An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94)


Marco Mendicino  Liberal


Report stage (House), as of Feb. 5, 2021

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This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Citizenship Act to include, in the Oath or Affirmation of Citizenship, a solemn promise to respect the Aboriginal and 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.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Dec. 10, 2020 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-8, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94)

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2020 / 11:30 a.m.
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Philip Lawrence Conservative Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour and a bit of a surprise to virtually stand in the House of Commons to continue my speech on Bill C-8, an act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94).

I want to reiterate that despite the fact that Canada is one of a few countries in the world where indigenous rights and treaties are entrenched in the constitution, our relationship with indigenous people is far from perfect. It represents, unfortunately, a very dark chapter of Canadian history, which has left a damaging impact on the lives of indigenous peoples across our country today.

In the first half of my speech, I talked about the damaging history of residential schools and the impact they have had on indigenous people to this day. This terrible act committed by the Canadian government saw thousands of children ripped away from their families and forced to assimilate with what it perceived as Canadian values, which could not be any more un-Canadian.

In a 100-plus year period, over 150,000 indigenous children were removed from their families and forced to live in terrible conditions. Their rich culture and history was stripped away from them. The abuse endured by these children had an everlasting impact and an adverse effect on indigenous cultures for generations to come.

I really cannot imagine what it would be like, as a father of a five-year-old and a seven-year-old, to have my children taken away from me, along with everything that I hold dear: my personal values, family values and religion. I cannot imagine my children being put into a foreign environment where they are unable to connect with the generations before. I find it deeply troubling that it ever occurred in Canada.

The history of abuse represents a shameful portion of Canadian history and reminds us of the importance of respect and dignity that should be afforded indigenous peoples across Canada. I look forward to a better day when we see the process of reconciliation moving forward and everyone walking strongly together, building a better Canada for everyone, indigenous and non-indigenous. In this modern day and age, however, indigenous people across Canada continue to face many important issues and we, as a country, have a lot of important work ahead of us on the path to true and meaningful reconciliation.

I have been shocked and, quite frankly, disgusted by some of the recent news articles that outline the ways our indigenous people are still being treated to this very day. There are still many indigenous communities that do not have access to clean drinking water. While the government has committed to ending long-term drinking water advisories for all first nations communities, there are still 61 indigenous communities that do not have access to clean drinking water.

As the member of Parliament for Northumberland—Peterborough South, I am honoured to be the representative of the Alderville First Nation and Hiawatha First Nation. Both of these first nations are extremely well led by Chief Carr and Chief Mowat, and I have been honoured to have conversations with both.

While Alderville First Nation was connected to clean drinking water in 2017 and Hiawatha First Nation is in the process of this, the fact that both of these great powerful nations have had to endure going without clean drinking water in the 20th and 21st centuries is incredible to me. It is something that should never have happened in Canada. I find this appalling.

Beyond that, indigenous people across Canada are facing a mental health crisis. With a lack of access to mental health services, Statistics Canada found that overall, indigenous people in Canada die by suicide at a rate nearly three times as high as non-indigenous Canadians. There is no doubt that this must be related to the troublesome history indigenous people have had in our country, and we need to do better. We need to make sure indigenous people are not committing suicide, and certainly not at three times the rate of non-indigenous peoples in Canada.

Another huge issue is missing and murdered indigenous women. Between 1980 and 2012, despite the fact that indigenous women make up 4% of the female population, indigenous women and girls represented 16% of all female homicides in Canada. This is shocking.

Bill C-8, which would expand the Canadian oath of citizenship to include recognition of the treaty rights of the first nations, Inuit and Métis people, is an important step toward true and meaningful reconciliation. By including this historic amendment, Canada is taking steps to educate newcomers of Canada and recognize our dark history.

I am proud to support the bill to create a new oath of citizenship, one that would elevate and promote the inherent dignity of indigenous people and their rights, including treaty rights, to new Canadians. It is important that we recognize the first people who called this great land home. .

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2020 / 11:40 a.m.
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Xavier Barsalou-Duval Bloc Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are discussing Bill C-8.

I must say that when we first looked at the bill, we found it interesting. The government wanted to reach out to indigenous nations, which is good, considering all the harms inflicted on them in the past.

We are obviously not particularly attached to any oath for new Canadian citizens, given that we want to be independent and have our own oath for Quebec citizenship.

However, after examining the bill more closely, we realized that it contained a poison pill. On the one hand, the government wants to reach out to indigenous peoples, but on the other hand, Quebec gets a slap in the face. In fact, new citizens would have to swear an oath on the Canadian Constitution, which Quebec never signed. It was forced upon us; we never voted on it, either.

I would like to hear my Conservative colleague's thoughts on the fact that the government is trying to surreptitiously slip something past us that is actually quite insulting to Quebec.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2020 / 11:40 a.m.
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Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure and honour for me to participate in this debate.

The bill before us, Bill C-8, is essentially about the respect and consideration that we here in the House always owe to first nations. This applies as much to Canadian citizens as it does to those who will one day join our country as citizens. When these new citizens come forward, they will have to swear this oath of allegiance, which, thanks to Bill C-8, now recognizes first nations. This is therefore an important issue, one that calls for reconciliation and consideration and, above all, respect.

We all know that the first nations have been living on the land known as Canada for a very long time. We all know that when the Europeans arrived in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the first nations were overcome in the events that unfolded. We must, however, always acknowledge their indelible presence on this land and their tremendous contribution to building this great country known as Canada.

This process was not a seamless one. Unfortunately, there was a litany of sad, unfortunate and unjust events that led to what is currently going on in this country. We cannot erase 400 years of difficult relations with the stroke of a pen, but we can learn from our mistakes and never repeat them. We can take a different approach, a different attitude, to see the future from a better perspective, while showing the patience necessary to acknowledge that mistakes were made in the past and to establish trust and reconciliation.

It is an honour and a privilege to have the community of Wendake, previously known as the Huron Village, in my riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent. I was born in Loretteville, right next to Wendake, in 1964, so I grew up very close to the Wendat people. I still have some very dear and very close childhood friends from that community. I am lucky, because I have been around first nations peoples my whole life, which may help me better understand some concerns. Still, who am I to talk about their experience? All I can say is that the Wendat people have made exceptional and extraordinary contributions to the community and in particular to Quebec City.

The Wendat people have lived on this land since the dawn of time, but in a more sedentary way. After being threatened with outright extinction through wars and battles, they went from Île d'Orléans to Sillery to what is now known as L'Ancienne-Lorette, before ultimately settling at the foot of the Kabir-Kouba Falls in 1696.

Of course I have nothing but good to say about them because I know them very well. I have been their neighbour for 56 years. It is a privilege and an honour to represent them in the House of Commons, as it was to represent them some time ago in the National Assembly of Quebec. I have to say that I am the one who is privileged in Canada, and I say it with all due respect. I am tempted to say that it is the best nation in Canada, but other nations might dispute that.

Instead I will say that Wendake and the Wendat people are an inspiration for all Canadians with respect to collaboration and living together harmoniously, and we should look to the Wendat people's relationship with non-indigenous people in the Quebec City area and follow their example everywhere in Canada. They are an inspiration.

The Wendat community I represent is made up of proud, positive and constructive people. They are also business people. In Wendake, in my riding, there are dozens of businesses that hire indigenous and non-indigenous workers. Nearly 400 non-indigenous people work in these businesses located in Wendake territory.

Just recently I had the pleasure of visiting a factory that makes snowshoes. Raquettes GV was established in Wendake in 1959 and employs dozens of people. It sells its products throughout Quebec and Canada and around the world. Naturally, I am very proud of these people, and that is why I am so pleased to represent them in the House of Commons. They are hardworking people who can look to the future while being extraordinarily attached to the heritage of their ancestors and proudly representing it.

Sadly, we were recently called to pay tribute to Max Gros-Louis, who, as hon. members know, was a high-ranking indigenous leader. For more than 50 years, he was committed to defending his nation and the first nations. He did so with the fighting spirit of a proud Huron-Wendat, but also with respect for the people he was dealing with. That is why, when Grand Chief Gros-Louis passed away, everyone unanimously spoke of his extraordinary contribution to the good relationship we need to have.

There was an election in Wendake roughly a month ago. A young man by the name of Rémy Vincent was elected. I congratulate him. He succeeded Konrad Sioui, who held that position for 12 years. I worked with him during the 12 years of his mandate since his term began about a month and a half before I started mine at the provincial level. We always collaborated with respect. We had differing opinions. I could recognize certain things that he could not and vice versa. That is what living together is all about. We can have different points of view and agree to disagree. We must work together to improve the things we do not agree on, and we must work together when we have common views. I know that is the approach that the new chief, Rémy Vincent, is taking as he begins the mandate that his nation has just given him.

I do not claim to be better than anyone else, but it so happens that I have the great privilege of knowing the first nations well, especially the Huron-Wendat people, having grown up alongside them from my earliest days. As I said in my introduction, we have a responsibility to recognize that relations between indigenous and non-indigenous people have been particularly difficult and rocky. I will have the opportunity to talk about a few aspects of that.

