moved that Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I begin by acknowledging that we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation.
Today, I have the privilege of speaking to Bill C-6, which is an act to amend the Citizenship Act. When passed into law, this legislation will amend the oath of citizenship to ensure indigenous peoples have their right place within the solemn declaration made by newcomers as they are welcomed to the Canadian family.
The purpose of this bill is to continue to fulfill our government's commitment to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action, specifically call to action number 94. As members will know, identical legislation was tabled in the last Parliament; however, we were not able to advance it before dissolution.
I want to explain why I think it is important to highlight this. The government proposed this amendment some time ago, almost a year ago, in fact, as part of our overall efforts to significantly advance reconciliation.
This is hard work. The renewal of the relationship with indigenous peoples must be based on a recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership. We have wed ourselves to these principles to foster collaboration in the creation of new laws and policies that will, among other things, protect indigenous languages, traditions and institutions.
Do these advancements mean our work is done? Of course not. Recent events illustrate that the issues that remain to be resolved are both complex and urgent. Equally, we cannot allow ourselves to go backward.
I hope we will use this moment as an opportunity to have a constructive debate on this bill, starting with an all-party agreement that the amendments it proposes to the Citizenship Act are one more vital step towards reconciliation.
Before discussing the substance of the legislation, I believe it is important to provide the historical context that gave rise to call to action number 94.
As was said at the time of the initial publication of the TRC report, too many Canadians know too little or nothing at all about the tragedy of the residential schools. This deficit of public awareness regarding the systemic way in which indigenous children were forcibly torn from their families has had serious consequences. Previously shamed into silence, thousands of survivors painfully shared their residential school experiences with the commission. This helped to start an important dialogue about what is necessary to heal.
We, as Canadians, have much to learn from listening to their voices. It is in this spirit of sharing, knowledge and learning that we put forward this bill to ensure that new Canadians begin to understand the history of indigenous peoples as a part of our country's fabric at their inception as citizens. The stories of first nations, Inuit and Métis are the story of Canada itself.
That is why the approach we are taking with this new oath is so important. The action we are proposing today is one more step towards rebuilding a once harmonious relationship.
As Senator Murray Sinclair said:
Actions speak louder than words. The reality is that we're...looking for action that shows leadership, that causes people to sit up and take notice and recognize that there is an important process under way here that they have to be part of.
With this bill, we are taking a step to respond to Senator Sinclair's exhortation by modifying the oath of citizenship to be more inclusive, and to help fundamentally transform the nature of our relationship with indigenous peoples.
For hundreds of years, even before the residential schools, indigenous peoples faced discrimination in every aspect of their lives. Our government firmly believes that we must acknowledge the injustices of the past and envision a new relationship based on the inherent rights of indigenous peoples. The bill we have put forward today helps to lay the foundation for that journey.
Once adopted, the new oath of citizenship will 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.
In arriving at this language, I would note that the government engaged indigenous leaders, including the national indigenous organizations. My department began consultations in 2016 with the Assembly of Fist Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council. In addition, we also engaged with members of the Land Claims Agreements Coalition, an organization that represents indigenous modern treaty organizations and governments in Canada.
While all three organizations generally support the intent behind the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action, it was clear that further efforts were needed to make the oath as precise and inclusive as possible.
In summarizing our consultation, there were diverse views with regard to language. However, it is our sincere belief that the wording put forth in this bill reflects our best efforts to be inclusive of first nations, Inuit and Métis experiences, responding not only to call to action number 94 but to the substance of what my department heard throughout our consultations. In so doing, we put forward to the House today a proposed oath of citizenship that introduces and instills the principle of reconciliation among our new citizens.
Canada has been shaped by the contributions of immigrants over many generations. Travelling this country far and wide, one would be hard pressed to find a family whose journey did not start abroad. For many, becoming a citizen is a significant milestone on this journey. Indeed, nearly 85% of newcomers become citizens. Over the last decade, Canada has welcomed nearly 1.7 million new citizens. In my short time as minister, I have already had a number of opportunities to participate in citizenship ceremonies right across Canada, and I can tell members that is among the most emotional, moving and special functions I get to engage in.
I get to see the pride on the faces of new citizens and how this oath represents a major commitment as part of their journey to settle in a new country.
The oath is a very public declaration and an integral part of the citizenship process. It consecrates a commitment to equality, diversity and respect within an open and free society. In addition, by taking the oath, new citizens inherit the legacy of those who have come before them and the values that have defined the character of Canada. When a newcomer becomes Canadian, our history becomes their history and their history becomes part of ours. Now, that shared history will also ensure that newcomers recognize and affirm the rights and treaties of indigenous peoples. The histories of indigenous peoples in Canada are diverse and an integral part of Canada's past, present and future.
It has been a long road, and we still have a lot of work to do. The purpose of bill is twofold. First, our goal is to ensure that new Canadians recognize indigenous peoples' significant contributions to Canada. The government is also reaffirming its commitment to reconciliation and a renewed relationship with indigenous peoples.
We must keep moving forward together.
We have listened and learned. We are working together to take concrete measures to build a better future and a new relationship, and that includes recognizing indigenous peoples in the citizenship oath.
Our goal is to achieve a fundamental and profound shift in the relationship with indigenous peoples. However, this transformation will take mutual respect, determination and patience.
It will mean listening to and learning from indigenous partners, communities and youth, and acting decisively on what we have heard, which is to build trust and healing. It will also mean doing everything we can to support the inherent right to self-determination of indigenous peoples that will lead us all to a better future.
We can and will build a better Canada together, but we can only do this in full, honest partnership with indigenous peoples who truly know best when it comes to their own communities.
I want to end by acknowledging that this has been a challenging time. However, this legislation represents a significant opportunity to find a better way forward.
I look forward to working with all members of the House. It is my sincere hope that we will find a common cause to support this legislation, which represents an important and modest step forward on the path to reconciliation.