Madam Speaker, it is very difficult to approach the business of the House today after weekend events that demonstrated so disastrously, yet again, the Liberal government's inability to provide peace, order and good government.
Teck Resources Limited withdrew from a $20-billion project that had passed a succession of environmental reviews; had the enthusiastic support of indigenous communities that would have shared significant economic benefits and 7,000 jobs in construction and 2,500 jobs in operation; and had the support of provincial governments, business and industry, given the $70 billion in economic stimulus it would have provided to the national economy. This took place because the Liberal government could not resolve its contradictory environmental and resource-development policies and provide certainty that the project would not be threatened by further lawlessness. This is a devastating blow to the Alberta economy, the national economy and to the concept of peace, order and good government.
With that, I will proceed to the legislation at hand.
It is an honour to rise today to speak to the importance, indeed the sanctity, of the oath sworn by all new citizens of our great country, Canada. The current oath of citizenship is a relatively short, compact and simple, but profound, promise of new citizens to faithfully observe the laws of Canada, all of the laws of Canada. It is an affirmation of patriotism and loyalty.
As we consider Bill C-6 today, I believe a few moments of historical reflection are in order.
Canada may be 152 years old, but Canada only became largely independent of the United Kingdom in 1931, under the Conservative government of Prime Minister R. B. Bennett. Even after 1931, citizens of this country remained British subjects. Anyone coming to Canada from anywhere else in the Commonwealth was not required to take the oath of allegiance. However, by 1946, the Canadian Parliament, the MPs sitting in Centre Block, now under renovation next door, moved to enact the Canadian Citizenship Act.
I arrived in Canada at Pier 21 in Halifax with my mother, a Canadian army nurse, aboard a Red Cross hospital ship in convoy, the Lady Nelson toward the end of the Second World War, a couple of years before the Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect in 1947. My parents were both Canadian: My father was a captain in the Canadian army and my mother was a nursing sister lieutenant assigned to the army medical corps plastic surgery team. I was born in a Canadian army hospital in Bramshott, Sussex.
With all of this combined, I grew through childhood and into my twenties believing that I was a Canadian citizen. I was sworn into the Royal Canadian Navy, only briefly, to my lifelong regret, and then into the Royal Canadian Army Reserve, taking the oath of loyalty to Queen and Canada each time, and I voted in two Canadian elections. I only discovered in 1966, when I applied for my first passport to travel to Vietnam as a freelance journalist, that I did not qualify to carry a Canadian passport: Because I arrived in Canada before 1947, I was not a Canadian citizen.
Fortunately in the 1960s, naturalization of this sort could be accomplished in very short order, and very quickly I was able to finally officially swear the oath of allegiance, officially becoming a Canadian citizen. I received a passport and was able to begin getting on with my life.
The actual Canadian citizenship oath only became law with amendments to the Canadian Citizenship Act in 1977. For the first time, Queen Elizabeth was cited as the Queen of Canada, consistent with Canada's status as a constitutional monarchy.
I assure you, Madam Speaker, I am moving steadily toward the proposed amendment to the oath before us today, changes that have been proposed a number of times since 1977 by Liberal governments. These proposed changes, in their time, were controversial and were either abandoned or died on the Order Paper.
In the mid-1990s, the Liberal citizenship and immigration minister, Sergio Marchi, commissioned a group of Canadian writers to compose a new oath that would have, outrageously, dropped all reference to Queen Elizabeth, our constitutional monarch. Fortunately, the Liberal prime minister, Chrétien, in a moment of exceptional clarity, told minister Marchi to park that proposed change and it was abandoned.
However, as members know, Liberals love tinkering with legislation, and a few years later another Liberal minister, Lucienne Robillard, tried to get rid of not the Queen this time but allegiance to her heirs and successors, which suggested to many that Canada's constitutional monarchy could end with her death. That bill, Bill C-63, died on the Senate Order Paper when an election was called. Two similar follow-on bills, Bill C-16 and Bill C-18, failed as well. As a matter of fact, Bill C-18 never made it past second reading in the House.
That brings us to Bill C-6, the proposal before us today to amend the Citizenship Act again.
The minister's mandate letter has directed him to achieve 12 specific tasks. Among these tasks are a number that stumped his two predecessors through the past Parliament.
The minister has been directed to effectively address the continuing flow of illegal migrants across Canada's southern border, more than 16,000 last year, and to engage the United States in closing loopholes in the safe third country agreement. As the backlog of asylum claimants, most of whom are likely to be rejected, approaches 90,000 and is still rising, the minister has been directed to reduce processing times. As well, the minister has been directed by the Prime Minister to advance reforms in the capacity of the asylum system and introduce a dedicated refugee stream to provide safe haven for human rights advocates, journalists and humanitarian workers at risk. As provinces, communities, chambers of commerce, and business and industry across Canada appeal for more timely, more efficient processing of permanent immigrants, the minister has been directed to assist there as well.
There are other directions in the minister's mandate letter, but the first legislation brought to the House by the minister is far down the mandate-letter list. Bill C-6 is, for all intents and purposes, the same proposed legislation as Bill C-69, thrown into the legislative process in the final days of the last Parliament, in June. There was no time to debate it then or for a committee study. It had absolutely no chance of passing in that Parliament. It was simply a pre-election promise.
