Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today and speak in support of Bill C-8, an act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94).
The bill will change the oath of citizenship. The new oath will now read:
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.
As someone who emigrated to Canada, I know first-hand just how valuable and memorable the experience of taking the oath of Canadian citizenship is. That is why this bill is very close to my heart. When I came to Canada back in 1974, the wait for my citizenship felt like a long time.
The day I went to my ceremony was one of the happiest days of my life. I can still remember the building, the people who were sitting beside me and the colour of the carpet in the room. However, what I remember the most was the moment when I put my hand to the chest and swore the oath. I still think about that to this day, and what it meant to me.
When I speak to other new Canadians, I hear the same thing. The oath is the legal requirement to become a Canadian citizen, but it is much more than that for every newcomer.
To become a Canadian, I had to pass the citizenship test. That test would show I understood the history of Canada and what this country stands for. This was before Canada became one of only a few countries in the world where indigenous and treaty rights were entrenched in our Constitution.
Some of the questions on the citizenship test were things I had picked up over the years, and others were things I needed to study. Canada's relationship with its first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples was not something I was required to know. It was not something that came up often. Back then when people said “Indian”, it was unclear if they were talking about me or Canada's first people.
Let me tell the House about what I did know even back then. I knew about reserves, and I knew about poverty. Many of the homeless I would see in Toronto were, sadly, first nations people. I have learned a lot about Canada's indigenous people since that time, and about the struggles they still face.
For example, reserves to this day have boil water advisories that are decades old. Indigenous people represent only about 5% of the adult population in Canada, but make up 30% of the people behind bars. The lasting impact of residential schools and the mental health crisis has led many indigenous people to take their own lives. The housing crisis on reserves has forced people to live in rundown homes filled with black mould, threatening the lives of those inside.
I have learned much more since being elected. I wish I had known more. I am glad that schools in Ontario are now making sure that students are familiar with these topics. That was not the case when my children were in school.
There is a lot of ignorance about these issues, even though none of these issues are new. They span generations. Where progress has been made, it has come too slowly. Our new leader has said, “....all governments in our history have not lived up to what we owe our Constitution and indigenous Canadians.”
I want to be clear about this. Canada is the best country in the world and I am proud to be a Canadian. One of the things that makes Canada so great is that we consistently acknowledge our mistakes and fix them.
I was not a member of Parliament when it happened, but I remember when Prime Minister Harper offered a full apology on behalf of Canadians for the horrendous residential school system. The Conservative government also created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which recognized that the Indian residential school system had a profoundly lasting and damaging impact on indigenous culture, heritage and language.
When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action were first released, the member for Papineau, now the Prime Minister, committed to action immediately. He was later given a four-year majority government. When giving some of his first speeches, he talked about how important Canada's relationship with its indigenous people was.
There are 94 calls to action in the TRC report. Although we are implementing call to action 94 today, it is important that Canadians know that the progress the Prime Minister promised has been far from realized.
Four years of a majority government has yielded little progress. A 2019 report by the Yellowhead Institute says that by 2018, only eight calls to action had been implemented. That number increased to nine by the end of 2019.
One of the reasons the progress for Canada's indigenous people has been so slow is they are often treated as an afterthought by the government. It was only at the very end of the majority government that it even put the first version of this bill forward, Bill C-99. After the election, which saw the Prime Minister re-elected, the government put forward a new version of Bill C-6, only to start again. Then the Liberal government chose to prorogue Parliament, killing the bill on the floor of the House before it could come up for a vote.
I recognize that the bill would bring a lot of changes. After four years of the same old, I was pleased to see the bill reintroduced in the current session. However, I cannot stress enough that indigenous people need to see real action on mental health, incarceration rates, housing and much more. That is why it is important that we pass Bill C-8 quickly, as it would affect the lives of those struggling right now.
Some might say this move is only symbolic. I would say that symbols are incredibly important. There is only a problem if the government continues to deliver lip service to indigenous Canadians and not results.
If there are any concerns about the wording of the bill, I am sure we can come to a consensus at committee. It is very important that indigenous groups from across the country have their say. I recognize the committee has many restraints regarding witnesses, so I hope the Liberal government is engaging in consultations as we speak.