Bill C-8—Consideration of Subject Matter in Committee of the Whole—Senator Klyne

By: The Hon. Marty Klyne

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Senator Klyne: Welcome, minister, and thank you for investing time with us today.

Minister, Bill C-8 answers the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 94 to create a new citizenship oath for newcomers to Canada. In explaining the reason for this measure, the TRC report states:

For new Canadians, many of whom carry their own traumatic memories of colonial violence, racism, and oppression, finding common ground as Treaty people involves learning about the history of Aboriginal peoples and finding ways to build stronger relationships of solidarity with them. The Commission believes there is an urgent need for more dialogue between Aboriginal peoples and new Canadians.

Minister, based upon your experience and vision as Minister of Immigration, please share your plan to advance an agenda on education and dialogue around Indigenous history and culture with new Canadians.

Mr. Mendicino: I want to begin by thanking you, senator, for the question and also for a very eloquent summary of the commission’s rationale for advancing Call to Action 94 with a sense of urgency.

The commission points out — and you echoed — one of the very important reasons why this work is important: Having an Oath of Citizenship that better reflects Indigenous peoples and our relationship with them provides an opportunity for newcomers to relate to their own experiences and their own adversity in coming to Canada, whether it was before they were able to come here or even during their time here.

You made a reference to colonialism, and that is one of the things that we, as parliamentarians, as well as all Canadians, have to come to grips with. The ways in which our colonial past continues to impact and manifest in some very adverse ways through a variety of institutions requires us to continue this work. That includes the way we welcome newcomers to our fold as citizens.

In my experience and in my interactions with newcomers, this will be an opportunity to better educate them how it is that they can contribute to the work of reconciliation themselves by weaving their own experiences with our history, our present and our future with Indigenous peoples.

Again, just to put a finer point on it, this is one of the many reasons why this work is so important.

Senator Klyne: Thank you for that.

Minister, one thing I really like about this bill is thinking about the place of this oath in the citizenship ceremony. At these ceremonies, newcomers officially become Canadian citizens by swearing or affirming the Oath of Citizenship and singing the national anthem. For many new Canadians, this ceremony will be an important event in their lives, with their family and loved ones in attendance, including their children and perhaps their grandchildren.

In addition to hearing about Aboriginal and treaty rights at these memorable and symbolic events, it is essential for new Canadian youth to learn the true history of tragedy brought on by previous generations regarding Indigenous people as well as the true richness of Indigenous nations’ histories and rich cultures.

Public events and commemoration around truth and reconciliation will play a major role in the education of new Canadian youth. For example, we will now have the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and a new approach to citizenship ceremonies.

I hope we’ll also see the government implement Call to Action 81 for a national monument in Ottawa, just as Saskatchewan has responded to Call to Action 82 for a monument at the provincial level. I also hope we will see movement on Call to Action 79 for Indigenous representation on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

Could you please comment on the importance of public events and commemorations, share any updates on the government’s plans in that regard and around Calls to Action 81 and 79?

Mr. Mendicino: Thank you for the question.

I’ll begin by reaffirming our government’s commitment to implement all of the Calls to Action, including the ones you expressly referred to in the creation of monuments that reflect Indigenous peoples as well as better representation. Obviously the commitment to have a national day to commemorate the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an important step, as is Bill C-8.

But I will come back to what I think the central tenet of your original question was, which was how do these citizenship ceremonies themselves contribute to the important work of reconciliation? It allows me to elaborate briefly on the great value I think we have in welcoming elders to commence our citizenship ceremonies, in having a land acknowledgement that allows us to clear our minds — for lack of a better way of putting it — so that we can undertake the proceedings in the right way, to exchange gifts where appropriate and to allow that spirit to really inform what is a very profound moment for newcomers, as I have explained before.

You are quite right to ask about the ceremonies themselves. They give additional life to what is a very special moment for newcomers. It’s hard to put it into words, senator, but I’ve certainly tried my best to capture it.

Senator Klyne: I do hope to see a monument in Ottawa, and I do hope that we do see some representation on that board. Thank you.

Mr. Mendicino: Thank you, senator.

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