moved that Bill C-203, an act to amend the Citizenship Act (Oath or Affirmation of Citizenship), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to this private member's bill that would, at long last I would hope, change the Canadian oath of citizenship to better reflect who Canadians are. It would change the wording of the oath to reflect the principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would suggest that, more than anything else, what defines Canadians is: our respect for the rule of law, freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, democracy and basic human rights.
I would like to begin, however, by reviewing, if I may, the current oath of allegiance. When new Canadians come to this country seeking citizenship they are required to say the following words. They are:
I swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, according to law and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.
Everyone will be interested to know that the New Zealand oath of citizenship states as follows:
I... swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of New Zealand, Her heirs and successors according to the law, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil my duties as a New Zealand citizen. So help me God.
Members will note that there is a direct similarity between the two oaths. Indeed, they are almost exactly the same. I should say that only New Zealand and Canada have this oath which basically is derived from the British colonial period of the 18th century. The British at that time had many colonies across the world. Britain was an empire very much like the United States in the sense that it was a mercantile empire that was acquiring colonies around the world in order to develop a vast commercial enterprise, a vast world commerce.
In the middle of the 18th century, as we know, Britain went to war with New France. France at that time controlled all of what we know as Quebec and much of what we know as Nova Scotia. When Britain went to war, it was the umpteenth war. Britain had been at war with France in a struggle for the continent for many years. A terrible tragedy occurred with the Acadians at that particular time. Because the power was in Quebec and the British conquered Acadia--Nova Scotia--taking some of the forts there and establishing a presence, the British government authorities required the Acadians, who were all French speaking, just as they were in Quebec, as Quebec had been a colony of France, to take an oath of allegiance to the king. That oath of allegiance was essentially the same oath that I just recited. When the Acadians were reluctant to take that oath, one of the great tragedies of Canadian history occurred, and that was what is known as the Acadian expulsion, which actually occurred on a Sunday. The British fleet happened to be in port and it seized all the Acadian males at their churches attending mass, put them on board ship and dispersed them down the entire coastline of the United States, as well as to Louisiana. It took many years for a few of them to return. It was a terrible tragedy and, of course, it changed the complexion of Nova Scotia. I am proud to say that we still have an Acadian presence but had the British not done that, Nova Scotia today would probably be a French speaking province, very much like Quebec and much of New Brunswick.
It was that oath of allegiance that I recited earlier that was used for the dispersal of the Acadians because the Acadians could not bear to swear allegiance to the king.
What one must understand is that the British crown in those days did not have an oath of allegiance in England. In fact it did not have an oath of allegiance, of citizenship or of naturalization until the 1980s. In England the people were all British subjects but for the colonies they had to devise this oath of allegiance to the king. People had to pledge fealty to the king as a way of guaranteeing that the people who were not British subjects, who were perhaps French speaking or perhaps living in the colonies in the Caribbean or in Australia, for example, who were all convicts, would bow to the power of the crown. It ordered them to take an oath of allegiance, which is the oath we have today.
When new Canadians come to this country and swear that oath many people have difficulty with it because some of them come from Commonwealth countries where, in their own colonial history, pledging allegiance to the Crown meant slavery. Therefore it is perhaps an oath that needs to be changed.
In the citizenship bill that is now before the House, Bill C-18, the government has revised the oath. The government did this without any consultation with Parliament. It was done following hearings by the citizenship and immigration committee in 1994-95, which universally said that Canada needed an oath that reflected Canadian values. What we have now before the House is this oath which states:
From this day forward, I pledge my loyalty and allegiance to Canada and Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada. I promise to respect our country's rights and freedoms, to uphold our democratic values, to faithfully observe our laws and fulfil my duties and obligations as a Canadian citizen.
I suggest that this new oath is not much of an improvement over the oath that is currently being used by people taking out Canadian citizenship. There are a number of things about this. Most of it is taken from the Australian oath of citizenship, which revised its oath in 1993, and it is an echo of the oath I just read.
