The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to continue my remarks on Bill .
In the beginning of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s process, on June 11, 2008, the Right Hon. Stephen Harper, Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister, made a historic and symbolic statement of apology to former students of residential schools, on behalf of the Government of Canada. On that day back in 2008, I would have been in the midst of finishing my grade 12 exams, excitedly preparing to graduate from high school. Little did I know that I would be revisiting the wise words of Canada’s former prime minister in my very own speech on the House of Commons floor, albeit virtually, 12 and a half years later.
Given that today’s debate centres on call to action number 94 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, I feel it is prudent to recognize and reaffirm some of the remarks of Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister. He said:
Two primary objectives of the Residential Schools system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. These objectives were based on the assumption Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, “to kill the Indian in the child”.
The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language.
The Government of Canada sincerely apologizes and asks the forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.
This Commission presents a unique opportunity to educate all Canadians on the Indian Residential Schools system. It will be a positive step in forging a new relationship between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians, a relationship based on the knowledge of our shared history, a respect for each other and a desire to move forward together with a renewed understanding that strong families, strong communities and vibrant cultures and traditions will contribute to a stronger Canada for all of us.
On the apology, Senator Murray Sinclair said, “The apology was a momentous moment in the lives of the survivors...and the Aboriginal community and Canadians as well. It was a recognition of the wrongs of the past. The fact that what was done and intended to be done was unacceptable.... The apology was for [survivors of Residential Schools] finally a recognition that what they had been saying was right, it was finally a sense of validation about it.”
The Conservatives believe that the fundamental obligation of the federal government is to improve the living conditions of aboriginal Canadians, including the Inuit, in terms of economic opportunity, health, education and community safety. Within that belief, the Conservative Party fully supports the treaty rights and process of reconciliation with indigenous people, as well as real action to support clean water, safe housing, education, access to health care and equitable economic opportunities. The Conservatives understand the power of treaties among Canada’s body of laws, and we support the resolution of unfulfilled treaty obligations in the process of reconciliation with Canada's indigenous people.
Historically, it was the government of former Conservative prime minister John Diefenbaker that was responsible for passing legislation that granted first nations people the right to vote in Canada. Nearly 60 years later, our new Conservative leader made very clear his commitment to indigenous peoples during his campaign for the leadership of our party. Specifically, our leader pledged that should he become Canada’s Prime Minister, his government “will contribute to reconciliation based on respect and the recognition that when Indigenous communities rise economically, all of Canada rises.” He also said, “Improving the relationship between the government and Indigenous communities must be a top priority. The future of our country depends on successful reconciliation and meaningful trust-building.”
Related to the oath of citizenship, the Conservatives have several guiding principles in our party’s constitutional framework that support the basis for all of our policy positions. One of these guiding principles is “A belief in our constitutional monarchy, the institutions of Parliament and the democratic process”. With that guiding principle, we are pledging our support to the monarch of Canada, Queen Elizabeth II, and the Westminster style of democracy that governs our great country. As a result, we support the words affirming our allegiance to the Queen and her heirs and successors in our country’s oath of citizenship.
In the context of our discussion today, it should be noted that there were several attempts in the 1990s by Liberal MPs, including cabinet ministers, to do away with centuries of historical tradition and development of our customs in our oath of citizenship. Thankfully, none of those attempts were successful.
Further, the Liberals' record of reconciliation with indigenous peoples does not match their rhetoric during their time in government. During former prime minister Stephen Harper’s tenure, the Liberals voted against legislation to improve divorce and separation rights on reserves for indigenous women. Three and a half years ago, our current Liberal said, “No relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous Peoples”, and that his government was “reviewing all federal laws and policies that concern Indigenous Peoples and making progress on the Calls to Action outlined in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
However, in the five years since the Liberals formed government, if Bill passes into law, it will represent only the sixth call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission fulfilled by the , and only the 10th overall in Canada. Although symbolic gestures such as changing the oath of citizenship are important, an argument could be made that with this bill the Liberals are showing Canadians that they are choosing to focus on low-hanging fruit and avoiding the calls to action that may be more challenging to implement.
Moreover, the pandemic aside, 2020 has been a dismal year for the Liberal government’s relationship with indigenous peoples. This year, 2020, began with an eruption across the country over the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Canadians experienced obstructive rail blockades that severely disrupted the flow of goods and people across our country. These events revealed cracks in the Liberal government's ability to mediate and support the economic development and success of indigenous peoples.
This weak approach has been witnessed more recently during the fisheries crisis in Nova Scotia, which has seen violent protests erupt between commercial fish harvesters and first nations. The safety of all Canadians must be the government’s top priority. It is clear that the and his government have failed to lead and take the necessary action to prevent this eruption, nor have they taken the long-overdue mediation steps or ordered the RCMP to support the community in order to keep all Nova Scotians safe, to the best of their ability, in their communities and to peacefully resolve the situation.
In conclusion, Conservatives strongly and proudly support Canada’s traditions and institutions developed over centuries in our Westminster-style democracy. We also recognize the importance of the symbolism that represents our unique Canadian culture, which includes the symbolic gesture of the proposed amendment to the oath of citizenship. If passed into law, the new oath of citizenship would elevate and promote indigenous rights, including treaty rights, as well as the inherent dignity of indigenous peoples, a dignity that for so long was denied.
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleagues. I am sure my colleague from will be pleased to be able to speak.
Today, I will be speaking to Bill . Although part of my speech will focus on the substance of the bill, I would also like to talk a little bit about how the bill was introduced and debated, both during this Parliament and the previous one.
To begin, I will give a bit of not so ancient history about the government's desire to modify the oath of citizenship. This is not the first time that this bill has come before the House.
The changes to the citizenship oath, as set out in Bill , were first introduced in Bill during the previous Parliament, the 42nd Parliament. That bill was introduced on May 28, 2019, shortly before the House closed down. Since Parliament was not set to come back until after the October 2019 election, it was reasonable to expect the bill to die on the Order Paper, which is exactly what happened.
Subsequently, a second version was introduced as Bill in the first session of the 43rd Parliament. Since the bill was being tabled at the start of the session this time, there was hope that it would not die on the Order Paper. As the ways of the House of Commons and the government are as impenetrable as prorogation is apparently inevitable, Bill died a premature death.
However, Bill did get one hour of debate. To ensure that it did not die in vain, I will provide a summary of the key points of said debate.
First, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship stated that in preparing the bill, his department had consulted the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council and the Land Claims Agreements Coalition, an organization that represents indigenous parties in Canada that are signatories to the 24 modern treaties. These consultations had begun in 2016.
Second, to justify the fact that the wording of the oath in the bill was different from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94, the minister said that the parties consulted did not agree on wording. The department therefore chose to go with wording that better reflected the experience of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
Lastly, the minister clearly stated the intent of the bill, saying:
The purpose of this bill is twofold. First, our goal is to ensure that new Canadians recognize indigenous peoples' significant contributions to Canada. The government is also reaffirming its commitment to reconciliation and a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples.
Based on how the bill has been managed over time, I do not think the government is in much of a rush to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The consultations with first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples began in 2016, so it is a little surprising that the government did not introduce the first version of this bill for first reading until May 2019 and that it chose to do so at the end of the Parliament.