On the other hand, we have the responsibility to recognize that some steps have been taken that have had such an important impact on how we live today. Let me remind members that it was the Right Hon. John George Diefenbaker who recognized the fact that first nations should have the right to vote.

We must also recognize that on June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered the Canadian government's formal apology to the first nations for the residential school tragedy. For an entire century, residential schools were opened by successive governments, from Sir John A. Macdonald to the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau, forcing over 140,000 first nations children to renounce and deny their most precious heritage, the legacy of their ancestors. It is arguably the greatest tragedy in Canadian history.

It took courage and honour to recognize this tragedy. I am proud to know that the Right Honourable Stephen Harper is the one who offered this formal apology to the first nations on the recommendation of the late Jack Layton of the NDP. Yes, we must acknowledge our mistakes, but we must also build on the good things we have done and look to the future.

We salute the government for placing a lot of emphasis on reconciliation with first nations in its statements. We hope that this reconciliation will be based on concrete, positive action that focuses on the future of relations between first nations and non-indigenous peoples. We noted, as did everyone, that the current government made a commitment to first nations that they would have clean drinking water, which seems obvious to those of us who do not have this problem. Unfortunately, the government has failed. We salute the minister for having the honour and dignity to admit it, but we hope that he will redouble his reconciliation efforts and that it will not be just talk.

From our perspective, the fact that the recognition of first nations is included in the oath that will be taken by new Canadians is important, even essential, and it must be perpetuated by this reality.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

December 10th, 2020 / 11:55 a.m.
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Xavier Barsalou-Duval Bloc Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent for his very interesting speech. I could support most of what he had to say, but there was one thing that disappointed me.

It is important to reach out to indigenous nations and make up for the mistakes made in the past in some small way, even if it is only a very small way, since we are talking about putting a few words in an oath of citizenship. I do not think that is going to solve all the problems. However, there is a negative element in what is proposed in Bill C-8, and yet I did not hear my colleague talk about it. Quebec did not sign the Canadian Constitution, but now new citizens are being asked to take an oath on the Canadian Constitution. There is something wrong with that. It is a disgrace.

Unless I am mistaken, Mr. Mulroney, the former leader of the Conservatives, recognized this at the time. He said that he wanted to bring Quebeckers back in with honour and enthusiasm. Once again, that was a failure in terms of closing the rest of Canada to Quebec.

I would like to know what my colleague, as a member from Quebec, thinks about that. Does he still intend to vote in favour of Bill C-8, or does he intend to support amendments that could be made to it?

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2020 / 12:05 p.m.
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Paul Manly Green Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Madam Speaker, it is an honour and privilege to speak today on Bill C-8 from the traditional unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw people. I want to acknowledge that the riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith lies within the territories of the Snuneymuxw, the Snaw-naw-as, the Stz'uminus and the Lyackson first nations.

Huy’chka siem.

I would like the thank the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria for sharing this time with me today so that I could speak to this important bill.

Bill C-8 is an act to amend the Citizenship Act. The bill would change the oath of citizenship so that newcomers to Canada, in addition to pledging allegiance to the Queen, will also faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the aboriginal treaty rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis people.

The Snuneymuxw people, whose territory I am from speaking today, signed a treaty in 1854. This was the 14th and the last of the so-called Douglas treaties, and it was ignored for over 100 years. It was not until the landmark White and Bob Supreme Court case in 1965 that this treaty was finally recognized by the Government of Canada. This historic case marked the beginning of the modern era of treaty and aboriginal rights and title, advocacy and activism across Canada.

I learned about this treaty while working on a film about the Nanaimo River, entitled Voices of the River. In my interviews with Snuneymuxw elder Ellen White and with her grandson Doug White, who was the chief of Snuneymuxw First Nation at the time, they both emphasized the importance of this treaty and the rights and title that it enshrines. Most residents of Nanaimo would have no knowledge of this treaty and what it means. It is a constant struggle for the Snuneymuxw people to have their treaty rights recognized.

This is true for first nations across Canada, as we have seen with the Mi'kmaq fishery in Nova Scotia and the Haudenosaunee dispute in Caledonia, Ontario. We are all treaty people in Canada. We have historical treaties that need to be respected, and for those first nations that have never signed treaties, it is incumbent upon the government to go through the modern-day treaty process in a respectful way.

It is important for newcomers to Canada to understand the indigenous and first nations rights enshrined in the Canadian Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All Canadians, including new Canadians, need to understand these legal documents. They should understand that if they are not in a region that is covered by a treaty, then they are in a region that has never surrendered and is still legally indigenous territory.

The bill would complete number 94 of the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That does not mean that the current Parliament has finally gotten to the end of the list and has implemented the previous 93 calls to action, far from it. We have a very poor record of implementing these calls to action. Earlier this year my colleague, the hon. member for Fredericton, presented a scorecard in her speech on this issue. Out of the 52 broader reconciliation recommendations, seven have been completed. Under justice, it is one out of 18; language and culture, one out of five; health, zero; education, zero; and child welfare, zero.

In the first year, five recommendations were completed, and just four since 2016. At the current rate, it will take approximately 38 more years before all of the calls to action are implemented. This is not reconciliation in action.

Call to action number 94 is important, but there are far more urgent calls to action that we need to turn our attention to. Call to action number one calls upon federal, provincial, territorial and aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of aboriginal children in care. Right now there are more indigenous children in the child welfare system in this country than there were children in the residential schools at the height of the residential school system. This is an ongoing abuse of human rights and a violation of fundamental social justice.

When I talk to local leaders from first nations and urban indigenous communities in my riding, they tell me the same thing: Children are being apprehended by provincial child welfare agencies, and it is not because the parents have neglected to provide their children with love, care or attention. The majority of child welfare apprehensions are a direct result of poverty and inadequate housing. The Government of Canada could deal with this immediately with a poverty reduction strategy and rapid housing program for first nations and urban indigenous populations.

The missing and murdered indigenous women and girls inquiry recommendations called for a guaranteed livable income to ensure no Canadian needs to live in poverty. A guaranteed livable income would remove the bias inherent in our social welfare programs and would be a step toward ending systemic racism in this country. Indigenous people are overrepresented in our prison system and in our homeless population. This is also a direct result of poverty and the disproportionate number of children pulled from their families and communities by the child welfare system.

We have a long way to go toward true reconciliation with indigenous people in Canada. Under the reconciliation section of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action, the first call to action, number 43, calls upon federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation. This is important and we need to get this done right away. Why are we not debating this right now?

It is a national shame indigenous communities have boil water advisories that go on for years and even decades, that indigenous communities deal with serious and persistent poverty, that indigenous people are overrepresented in our criminal justice system and in our homeless population, that we have such high levels of suicide among indigenous youth and that health outcomes for indigenous people are comparable to those of residents of low-income countries.

It is an international black eye for Canadians that we have encroaching developments and industrial projects forced upon indigenous communities after sham consultations and then have those developments and projects rammed through with enforcement actions by highly armed militarized police forces.

We need economic reconciliation to improve the conditions for economic development and economic sovereignty for first nations. The connection to land is key to the culture of indigenous people in Canada, but as colonizers we have broken that link. The reserve system forced indigenous people off the land and took away those key connections to their culture. Industrialization has destroyed many traditional territories with resource extraction, including excessive logging, mining and oil and gas production, destroying biodiversity and leaving behind toxic messes.

In my riding of Nanaimo Ladysmith, the traditional lands of the Hul'qumi’num-speaking people were stolen out from under them with the E&N land grant 150 years ago. Coal baron and B.C. cabinet minister Robert Dunsmuir was given 8,000 square kilometres of land, or 20% of Vancouver Island, to build the E&N railway from Esquimalt to Nanaimo as part of the deal for B.C. to join Confederation. This corrupt deal and historic wrong need to be corrected. We cannot celebrate 150 years of B.C. joining Confederation next year without reparation for this theft. Reconciliation must be more than words, it must include reparation for historic wrongs.

There is a long list of things we need to do to make things right in our relationship with first nations, Inuit and Métis people in this country. If this is indeed our most important relationship, as the Prime Minister has often repeated, then let us get on with it.

I have had the honour and privilege of working with many newcomers to Canada and I know they are keen to be good citizens and become part of our communities. Many of the newcomers arrive from difficult situations and have faced war, poverty, environmental degradation and human rights abuses. Once they learn about our history and fully understand the circumstances many indigenous people live with in Canada, these newcomers are shocked.

Bill C-8 is an acknowledgement of the responsibilities of all Canadians, including new Canadians. It is an important piece of legislation. The Green Party supports this legislation. We support all the calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we support the recommendations of the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls inquiry and we support the full implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I hope to debate much more legislation implementing urgent calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation report soon. I hope this happens in the very near future.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2020 / 12:20 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, to pick up on that, when we talk about how important that United Nations resolution is, we recognize that it was actually brought to the floor of the House a number of years ago from a member of the New Democratic Party. The Government of Canada did in fact support that piece of legislation and it passed through the House of Commons. It would have become law and received royal assent had it gone through the Senate, but it did not get through the Senate.

