market share. These are private companies that are looking to be able to get access, and there’s a lot of public money being expended here. How do we ensure that my constituents on Pender who are being told they’re getting a service that they don’t believe that they’re getting can make sure that they’re not missing out on what would be a true fibre broadband service in their community?

Hon. L. Beare:
It’s actually a really simple answer for the member, which is nice. The Connected Coast is that foundational project. Pender Island has that last mile. When Connected Coast lands to Pender Island, it will be able to take the existing infrastructure and tap into the new Connected Coast infrastructure, increasing services.

A. Olsen:
Was that it? Okay. Thank you. I just wanted to make sure that that was the full answer. I appreciate that. That’s what I actually assumed was the case — that, actually, this might make it easier for those communities in the sense that….


A. Olsen:
Yeah, that’s right. I just think the challenge that has been brought to my constituents and then through my constituents to me is that there is an assumption or there’s a belief that Connected Coast won’t be involved on these particular islands because there is already a service provider there, and on the map, it looks like it’s already serviced.

Can I just confirm that we’re landing fibre in all of these communities even though there is already a service kind of designation for it?

Hon. L. Beare:
Any projects that have provincial funding in them are what I called open builds, open access. Anyone who wants to connect into that needs to work with the provider and be able to get access into it. So multiple service providers can have access. It’s not just a loan service provider.

While there are multiple providers across the different islands, they’re all going to be able to increase their capacity by tapping into that core Connected Coast infrastructure that’s going to be coming around. Not every single island is going to have a landing site, but we’ll still be able to tap into the landing sites that there are and get access to that and increase capacity.

There are already chosen landing sites that are going…. Through those landing sites that tap into the last mile, you’re able to connect. Once that’s done, once Connected Coast is fully operational on the islands and all those last-mile projects, with existing infrastructure that’s already ther, have tapped in, if there are underserved households once that happens and we can see that, we have the program to be able to go in and address it.

A. Olsen:
Thank you to the minister for the responses. I have to head downstairs and do some work somewhere else, but I just want to thank you for that. I think all of our constituents on the southern Gulf Islands will be very happy to be able to stream us live in broadband, right?


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