Although the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's report was tabled in June 2015, little has been done so far. Just 10 of the 94 calls to action have been implemented. It makes us wonder how willing the government is to take action on this matter. To ensure that the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's report is not just a cosmetic exercise, we must remember that even though every call to action is necessary, each individual call is not enough if it is implemented on its own.
If this is not due to a lack of haste and willingness on the government's part, we at least have to question the government's efficiency. For instance, why not graft the amendment of the oath of allegiance onto Bill regarding a national day for truth and reconciliation, the bill we just debated and passed at second reading earlier today?
Why did the government not propose amending the oath of allegiance in the 42nd Parliament, as part of Bill , which also amended the Citizenship Act?
If a separate bill is required to implement each of the remaining calls to action, then we have a long way to go. We have every right to ask ourselves the following question: By addressing each call to action through a separate piece of legislation, in addition to rehashing them, is that also the government's way of trying to cover up the fact that its legislative agenda is pretty meagre, to say the least?
In short, either the government is not being very convincing when it says that first nations issues are a priority, or it is being not terribly effective or deliberately ineffective in order to hide another defect, that is, its legislative laziness.
That concludes the editorial part of my speech, and I will now turn to the substance of the bill.
It should come as no surprise that the Bloc plans to vote in favour of the bill. The Bloc Québécois has already made it very clear that we want to be an ally to first nations. In that regard, it is only natural that we support the implementation of one of the recommendations from the report of Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
As I already mentioned, even though each individual call is not enough when implemented on its own, every call to action is necessary, and I intend to vote in favour of a bill to implement this one.
Amending the oath of citizenship to include a promise to recognize the rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples is a step in the right direction toward reconciliation with indigenous peoples. First nations peoples are absolutely right to ask for a reference to indigenous rights in the oath.
Obviously, the Bloc Québécois supports a nation-to-nation approach. That is the approach that Quebec will take when it declares independence. Indigenous peoples will be equal founding peoples with us when we create the new country of Quebec.
In the meantime, we hope that this new version of the oath will raise newcomers' awareness of the reality of first nations and their history, but also their new country's shameful treatment of first nations in the past. This is an opportunity to open a dialogue between newcomers and first nations. They will be able to speak to each other as equal citizens so newcomers can learn more about not only the history of first nations, but also their contribution to society.
To prevent history from repeating itself, as it sometimes tends to do, we hope this knowledge of the past will better prepare us for the future.
I personally hope the government will ramp up its reconciliation efforts. If it does, it can count on the Bloc Québécois' steadfast support.
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for sharing her time with me and giving me this opportunity to debate Bill , an act to amend the Citizenship Act with regard to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94, which was introduced by the .
The bill amends the Citizenship Act to include, in the oath or affirmation of citizenship, a solemn promise to respect the aboriginal or treaty rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, in order to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94.
My colleague already said the things I am about to say, but sometimes this government needs to hear things more than once. With respect to this bill, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said that, beginning in 2016, his department consulted the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council and the Land Claims Agreements Coalition, which represents indigenous signatories to Canada's 24 modern treaties.
As we can see, the wording of the oath in the bill is different from that suggested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The minister's reason for this is that the stakeholders did not agree on the wording and therefore the minister chose a text that better reflected, from the government's standpoint, the experience of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
This is another good example of the government thinking that it knows better than first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. This has been the approach of successive Liberal and Conservative governments over the years. They give out money. They offer programs to first nations and other groups and then dictate what they should do with it. The federal government always thinks that it knows best, it knows everything and it is the best. It thinks it knows the needs of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples better than they do. It thinks it knows their values and customs, but it is wrong every time. We need only think of residential schools, a sad chapter in Canadian history.
On the other hand, I am not surprised. Does this not remind members of something else? We saw the same sort of thing recently with the health transfers for the provinces. The Liberal government thinks it knows the needs of Quebec better than Quebec itself and is trying to tell Quebec how the money should be spent. I think that is basically a joke.
The Prime Minister did not listen when all the provinces called for an immediate, permanent increase in health transfers with no strings attached. Instead, he is persisting with his harmful obsession to interfere and decide how Quebec should spend its own money and with his idea of Canadian standards in areas under Quebec's jurisdiction.
The federal government needs to give Quebec the health transfers it needs to deal with the worst health crisis of the century without any strings attached. I want to emphasize that. Cuts to health transfers in the midst of a public health crisis make the situation worse and increase needs. Health transfers are essential. It is a matter of good management by the provinces for better quality of care and services.
This is the government's third attempt to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94. The ideas in Bill C-8 first surfaced in Bill , in the 42nd Parliament. That bill was introduced on May 28, 2019 but never got past first reading. In the parliamentary session before this one, the Liberal government introduced bill , which got just one hour of debate before dying on the Order Paper when Parliament prorogued.
That was done to silence parliamentarians and prevent them from getting to the bottom of the WE Charity scandal, an abuse of power on the part of the government as well as an ethical violation. WE Charity paid the Trudeau family, and the government gave WE Charity the contract for the Canada student service grant. What a way to manage things.
We hope the third time will be the charm, considering how long it is taking the Liberals to implement the recommendations of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
To date, only nine of the 94 calls to action have been acted upon, and this is the 10th. Fortunately, reconciliation with indigenous peoples is a priority for this government. Imagine what would happen if that were not the case.
To prepare to become Canadian citizens, all immigrants to Canada study a guide called “Discover Canada”. The guide ignores the fact that indigenous peoples are a source of law for Canada and states that the Canadian tradition of ordered liberty can be traced back to England, and not at all to the indigenous peoples of Canada who welcomed European explorers, helped them survive in this climate, guided them across the country and signed treaties with them to share their territories with the newcomers from Europe.
Call to action number 94 of the report of Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada states:
We call upon the Government of Canada to replace the Oath of Citizenship with the following:
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.
As I was saying earlier, the wording we find in the bill we are debating today differs from call to action number 94. The government opted for the following wording:
I swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
Passage of Bill would also make a change to the current affirmation and replace the following:
I affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
It will be replaced with the following wording:
I affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.
The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-8 because we pledged to be an ally of first nations. This bill is a step toward reconciliation with indigenous peoples. The established relationship of inequality has stripped indigenous people of the means to control their own destiny and fostered distrust for public services and the government.
What is more, the bill responds to call to action number 94 from the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It is important to note that, of the 94 calls to action, 10 have been completed since last September.
This bill would make newcomers to Canada aware of the reality of first nations and the constitutional nature of their rights when they become citizens. It would also spark a dialogue between newcomers and indigenous peoples on the history of the first nations.
For those reasons, we will vote in favour of Bill C-8.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and speak in support of Bill on behalf of the NDP.
The NDP has consistently called for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. In fact, I tabled an amendment to revise the citizenship oath to recognize and affirm the aboriginal and treaty rights of the first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in a previous immigration bill, Bill , back in 2016. Sadly, that amendment was not accepted.
Even though this change was in the former 's 2017 mandate letter, the Liberals failed to act until the dying days of the last Parliament, just before the 2019 election. As a result, the bill did not even make it to second reading.
The has claimed that the new relationship with indigenous peoples is his most important relationship, yet it has taken the three years to act on this priority from his mandate letter. I ask the members to think about it. It is astonishing that it has taken this long for the Liberals to act. There is simply no good reason for this not to be accomplished already.
