Canada is a country that has immigration as a big part of its history. Every year in this country, thousands of people complete their path to citizenship at ceremonies from coast to coast to coast. As a part of that last step, new Canadians must recite the Citizenship Oath, and it is a solemn part of that ceremony. Today the Liberal government proposed an update to that oath, one that brings forward an important update:
This is a good move by this government, even if it is coming a bit late in this term, potentially too late for the legislation making this change to actually become law. But we’ll see and we’ll leave that matter for another day. In my view, this is an important step and one that I think that’s time has come.
When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission submitted their recommendations back in 2015, they included 94 Calls to Action covering all aspects of Canadian life and government at all levels. They helped to provide a roadmap forward for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in this country, one that offered positive and tangible ideas. At the very end of that list, under the section “Newcomers to Canada”, came Call to Action number 94, which stated the following:
I remember at the time when I first read the recommendations about how good an idea this was, one that hadn’t necessarily came to mind right away. When you look at the citizenship oaths that most other countries have, they make references to loyalty towards their constitutional documents and structures. But in Canada, the oath as it existed had a major exclusion; the treaties and Aboriginal rights of the Indigenous peoples of this land. The fact is that the treaties signed with First Nations and Inuit in Canada are not just agreements; they are essentially constitutional documents that give Canada legal legitimacy in those territories in which they are signed. Thanks to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, Canada wouldn’t exist as a country in a legal sense without those agreements.
So when it comes to accepting new citizens into our country, it makes sense that not only should those new citizens be taught about those constitutional documents (as Call to Action 93 calls for) and be asked to swear an oath to them, just as they to do our Head of State and to obey the laws of Canada. To me, this makes so much sense that I truly hope that it won’t be opposed by any party in the House of Commons.
All of the Calls to Action in the TRC Report are important in their own right, but for me this one is different in the sense that it’s forward looking and the way that it can help to bring greater reconciliation in this country for decades to come. By being up front with new citizens from coming elsewhere about our history, the treaties and their obligations, those new Canadians are able to help be a part of the solution regarding the relationship between Canada and the Indigenous nations that call Canada home. It’s also letting these new citizens know the history and legal responsibilities that they are inheriting by becoming Canadians. Even if you just arrived here, by becoming a citizen those people are going to be a part of being responsible for the relationship that existed long before they arrived here.
My hope is that seeing Calls to Action like this being enacted will help create more understanding of our shared history, create more knowledge of it and will in turn, create more empathy for the people who are living with the consequences of that history. It’s a good step along the road to reconciliation, one that I hope will get quick passage before the end of this Parliament with full support of all parties across the political spectrum.