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View Garnett Genuis Profile
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join the debate on Bill C-6. It is short and straightforward legislation, but at the same time one that invites our consideration of a vast array of issues of the way in which we welcome newcomers, the process for citizenship and how we move forward with reconciliation with indigenous peoples. There are many different points to raise in the context of that discussion.
Just to set the stage a bit, we have a substantial number of recommendations coming out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process, a process that followed an apology that was issued by form prime minister Stephen Harper, working with other parties.
My colleagues across the floor were shouting about what might not have happened in the past, but of course they should remember that process was a shared process. It was something on which all parties worked together, but it was a process that happened and was initiated under the leadership of Stephen Harper.
When we talk about reconciliation with indigenous peoples, we have this list of recommendations coming out of that. Some of these speak to very large, substantive, challenging issues around justice and health or around a clear policy reorientation. Some of them speak to issues of naming and symbolism. I would very much agree that those symbolic steps and discussions are important. We should not dismiss them entirely. The way in which we recognize certain things verbally, like the citizenship oath and elsewhere, these symbolic aspects, is not irrelevant.
However, symbolic recognition should be a step or a part of a process moving toward more substantive change, more substantive connection and reconciliation. It is unfortunate we see with the government this springing exclusively for these symbolic things, the smaller symbolic pieces of it, rather than actually moving forward with substantive action.
In addition to talking about the bill, I want to zero in on what some of that substantive action needs to look like with respect to moving forward in a reconciliation agenda.
For those just joining the conversation, the bill would do one simple thing. It would change the oath that new Canadians would take when they become Canadian citizens. The current oath simply says:
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.
It is a general oath. It identifies our Queen and a sense of adherence to law and duty. It is clear, beautiful and simplistic, yet it is not overly descriptive in what some of those laws might be. The amendment proposes to include one such element of specificity into the oath. The new oath would 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.
There are many aspects of Canada's history and identity and this brings in one very important aspect; the treaty commitments that all of us are a part of in our relationship with indigenous peoples.
This has a relationship to, but it does not directly follow, recommendation 94 from the TRC process. It says:
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.
Recommendation 94 does marshal in the same direction, but it is much simpler and clearer. It is not as long and it does not name all the different indigenous groups: first nations, Inuit and Métis. It says, “indigenous”.
Therefore, we effectively have these three options for possible consideration in the context of this conversation: the existing oath, the government's proposed oath and the oath proposed by the TRC process. Beyond that, there is a range of other options.
We might say that we should add the recognition of our linguistic duality, our multicultural identity or of the importance of freedom, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. We can imagine all kinds of different things that could be added as well, things that really are very important to who and what we are as country and what we have become.
However, we have a process, which is not the oath itself, through which newcomers to Canada read and learn about aspects of the Canadian identify. We have a citizenship guide. TRC recommendation 93 speaks specifically to revising the information to newcomers, looking at that citizenship guide to strengthen the reflection in it of the history of Canada's “diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools.”
That certainly is important. There is no need for a great emphasis on brevity and simplicity in a citizenship guide. One can be longer and more explanatory in that context, and there would be value in action on that specific item. I think there would be consensus on that point at least among all members of the House.
We have the government choosing to focus in on one more symbolic proposal, not implementing it exactly but proposing a change to the citizenship oath.
What are we to make of this?
First, the principle of telling the full story of our history as a people in Canada is very important. The original framing of our national story was as the coming together of two nations, of French and English. That was part of the dynamic in Confederation, but many other peoples were incorporated into Canada and not really through their consent.
There were indigenous peoples, whose status as distinct nations were not recognized at the time of Confederation. There was also this dynamic that some people have spoken about recently, in which much of what is western Canada today did not negotiate its way into Confederation. Rather, it was purchased and then boundaries were drawn within it and retention of certain what were otherwise provincial powers were maintained by the federal government.
As a western Canadian who tries to be attentive to the concerns of indigenous peoples as well, there are a few different aspects in which we can see how this bicultural story, this coming together of two nations, misses the full breadth and diversity of the Canadian experience.
Is it important that this be reflected in the information we share through education, in different formats and certainly with newcomers? Absolutely. All of us in the House have an interest in seeing newcomers to Canada learn all this important information about what Canada's history and identity mean. They are learning from our successes and our historic mistakes and they are incorporating that in their sense of what it means to be a Canadian.
Our founders were right to see us a multicultural nation, but at the same time a common civic nation. We must have a common civic identity that is rooted in certain common values in an understanding of our history. Part of that history is the important relationship between all of us and indigenous peoples who live in Canada. Therefore, that recognition and appreciation are very important.
I know sometimes we hear discussion on the process of citizenship.
In an interview that the Prime Minister gave a few years ago to The New York Times, he described Canada as a post-national state, as lacking a mainstream, as lacking a core identity. I disagree with that. Certainly we lack a common ethnic or religious identity, but we do have a common civic identity.
Those who highlight the importance of discussing the role of injustices towards indigenous peoples as part of the process of welcoming newcomers are putting forward the important idea that Canada has a common civic identity, which has to involve an understanding of our past, both the successes and the failures, and how we move forward. One thing to assert as part of this debate is that this proposal does speak to the idea of a common civic identity, and that is important.