Since the last federal election a number of things have occurred, including, stating the most obvious, the coronavirus. The government's first priority was to deal with the negative impacts of the coronavirus. That does not mean that the government was not acting on all of the different fronts it needed to act on while it focused its attention on the coronavirus. When we hit that reset, we have often been criticized by the Conservatives about the throne speech. Why did we have to bring in another throne speech? In previous speeches that I have delivered on the floor here, I have addressed that issue.

Within the throne speech we find another commitment to bring forward the same legislation that the member from the Green Party just referenced. What I have found is that time passes pretty quickly here in Ottawa. The years go by pretty quickly. Here, once again, we are having to deal with legislation because of things that, in good part, were beyond our control. There was a commitment in the throne speech to deal with that particular call for action regarding the United Nations resolution. I am very confident that it is coming. Hopefully, we will be able to pass it through, just like we had government legislation that was brought in for the education of judges, with respect to sexual assaults. There was other legislation that passed in the previous Parliament, but because it did not pass the Senate, it was never given royal assent.

It is the same thing now where we have brought forward a piece of legislation as a part of the government agenda. We are going to have to deal once again with that other piece of legislation and are very hopeful.

When we take a look there are 94 calls for action. This particular piece of legislation we are dealing with today, Bill C-8 is making change to the oath. I will get to the actual oath and ceremonies at some point, but this is dealing with the last call for action. I have a handy booklet here with all 94 calls for action, something that I always keep at my desk, which highlights the importance of it to me personally. Just as it is so important to me, I know how important it is to our Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, virtually from day one, has talked about the relationship between government and indigenous people and how we need to change that relationship and work hard on that relationship.

What does bill C-8 do? It responds to the 94th call for action and states that we call upon the Government of Canada to replace the oath of citizenship with the following:

I swear... 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.

While it might not be word for word, a great deal of effort was put into that. That call to action and what the department has done to come up with today's wording has included a great deal of consultation with indigenous communities and others.

I constantly hear from members on all sides of the House about the importance of supporting the calls to action in general, maybe not 100% of them. However, we have made that commitment to work toward 100% of those or at least encouraging support for them. This is one of those calls. It as a very positive and fairly straightforward call. It would be nice to see it passed by the House of Commons, sooner as opposed to later. In good part now, it will be in the opposition court. It will determine how long it will be before it gets out of the House of Commons.

As I pointed out, there are 94 calls to action, 76 of which are linked to the federal government responsibilities. Many of those calls incorporate Ottawa working with others to fulfill the commitment. An example of that is the first. Today we are talking about call to action 94. Let us look at the first call to action. I referred to that call to action in my question to the member of the Green Party. It is a fairly length call to action, but it is a very important one. It deals with child welfare.

The significance to the debate on that is to recognize there are different types of calls to action. Today, we are really talking about Ottawa and our responsibility to change the oath. That needs to be done through legislation. This is why the bill is before us. However, not all calls to action are like that.

The first call states:

We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of Aboriginal children in care by.

Then it states a number of things we could do.

The significance of this is that unlike this bill, it is not like the federal government could bring in legislation to say that call one is done. It does not work that way for all of the calls to action.

This one is going to require input from indigenous leaders, provincial governments and agencies and even beyond that. When we talk about the child welfare system, as cited in the debate today, I am very much aware of the situation. All one needs to do is look at my riding when we talk about children. If we look at the number of apprehended children, or children who are in the care foster parents, on a per capita basis, I would be surprised if Winnipeg North was not one of the highest, if not the very highest, in our country.

For many years, whether a parliamentarian in Ottawa or a member in the Manitoba legislature, we have had to deal with that. For my New Democratic friends, I would like to let them know that the worst provincial entity I can think of is the 15 years of governance by the provincial NDP in the Province of Manitoba. The problem actually peaked during that time.

As much as the NDP would like to blame the Liberals for not doing enough, there is a great deal of room for improvement within the New Democratic Party in Manitoba. It was one of the last issues I dealt with prior to leaving the Manitoba legislature. I talked about the child advocate, saying that Manitoba was in crisis because of the children in care. The NDP premier was more concerned with where the information came from and that it had been released rather than the facts.

When we talk about these calls for action, we need to get the support and consultations in place and work together with the different stakeholders. When my colleagues and friends from the Green Party or the New Democratic Party in particular say that there are 94 calls and only eight or nine have been dealt with, I do not believe that is the case.

For many of the different calls to action, certain actions have taken more time than others. However, we can be encouraged by the fact that unlike some of the previous reports that came forward, these recommendations are not sitting on a shelf collecting dust. Ministers and members of Parliament from our caucus consistently raise the importance of reconciliation in the calls for action on the floor of the House, or in our caucus or in our communities.

Earlier I cited the little booklet given to me by one of my former colleagues, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, the previous member for Winnipeg Centre. We all remember Robert's personality and miss him dearly. Hopefully, he will return. However, when we look at the 94 calls for action, some of them we can deal with in a timely fashion, where Ottawa gets to play the lead. This is one of them.

When I think about citizenship, one experiences many different feelings. I suspect virtually all members of Parliament have participated in citizenship court ceremonies. What a wonderful opportunity it is to do so. I have been doing it for many years, both as a member of Parliament and as a member of the Manitoba legislative assembly. I have wonderful memories of what I witnessed. They would be held inside the Manitoba legislature in the so-called Manitoba Room, which faces Broadway, with its huge beautiful chandeliers. It was such a wonderful feeling to walk into that room, see the chairs lined up, with a judge standing at the front, and individuals, who were receiving their citizenship, smiling from ear to ear. Seeing them in that beautiful room, in that democratic institution speaks volumes about freedom and democracy.

I remember going to what was the NorWest health centre in the community of Winnipeg North. A room had been set up with many chairs and a judge was present. People were receiving their citizenship. One of the most touching parts of that ceremony was a young woman of Filipino heritage who had taken her oath. When it came time to sing the national anthem, she pulled out a big Canadian flag and wrapped it around herself. We could see tears as we started singing the national anthem. It is a very special moment in time when people receive their citizenship. I have attended many different swearing-in ceremonies to reaffirm my citizenship, because we do live in a great nation, the best country in the world from my perspective.

To recognize the importance of indigenous people is of the utmost importance. For the life of me, I cannot remember his last name, but Winston is a resident of Winnipeg North. I believe he lives on Arrow Street, to be more specific. He is of indigenous background. I attended a special citizenship event in an armoury in Winnipeg. What was nice is that he brought forward a greeting and a blessing. New citizens heard first-hand the words he spoke. It was a rather strong and powerful message on how Canada is open for all.

At these citizenship courts, there has to be a judge, but we will also see an RCMP officer. In recent years, we have also seen someone representing the Canadian Forces. I have been to a couple where an indigenous elder attended. I would encourage indigenous elders to continue to attend to tell story of Canada. It is an important aspect.

In every citizenship ceremony I have had the privilege to attend, I have always walked away feeling very proud to be a Canadian, because people from around the world have chosen Canada to call home. Indigenous people are not getting the recognition they deserve for being there, opening doors and opportunities. A willingness to share is so important, to understand treaties and their relationship. That is why reconciliation is so important. That is why the Prime Minister consistently talks about the relationship between indigenous people and the government and why it is so important for all of us.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission came up with excellent calls to action. Today is all about call to action 94 and I encourage all members to support it.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2020 / 12:50 p.m.
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Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Markham—Unionville.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the bill, and I would also like to thank my colleague, the shadow minister on this file, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, for her hard work in the chamber and in committee on this issue. She has a very important job to do in holding the government to account when we begin to reopen the country and welcome immigrants back who will eventually become part of our Canadian family.

I rise today to speak on Bill C-8, an act to amend the Citizenship Act, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94.

I want to start by saying that I will be voting for the bill. Most of the public know what it is designed to do, which is to change the oath of citizenship. I believe that this is a very important piece of legislation that would put us one step closer to reconciliation with Canada's indigenous people.

Just to be clear, the current oath of citizenship 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.

The version proposed in the bill would change the ending to:

...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.

It is is worth acknowledging that Canada is a nation of immigrants who have come, and continue to come, for better lives. We are also a nation that stands on the traditional territories of, and shoulder to shoulder with, first nations, Inuit and Métis people.

I think we should be proud that Canada is one of only a few countries in the world where indigenous and treaty rights are entrenched in our Constitution. By recognizing and affirming the aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis in the oath of citizenship, we are also educating Canadians, especially new Canadians, about these rights.

Our Constitution is one of our most important documents, if not the most important document, and being aware and understanding some of the resolved and unresolved treaty rights in different parts of the country is something we should share with new Canadians. Educating new Canadians on the relationship with indigenous peoples is a key part of the path to reconciliation that is critical to our nation's future.

I am confident my colleagues would agree that a top priority for all of us in this chamber should be to work towards reconciliation with our indigenous peoples. For those at home watching, I was in the House of Commons in Centre Block at the time when Prime Minister Harper offered a full apology on behalf of Canadians for the residential school system. It was a historical moment, and one I will never forget. The treatment of children in Indian residential schools was a sad chapter in our history, and it had to be acknowledged. The government had to apologize for it, and rightfully did so. It was also the previous Conservative government, under Prime Minister Harper, that established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or the TRC, to facilitate reconciliation among former residential school students, their families, communities and all Canadians.