The Liberals have missed the opportunity to ensure that the many new citizens who took their oaths since 2017 began their journey as Canadian citizens with a full understanding of our collective obligation to honour the rights of indigenous peoples. If it takes the Liberals this long to add a line to the citizenship oath, is it any wonder they are failing on their nation-to-nation relationships with indigenous peoples on so many levels?
In 2017, when the declared, “No relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous Peoples”, all of Canada was hopeful. Perhaps we would finally be able to work on redressing this country's historical wrongs and heal the trauma caused by Canada's colonial history. Perhaps we would finally be on the right side of history and move forward with a new relationship that puts the rights of indigenous peoples front and centre. Sadly, the actions of the Prime Minister indicate otherwise.
All we have to do is take a good hard look at the lived experiences of indigenous peoples to know that Canada has failed and is continuing to fail to meet its obligations to indigenous peoples. Look at what is happening with indigenous children. In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found Canada guilty of “wilful and reckless” racial discrimination by knowingly underfunding on-reserve child welfare services.
Why did it take 10 non-compliance orders against the federal government to force it to act? Why did Dr. Cindy Blackstock have to fight for so long and so relentlessly for the government to treat indigenous children fairly and equitably? Why is it that the basic human rights for indigenous peoples are so hard to honour for the Liberal government, and for the Conservative government before it? It is truly hard to comprehend.
Successive governments' foot-dragging in meaningful implementation and in upholding indigenous rights has had devastating impacts on the lives of indigenous communities across the land for generations, from the young to the old and all of those in between. We see the effect of this in our communities every single day. It is in the violence currently being committed against the Mi'kmaq fishers.
As stated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they have the right to self-determination. This right was enshrined in the peace and friendship treaties and upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999 by the Marshall decision. The Marshall decision affirmed their treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a “moderate livelihood” 20 years ago, yet successive governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have failed to negotiate with indigenous communities to define “moderate livelihood” and pave a path for indigenous fishers to fully exercise their rights, rights which are enshrined in Canada's Constitution.
How is this possible? Would anyone think, even for a minute, that, if this were a Supreme Court ruling for non-indigenous peoples, it would take more than two decades for the government to act? As a result of the inaction, the Mi'kmaq fishers are faced with violence, intimidation and domestic terrorism. Crimes were committed against them. People were injured, and they have suffered property damage.
Two weeks ago, the Liberal ministers agreed with the NDP that this warranted an emergency debate in the House of Commons, yet during the debate Liberal members voted against the NDP's unanimous consent motion to affirm the inherent rights of the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet people. The Liberals have refused to confirm their rights, which are enshrined in the Canadian Constitution and by the Supreme Court of Canada. They refuse to recognize that the Mi'kmaq nation deserves full and equal protection under the law from violence, intimidation and domestic terrorism.
Now, according to media reports, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs is alleging that the DFO is planning to seize the gear and traps of the Mi'kmaq fishers. Do the Liberals really think this is reconciliation? It is utterly shameful.
The Liberal government must stop making a mockery of the meaning behind this bill and act with integrity by taking real action to affirm the rights of all indigenous peoples. The must also pause and reflect on the message he is sending to young indigenous peoples when they witness the blatant inaction of the RCMP when it comes to ensuring the Mi'kmaq nation is afforded the same protection as everyone else.
This situation is more disturbing when compared to the situation of the Wet'suwet'en land defenders, where an ample number of heavily armed RCMP officers surrounded them as they attempted to assert their rights against the Coastal GasLink pipeline. It was truly shocking to learn that the RCMP officers were instructed to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want.”
It is as though the 1997 landmark decision, in which the Supreme Court of Canada found that the rights of the Wet'suwet'en nation had not been extinguished, did not exist. The Liberals are pushing ahead with the Trans Mountain pipeline extension. The voices of the land defenders are being ignored. There is a total disregard for article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which explicitly outlines the need for the government to fully respect the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples when it comes to resource development on their land, including and especially when the answer is “no”.
When the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples are so blatant, how can the Liberals go on pretending that they are affirming the rights of indigenous peoples? Sadly, this kind of injustice is not new, nor is this kind of doublespeak.
My questions for the are theses: What will it take to stop the human rights violations against indigenous peoples? What will it take for him to internalize the fact that the trauma of such human rights abuses is intergenerational?
My colleague, the member for , shared the very real lived experiences of her children as indigenous peoples. No parent should have to see their children suffer under the weight of such systemic racism. No parent should have to fear for the safety of their children because they are indigenous, yet this is their everyday reality.
My constituents, who continue to witness this ongoing abuse by the government, are saying that reconciliation is dead. They see an unprecedented number of indigenous children being taken away from their families through the child welfare system. They see police brutality being levied against indigenous peoples. They see racism permeating the health care system. They continue to see indigenous women and girls go missing.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls determined that colonial structures and policies, which persist in Canada, constitute a root cause of the violence experienced by indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQ2IA people. This violence, the report concludes, amounts to a race-based genocide against indigenous peoples, especially women, girls and 2SLGBTQ2IA people.
To remedy this and put an end to this Canadian genocide, the final report of the national inquiry put forth 231 calls for justice. When the final report on the national inquiry was released, the federal government promised that a national action plan would be in place on the anniversary of the annual release.
Families, survivors and indigenous organizations have emphasized the need for an indigenous women-led national action plan to implement the 231 calls for justice. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse, the national action plan has been delayed indefinitely. The longer the government stalls, the longer people suffer.
For example, many of the calls for justice include addressing racism in health care settings and hospitals. The disturbing death of Joyce Echaquan, an indigenous mother of seven children, after experiencing racist and derogatory treatment from health care staff in a hospital, is a sharp reminder that it is inexcusable for the Liberal government to delay the implementation of the calls for justice.
While the government is using the pandemic as an excuse for inaction and delays, the community has been advocating for real concrete actions to improve the safety and well-being of indigenous women and girls on the ground for decades. These include access to safe and affordable housing, reforms to the child welfare system, reforms to the justice system and policing, improving health care access for indigenous people as well as providing core funding support for providers of culturally sensitive and trauma-informed support in community services.
The pandemic is not an excuse to delay what should be a top priority for Canada. On the contrary, the pandemic is the reason to accelerate action. In fact, the pandemic has exposed many issues. Imagine what it is like to not have access to clean drinking water in a pandemic, yet the Liberal government has recently backtracked on its promise to end all drinking water advisories in indigenous communities by March 2021, which is only five months away.
Just last month, the Neskantaga First Nation's community was evacuated amidst a global pandemic after high levels of hydrocarbons were discovered in the water supply. While the government is using the pandemic as an excuse for the delays in fulfilling its promise, this situation was not caused by the pandemic. The community of the Neskantaga has been under a boil water advisory for 25 years. With the COVID-19 pandemic, access to safe water to meet hygiene needs is more important than ever. The pandemic should be a catalyst for urgent action rather than an excuse for delays. The health and safety of indigenous peoples matter. The lives of indigenous peoples matter.
Tied to the issue of clean drinking water is access to safe, secure affordable housing. Canada is struggling with a preventable affordable housing and homelessness crisis. The crisis impacts indigenous communities much more acutely due to the historic and ongoing displacement and systemic racism experienced by indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples are 10 times more likely to become homeless than non-indigenous Canadians.
Indigenous communities in rural, urban and northern communities face some of the worst housing conditions in all of Canada. My colleague, the MP for , went on a housing tour in her region. All the families she visited were living in overcrowded situations and all had serious problems with mould. Some homes were in such poor condition that beds were frozen to the wall.