The oath has some very obvious flaws in it. There is the redundancy of, “I pledge my loyalty and allegiance”. These are the same things. I think, more important, it is not enough simply to ask the people who are taking out Canadian citizenship to faithfully observe our laws and fulfill their duties as citizens of Canada.
I observe for members that world history is replete with examples where governments change laws so that they do not reflect basic human rights, do not respect the rule of law and deprive people of freedom of speech and equality of opportunity.
I refer members to the numerous European examples where citizens were obligated to obey laws that were unjust. The classic example of course is what happened in the interwar years with Germany and Italy, where people were forced to obey laws that were brought in by totalitarian governments. It is not enough to ask people to obey the laws of the land. We must tell them what the laws are that they must obey, that really do define who they are, and define the rights and freedoms of the people who are joining.
I would like to propose to the House another version of the oath. This is the version of an oath I crafted after consultation with many Canadians and as a result of many hours interviewing new Canadians on the citizenship and immigration committee. The oath I would propose states:
In pledging allegiance to Canada, I take my place among Canadians, a people united by their solemn trust to uphold these five principles: equality of opportunity, freedom of speech, democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law.
I would suggest that is the ultimate definition of who we are as Canadians and how we are seen as Canadians around the world. People do not see us as British. They do not see us as people who perhaps have come from Greece. They do not see us as anglophones or aboriginals. They see us as a people who are renowned for upholding those five principles.
We had a charter of rights when there was no charter of rights in the United Kingdom. There was no charter of rights in Great Britain. We invented it. We brought it forward and it defines us as Canadians. I also have another version that properly reflects the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it reads:
In pledging allegiance to Canada, I take my place among Canadians, a people united by God, whose sacred trust is to uphold these five principles: equality of opportunity, freedom of speech, democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law.
Now the reason that we have to have a version that makes reference to God is because it is in the charter, it is in O Canada, but also because there are those who have strong religious beliefs and do not feel that they can make a real pledge unless there is a reference to God.
On the other hand, we have many people coming from other lands who have come from places where there has been oppression in the name of religion and they want a version in which they do not have to make reference to God. Therefore, I offer in Bill C-203 the two choices.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, you will note that in the version that I present to you, there is no reference to the Queen. I would suggest that is hardly novel. In 1993 Australia revised its oath of citizenship which was very much like our current oath and the oath of New Zealand. Australia changed it. The Australian oath of citizenship is quite nice, it says:
As an Australian citizen, I affirm my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share,whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I uphold and obey.
I think that is very nice and actually is an attempt at poetry. And when the Australians brought if forward--and it is important to remember that Australia, like Canada, is a parliamentary monarchy--they had an extensive debate about whether they should retain the monarchy. Australians said overwhelmingly that they wanted to retain the monarchy as the head of state just as we have here.
However, in 1993 Australians appreciated that they needed an oath of citizenship that reflected Australian values. It is interesting when Australian Senator Nick Bolkus spoke at that time to the Australian citizenship pledge. He said:
Citizenship proclaims and defines our Australian identity and it is appropriate that new citizens pledge loyalty first and foremost to Australia and its people. Some Australian residents have been reluctant to apply for citizenship because they found it difficult to relate to the current Oath of Allegiance.
We heard that repeatedly during our citizenship and immigration committee hearings in 1994-95. We heard that from people who came from all over the world to Canada. Approximately 160,000 people a year pledge allegiance to Canada. People say, “Why is it the Queen? Why is it not Canada and Canadian values?”
The Australians, almost 10 years in advance of us, changed the oath to reflect Australian values. I think Canada is a greater country. Senator Bolkus also said:
As a truly multicultural society, it is proper that the Pledge of commitment be one which will be equally meaningful to all people.
I suggest that the current oath and the oath that has been proposed by the government in Bill C-18 is not meaningful to all people. We need to change it to an oath that when people say it they know that they are becoming Canadian and they are sharing our values.