Between 2007 and 2015, the government provided about $72 million to support the commission's work. The TRC spent six years travelling to all parts of Canada and heard more than 6,500 witnesses. It also hosted seven national events across Canada to engage the Canadian public, educate people about the history and legacy of the residential school system and share and honour the experiences of former students and their families.

The TRC created a critical historical record of the residential school system and, as part of the process, the Government of Canada provided over five million records to the TRC. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba houses all the documents collected by the TRC.

Given the incredible work done by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, many of us in the House are concerned that the government has been slow to respond to the report's calls to action. In fact, a new analysis reveals that “dreadful progress” with disappointing results has been made on the TRC's 94 calls to action. The Prime Minister embraced the calls to action at the 2015 unveiling, describing them all as a blueprint to reconciliation with indigenous peoples. However, it is clear that things are not what they need to be, and the sole reaction to the TRC's calls to action is not the only broken promise from this government.

We also have the promise on boil-water advisories. The Prime Minister recently appeared to walk back his government's promise to end all boil-water advisories in first nation communities by March 2021. He would not commit to meeting the 2021 deadline, and said that the federal government was working to lift the remaining drinking water advisory “as soon as possible”.

When is “as soon as possible”? Is it months from now, years from now or perhaps longer?

Let us take the Neskantaga First Nation as an example, which has been under a boil water advisory for more than 25 years. Officials shut off its water after an oily sheen was found in the water reserve. Tests later showed the water was contaminated with hydrocarbon. Over 200 residents have now been evacuated to Thunder Bay, where they are being housed in hotels.

The Neskantaga chief said that elders, children, infants and people with chronic health conditions were flown out of the community after the water shutdown, which closed the schools and nursing station. With no running water, the remaining residents have had to use buckets to collect water from the lake in freezing temperatures.

The chief said, “I've never had access to clean drinking water and I’m 50 years old. You hate to see your relatives, your children, your future, living in this condition.” The chief goes on to say, “Right now we are being offered band-aid solutions.”

The government originally stated in December 2015 that the community would get a new treatment plant up and running by the spring of 2018. It is November 2020 and it seems like the government has broken its promise.

Also, let us not forget winter is coming. The Prime Minister said his government has lifted many drinking water advisories since 2015, but the Indigenous Services Canada website shows that 61 first nation reserves are still living under long-term drinking water advisories.

Let us also not forget first nations people are going through a housing crisis that the government has not handled very well. Last year, the Cat Lake first nation declared a state of emergency over excessive mould, leaky roofs and other poor housing conditions. Things became worse when a Cat Lake resident died from respiratory issues. Her family was clear the death was caused by extensive mould problems in her home. There is evidence that almost half of the homes on Canadian reserves have enough mould to cause serious respiratory problems and other illnesses.

With respect to Cat Lake, I do have to say the government did provide portable homes and construction material to build new ones. However, everything it does on this file seems to be reactionary. It has to see a major crisis first, and then it acts.

The government should not be complacent. This housing crisis in first nations communities should not be costing people their lives. Indigenous leaders say that an epidemic of mould, undrinkable water and overcrowding in first nations homes remains a nationwide problem that has been largely ignored.

We have another issue in Nova Scotia, where tensions are very high over a long-standing fishery dispute. There has been violence and a lot of heated rhetoric. There have been years of concern about the issue. It is not like the government found out about it when it recently flared up. Once again, the government is being reactionary. There has been years of talks but there has been no solution.

The government has now been in place for five years and little has been done. It needs to do better, and Conservatives are more than willing to help. All this to say that indigenous people deserve government attention and reconciliation should be a top priority for all of all of us in this place. Although more can and should be done, this bill is a step in the right direction for indigenous people, and therefore, I will be supporting it.

It is not often I agree with my colleague the parliamentary secretary, but I cannot have a conversation about an oath of citizenship without talking about the extreme honour of being involved. He was bang on when he talked about what an honour it is, as members of Parliament, to be involved.

In my 16 years, certainly one of the highlights of my job is having the opportunity to attend the citizenship ceremonies. They come in all different shapes and sizes, and I have attended them on July 1, which is absolutely a particularly important and special day. I have also done them in schools, legion halls and all across Niagara.

It is quite an honour to do that, so I want to recognize what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the government in the House of Commons said. As members of Parliament, we have a pretty unique role. Just having the opportunity to hear people's stories of getting to our great country, as well as some of the hardships they have had to endure is completely inspiring.

It has been an honour to talk on this particular bill, Bill C-8. As I mentioned before, one of the amazing privileges we have as members of Parliament is having an opportunity on a fairly regular basis to attend citizenship swearing-in ceremonies, where we have the opportunity to hear great stories from people coming from all around this great world to become citizens of this great country.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2020 / 1:05 p.m.
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Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today and speak in support of Bill C-8, an act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94).

The bill will change the oath of citizenship. The new oath will now 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.

As someone who emigrated to Canada, I know first-hand just how valuable and memorable the experience of taking the oath of Canadian citizenship is. That is why this bill is very close to my heart. When I came to Canada back in 1974, the wait for my citizenship felt like a long time.

The day I went to my ceremony was one of the happiest days of my life. I can still remember the building, the people who were sitting beside me and the colour of the carpet in the room. However, what I remember the most was the moment when I put my hand to the chest and swore the oath. I still think about that to this day, and what it meant to me.

When I speak to other new Canadians, I hear the same thing. The oath is the legal requirement to become a Canadian citizen, but it is much more than that for every newcomer.

To become a Canadian, I had to pass the citizenship test. That test would show I understood the history of Canada and what this country stands for. This was before Canada became one of only a few countries in the world where indigenous and treaty rights were entrenched in our Constitution.

Some of the questions on the citizenship test were things I had picked up over the years, and others were things I needed to study. Canada's relationship with its first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples was not something I was required to know. It was not something that came up often. Back then when people said “Indian”, it was unclear if they were talking about me or Canada's first people.

Let me tell the House about what I did know even back then. I knew about reserves, and I knew about poverty. Many of the homeless I would see in Toronto were, sadly, first nations people. I have learned a lot about Canada's indigenous people since that time, and about the struggles they still face.

For example, reserves to this day have boil water advisories that are decades old. Indigenous people represent only about 5% of the adult population in Canada, but make up 30% of the people behind bars. The lasting impact of residential schools and the mental health crisis has led many indigenous people to take their own lives. The housing crisis on reserves has forced people to live in rundown homes filled with black mould, threatening the lives of those inside.

I have learned much more since being elected. I wish I had known more. I am glad that schools in Ontario are now making sure that students are familiar with these topics. That was not the case when my children were in school.

There is a lot of ignorance about these issues, even though none of these issues are new. They span generations. Where progress has been made, it has come too slowly. Our new leader has said, “....all governments in our history have not lived up to what we owe our Constitution and indigenous Canadians.”

I want to be clear about this. Canada is the best country in the world and I am proud to be a Canadian. One of the things that makes Canada so great is that we consistently acknowledge our mistakes and fix them.

I was not a member of Parliament when it happened, but I remember when Prime Minister Harper offered a full apology on behalf of Canadians for the horrendous residential school system. The Conservative government also created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which recognized that the Indian residential school system had a profoundly lasting and damaging impact on indigenous culture, heritage and language.

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action were first released, the member for Papineau, now the Prime Minister, committed to action immediately. He was later given a four-year majority government. When giving some of his first speeches, he talked about how important Canada's relationship with its indigenous people was.

There are 94 calls to action in the TRC report. Although we are implementing call to action 94 today, it is important that Canadians know that the progress the Prime Minister promised has been far from realized.

Four years of a majority government has yielded little progress. A 2019 report by the Yellowhead Institute says that by 2018, only eight calls to action had been implemented. That number increased to nine by the end of 2019.

One of the reasons the progress for Canada's indigenous people has been so slow is they are often treated as an afterthought by the government. It was only at the very end of the majority government that it even put the first version of this bill forward, Bill C-99. After the election, which saw the Prime Minister re-elected, the government put forward a new version of Bill C-6, only to start again. Then the Liberal government chose to prorogue Parliament, killing the bill on the floor of the House before it could come up for a vote.

I recognize that the bill would bring a lot of changes. After four years of the same old, I was pleased to see the bill reintroduced in the current session. However, I cannot stress enough that indigenous people need to see real action on mental health, incarceration rates, housing and much more. That is why it is important that we pass Bill C-8 quickly, as it would affect the lives of those struggling right now.

Some might say this move is only symbolic. I would say that symbols are incredibly important. There is only a problem if the government continues to deliver lip service to indigenous Canadians and not results.

If there are any concerns about the wording of the bill, I am sure we can come to a consensus at committee. It is very important that indigenous groups from across the country have their say. I recognize the committee has many restraints regarding witnesses, so I hope the Liberal government is engaging in consultations as we speak.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2020 / 1:20 p.m.
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Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, it is great to be here in the House with so many friends to address this important debate, and to follow my friend, the member for Markham—Unionville, who gave an excellent speech. He said he came to Canada in 1974. I came to Canada in 1987, actually, so he has been here longer than I have.