Overcrowded homes and lack of housing means that many people are often forced to remain with abusers. Children are removed from their homes and families because there is no safe habitable housing available to families. As my colleague states, “Putting Inuit in situations where they are dying, getting sick or losing their kids because of inadequate housing is modern-day colonization.”
Urban and rural indigenous communities also face unique and drastic housing challenges. My riding of Vancouver East is one of the hardest hit by Canada's ongoing homelessness crisis, a crisis that disproportionately affects indigenous peoples.
Of all the community members currently living in the Strathcona Park tents right now, it is estimated that 40% of the residents are of indigenous ancestry, despite indigenous people only comprising 2.5% of the population of Metro Vancouver.
The lack of access to housing, a basic human right, is a root cause to the disproportionate number of indigenous children in care and removed from their families. It is a root cause of the violence experienced by indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. It is stressful, trauma-inducing and injurious.
It is simply incredulous that the housing needs for urban, rural and northern indigenous peoples were completely ignored in the national housing strategy. Despite all the talk over the years, there is still no plan for a rural, urban and northern indigenous housing strategy led by indigenous people for indigenous people.
The amended citizenship oath affirms what should have been true all along; that recognizing and affirming indigenous and treaty rights is at the core of fulfilling one's duties and responsibilities as a Canadian citizen. The government must act now to fulfill its own obligations to recognize and affirm indigenous and treaty rights.
While the amended Citizenship Act helps new Canadians better understand, we, at the same time, also have a crucial role to play in ensuring that Canada meets its obligation to indigenous peoples. It is treaties that give settler Canadians the privilege of living on indigenous lands and with that privilege comes the collective responsibility to commit ourselves to recognizing and affirming indigenous and treaty rights.
Justice Murray Sinclair summarized this obligation best, “Reconciliation is not an aboriginal problem—it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us.” It is incumbent on the federal government to show that leadership every single step of the way. It is incumbent on the Liberal government to do better than what it has done so far.
Having only completed 10 calls for action is not good enough. Indigenous people should not have to continually wait for their rights to be honoured and for their basic human rights to be respected. Incremental reconciliation should not be the path forward. We need to see action and we need to see it now. We cannot allow for the pandemic to be that excuse. We need to accelerate the program and to move forward. Generations have been waiting for it. Indigenous peoples deserve better.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the member for .
I would like to first acknowledge that the House of Commons where this debate is taking place today is on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation.
I am pleased to discuss the amendments to Canada's citizenship oath that our government is proposing to Parliament.
The history of first nations, Inuit and Métis is the very history of our country. Indigenous people in Canada are the descendants of the original inhabitants of this land. There are three distinct groups that are recognized in Canada's Constitution: first nations, Inuit and Métis. Indigenous people in Canada are critical in our country's development and our future. Indigenous peoples are very diverse, with many distinct heritages, languages, cultures, practices and spiritual beliefs. Reconciliation with indigenous people remains a central priority of this government, and we will continue to move forward as a committed partner in renewing our relationship with indigenous peoples.
It is important to acknowledge the contributions that indigenous people have continued to make in building a stronger and more inclusive Canada. With strong indigenous institutions, we will begin the important work of closing the socio-economic gap and fostering strong indigenous communities for future generations. All Canadians are responsible for participating in the ongoing process of reconciliation. This brings us to the changes the government has proposed, to change the current wording of the oath of citizenship.
Through these proposals, our government is addressing one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action that pertains to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's mandate. Call to action 94 calls on the government to amend the oath of citizenship and to add reference to include treaties with indigenous peoples. Our consultation with national indigenous organizations clearly indicated that the phrase “treaties with indigenous peoples”, as recommended by the commission, is not relevant to all indigenous peoples and therefore not inclusive of varied indigenous experiences.
The amendment of the oath in this bill expands the commission's wording to be more inclusive of varied indigenous experiences. This responds to what we heard in the consultations and reflects the spirit of this particular call to action. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has consulted with other government departments and national indigenous organizations on the wording of the oath of citizenship. Therefore, to address the commission's calls to action as well as the commitment made in the 2019 Speech from the Throne, the bill would modify the wording of the oath of citizenship as follows:
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.
The revised text of the oath uses wording that reflects the broader range of rights held by diverse indigenous people. Any change to the oath of citizenship requires amendments to the Citizenship Act and is subject to the parliamentary process. As the minister has often noted, the government is committed to completing legislative work on the changes that reflect the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. This explains the changes we proposed today.
Let me close with these thoughts for my hon. colleagues to consider. The histories of the indigenous peoples in Canada are rich and diverse. They stretch far into the past since time immemorial, before oral and written history. I would impress on my hon. colleagues that we need to take this opportunity to both acknowledge our country's past and to move toward a renewed relationship with the indigenous peoples based on the inherent rights, respect and partnership.
The changes to the citizenship oath would be an important step in this pursuit. Through this and other actions, all Canadians can continue to move forward together on the road to reconciliation so we can leave a proper legacy for our future generations.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today. I would like to acknowledge that the House of Commons, where this debate is based today, is on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation. I am speaking today from my riding of Labrador, which is the traditional homeland of Inuit and Innu. We are very proud of the culture that we share together in this big land.
The story of indigenous peoples in Canada is a history that stretches far into the past, before the arrival of the European newcomers to Canada. Indigenous peoples have a fundamental role in Canada's past and are a strong pillar of our society. Those are words people hear at many citizenship ceremonies across Canada. Taking the oath of citizenship is a vital step in the process of becoming a Canadian citizen, and it is recited as the final legal step to becoming a Canadian citizen, which is important to note.
During the ceremony, participants accept the rights and responsibilities of citizenship by taking the oath of citizenship, after which they become Canadian citizens and receive a certificate to mark that particular designation. It is important for both new Canadians and those who are born here to learn about indigenous people and the rich history of indigenous culture. This legislation, , proposes to change Canada's oath of citizenship to include clear reference to the constitution, which recognizes and affirms the aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
The proposed amendment to the oath reflects the Government of Canada's commitment to reconciliation with indigenous peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership. It is part of the government's ongoing response to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Of the 96 calls to action, 70 are within the Government of Canada's purview. We are working very hard to deliver on those recommendations because we believe that it is the right path and it is the true path to reconciliation.
The changes are an important and necessary step to advance Canada's broader agenda for reconciliation and to strengthen the country's valued relationship with indigenous peoples. The government's proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act would allow new Canadians to fully appreciate and respect how indigenous peoples are a critical part of our country's history and our country's identity. The new citizenship oath will also reflect our expectations that new Canadians demonstrate an understanding of indigenous peoples and their constitutional rights.
Canada must continue to stand up for the values that define this country, whether that is welcoming newcomers, celebrating our LGBTQ2 communities or embracing our two official languages.
Put simply, the walk toward reconciliation includes the need to address systemic racism in Canada. No relationship is more important to our government than the one with indigenous peoples, and we continue to forge a renewed relationship with them based on the recognition of rights, trust, respect and a true spirit of co-operation. That is why across the country we have worked together to close the quality of life gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people. We have made important progress on this. The last three budgets alone provided $16.8 billion in new funding for indigenous peoples, an increase in planned spending for 2021 of 34% over what was budgeted in 2015.