My biggest frustration with where we find ourselves here is that we really need action from the government. It needs to move forward substantively to improve economic conditions and the many things that flow from it for indigenous Canadians. We have had a lot of debate about precisely this issue over the last week.
We have natural resource projects in remote areas that have the overwhelming support of indigenous communities. Without getting into a debate about specific blockades or specific policies, there is obviously a lot of frustration in my riding and my province about what has happened with the Teck Frontier project.
The principle behind this is whether we believe we have to be the kind of country where indigenous peoples have the right to develop, have the right to say yes to projects, have the right to sign on to agreements with companies, and then those projects, when they have the support of local indigenous peoples, should be able to move forward. There has been a lot of discussion, and rightly so, about the rights of indigenous peoples. We need to include in that discussion a recognition of the right to develop, a recognition of the right to say yes to projects.
We should have learned things from our past history, a time of colonial mentalities when people were told they could not speak for themselves, that others would speak for them.
We have a colonial mentality today from those who claim to speak for indigenous peoples but do not actually know what indigenous peoples want or know their interests. Protesters and activists in other parts of the country, for example, claim to be in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en people in their opposition to development projects, when in fact those people are overwhelmingly expressing, through their elected representatives, their support for those development projects.
People claiming to speak for another group that is contradicting what that group wants is not solidarity. That is colonialism. We have to know the difference. Solidarity is when people are magnifying the voice of people who are themselves speaking about their own issues of concern. It is not solidarity when people contradict and oppose the things that those communities want. That is a form of colonialism. We have managed to get into a lot of trouble in the past when our leaders and activists and people in other parts of the country have failed to know the difference between those things. A well-intentioned paternalistic, colonial mentality that dismisses pro-development voices as being just bought off for the money is no less paternalistic just because it might be well intentioned. We should have learned in the area of the relationship between the government and indigenous peoples that good intentions are not enough.
We need to stand up for the right of indigenous Canadians to develop, to move forward with projects that they support and therefore to have jobs and opportunities within their own communities. Without those jobs and opportunities, people are forced to a standard of living that is much lower than it is for Canadians elsewhere, or they are forced to choose between that low standard of living and moving to an urban centre, moving away from their home community.
These are the real, substantive and, may I say, difficult issues involved in reconciliation. How do we have meaningful consultation with the elected representatives of indigenous people that recognizes that while we cannot have unanimity, when there is overwhelming consent, the people need to be able to move forward?
I notice members of the government and my friends in the NDP have been speaking about the issue of UNDRIP. Conservatives are supportive in principle of the aspirational objectives that are in much of the document, but we have a lot of concern about the legal frameworks that have been proposed around it. Their effect in saying that every community must have free, prior and informed consent in the effective application of the legal frameworks that have been proposed before the House in the past has amounted to providing a veto for every single community.
I would make the case that if a project has overwhelming support and the vast majority of communities and individuals are saying yes to it, they should have the right in a democratic country to pursue the wishes of the majority. Of course, we defend minority rights when someone's personal situation is infringed, but on questions about economic policy and development, there is a sense that develop rights for indigenous communities should include the right for the majority to express their desire and to move forward.
This is a concern with the framework of UNDRIP that has been proposed, and this is why I opposed a private member's bill on this in the last Parliament. We need to work these issues out. If the majority of indigenous communities or a majority of indigenous people are saying no to a particular project in their area, then consultation means listening to them and respecting their wishes. However, if the majority say yes, listening requires us to respect that will and to move forward.
These are some of the substantive issues that are essential to this conversation, but we do not see the government showing leadership on it. We are becoming a country in which it is very difficult to build anything, a country where projects are being pulled back for fear of a small number of protesters shutting down the ability to move forward. Projects that are good for our economy, that are good for the environment and have the support of indigenous peoples just are not moving forward. Therefore, companies will choose to make investments elsewhere, and the real victims will be those vulnerable Canadians. Each of these projects may be the difference between having a job and not having a job, between providing for an education for their children and not providing for an education for their children.
These very serious talks are serious for our economy, serious for the environment and serious for our relationship with indigenous people. I implore the House to zero in and focus on these substantive issues so that we show leadership and set up frameworks that allow indigenous communities the right to develop, to move forward and access the economic prosperity that comes from their resources.
As we develop this, we need to continue working to build an inclusive society in which newcomers understand the history and traditions of indigenous peoples and in which all of us who were born here in Canada take the opportunity to learn more and understand more of the substance of our history.
I do not feel that changing a line in the citizenship oath, especially in a way that is not aligned with what was in th TRC recommendations, is going to move us forward on those substantive issues. As I said at the beginning, as much as the symbolic discussions have a place, the urgency of where we are at now, the lack of government action, the lack of a plan to move forward, is hurting a lot of indigenous people across this country, people who depend on natural resource development, people who depend on our railways.
We have to be a country that can build things. We have to be a country that can move forward together. It would be tragic if we found that the country that once built a transcontinental railway was now not capable of getting to yes on almost any major project in the national interest, especially when those have the overwhelming support of indigenous Canadians.
These are urgent issues that we must move forward on as quickly as possible.
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