I want to first set off my debate by talking a bit about the content of the bill. I also want to talk a bit about some of the context around the government's agenda and proposals with respect to indigenous issues.

The bill would amend the citizenship oath to 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 fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.

The reference to first nations, Inuit and Métis people, and the references to aboriginal and treat rights, would be new references the bill proposes to add to the legislation.

The genesis for this discussion of amending the citizenship oath is a recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, specifically call to action number 94. As members have observed, the bill seems to have support from all parties and will pass second reading and go to committee. However, there is an issue we will need to hear about more at committee, which is important to note. We will need to hear from witnesses about the difference between the formulation of the oath in the legislation and the proposal that was in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendation 94.

The proposed oath, which I looked up before speaking, from the commission report was as follows:

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.

The formula is slightly different between the proposal in recommendation number 94 and the proposal in the bill. The bill references first nations, Inuit and Métis, and is a bit longer. Regardless, it is important to ensure that as we proceed down this road in the spirit of reconciliation, we hear from indigenous leaders along the way. Again, it will be important to elucidate at committee whether the relevant stakeholders and communities that are particularly invested in this have been consulted with respect to the difference in wording between the TRC recommendation and the bill. That will be an important point for us to follow up on.

Before I reflect on some of the specifics regarding changing the oath, I want to say that the Conservatives support the bill moving forward. We think the aspirations behind it and the substance of it are reasonable and valuable, and we look forward to further discussion and debate.

Right now we have before Parliament, at various stages, three pieces of legislation that in some sense deal with or touch directly on the relationship between the government and indigenous peoples in Canada. We have Bill C-5, Bill C-8 and Bill C-10. We are discussing Bill C-8, which amends the citizenship oath. We have Bill C-10, which is a larger, broader bill with many issues in it that would make changes to the Broadcasting Act, some of which put into the Broadcasting Act the expectation that broadcasters have diverse content reflecting different communities, including indigenous communities. Then we have Bill C-5, which deals with a statutory holiday for recognizing and remembering what happened in the context of indigenous residential schools.

All three of these bills contain important elements. The Conservatives have supported Bill C-5 and Bill C-8. We have some concerns about Bill C-10, although they are not related to the objectives, but are related to other aspects of the bill, as it is a broader bill. Regardless, in the context of the legislative agenda of the government right now, we have these three different bills.

If the Liberals are deciding what kinds of bills they are going to put forward with respect to indigenous issues, members might say they have a few different options in front of them. In considering those options, we can divide the bills they are putting forward into two broad categories. There would be bills that represent acts of recognition and then there would be bills that represent actions that target quality of life improvements.

This is an important distinction to make. Acts of recognition are things like putting in place a statutory holiday, changing wording, changing language, the legislature making statements, expressing its acknowledgement of certain facts and its will for reconciliation. These kinds of acts of recognition are things we do often as a legislature. They are important and have a place, which is why we are supporting this bill.

Other examples of acts of recognition this legislature has taken include motions where we express our appreciation for a certain community or the work done. In the last Parliament, we passed many bills that create heritage months, for example. Heritage months are a way of collectively commemorating and recognizing the contribution of certain communities. These acts of recognition and pieces of legislation that call for wider community recognition are important.

Why are they important? They create opportunities for us to call to mind, recognize and appreciate the valuable contributions made by certain communities. We are shaped by our history. As a legislature, we have a role in encouraging a recognition and awareness of that history. That is important and valuable. We can do those things and there is a legitimate place for us to do those things.

Another category of legislation we have are actions that specifically target quality of life improvements, which seek to make changes to practical circumstances in order to make peoples' lives concretely better.

These actions of recognition, whether changing an oath, commemorative day, representation in broadcasting or heritage month, are important. However, legislation that touches peoples' direct quality of life and deals with their ability to access justice with the recognition of their rights, the delivery of concrete services, whether it is health care or other supports, that deals with economic development, I would think are on balance more important.

To me, it is striking when I look at all the recommendations that have been made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I look at all of the options in front of the government in terms of prioritizing its response. We see more or less exclusively acts of recognition, as opposed to actions that are aimed at concrete quality of life improvements.

If we saw a mix of both, that would be fine. However, we need to start to be critical and ask that question when we are seeing a focus exclusively on the acts of recognition, as opposed to on those kinds of quality of life improvements I talked about earlier.

What are the areas we are missing? Where has the government failed when it comes to making quality of life improvements? There are many areas we need to look at in terms of concrete quality of life improvements. We can talk about justice and health, and many other things.

I want to start by talking about economic development. Talking to indigenous Canadians in my area and across the country, I know there is a real desire for economic development and for people to have jobs and opportunities in their own communities.

There is also a recognition that when there is economic development in different communities, it gives those communities control and ability to invest in programs that reflect the priorities of those communities. We hear calls from communities for funding from the government for programs around health, around language, around infrastructure and these sorts of things, but to the extent that communities are able to have economic development themselves, they are also able to prioritize, and invest in those priority areas without needing to come and ask the government for funding in that specific area. It is not an either-or. It is not as if communities have to choose between accessing government funding and economic development, but when communities are developing economically it gives them a greater degree of autonomy and control and it gives them the opportunity to invest in those priorities right away.

Many indigenous communities have been benefiting from being part of the energy economy, developing natural resources and pursuing other opportunities. In the course of this debate, the parliamentary secretary responded to my question about concrete actions by talking about Bill C-262 from the last Parliament. It is important to address this directly. If we want to give indigenous communities the opportunity to develop economically, they have to be able to do so in a framework that involves reasonable consultation, but ultimately gives them the opportunity to move forward. If they have, for example, an energy development project where the indigenous communities in an area are actually the proponents of that project and there is a minority that is opposing those projects, in a case where there is overwhelming support within local indigenous communities, there has to be a consultation framework that allows that project to move forward.

This is where Conservatives have parted company with other parties, especially around issues like Bill C-262, because if they put in place a framework that effectively means that one community could have a veto over the desire for the economic development of all surrounding communities, that is a problem. There needs to be a meaningful consultation process in which communities are listened to, but there also has to be an opportunity for communities to develop their own resources and the standard for consultation has to stop somewhere short of unanimity. One cannot expect that every person has to agree before we see any kind of economic development.

It has been something that maybe we have discussed less since, because COVID-19 took up all the attention in terms of discussion, but early in the year we were dealing with a situation where all of the elected community leaders wanted a particular project, the Coastal GasLink project, and a minority of hereditary chiefs were against that project going forward. That was the context, and it was debated extensively. Some members of this House behaved as if a case in which a minority within a community objected, that, in and of itself, was sufficient basis for stopping economic development from going forward. We took the view that when there is strong support within indigenous communities for a project to go forward, then that project has to be able to go forward. The consultation has to happen and if people say yes, they have to be able to develop those resources and benefit from them.

We see cases across this country where indigenous people are seeking the opportunity to pursue economic development, to develop resources. There can be debate, there can be tensions, and those debates happen within communities as well as between different communities, but the opportunity for people to pursue economic development is important.

The government members talk about the discussion we are hearing today, separate from the debate on Bill C-8 but about Bill C-262 from the last Parliament. That is concerning for a lot of indigenous Canadians who want to have this opportunity to develop their own resources, to benefit from the opportunities that flow from them, and to use those resources to invest in things like language preservation, health improvement, infrastructure improvements and so forth. They want to be able to use the benefits that flow from economic development for those things.

I want to also just add, in terms of economic development, one of the exciting and interesting opportunities when it comes to the development of things like pipeline infrastructure is that the expansion of infrastructure could also bring in things like better Internet connectivity into some of these communities.

It is not just about opportunities directly in the natural resource sector, it is about the fact that, when we have benefit agreements, we have the building of infrastructure into and around different communities, which gives people the opportunity to have better connectivity, to access different resources and education, or to work in online businesses. There is so much more opportunity that flows from these kinds of developments, which we are just on the cusp of.

This country has so much potential, and a lot of that potential is around resource development. Those who are most likely to benefit to the greatest extent from that development are those who are more likely to be living proximate to those resources.

We could talk about some of the significant issues around justice, around working to ensure our justice system is fair to all people. We are identifying the reasons there may be disproportionate impacts on certain communities and working seriously to counter those impacts. That is the kind of thing that takes hard work.

The government has made statements to recognize the problems that have existed in the way indigenous people have been treated by our justice system. It is one thing to affirm there is an issue here, again, an act of recognition, and is another thing to say we are going to take concrete action and go from that active recognition and really target those quality of life improvements.

As I said earlier during questions and comments, so often when I hear from government members when we are having debates about indigenous issues, there is a tone in the their speeches as if they are still in opposition. They will say that there have been all these problems and that we need to do better and do more.

I look across the way and think that the government has been here for five years, and it is still constantly blaming Stephen Harper and constantly talking about the failures of history that have held it back. Do I think it is possible to change everything and make everything perfect within five years? No, I do not. Do I think it could be focusing on real concrete progress as part of its agenda? Yes, I do.