All children in Canada deserve a real and fair chance to reach their full potential, no matter where they live. By continuing to collaborate with first nations and with Inuit partners, the government is working to eliminate barriers to quality health care and to foster the culturally relevant, social supports that children need in order to succeed. Bill helped reform the indigenous child care and child welfare in this country. We know from our co-operation with indigenous governments, from learning from them and taking their advice that we can lead in a better direction for all indigenous people.
When we look at distinctions-based funding for post-secondary education, we know it is helping first nations, Inuit and Métis students access better education and succeed in their studies. We have seen it over and over again.
In addition, the government has taken action to help communities reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen indigenous languages and to sustain their important cultural traditions and histories. By promoting indigenous entrepreneurship and business, the government will help first nations, Inuit and Métis people. It will help them fully contribute to and share in Canada's economic success. This is a critical part of advancing reconciliation and self-determination.
While the path to reconciliation is long and we know it is challenging and will often be met with difficulty in different aspects, as a government, we will continue to walk that path with all first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and with all Canadians. We will do so in our actions and interactions.
As I mentioned earlier, the proposed changes to the oath that we are talking about today are an important and necessary step to advance Canada's broader agenda for reconciliation with indigenous people in this country. These changes demonstrate to new Canadians and, in fact, all Canadians a deep respect for indigenous peoples, and they recognize that the histories of first nations, Inuit and Métis people are a vital part of Canada's fabric and identity.
Since Liberals became government in 2015, we have invested more money historically than any government before us to address the significant challenges that have faced indigenous peoples in Canada. We are very proud of the reform that we have done around the child welfare act. We are very happy with the progress that we have been able to make in so many different indigenous communities across Canada.
We were the first government to commit to addressing the issues of clean water, housing and so many other pieces of important infrastructure, where we knew there were huge gaps. However, we did not do it alone. We did it with the support, guidance and input of indigenous governments through the Crown-Inuit partnership table and through the partnership tables with first nations and Métis. We heard first-hand from national leaders, band councils and heads of governments in indigenous communities what was important to them, what they wanted from government and how we should move forward in partnership with them.
Out of that, we have seen a lot of investments that were directly needed, important and critical at the time, along with longer-term strategies: strategies to eradicate tuberculosis over a 10-year period, strategies to deal with mental health and addictions in indigenous regions, strategies that looked at their own education systems and how they could play a more critical role in the delivery of health care and social welfare programs on reserve.
We have continued to work with leadership because we know that they know it better. As the Government of Canada, we are here as a true and full partner at the table not only to listen and learn but also to walk the path of reconciliation and make the tough choices that have to be made on that path to reconciliation. The Government of Canada and the have stood up and apologized for the past wrongs that have been done to indigenous peoples in this country, to make amends. It is all part of our walking together in reconciliation as a country.
Reconciliation is not just with indigenous people; it is with all Canadians. I have heard that statement many times. I have heard many members in the House of Commons make that statement, and no words could be truer.
We all have a job to do and a role to play. What members are seeing today with the calls to action under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is just one other way the Government of Canada is stepping up to do what is right and what should have been done for a long time—
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I will start by talking about citizenship and the citizenship process, then I will get into what the bill would do and what it is intended to do.
We have heard a lot about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but it is also important to reflect on becoming a citizen of Canada, what it is and what it means.
As everyone knows, there are only two ways to become a citizen: by birth or by naturalization. In Canada, the released his new numbers a few days ago for those coming into Canada. Typically, it is in the 300,000 range, plus or minus. Each year, 100,000-plus, or 100,000 to 200,000, of the people who have chosen to come to Canada as permanent residents will decide to take that next step to become Canadian citizens.
There are some criteria in terms of wanting citizenship in our wonderful country. Out of those 350,000 who might come next year with permanent residency, some may choose to return home, as Canada is not where they really want to be, and some will be permanent residents forever. However, to become a citizen one has to be a permanent resident, has to have lived here for three to five years, have filed taxes when necessary and have taken a citizenship test. It would be interesting for Canadians who were born here to take that citizenship test and see how they do. I believe there are about 20 questions, and one has to get 15 out of 20 to pass the test. One also needs to have a degree of proficiency in one of our official languages but, of course, there are some exceptions in terms of older residents and some of our youth.
For those who choose to go through the process to become a Canadian citizen and take the test, the culmination of that process is the citizenship ceremony. Most members of Parliament who have been in the House for a while have had an opportunity to participate in these citizenship ceremonies. There is nothing more profoundly moving than going to these ceremonies. Often large groups of people from around the world go to these citizenship ceremonies, and it is their final step in terms of becoming citizens.
I have been to some ceremonies that were held in schools. These were really fun, because all the students would get to come and watch the process. In one case, students from grades one to six decorated the auditorium and watched the process. I have been to one on Canada Day. What better can a person do than to be outside in a park on Canada Day? In this case, 80 or 90 people from my riding of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo who chose to become citizens of Canada there in the park. They were not only celebrating Canada Day, but also the commitment they had made.
Unfortunately, with COVID, now there are virtual ceremonies. I have not participated in a virtual ceremony, but I would think that it would probably not be as moving as some of the in-person experiences. I remember families: moms, dads and children taking the oath. I remember one lady who had been in Canada for 40 years before she made that decision. For her, it was such a leap that it took her 40 years to decide that she wanted to become a citizen of Canada.
There are people who come to Canada as permanent residents, and their goal is to get their Canadian citizenship as soon as possible. The people who choose to become citizens of Canada, who are not privileged by birth, are perhaps the ones who most appreciate the citizenship they have.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission indicated in its calls to action that, first of all, in the test, there needed to be more work in terms of people understanding Canada's history, understanding Canada's history with indigenous peoples, understanding treaties and, quite frankly, in the case of British Columbia, understanding the lack of treaties. That was a call for action.
It is interesting to see that the oath has not changed in over 40 years. I was looking through the history of our oath. People have often looked at changing it over the years, and there were some very interesting oaths proposed in the early 1990s and 2000s. However, we have had the same oath for 40 years.
The oath is, as members know, the final legal requirement to become a citizen of Canada. I want to say quickly what the oath is currently, and then I will say what the proposed oath is. It is very simple. I was surprised at how short it was.
The current oath is:
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
There was a modification that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proposed. I understand that what we have in the legislation is not actually what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proposed, but is a modification made after consultation with indigenous groups and also immigration groups across the country. It will be interesting when this bill gets to committee.
The proposed oath is:
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
Again, there has been some question as to some of the changes. The TRC just talked about the treaties. I have already noted that in British Columbia there are no treaties; however, there are certainly aboriginal rights, and there is a need to respect those rights.
From listening to the debate today, it sounds like there is general agreement in the House that the bill should move forward to committee and be further reflected upon. I think that is important.
With the time I have left, I want to talk a little more about the report. It was tabled almost six years ago. There were calls to action, and it has been six years. The day the report was tabled, the stood up in the House. At that time, he was the leader of the third party. He said that he would commit to implementing all the calls to action. As we know, in 2015, he became the Prime Minister. He again said that he would commit to implementing all the calls to action.
What we have here is 19 words added to an oath. There are many calls to action, and many are complex. If it has taken the Liberal government six years to add 19 words and, quite frankly, to get a relatively simple piece of legislation through the House, I really have to question the government's commitment to moving forward in the way that the stood up and promised to do.
I am unfortunately out of time, but I could share so many things in terms of how the Liberals have disappointed over the years.
