Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak to Bill C-223 on the oath of allegiance, tabled on March 6 by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
The hon. member proposes to replace the present oath of allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and
successors, with an oath of allegiance to Canada and the Constitution of Canada. The new text would read as follows:
I swear ( or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Canada and the Constitution of Canada, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
This is the fourth time the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce has tabled this kind of bill. The other bills were introduced in 1972, 1988, 1989 and 1991.
Some of the arguments made by the hon. member in support of this bill are as follows: the Queen is the head of state of several Commonwealth countries; it is hard to decide to whom our loyalty should go, when Canada has a disagreement with other Commonwealth countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia or New Zealand.
We note that citizens of British origin, which include the hon. member, represent only 23 per cent of the Canadian population. The remaining percentage consists of francophones, native people and people from many other countries.
As we know, all new citizens must swear allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors. Immigrants come from all over the globe: from China, India, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Chile, El Salvador, Algeria, Morocco, and so forth. In fact, more than one third of the Canadian population comes from countries other than Great Britain or France.
Immigrants come here and after three years' residence, they can apply for Canadian citizenship. Please note they did not apply for British or any other citizenship. Some of them are confused and do not understand to whom they are swearing allegiance. In fact, according to the present wording of the oath, they swear allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. To some people, swearing this oath of allegiance does not mean much, while others do so reluctantly. I myself swore allegiance to the Queen in 1978, when I became a Canadian citizen, and in 1993 before taking up my duties as a member of Parliament. I felt it was somewhat anachronistic to have to swear allegiance to a foreign queen.
According to the hon. member, Bill C-223 is entirely in line with the Canadianization of institutions, symbols and traditions that has been going on since the end of the Second World War. It is interesting to note that formerly, governors general were always British subjects. The Privy Council in London was the court of last resort. It has since been replaced by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Canadian citizenship has been in existence only since 1940. Before that time, Canadians were British subjects. The flag was adopted in 1964, followed by a Canadian national anthem.
According to public opinion polls, a significant percentage of Canadians believe it is time Canada broke its ties with the monarchy. This percentage is even higher in Quebec.
In 1994, acting on a specific request from the ministers, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, of which I am vice-chairman, started an analysis of the Citizenship Act, one of the main points of which is the oath of allegiance.
A number of witnesses analyzed the role of the monarchy, since the oath refers to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Some people wanted the oath to remain as is, since it reflects the constitutional nature of Canada, whose head of state is the Queen. Many witnesses, however, came out in favour of eliminating all references to the monarchy. They wanted the oath to give pride of place to Canada as a country. This would better reflect the diversity that is so typical of our society.
The committee decided to recommend a new version of the oath which would continue to refer to the monarchy while adding Canada. In a minority report, the Bloc Quebecois came out against this version.
Although I agree with eliminating any references to the Queen and to the monarchy in general, I cannot support the text proposed by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. This version favours swearing allegiance to the Constitution of Canada, which Quebec never ratified. We should recall that Quebec had certain demands and that despite its refusal to ratify the process, Canada decided in 1981 to patriate the Constitution. The federal government ignored the historic rights of the only French-speaking society in Canada.
In 1994, Australia, another Commonwealth country, removed all references to the queen in its oath of allegiance, which it calls "Pledge of Commitment".
The former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration had promised to table in the fall of 1994 a bill to amend the Citizenship Act, a promise the government has so far failed to keep. In 1995, the Department of Immigration had a meeting in Vancouver with ten authors and five public servants to revise and draft a new oath, which reads as follows:
"I am a citizen of Canada and I make this commitment to uphold all our laws and freedoms, to respect our people in their diversity, to work for our common well-being and to safeguard and honour this ancient northern land".
The wording is not the inspiration of the century, despite the $30,000 cost to taxpayers.
Shortly after her appointment in January, the new minister declared that the country needed a new oath of allegiance.
I have noted that the debate on the oath of citizenship and the monarchy is often very heated in English Canada, while it is not important in Quebec. This is another difference between Quebec and Canada. The Quebec National Assembly has just passed a motion calling essentially for the abolishment of the position of lieutenant-governor, as it is primarily symbolic and a hold over from a colonial past.
For these reasons and especially because Quebec was left out of the Constitution, I must vote against Bill C-223.