I hope we do not have the current government for another five years or another 10 years, but I suspect if we did, we would still hear the same speeches. We would still hear the same members saying that we have failed for too long and we need to do better. At what point does this recognition that we need to do better come back on them and lead them to say maybe not just “we” in the abstract, somebody else needs to do better sense, but “we” as in “we as a government” need to do better?

The government here does need to do much better. The Conservative caucus is supportive of Bill C-8. We are going to be supporting it through to committee. We look forward to the committee's study on it, especially delving into some of these questions I mentioned about the distinction between the version in the legislation and the TRC recommendation. However, we want to see the government take seriously the need to advance legislation and policy that concretely improves the quality of life for indigenous Canadians.

Yes, recognition is important, but if we see bill after bill on the issue of recognition but not targeting concrete quality of life improvements, it looks increasingly like the government is trying to avoid delving into these complex policy areas that would really make a difference. If it recognizes there is a need for more resources and need for economic development, when are we going to see the legislation that is going to really support economic development within indigenous communities and make it easier to grab those opportunities? When are we going to see the legislation that seeks to address those long-standing justice issues?

The government talks about doing better. It is time for it to do better so we can see some of these concrete improvements.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2020 / 1:45 p.m.
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Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, the relationship between Canada and the PRC is the subject of great interest. I will be forgiven for perhaps not having my notes on that specific topic in front of me as we are debating Bill C-8, dealing with the citizenship oath and indigenous peoples.

I understand the intention that framed the agreement. It was designed to try to provide more protection for Canadian investors that were operating in China. Obviously, it is a very difficult environment for Canadian investors, and it is also fair to acknowledge how even circumstances have changed around that relationship over the last five or six years. Maybe there were expectations of the trajectory of that relationship that existed 10 or 15 years ago that have just not come to fruition.

Maybe at some point, on a Green Party opposition day, we will have an opportunity to debate this in greater depth and I will be fully prepared to give a more detailed response at that time.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2020 / 1:50 p.m.
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Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Surrey—Newton, BC

Madam Speaker, I have the privilege to share my time today with my colleague from Oakville North—Burlington.

I cannot begin this speech without first acknowledging that the House of Commons is situated on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation.

The oath of citizenship is very important to me as an immigrant to this country. The day that I was able to recite it in front of the citizenship judge was the day that I truly arrived in this country. It is a moment in time I will never forget. It was 1987, and I was an engineering student at the University of Calgary. For many years, both before and after I arrived here from India, Canada represented two things for me and the dreams that I had for my future: equality for all and opportunity for all.

Even without a firm grasp of English and with very little financial resources, I knew that if I worked hard and embraced everything my new country had to offer me, I would succeed. Therefore, in the weeks leading up to my citizenship ceremony, I recited the oath tirelessly. I worked on absorbing every word to memory. I practised my pronunciation with diligence, so that I could show the respect I held for such a monumental point in my life. Most importantly, I took the time to put into context what it meant to commit to fulfilling my duties as a Canadian citizen.

I read as much as I could to educate myself about the history of Canada. I also read the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so that I could fully appreciate the values that united citizens of all backgrounds together. Most importantly, I spoke to people. I found out what it meant to be Canadian through the voices of friends and colleagues that I had met over the years.

I am sharing my own personal experience, because, ultimately, the entire process behind our oath of citizenship boils down to values. These are the tenets that we, as Canadians, want to share with those seeking citizenship. They are also fundamental pillars helping new Canadians embark on their new lives here in Canada. This is why Bill C-8 is so critically important. It is about reaffirming a reconciliation framework that shows respect and deference to the aboriginal and treaty rights of the first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

The Canadian story begins with indigenous peoples' heritage in Canada. As part of the Government of Canada's ongoing and ever-evolving commitment to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples, we must enact recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership in action. It is a process that is multi-faceted. This why our Prime Minister committed to national indigenous organizations that he will meet with them annually in order to sustain and advance initiatives that continue to grow shared priorities and progress. It is why every piece of legislation that this government advances is crafted with a lens of reconciliation and respect, and it is why, at the moment of bring granted citizenship, we are proposing a revised text of the oath to contain wording that reflects the broad range of rights held by diverse indigenous peoples.

These are difficult times 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 everybody safe.

The government will continue to do that as we walk the shared path of reconciliation with indigenous people and remain focused on implementing the commitments made in 2019.

This has not stopped during this pandemic. If anything, it has gotten worse. The government is committed to addressing racism in a way that is informed by experience of racialized communities and the indigenous people. This is hard work, not just for Parliament but for all Canadians. Renewing the relationship with indigenous peoples must be based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership. Our laws and policies must foster co-operation with indigenous peoples and reflect on how we can work to protect indigenous languages, traditions and institutions.

This government continues to advance the belief that Canada's diversity is among its greatest strengths. We are a united country because of, not in spite of, our differences. At the same time, we remain focused on an inclusive society that is bound by a set of shared values. The citizenship oath is much more than a passage of words, it represents a deep appreciation for our open, free, democratic and diverse Canada. We as a government believe strongly that is at the heart of that appreciation and understanding of indigenous peoples, their history and their rights.

The Bill C-8 amendment is intended to contribute to reconciliation with indigenous people.

I want to once again convey the importance that my citizenship ceremony and the oath I recited have had in my life. I was given a answer for my dreams and the way in which I could fully embody becoming Canadian. Today's proposed change in language continues that process for every new Canadian going forward.

Indigenous peoples are at the heart of Canada's history, its identity and, indeed, its future. The legislation would help to continue building trust through stronger, more collaborative and respectful relationships with indigenous peoples across Canada.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2020 / 4:05 p.m.
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Oakville North—Burlington Ontario


Pam Damoff LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Services

Mr. Speaker, I am joining the debate today from my home and would like to acknowledge I am on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.

I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-8, an act to amend the Citizenship Act to change Canada's oath of citizenship. The bill proposes to insert text into the oath that refers to the rights of indigenous peoples. The new oath would include the following words, “which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.” This change continues to fulfill our government's commitment to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action, specifically call to action 94.

Recognizing treaty rights is important not just for new Canadians but for all Canadians.

In March, I attended a wampum belt exchange in Oakville on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the signing of Treaty No. 22. The mayor of Oakville, Rob Burton, and Mississaugas of the Credit chief, Stacey Laforme, led the exchange, with community leaders witnessing the event, one that traditionally marks events, alliances and kinship between different peoples.

At this event, Wendy Rinella, the CEO of the Oakville Community Foundation, commented that most Canadians had the mistaken notion treaties signified surrender by indigenous peoples. In fact, the Two Row Wampum signified a treaty to live in harmony with the people of Canada and their government.

Recognizing the significance of indigenous and treaty rights is an important step as we walk the road to reconciliation. In a letter I send to new Canadians in my riding, I speak about how our nation is a nation of immigrants who have worked hard and sacrificed much to be part of shaping the equitable, diverse and thriving democratic nation we call Canada.

Like many of us in the House, I have attended citizenship ceremonies and have seen the unbridled joy and pride new Canadians show for their chosen country, much like the member for Surrey—Newton described earlier in his speech. I recall in particular my friend Hisham receiving his citizenship and how the citizenship judge had the new citizens wave a Canadian flag at the end. It brought tears to my eyes.

As we welcome those who chose Canada as their country, it is important they learn about the toll colonization has taken on indigenous peoples in Canada.

As we make this change to the oath of citizenship, it is also important to respond to Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action 93 to update the information kit for newcomers to reflect a more accurate history of Canada and of the diverse indigenous peoples whose lands on which Canada is now built.

This includes information about treaties and the obligations Canadians have to uphold the agreements that were made to live in harmony. Treaty education needs to include more than just a list of rights and responsibilities. It must also provide potential new Canadians with information about how Canada has failed to live up to its treaty promises, how generations of Canadians have acted in bad faith and legislated harmful and racist policies that have led to great harm, specifically highlighting the intergenerational trauma of residential schools and how it is the responsibility of every Canadian to work toward reconciliation and healing our shared country.

In 2016, I held a screening of the documentary We Were Children about two first nations children's experience at a residential school. During the panel discussion afterward, two new Canadians asked why they never learned about residential schools and the history of indigenous peoples when they became Canadians citizens.

In 2017, I was pleased to support Burlington resident Mariam Manaa, who worked with local indigenous knowledge keeper Steve Paquette on e-petition 1228. I had the privilege to table the petition in the House of Commons on February 13, 2018, which was signed by over 600 Canadians.

The petition called on the government to continue to work in consultation and partnership with indigenous nations located across Canada as well as the Minister of Indigenous Services to redevelop the Discover Canada study guide curriculum and citizenship exam so it would acknowledge indigenous treaty rights, require applicants to answer a question regarding the traditional territories they were currently inhabiting, if applicable, and uphold the spirit of the commitment to educate new Canadians on residential schools and the legacy of colonialism.

It is imperative when crafting policy with regard to indigenous peoples that the government do so in consultation and partnership with indigenous peoples. An updated guide needs to educate new Canadians about residential schools and be transparent with regard to the ongoing legacy of colonialism and racism by the Canadian government. The guide could also address the sixties scoop and shed light on the current crisis in the foster care system today.