Madam Speaker, I want to begin today by stating it is an honour to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Citizenship Act.
The oath of citizenship sworn by all new citizens of our great country is relatively short, compact and simple, but at the same time it is a profound promise to faithfully observe all the laws of Canada. It is an affirmation of patriotism and loyalty.
As we consider Bill today, the bill itself is quite easy to support in principle. As my colleague from Kildonan—St.Paul said earlier, our party was pleased to support this bill at second reading. It is one of the 94 recommended actions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Prime Minister Harper initiated. In fact, it was Prime Minister Harper’s leadership in this area that was directly responsible for all of us having the opportunity to discuss Bill C-8 today and the potential implementation of that bill.
When discussing the merits of this bill it would be easy to digress and get caught up in some of the finer details. For example, the wording in the oath proposed is slightly different from that suggested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This change in the oath could be considered redundant, as new citizens are already required to swear or affirm that they will observe all of the laws of Canada, which include aboriginal rights already enshrined in our Constitution.
As well, people do not become Canadian citizens overnight. The ceremonial event of declaring an oath includes the accumulation of years of required residency, learning one or both of Canada's official languages and studying the many documents and data contained in the Discover Canada handbook. It contains a detailed look at the history of indigenous people, which are essential learnings before the citizenship test. However, instead of focusing in these details, I would like to speak for a few minutes about some of the more important issues on the ground during these tumultuous times.
The government has expressed in words, many times in the last few weeks, that it does not have time to deal with trivial matters such as ethics, studying its response and learning from the first wave of COVID-19, or even tabling a budget, because its sole focus has to be on helping people through the pandemic. However, it has expressed in its actions in the last few weeks its priorities by tabling bills that have no link to the pandemic.
What we do hear from this is self-righteous indignation, as if his party is the only one that cares about indigenous people in Canada. This leads me to speak for a few moments about the frustration regarding the timing of this bill. At a time where indigenous leaders are asking for actions, we are asked to sit in this House, or attend virtually, and debate a bill that will not resolve anything for indigenous people in Canada in the short term. If it is frustrating to me, imagine the signal it sends to indigenous people and their leaders.
Since being elected a year ago, I have had the privilege of working closely with Chief Ron Mitsuing of Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation. I do not know if the House remembers, but it was his community that declared a state of emergency as it dealt with a suicide crisis late last fall. Under his leadership and his sincere concern for his people, he led them through some very difficult situations, and many since. His leadership and care for his people is a source of inspiration for anybody who has been able to watch that journey.
Very recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with the chief again. He brought with him Elder Morningchild. They came to my office about a month ago. Between the time of his declaration of emergency a year ago and the beginning of the pandemic in March, Chief Mitsuing advised me there were around 40 young people on his suicide watch list. Since COVID-19 and the consequences the pandemic has placed on his community, he is now dealing with over 100 young people on his watch list. This is in a community of about 1,000 people. Imagine being a leader like Chief Mitsuing, having to hear politicians in Ottawa debate the wording of an oath and then pack their bags, turn off Zoom and go home for the evening feeling satisfied they accomplished something significant on behalf of indigenous people. Imagine their frustration or the frustration of the members of Neskantaga, who had to evacuate their community during a pandemic due to a 25-year-long boil water advisory. At a time when federal health officials are asking people to limit their contact by staying home as much as possible, this community was loaded onto airplanes and sent to live in a hotel many miles from home.
One only has to watch the video of the children of Neskantaga put out by their chief, Chris Moonias, where the children are asking questions like “When is the water going to get fixed?”, “Are we going to get help?” and “When are we going home?”. It is heartbreaking. It is devastating. It is shameful.
The committee welcomed the then minister of indigenous and northern affairs in 2016, who made these people a promise that the issue would be fixed by 2018. Now they find themselves sitting in a hotel far away from their community, having to witness the irony of this minister's government putting forward a bill that asks new Canadians to make a promise. The current government cannot even keep its own promises. It is more “do as I say, not as I do”. I can imagine their frustration.
Speaking of water, there is a small community in my riding that provides healthy, clean drinking water and other services to a neighbouring first nations community. Due to an ongoing jurisdictional issue with respect to payment, this small community is owed money and has been carrying the debt of the federal government for years. I am sorry, but a small municipality should never be put in a position where a decision has to be made about turning off water to its neighbours to finally bring attention to the fact that it is owed a very significant amount of money, which, quite honestly, should be allocated to other services its residents need at this difficult time.
Seven months ago, I raised this issue directly with the , his chief of staff and the department's western-desk representative. As of last week, the promised meeting between the department, the first nation and the community has yet to take place or even to be scheduled. At a time when neighbours need to work together, the government's inability to act in a reasonable amount of time is divisive and damaging to these communities. I can imagine their frustration.
The leaders of first nations and Métis communities in my riding did an outstanding job managing the first wave of COVID in the spring. They took the required actions to keep their people safe. Their tireless work on the ground allowed for a potential health crisis to be averted in many of these communities. Now, as cases begin to rise again, so does the anxiety of what is ahead for them as leaders. Do they have enough PPE for their communities? How do they acquire the much-needed rapid testing? How are they going to manage checkpoints in winter conditions? Who is going to ensure the safety and health of the elderly and the vulnerable in their communities? When a vaccine is approved, how will they gain access and distribute it among their people?
The leaders of these communities need the government focused on providing the essential supports that they badly need to keep their people safe. They are tired. They are anxious. They deserve more than a symbolic gesture in this trying time. We would have to spend a lot of time searching for a leader in these communities who would suggest to me that changing the wording of the oath of citizenship is a top priority the government should be focusing on right now. It is time to move beyond words. It is time for concrete actions.
This begins with taking responsibility: responsibility for acting slowly to close down borders in Canada; taking responsibility for sending mixed messages to Canadians regarding masks; taking responsibility for ignoring the need for rapid tests across Canada; taking responsibility for poorly created relief programs that shut out indigenous businesses and many others; and, generationally, taking responsibility for not living up to the promise to end drinking water advisories by the spring.
The government must act. It must act to end drinking water advisories with the same intensity it did when creating and passing the CERB and, dare I say, when covering up its corruption in the WE Charity scandal. The government must support first nations dealing with high rates of youth suicide. It must act to address the issues outlined in the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls report. It must act to show real leadership rather than crisis management in situations such as the Mi'kmaq lobster fishery or land claim disputes in Caledonia.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my friend, the member of Parliament for .
I am grateful to have this opportunity to speak in support of the government's bill that would revise the oath and affirmation of citizenship. I wish to acknowledge that I am speaking to members from Surrey, B.C., on the traditional territory of the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Qayqayt and Tsawwassen first nations.
This bill continues our government's important work to walk the shared path of reconciliation. It responds to call to action number 94 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report. We know that newcomers to Canada are eager to take on the responsibility of citizenship. In doing so, with the passage of this bill, newcomers would state their commitment to respect the rights and treaties of indigenous peoples. They would recognize the significant contributions of first nations, Inuit and Métis to Canada.
In short, this bill would reaffirm to our newest citizens our shared history with indigenous peoples, and the integral role indigenous peoples have played, and will continue to play, in Canada. This is especially important as we continue to address issues such as systemic racism, which sadly exists even today.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report lists 94 calls to action. The 94th call to action calls on the government to amend the Oath of Citizenship to specifically add a reference to treaties with indigenous peoples.