Now we have Bill C-6. The oath as it is today, and as I have heard it many times over the years attending citizenship ceremonies as a journalist and as a member of Parliament, is this:
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, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
It is, as I suggested in my opening remarks, a relatively short, compact, simple but profound promise of all new citizens to faithfully observe the laws of Canada, all of the laws of Canada.
The oath, with amendments proposed by the minister, would be:
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, 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 government tells us that these additional 19 words are a fulfilment of a recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In fact, the commission only recommended that four words be added to the oath, which were “including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples”. Whether four or 19 words are added to the oath, let us look at who would be speaking these words, the future new Canadians who would be swearing or affirming this proposed longer oath.
Let me suggest to colleagues in the House to close their eyes for a moment, if I have not already led them to a somnolent state. I am sure they can visualize a familiar scene. In a council chamber, a courtroom or an event room in a historic building, or at a site or national park, there is a group of 40 or 60 men, women and children, along with as many or more friends and family.
A citizenship judge enters, often accompanied by a Mountie or two, a handful of politicians and, in recent years, very often an indigenous representative of the region or province. Canada's national anthem is sung with perhaps a bit more enthusiasm than in other circumstances. A few tears of anticipatory joy may be shed.
A smudging ceremony may be conducted, in which sage, cedar, tobacco or other plants are burned to cleanse and purify the event. Inspirational words will be offered by the presiding citizenship judge and other notables present. They will speak to the importance of the event, our country's history, perhaps their own personal experiences, and the words they are about to speak together.
Visualize again for a moment the expectant faces among the audience, faces from races, religions, cultures, communities and countries near and far who have come to Canada under a variety of circumstances. They may have come as economic migrants or refugees to join family members who came before, or as temporary foreign workers, or as international students who fell in love with this country and decided to stay and build their future lives here as citizens.
This ceremony is not a one-hour or a one-day event. One does not become a citizen overnight. This ceremony is the culmination of years of preparation, including accumulating the required residency years, learning one or both of Canada's official languages, and studying the many documents and data contained in the Discover Canada handbook or on the audio files connected to it and on the website.
This handbook is an abundant repository of Canadian history, citizen responsibilities and obligations, rights entrenched in the Constitution and the importance of the rule of law. This handbook is essential reading for new citizens, not only for the historic content, but also for the study questions provided to help them prepare for the citizenship test.
The handbook offers solid detail of Canada's first nations. As the section on aboriginal peoples explains, first nations' ancestors are “believed to have migrated from Asia many thousands of years ago.” It explains that aboriginal people were well established in Canada “long before explorers from Europe first came to North America. Diverse, vibrant First Nations cultures were rooted in religious beliefs about their relationship to the Creator, the natural environment and each other.”
The handbook also lays out in easily consumed detail the following:
Aboriginal and treaty rights are in the Canadian Constitution. Territorial rights were first guaranteed through the Royal Proclamation of 1763 by King George III, and established the basis for negotiating treaties with the newcomers—treaties that were not always fully respected.
The handbook addresses the impact of European diseases on the native culture and how traders, missionaries, soldiers and colonists changed native lives forever.
In preparation, future citizens learn of Joseph Brant, the Mohawk Loyalist military and political leader during the American Revolution; of Tecumseh and the Shawnees he led in support of British forces in the War of 1812; and of Louis Riel's fight for Métis rights as well as his trial and execution in 1885.
The handbook describes almost two centuries of injustice and abuse of aboriginal children in residential schools, physical abuse and cultural oppression. The handbook reminds readers that in 2008 in Ottawa the federal government under Conservative Prime Minister Harper formally apologized to former students. As well, the handbook defines the three distinct groups that compose Canada's aboriginal peoples.
The Conservative Party fully supports treaty rights and the process of reconciliation with Canada's indigenous people. Conservatives support real action to address reconciliation with Canada's first nations, Inuit and Métis people. Conservatives support action on clean water, safe housing, education, health and economic opportunity, and the Indian Act, which blocks many first nations from charting their own future.
The Conservative Party fully respects treaties, which are already among Canada's body of laws. The Conservative Party supports the resolution of unfulfilled treaty obligations in the process of reconciliation with Canada's indigenous people.
In the week since these proposed changes were reintroduced by the government, I have received messages from constituents, and from far beyond, which contend that this amendment amounts to typical Liberal tokenism and virtue signalling, pandering and should be opposed.
I cannot speak to the Liberal government's motivation here, because when it comes to public policy, inconsistency and contradiction are the hallmarks of legislative process and decision-making. However, I can say that I have spoken often in this House against proposals, very often from the Liberal government, to burden various sections of clearly written sections of law, of the Criminal Code, with unneeded specificities.
In this debate, I must be clear that I believe the existing oath of citizenship does not need to be burdened with 19 new words that I believe are redundant. If we are to add first nations specificity, why not official bilingualism, why not privacy, why not national security, why not anti-Semitism?
Therefore, I propose the following amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-6, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94), since the existing Oath of Citizenship already includes the profound promise of citizens to faithfully observe the laws of Canada and the bill does nothing to support real action to address reconciliation with Canada's first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.”