It is my belief that new immigrants who make the choice to become citizens deserve to know about the history of this land. That includes the good as well as the bad. People who immigrate to Canada are emigrating from countries that may have thousands of years of recorded history. We do a disservice to those new immigrants when we pretend that the land we inhabit has only been around for 150 years.

We can share stories about Vimy Ridge and the 1972 Summit Series, but if those stories are not accompanied by the lived experience of survivors of residential schools, we are impairing their ability to fully enter the public discourse on what it means to be Canadian. I am of the opinion that once people take their oath of citizenship, they are equally entitled to all the benefits and the baggage that Canadian citizenship entails.

In addition to educating new Canadians on the legacy of residential schools and colonialism, we need to do a better job of educating new Canadians about the traditional territories they currently inhabit when they are studying for their citizenship exam. I understand this recommendation would require curriculum to be different, depending on where the new immigrants were studying for their exam, but if we properly inform newcomers as to the history of the land they occupy, we will better be able to understand the ongoing process of reconciliation and the issues facing indigenous nations today.

Lastly, I feel it is essential that we teach all Canadians, including those who are about to become new citizens, about the history of the influential indigenous peoples who shaped Canada's identity. Too many of us learn only about the pre-Confederation history of indigenous peoples.

While Tecumseh and Joseph Brant were undoubtedly historical figures who shaped the history of Upper Canada, we need to highlight the work of contemporary indigenous leaders, intellectuals, artists and activists of which there are many notable examples.

When this bill was introduced, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship said:

The Oath is a solemn declaration that all newcomers recite during the citizenship ceremony. With this amendment, we are changing the Oath of Citizenship to be more inclusive, and taking steps to fundamentally transform the nature of our relationship with Indigenous Peoples by encouraging new Canadians to fully appreciate and respect the significant role of Indigenous Peoples in forming Canada’s fabric and identity.

The change to the citizenship oath is an important step, but only one step that needs to be taken for new Canadian citizens to fully understand and respect our shared past with indigenous peoples. It is my sincere hope that a new study guide will be shared quickly, so we can fulfill both calls to action regarding newcomers to Canada.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2020 / 4:20 p.m.
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Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the very hon. and distinguished member for Newmarket—Aurora.

It is an honour for me to speak in this venerable House on behalf of the riding of Davenport. I first want to acknowledge that the House of Commons is on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation.

I will be speaking on Bill C-8, an act to amend the citizenship act. It is directly a response to ensure that we implement Truth and Reconciliation Commission call to action number 94, which is one of the recommendations of that study.

As colleagues know, in order to become a citizen of this great nation of ours, all newcomers 14 years and older must take an oath of citizenship. In reciting the oath, these new citizens agree to obey the laws of this country and to fulfill their duties as Canadians. The citizenship oath may only consist of a few words, but its significance is profound. Indeed, the citizenship oath is an important symbol of our values and what we share as citizens of Canada.

When newcomers take the oath, they make a solemn promise to their fellow Canadians. It is a public declaration that they are joining the Canadian family and are committed to Canadian values and traditions. It is an important promise because newcomers are helping to shape Canada.

I am sure that my colleagues have had the chance to visit a number of citizenship ceremonies, as I have. It is very special to hear the just-about-new Canadians take the oath for the first time. It is very moving to them. They practice it and are very thoughtful about how they say it. After they say it, it is very moving not only in terms of them becoming Canadian citizens, but also joining a whole new nation with a new Constitution, new rules, new laws and a new start for their lives.

We currently have citizens representing more than 200 ethnic origins. Thirteen of these groups have Canadian populations of more than one million people. Today, more than one-fifth of Canadians were born outside of Canada. They are people who chose to come to Canada. I am pleased to say that over 40% of my riding of Davenport's constituents were born in another country. They came from many different nations and deliberately selected Canada to be their home. We are absolutely the richer because of it.

The fact that Canada has one of the highest naturalization rates in the world underscores the value of Canadian citizenship. Over the last decade, Canada has welcomed nearly 1.7 million new Canadian citizens. We are looking to increase this in coming years not only because we truly, and from the bottom of our hearts, believe that diversity makes us stronger, but because moving forward the health of our economy will depend on a strong immigration policy so that we can ensure we have the labour, the ideas and the innovation that we need to succeed in the 21st century.

Starting in 2021, we aim to blow past the 1% immigration targets that we had in the past. We are looking to increase the target to 401,000 in 2021, 411,000 in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023. As my colleagues can tell, we very much value our new Canadian citizens. We know how much they contribute to our country.

At the same time, Canada values the important contributions that indigenous peoples have made throughout our history. First nations, Inuit and Métis peoples have all played a role in building a strong Canada, and will continue to do so moving forward.

The federal government is committed to implementing all of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. This particular bill, as I mentioned earlier, aims to fulfill call to action number 94, which calls on the government to amend the oath of citizenship by adding a reference to treaties with indigenous peoples.

The federal government's proposed amendment of the citizenship oath would allow new Canadians to fully appreciate and respect how indigenous peoples are a critical part of Canada's history and identity. The new oath would also reflect an expectation that new Canadians demonstrate an understanding of indigenous peoples and of their constitutional rights.

In addition to fostering better appreciation and recognition among new citizens for the important contributions of indigenous people, the proposed new citizenship oath would reflect our government's commitment to reconciliation. Indeed, the federal government is committed to a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples based on respect, rights, co-operation and partnership. This commitment is absolutely critical, because for too many Canadians of various backgrounds, systemic racism is a lived reality, and we know that it certainly did not take a pause during the pandemic.

The proposed new citizenship oath would respond to a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and is the result of consultations with national indigenous organizations. I know that those consultations actually go back to 2016. We have been engaged. We have made sure that we have heard and listened, and we have absolutely incorporated their recommendations in addition to ensuring that we follow the spirit of recommendation number 94 of the truth and reconciliation recommendations.

The revised text would also remind all Canadians that recognition of aboriginal treaty rights is not a political or administrative gesture, but is in fact enshrined in our Constitution. While Canada's Constitution recognizes and affirms the rights of indigenous people, our federal government believes that all Canadians should have a deeper appreciation of the role of indigenous peoples in the history and culture of Canada.

Whether we were born here or chose to become citizens, as Canadians it is important to respect fundamental rights and freedoms, value equality for all and celebrate our diverse cultures, traditions and languages. In recognizing these important parts of our Canadian identity, we must always include those of indigenous peoples in Canada, because all Canadians are responsible for participating in the process of reconciliation. That refers to each and every single one of us, and this participation absolutely must include our newest citizens. That way, new Canadians can join all Canadians in moving forward on the road to reconciliation and leaving a proper legacy for future generations.

With these changes to the citizenship oath, let us take this opportunity to both acknowledge our country's past and move forward toward a renewed relationship with indigenous people based on inherent rights, respect and partnership. The federal government is proud to propose these historic changes to the oath of citizenship, so that new Canadians can promise to faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the treaty rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. This would serve to reinforce our indigenous heritage and institutions, contribute to closing the socio-economic gaps in Canada and help to foster strong indigenous communities for future generations.

I would also say that the reality is the oath of citizenship is just one of many, many steps we need to take, but to me it is an important one, because right from the very start we want to mention that the treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of this country are absolutely critical and are important for us to know. I think this will also lend to a lot of the dialogue and the conversation that I believe we need to continue to have, and continue to build, in this country in order to truly have a new nation-to-nation relationship with our first peoples.

I will end off by relating the story of my mother. She came to Canada from Mexico, and I remember her practising for her citizenship test. I remember her memorizing all the provinces and territories, and I remember her memorizing all the prime ministers and preparing for all the questions for the citizenship test. I think it would have been worthwhile and valuable for us to have had something included on the test at that time about the aboriginal peoples of our country. Again, I think it is important for not only all Canadians, but our new Canadians from the very start, to be informed about the aboriginal peoples, their history in our country, how they are helping us to create a great country and how we are working on a new nation-to-nation relationship as we move forward.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the residents of Davenport.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2020 / 4:35 p.m.
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Tony Van Bynen Liberal Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to acknowledge that the House of Commons, where this debate is based today, sits on the ancestral lands of the Algonquin Anishinabe.

As my hon. colleagues have noted, indigenous peoples have played a fundamental role in Canada's past and continue to do so today. Canada must continue to stand up for the values that define this country, whether it is in welcoming newcomers, celebrating with pride the contributions of the LGBTQ2 communities or embracing two official languages.

To walk the road of reconciliation, there is still much work to be done, such as the need to address systemic racism and its impact on all communities, including indigenous communities. However, as we have indicated, Canada is firmly committed to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. The Government of Canada has made significant efforts to implement the calls to action, and these proposed changes regarding the oath of citizenship demonstrate our firm commitment to achieving this goal.

Our goal is to renew the relationship between the Crown and indigenous peoples. To move forward together, we need to be true partners in this Confederation. Advancing reconciliation remains a Canadian imperative, and it will take partners at all levels to make real progress. We know there is more to do, and we will continue to work together.