I want to recognize the comprehensive and thoughtful consultations my colleague has conducted in order to bring this bill here today. The proposed changes to the oath come from the government's consultations with national indigenous organizations on the precise wording of the Oath of Citizenship.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada included the following organizations in its consultations: the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council and members of the Land Claims Agreements Coalition, which represents indigenous modern treaty organizations and governments in Canada.
There was support for the intent of the call to action, but through engagement, the need for a more precise and inclusive oath became clear. A key point raised in this engagement was the term “indigenous”, which does not reflect all preferences of self-identification.
I understand this point deeply because of my many conversations held over the years. I know that many people identify by their home community, homeland or territory, and there are many other ways to identify. The Oath of Citizenship, as well as all Crown-indigenous relations, needs to be based on an understanding and respect for self-identity preferences and, at a broader level, reflect many experiences and histories.
We also heard that the call to specifically include treaties in the Oath of Citizenship was deeply important. Treaties are foundational to the creation and future of Canada; however, through consultations, it became clear that this reference needed to be expanded. We were reminded that the wording “treaties with indigenous peoples” was not relevant to all indigenous peoples, and therefore not inclusive of all indigenous experiences. For example, Inuit peoples generally are not party to existing pre-1975 treaties, or their agreements with the Crown are not characterized as such.
As a result of these consultations, as well as our pre-existing understandings and commitment to respectful relationships, the new oath will read, “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.”
I am proud to support this bill for the revised Oath of Citizenship. This oath is much more than words. It is a public declaration of joining the Canadian family and is a commitment to Canadian values and traditions such as equality, diversity and respect: all things that are vitally important today, tomorrow and always.
The changes to the oath are also an important step in advancing reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous people, in Canada continuing to build Crown-indigenous relations, and in fulfilling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. It is one step among many.
Over the last five years, significant progress has been made to establish a whole-of-government approach, involving 13 lead federal departments and agencies, with the support of another 25 federal departments and agencies, to implement and advance the 76 calls to action under federal or shared responsibility. To date, nearly 80% of these actions under federal or shared responsibility are complete or well underway. I want to note that the implementation of these calls to action require long-term, ongoing and sustained action, to which we are committed.
This bill is another step toward full implementation of call to action 94, and I am pleased to speak in support of it.
Madam Speaker, I would like to acknowledge that I am speaking from the traditional homeland of the Dene, Métis and Inuvialuit of the Northwest Territories.
I am of Métis descent. I am a member of the Dehcho First Nations. We are known as the “big river” people. I believe I am the only sitting member who attended the residential school program, or the hostel program as we knew it.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in support of the government’s bill that would revise the oath of citizenship. It continues our government’s important work to walk the shared path of reconciliation and the implementation of the TRC's calls to action.
I would like to point to a number of key legislative initiatives that address calls to action and advance reconciliation.
Bill , the Indigenous Languages Act, received royal assent in June 2019. This act supports the Government of Canada’s efforts to reclaim, revitalize, strengthen and maintain indigenous languages in Canada. The act was developed to address calls to action numbers 13, 14 and 15; elements of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP; and the Government of Canada’s commitment to a renewed relationship with indigenous people based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
That same month, in June 2019, royal assent was given to Bill , an act respecting first nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families. It came into force on January 1, 2020. This act was codeveloped as part of Canada’s efforts to reform indigenous child and family services, which included implementing call to action number 4. It affirms the rights of first nations, Inuit, and Métis to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services and establishes national principles such as the best interests of the child, cultural continuity and substantive equality, which help guide the provision of indigenous child and family services.
The act was the result of extensive engagement with first nations, Inuit and Métis, treaty nations, self-governing first nations, provincial and territorial governments, and those with lived experience, including elders, youth and women. It reaffirms the government’s commitment to advancing self-determination and eliminating existing disparities between indigenous and non-indigenous children and youth.
The act also lays out flexible pathways for indigenous governing bodies to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services at a pace they choose. Through the act’s legislative framework, they can move forward with their own service delivery models and laws and choose their own solutions for their children and families. It ensures indigenous children are cared for in the right way, with connections to their communities, cultures and languages. Furthermore, since January 1, 2020, every service provider, province or territory delivering child and family services to indigenous children and families will need to follow the minimum standards found in the act.
Bill , an act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code regarding a national day for truth and reconciliation, was introduced by the on September 29, 2020. If passed, this bill will be an important step in responding to call to action number 80 by establishing the national day for truth and reconciliation on September 30 as a statutory holiday for federally regulated workers. This national day would honour survivors, their families and communities. It would also remind the public of the tragic and painful history and legacy of residential schools that remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.
The Government of Canada continues to work closely with partners to address the remaining calls to action.
In June 2019, the government received the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, entitled “Reclaiming Power and Place”. It responded to call to action number 41, which called for the launch of a public inquiry into the disproportionate victimization of indigenous women and girls.
Furthermore, the Government of Canada is committed to gender equality and reconciliation with indigenous peoples, and has eliminated all the remaining sex-based inequalities in the Indian Act registration provisions, which go back to its inception 150 years ago. We committed to eliminating all sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act registration, and we delivered on that promise.
Bringing Bill into force also responds to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls calls to justice and provides justice to women and their descendants, who fought for these changes for decades. We will continue with partners and other levels of government to respond to the findings of the national inquiry and to this national tragedy.
In closing, I reiterate that the government is determined to address the historical, colonial racism and injustice of yesterday, just as we are determined to root out and expose the racism of today. As Canadians have seen all too clearly during this difficult time, racism, both systemic and social, continues to be all too prevalent in our country. It must not and cannot be tolerated, for that, too, is part of the healing process, just as this bill is part of the healing process.
This bill represents progress on the shared path to healing and reconciliation. It responds to concerns expressed in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It points the way to a more inclusive Canada. Moreover, by amending the oath of citizenship, it represents greater awareness and answers call to action 94.
I am pleased to offer my full support of the bill before us.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to be able to rise today as the member of Parliament for the Kenora riding, rejoin this debate and speak to Bill , an act to amend the Citizenship Act in accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action 94.
I must mention that I am very glad to be sharing my time today with the great member for . I will add that I appreciate that Elections Canada gave me such an easy riding name compared to that.
This legislation we are debating today will add a new line to the Canadian citizenship oath, where new Canadians will be explicitly noting and making mention of indigenous and treaty rights. I must say this is something I am very happy to see moving forward. It is a topic I have been having many conversations about in my riding. I have spoken with chiefs, community leaders and residents of first nations in my riding to get their thoughts on this. More specifically, I have been asking a lot about what true and meaningful reconciliation should look like and I have been doing a lot of listening.
The Kenora riding is home to many indigenous peoples. There are 42 first nations in my riding. There are many Métis and indigenous people living within the nine municipalities or the rural unincorporated areas of my riding. My riding also encompasses three distinct treaty territories, so reconciliation is definitely an issue that is top of mind for many in my riding, but over and over I hear the same things. People are not looking for platitudes and empty gestures; they are looking for real action. There are obviously a lot of different opinions on what that looks like, but I think it is important to note that each and every one of us in this House all know and should recognize that every party, every government has taken some very positive steps to address the gaps that exist between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians. Likewise, every party has had some missteps and frankly some failures on this file.
