moved that Bill C-8, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to begin by acknowledging that the House of Commons is located on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples.
Today, I have the privilege of speaking to Bill C-8, an act to amend the Citizenship Act.
If passed, the bill would amend the oath of Canadian citizenship to ensure our indigenous peoples have their right place within the solemn declaration made by newcomers as they are welcomed to the Canadian family.
Allow me to explain the importance of this legislation and why the government is seeking to pass it into law.
This bill continues to fulfill our government's commitment to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action, specifically call to action number 94. The government first proposed this amendment some time ago as part of our overall efforts to significantly advance reconciliation. As member of the House will know, similar legislation was tabled previously in both the last Parliament and last session, and that is why I am so proud to be reintroducing it today.
This is a difficult time for Canadians and for the entire world. Throughout the global pandemic, the government has focused on supporting indigenous communities, working to control the spread of COVID-19 and keeping everyone safe.
That is something the government will continue to do as we walk the shared path of reconciliation with indigenous peoples and remain focused on implementing the commitments made in 2019.
Racism hardly took a pause during this pandemic and, indeed, arguably it has exacerbated it. The government is committed to addressing racism in a way that is informed by the experience of racialized communities and indigenous peoples. This is hard work, not just for Parliament, but for all Canadians. Renewing the relationship with indigenous peoples must be based on a recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
Our laws and policies must foster co-operation with indigenous peoples and reflect how we can all work to protect indigenous languages, traditions and institutions.
As Senator Murray Sinclair has 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.”
We have made advancements to address reconciliation, but there is clearly more work to be done. I hope we will use this time as an opportunity to have a constructive debate on this bill, starting with an all-party agreement that the amendments it proposes to the Citizenship Act are one more vital step toward reconciliation.
Before discussing the substance of the legislation, allow me to provide some historical context that gave rise to call to action number 94.
As said at the time of the publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, too few Canadians know about the tragedy of the residential schools. There was a deficit of public awareness regarding the systemic way in which indigenous children were forcibly torn from their families. Previously shamed into silence about their backgrounds, thousands of survivors shared their painful residential school experiences with the commission, helping to start an important dialogue throughout Canada about what was necessary to recognize and start to heal the trauma.
We all have much to learn from listening to their voices, and it is in the spirit of this sharing of knowledge and learning that we put forward this bill to help new Canadians, at their inception as citizens, begin to understand the history and rights of indigenous peoples as a part of our country's fabric.
The stories of first nations, Inuit and Métis are the story of Canada itself. That is why the approach we are taking with this new oath is so important. We must, as Senator Sinclair has said, demonstrate “action that shows leadership”. With this bill, we are taking a step to change the oath of citizenship to be more inclusive and to take steps to fundamentally transform the nature of our relationship with indigenous peoples.
For hundreds of years, even before the residential schools, indigenous peoples faced discrimination in every aspect of their lives. Our government firmly believes that we must acknowledge the injustices of the past and envision a new relationship based on the inherent rights of indigenous peoples.
The bill we have put forward helps to lay the foundation for that journey. If adopted, the new oath of citizenship would read 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.
To arrive at this language, the government engaged indigenous leaders, including the national indigenous organizations. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada began consultations in 2016, with the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council. In addition, the department engaged with members of Land Claims Agreements Coalition, an organization that represents indigenous modern treaty organizations and governments in Canada.
To summarize our consultation, I would say that while there was general support for the intent behind the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action, it was clear that further efforts were needed to make the oath as precise and as inclusive as possible. However, it is the government's sincere belief that the wording put forth in this bill is inclusive of first nations, Inuit and Métis experiences, responding not only to call to action number 94, but to the substance of what my department heard throughout our consultations.
The bill we put forward to the House today includes a proposed oath of citizenship that would introduce and, we hope, instill the principle of reconciliation among our new citizens.
Many hon. members would agree that newcomers and prospective citizens represent an ideal group to embrace this principle. Becoming a citizen is a significant milestone, and over the last decade Canada has welcomed nearly 1.7 million new citizens.
In my time as minister, I have already had a number of opportunities to participate in citizenship ceremonies right across Canada, and I can tell hon. members that they are among the most emotional, moving and inspirational functions that I get to participate in. We see the pride on the faces of new citizens and how the oath represents a major commitment as part of their journey to settle in our country. The oath is an integral part of the citizenship process. It expresses a commitment to equality, diversity and respect within an open and free society. By taking the oath, new citizens inherit the legacy of those who have come before them and the values that have defined the character of Canada.
Essentially, our history becomes their history, and their history becomes part of ours.
With this bill, that shared history would also ensure that newcomers recognize and affirm the rights and treaties of indigenous peoples and see them as an integral part of Canada's past, present and future. It is a long road and we still have a long way to go, but our goal is to ensure that new Canadians recognize the significant contributions of indigenous peoples to Canada. In doing so, the government is also reaffirming its commitment to reconciliation and a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples.
However, this transformation will extend far beyond this proposed legislation and will take mutual respect, determination and patience. It will mean listening to and learning from indigenous partners, communities and youth, and acting decisively on what we have heard, which is to build trust and healing. It will also mean doing everything we can to support the inherent right to self-determination of indigenous peoples that will lead us all to a better future. We can and will build a better Canada together, but we can only do this in full, honest partnership with indigenous peoples, who truly know what is best when it comes to their own communities.
I want to end by acknowledging again that this has been a challenging time. However, this legislation represents a significant opportunity for Canada. The oath of citizenship is a time to celebrate our great country and should be an opportunity to recognize that indigenous peoples have been on this land since time immemorial. In doing so, we can work to address racism and its impacts on everyone in Canada, because as active and engaged citizens, we can all be part of the solution.
Let us move forward toward a new and better nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples based on inherent rights, respect and partnership. I look forward to working with all members of the House to support this legislation, which represents yet another step forward on the path to reconciliation.