One of the most important ways we demonstrate this support is to highlight it at citizenship ceremonies throughout this country, whether they are the virtual ceremonies that have taken place in recent months or the traditional in-person events. Recognizing the role that indigenous peoples have played in this country is a fundamental part of our citizenship ceremony.

To this end, at our in-person ceremonies, judges and those presiding over the ceremonies have traditionally acknowledged the indigenous territory on which the ceremony takes place, and also speak of the history of indigenous peoples in Canada in their welcome remarks to new Canadians. The stories of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are the stories of Canada itself, and indigenous peoples will continue to play a critical role in Canada's development as we go forward.

During these ceremonies, participants accept the rights and responsibilities of citizenship by taking the oath of citizenship. The oath of citizenship is a public declaration that someone is joining the Canadian family and is committed to Canadian values and traditions.

For this declaration to be truthful and inclusive, it must include the recognition of indigenous peoples in Canada. Bill C-8, an act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94), proposes to change Canada's oath of citizenship to recognize and affirm the aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, as referenced in the Constitution.

The proposed amendment to the oath demonstrates the Canadian government's commitment to responding to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It also signals a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.

Reconciliation is an important thing to all people in Canada. The proposed changes to the oath would help advance reconciliation with indigenous peoples in Canada. This would demonstrate support for the diversity that people of all origins contribute to Canada and our country's history, fabric and identity.

Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2020 / 4:50 p.m.
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Taylor Bachrach NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and speak to Bill C-8 at second reading. It is a bill that seeks to amend the oath of citizenship to include reference to the aboriginal and treaty rights of indigenous people.

I support the bill, firstly, because it reflects call to action 94 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and, secondly, because in my consultation with indigenous leaders in northwest B.C., the region I am so privileged to represent, it seems to be a welcome step forward.

I want to recognize the leadership of former member of Parliament, Romeo Saganash, and the current member for Vancouver East. Their leadership helped move this change forward as well and they should be recognized.

It has been mentioned by previous speakers that progress on implementing the TRC's calls to action has been far too slow. Five years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its calls to action, only 10 of the 94 have been implemented, and none since 2018. We are debating this relatively small, relatively symbolic change at a time when our government is still fighting indigenous kids in court, when far too many communities in this country still lack clean drinking water and when we continue to see evidence of systemic racism against indigenous people in our country's institutions.

An oath is a promise. Perhaps as we ponder requiring new Canadians to make a solemn promise to indigenous people, we in this chamber should ask if we are keeping the ones we ourselves have made. This is the third time a version of the bill has been introduced in the House, and it does beg the question of how the more significant calls to action will be legislated when such a simple change has suffered so many false starts. Yet, Bill C-8 does represent a step forward and should be passed into law as quickly as possible.

It has been rightly noted that the true value of the bill will not come through the 19 words to be inserted into the oath but rather if this change creates an educational framework within which new Canadians can learn about and reflect on the rights of indigenous people, which will truly be a step forward.

Northwest British Columbia comprises the unceded lands of the Tahltan, the Tlingit, the Tsimshian, the Haida, the Heiltsuk, the Gitga'at, Gitxaala, Wuikinuxv, Haisla, Nuxalk, Wet'suwet'en, Gitxsan, Carrier Sekani and Kaska nations. It is also the homeland of the Nisga'a people who are so proudly signatory to British Columbia's first modern treaty.

In reflecting on the bill, I asked myself what new Canadians living in Prince Rupert, Terrace, Houston, Smithers and Fraser Lake might learn about the first peoples of their adopted home. Of course, and in light of the bill's origin, new Canadians must learn about the atrocity of residential schools, that such a thing may never happen again in our country. They might also learn about Delgamuukw, the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en landmark Supreme Court case that affirmed the fact that indigenous title was never extinguished by colonization. They might learn that the indigenous rights referenced in the amended oath of citizenship are still very much contested, and that there is so much work left to be done on the path to a just coexistence. They might learn about the Nisga'a Treaty, which took the Nisga'a people, including leaders such as the late Joseph Gosnell, 113 years to achieve. They might learn about the feast system, a pillar of traditional governance and about Canada's efforts to eliminate it forever in the name of assimilation.

I spoke briefly on the weekend with the Gitxsan hereditary Chief Gwininitxw, Yvonne Lattie, a wonderful woman who shared an hour of her time. I talked to her about this legislation to get her thoughts. She shared her hope that new Canadians will learn about her people's way of life and about how their system still works for them today. New Canadians might learn about indigenous resources stewardship that has been practised for millennia, and how many nations are once again taking a lead role in managing their resources, including wild salmon, which are so important to the region I represent.

They might learn the tragic story of the Lake Babine people's fishing weirs on the Babine River, destroyed by the federal government in 1904, or the fishing site at Hagwilget, destroyed by DFO's blasting of rock in 1959.They might learn about the nation-building efforts of nations that are crafting modern constitutions based on both their traditional governance systems and the contemporary needs of their communities. Similarly they might learn about the many indigenous languages and the fight to revitalize them. Those efforts in communities throughout northwest B.C. have been so inspiring. It is incredible to watch indigenous people, especially young indigenous people, learn these languages from the elders, and it is work we must support and resource, now more than ever.

Most of all, I hope that new Canadians will learn of the incredible resilience of indigenous people in the face of a politics of extinguishment. In the words of Chad Day, the president of the Tahltan central government, “It would be good if they learned that we are still here.”

In consulting indigenous leaders in northwest B.C., a question came up regarding the wording of the amended oath, which we have heard read many times over the course of this debate, but I will read it again. The amended oath would read:

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....

Increasingly, the term “first nation” is used to refer to a band created under the Indian Act, and “indigenous nation” to refer to larger groups of indigenous peoples, and I want to recognize the CBC journalist, Angela Sterritt, for helping me understand this important distinction. For instance, the Gitsxan Nation includes five bands, many of which have changed their names to use the term “first nation” instead of “band”, and members can understand why this might be the case. The word “band”, of course has its origin in the Indian Act, which is so problematic. In the case of the Wet'suwet'en, there now exists both a Wet'suwet'en Nation and a Wet'suwet'en First Nation, the latter of which used to be called the Broman Lake Indian Band.

This may seem like somewhat of a pedantic technical point, but the question of which group is the proper rights holder under section 35 of our Constitution is very much contested. One has only to look at recent conflicts over resource development in northwest British Columbia and across Canada to see how this is playing out and the tensions it is creating.

In northwest B.C. there are many examples where the indigenous group pursuing affirmation of indigenous rights is an indigenous nation, not a band, constituted under the Indian Act. The Haida, the Heiltsuk, the Gitsxan, the Wet'suwet'en and the Nuxalk are all examples of this. It will be important, therefore, for the amended oath to recognize them as the proper holders of those section 35 rights. I would note I recently consulted British Columbia's new declaration act, which brings the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into B.C. law. I did a word search for the term “first nations”, and it does not seem to appear in that legislation, so it is clear that there is an evolution in the words used to describe indigenous groups.

I am certain that the wording of the amended oath has undergone a legal review, however it would be helpful if the government clarified whether the term “first nation” refers to a band or to a larger nation of rights holders.

We have heard from other members in this place of the significance of citizenship ceremonies. There have been some very moving stories. We heard one just a few moments ago, and I would like to share a story of my own.

In 2012, very shortly after being elected the mayor of Smithers, I was invited to a local citizenship ceremony. It was held in the gymnasium of Muheim Elementary School in the community of Smithers. About 20 Smithereens, and yes, that is what residents of Smithers are called, were gathered to complete their journey toward becoming Canadian citizens. Some of these Smithereens were new to Canada and they had worked very hard to get to this point as quickly as possible. Others had lived in our country for decades and were only just then coming to the point of taking their citizenship oath.

A citizenship judge had travelled to Smithers, I believe from Victoria, to deliver a speech and to officiate the taking of the oath. I do not recall the exact content of his speech, but I remember that it was eloquent and inspiring. A group of school kids sang at the ceremony. They sang in English, French and Wet'suwet'en, the language of the place.

What I remember most was the audience of family, friends and community members who had come out that day to watch their loved ones take the oath of citizenship and take this important step. It was really moving and I remember thinking at the time that, as mayor, I should promote this ceremony so that next year the entire community could come out and bear witness to this important event and share in what I had just experienced.

I never got that chance because later that year the federal government cut funding for citizenship ceremonies in small towns across rural Canada. Residents of my home community of Smithers now have to drive four hours in all kinds of weather to take their citizenship oath in Prince George.

I understand that, now, with the circumstances we are living in, people are taking their citizenship oaths virtually. However, even before the pandemic, I do not believe there was a single in-person citizenship ceremony in all of northwest B.C.

The taking of the citizenship oath is a significant moment for many people. All the more significant if it is done in one's home community in front of one's family, friends and loved ones. Let us not only amend the oath of citizenship. Let us also take steps to restore citizenship ceremonies across rural Canada so that new Canadians may take their oath on the lands belonging to the people whose rights they will be pledging to uphold.

I will conclude my remarks with the words of Murray Sinclair from the preface to the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in which he writes, “Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.”

The oath of citizenship is one very small component of Canadian society. Let us make this change swiftly and move on to the most pressing challenges facing our relationship with indigenous people.