Under the last Conservative government, the official residential school apology was issued and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was launched. All these years later, I believe it is time that we can all work together to deliver on the intent of that commission. Too often reconciliation is used as a buzzword by politicians for political purposes. Many very serious issues that need to be addressed fall by the wayside in exchange for these platitudes and empty gestures that have no meaningful impact on the everyday lives of indigenous peoples. I note this because it is important we make sure the intent of this bill, which I believe wholeheartedly is positive, is not lost and that we continue to make tangible differences in the lives of indigenous people across the north and across Canada.
As I have noted, I have spoken with many chiefs in my riding about this bill. They are supportive of the bill and of the government fulfilling this aspect of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. However, they have noted to me that if we just simply change the citizenship oath without taking action to improve the social and economic well-being of indigenous peoples it will lose its power and in many ways lose its meaning. That is why we must support economic growth in northern communities, equitable health care options, improved infrastructure and education, and of course we must ensure that clean drinking water is available to each and every person living in Canada.
Right now in my riding the community of Neskantaga has had to evacuate after its water system shut down completely leaving the community without any water. It has been under a drinking water advisory for 25 years. There are people living in that community who have lived their entire lives without any access to clean drinking water. It is something that is unimaginable to most Canadians, yet it is a reality for far too many in the north and across Canada, particularly many in my riding who have been living under drinking water advisories for far too long. I want to note something. I was having a conversation with someone in my riding about the stark differences between some of the communities I represent and being here in this magnificent place.
All we have to do is wave our hands and someone brings us water, or we can go to the lobby behind me and we have our choice between flat or bubbly, a little lime or lemon, and jazz it up however we want, but there are people in the communities I represent who have never had access to clean drinking water. It is important that we all take time to acknowledge that and reflect on the two faces of Canada, if I can use that term.
That is why I was incredibly disappointed that the government walked back from its promise to end all long-term drinking water advisories on reserve by next year. There are recent reports from CBC saying that the government may miss this mark by years. It is unacceptable that people in our country do not have access to clean drinking water and it is unacceptable for the government to push this down the road.
There is a broader lack of infrastructure in many northern communities across my riding, across the territories and across Canada, whether it is housing, road improvements or the Internet. As we have experienced in the debate today, there are problems with the Internet. I make note of all of these because these tremendous gaps exist in my riding and in many others. In communities like Cat Lake, there is a housing shortage, there is overcrowding and many of the homes that are available have structural problems, mould or other long-standing issues.
On the Internet aspect of it, many communities do not have access to the Internet. These residents are not able to potentially attend school or access government services. This pandemic has shown us that Internet access is not a luxury but a necessity. Unfortunately, many indigenous peoples in many indigenous communities have some of the worst Internet connections or lack of connection of anyone else across Canada. These are important things that we must work on as well.
I already mentioned health care gaps. Given the remoteness of many communities in my riding, which are accessible only by flying in or by winter road, there has been chronic underfunding or poorly prioritized funding and mismanagement by the federal government, which has left many with poor health care service options. We must do more to ensure that each and every person living in Canada has access to equitable health care and, of course, that must include the north.
I believe in the importance of economic support as well and the role that economic development and economic diversification of the north can play in providing many opportunities to northern and indigenous communities. By working together to create good jobs and ensuring that revenues stay in the north, everyone can benefit from this responsible development. It is something I have seen in my riding with Grand Council Treaty #3, which signed a historic resource revenue-sharing agreement with the Province of Ontario. We must do more of that collaboration and ensure that economic growth is part of our reconciliation discussion and the process, as I believe it can help us reach many of our other aspirations.
All that being said, I do believe in the spirit of this proposal and that this is a very positive step, so long as concrete actions on the many issues that I have outlined can be addressed. It is important for new Canadians to understand the value of treaty rights and indigenous rights. Perhaps, as many community leaders in my riding have pointed out, this could be an opportunity for further education on the history of Canada, the good and the bad, so that every Canadian, whether new to our country or with a family that has been here for generations, can understand why reconciliation and upholding treaty rights are so vital.
I definitely want to acknowledge that this is one of the most important things. It cannot get lost in this discussion. I urge my colleagues, especially those in government, to work with the opposition and all parties to ensure we do not let politics get in the way of taking true, meaningful actions and bringing forward tangible items that will improve the lives of indigenous peoples across Canada.
Madam Speaker, every day I think about how lucky I am to be a Canadian. There is simply no better country in the world. Our nation is seen as a beacon of hope by so many. Whether it is the natural beauty of our environment, the kindness of Canadians, our robust free market economy or the right to live in a free society that seeks to honour and protect the rights of its citizens, we are truly among the most fortunate.
However, Canada has not always been as just as we would like it to be. Certain groups have faced more challenges than others. Indigenous Canadians are one of those groups. The treatment of indigenous peoples is a stain on our history, and we cannot forget about the injustices of the past; we must learn from them.
As a Jewish Canadian, the term “never again” always comes to mind. The commitment of never again is a solemn pledge to never let hatred and injustice take control of our society, to never let genocide take place, to never stand idly by while bad actors motivated by something sinister wipe out those who seem to be getting in their way.
As scholar and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said:
I swore to never be silent.
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
We are all here as elected officials, 338 out of 38 million Canadians. These 38 million Canadians expect us to get it right. We have no option but to be successful in these efforts.
The process of reconciliation is vital and fundamental to the future of our society. As Canadians, we need to have the difficult conversations necessary to ensure indigenous Canadians can live in a more equitable society for all.
As Senator Murray Sinclair said:
The road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek....When it comes to truth and reconciliation we are forced to go the distance.
It is hard to believe the enormous challenges that still exist today for indigenous communities. How is it possible that we live in a country where boil water advisories still exist? It is 2020, and we are witnessing technology development like we have never seen before. We have cellphones that possess 100,000 times more of the computing power than it took to land Neil Armstrong on the moon, and yet we still cannot find a way to get clean running water to indigenous communities.
Before having the honour of serving my community in this place, I was an elected member of Winnipeg City Council. In my time there, we made great progress in advancing initiatives for our city to come together and explore what reconciliation truly means. Just after I was elected to council on January 22, 2015, Maclean's magazine published a story calling my city a place where racism was at its worst.
We could have protested Maclean's assertion, but instead we embraced our own call to action and did what we could do, as Senator Sinclair said, “to go the distance.” That call was to take immediate and proactive steps to make reconciliation more than just a word on a page.
I remember the day vividly. I was driving to city hall when the story came out. Mayor Brian Bowman called an emergency meeting of community stakeholders in both indigenous and non-indigenous communities. I remember partaking in a traditional smudging ceremony that morning in the mayor's office, where we came together with indigenous leaders to express our desire to do better.
As Winnipeggers, we did do better. I want to tell members what we did. In 2015, the year of that article, we held the ONE: The Mayor’s National Summit on Racial Inclusion at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, bringing together many leaders and community members into a think tank of compassion to tackle racism in all its forms.
The following year, the mayor declared 2016 to be the year of reconciliation, and we instituted mandatory indigenous awareness training for all employees and councillors in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action 57. I attended those sessions.
That same year, we invested $10 million towards the building of the Freedom Road project, which built an all-weather road, not in Winnipeg, but to Shoal Lake 40 first nation on the Manitoba-Ontario border. It was completed just over one year ago.
This community has supplied fresh water to Winnipeg for over 100 years and yet has spent decades under a boil-water advisory. I was proud to share a small role as the chair of finance in correcting