Madam Speaker, the bill we are debating today, Bill C-6, is essentially a reiteration of the 42nd Parliament's Bill C-99, which was never passed.
Bill C-6, an act to amend the Citizenship Act with regard to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94, proposes a change to the oath of citizenship set out in the schedule to the Citizenship Act under section 24. Clause 1 proposes amending the text of the schedule, or, in other words, it proposes new wording for the citizenship oath, including the solemn affirmation.
To quickly give a bit of context, I want to start by saying that Bill C-6 is based on consultations with immigrants and indigenous partners.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the TRC, presented its six-volume final report, which contains 94 calls to action. For six years, the TRC heard from nearly 6,500 witnesses from across Quebec and Canada in order to shed light on the legacy of residential schools and advance reconciliation between indigenous peoples and other Canadians.
In response to the publication of that report, the federal government committed to implementing all calls to action within its jurisdiction. As I have already indicated, the amendment proposed in Bill C-6 addresses call to action number 94 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The wording in the commission's report is as follows:
We call upon the Government of Canada to replace the Oath of Citizenship with the following: 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.
In 2017, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada led discussion groups with well-established new immigrants about the wording of the oath of citizenship being proposed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in its calls to action. The response of the discussion groups seemed positive overall, but some participants indicated that the amended version of the oath should be accompanied by adequate training for newcomers on indigenous peoples and treaties. Others expressed concern about the change because it might set a precedent for other groups that may want to be mentioned in the oath.
In collaboration with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, IRCC also held consultations with the Assembly of First nations, the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. It should be noted that the proposed oath in the calls to action also raised some concerns in the media. Some wonder whether citizens are able to faithfully observe the treaties concluded with the indigenous peoples. Others object to the fact that the oath makes no mention of the thousands of indigenous citizens who belong to non-treaty nations.
On May 28, 2019, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship introduced in the House of Commons Bill C-99, an act to amend the Citizenship Act, to amend the oath of citizenship and solemn affirmation, which requires that the Citizenship Act be amended. No changes have been made to the oath of citizenship in more than 40 years. It is important to know that the oath of citizenship is a solemn declaration whereby the candidate swears or pledges allegiance to the Queen of Canada. It is the last legal requirement to be fulfilled to obtain Canadian citizenship.
The wording of the oath of citizenship currently found in the schedule to the Citizenship Act is 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 and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
When the bill we are debating today is passed, the new wording of the oath of citizenship will be 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.
It is important to note that the proposed wording in Bill C-6 and in the old Bill C-99 differs from the recommended wording suggested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, in that it refers not to treaties with indigenous peoples, but rather to the aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples as recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Aboriginal rights are intrinsic collective rights held by indigenous peoples because they were historically the first to occupy this land. They can include aboriginal title to land, the right to self-government, the right to occupy a territory, the right to resources or socio-cultural rights. In contrast, treaty rights refer to rights set out in historical or modern treaties negotiated between the Crown and specific indigenous groups.
The Bloc Québécois recognizes the legitimacy and importance of incorporating a reference to indigenous rights into the citizenship oath. We also recognize indigenous nations for what they are: nations. The Bloc advocates a comprehensive approach to government relations, focusing on negotiating nation-to-nation agreements. Recognition should be the starting point for any commitment to reconciliation.
However, although section 35 of the Canadian Constitution recognizes existing aboriginal and treaty rights, it does not define the federation as a free association of equal nations. Unlike Canada's plan, Quebec's plan for independence, promoted by the Bloc Québécois, proposes that indigenous nations be counted among the founding peoples of a sovereign Quebec, which would be founded on a true association based on mutual respect and equality.
If Canada positioned itself as an association of free and equal peoples, it would be easier to ask newcomers taking their oath of citizenship to commit to respecting the fundamental rights of all founding peoples. Since Canada instead chose, without Quebec's consent, to position itself as a multicultural majority nation in which national cultures are reduced to regional folklore, the federal government's efforts to respect indigenous peoples are still somewhat awkward.
The Bloc Québécois does not oppose including the recognition of aboriginal and treaty rights in the oath of citizenship. We even commend the principle and sincere desire behind this act, but we want to point out that this addition constitutes a detour that would not be necessary if Canada was a state that recognized the nations that make it up in its fundamental legislation right from the start.
It is therefore only natural to wonder, with all due respect for the recognition of first nations, Inuit and Métis, what consideration the Liberal government is showing for Quebeckers when it proposes asking newcomers to commit to respecting the rights of the nations that together form their host society.
In closing, since the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-6, we will be supporting it.