Liberals propose changes to citizenship oath to respect Indigenous rights

The Liberal government is revamping the citizenship oath so that new Canadians make a solemn commitment to respect Indigenous and treaty rights for First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Push to reword the oath came from Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The Liberal government is proposing changes to the citizenship oath that would see newcomers commit to respecting Indigenous rights. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal government is revamping the citizenship oath so that new Canadians make a solemn commitment to respect Indigenous and treaty rights for First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the proposed change to the Citizenship Act will raise awareness of Indigenous rights among newcomers. The change is based on a recommendation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission more than three years ago.

"Reconciliation is not only an Indigenous issue. It is a Canadian imperative and will take partners at all levels to advance this important journey," Hussen said today in the foyer of the House of Commons shortly after tabling Bill C-99.

The proposed new language for the oath reads:

"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."

With less than a month left in the parliamentary session, Hussen said he hopes the other parties cooperate to pass the bill quickly. Asked why it took so long to table the bill, the minister said that it required consultation with many stakeholders and that the government wanted to "get it right."

Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, critic for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, said she expects there won't be time to pass the bill.

"Conservatives support treaty rights and reconciliation, but tabling a bill at the last minute and which is subsequently not likely to get passed, due to the fact that there are only a few sitting days left in this Parliament, is not the way to do it," she said in a statement to CBC. "Unlike the Liberals, an Andrew Scheer-led Conservative government will take real action to address reconciliation."

Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan stressed the significance of the proposed change.

"This is a very important day that new Canadians, when they come in, know they are entering a country that respects Indigenous people in this country, that respects and affirms their rights in Canada," he said.

(CBC News)

Sen. Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, issued a statement welcoming the legislation as a way to "better reflect a more inclusive history of Canada." To understand what it means to be Canadian, it's important to know about all its founding peoples, he said.

"Reconciliation requires that a new vision, based on a commitment to mutual respect, be developed. Part of that vision is encouraging all Canadians, including newcomers, to understand the history of First Nations, the Métis and the Inuit, including information about the treaties and the history of the residential schools, so that we all honour the truth and work together to build a more inclusive Canada," Sinclair said.

The Manitoba Métis Federation praised the changes and urged parliamentarians to expedite passage of the bill.

"If all parties respect the Indigenous peoples, our constitutional rights, and our place in Confederation, then this can pass into law quite quickly and easily. I would expect Parliament will make this law a reality," said MMF president David Chartrand.

"Given how far we have come, and what's at stake, this is a no brainer. It could be done in a day if all parties recognize its importance to reconciliation and the future of Canadian federalism."

The Assembly of First Nations, which provided input on the proposed changes, said educating new Canadians about shared history and the rights, cultures and contributions of First Nations is an important part of reconciliation.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde and regional chiefs are reviewing the proposed wording.

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