Second reading of Bill C-8, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action number 94)

By: The Hon. Dawn Anderson

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Wapta Falls, British Columbia

Hon. Margaret Dawn Anderson: Honourable senators, I rise in the Senate today to speak to Bill C-8, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action number 94).

I want to acknowledge I speak from my home community of Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, on the settled land claim territory of the Inuvialuit. It is my distinct honour to add my voice to the Indigenous voices who have brought us to this point in history.

On June 2, 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its 94 Calls to Action in its final report, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Over six years, from 2009 to 2015, the TRC held seven large national events in six provinces and one territory, with an estimated 155,000 visitors and over 9,000 residential school survivors registered to attend them. The TRC also held 238 days of local hearings in 77 communities across Canada. In addition, the commission received over 6,750 statements from survivors of residential schools, members of their families and other individuals who shared their knowledge of the residential school system and its legacy. It is this work and the words, resilience, strength, perseverance and determination of the survivors, families and communities that shape and support the 94 Calls to Action.

In its interim report entitled They Came for the Children, released in 2012, the TRC emphasized the significance of the legacy of residential schools to all Canadians:

In talking about residential schools and their legacy, we are not talking about an Aboriginal problem, but a Canadian problem. It is not simply a dark chapter from our past. It was integral to the making of Canada.

In its final report, the TRC noted:

Getting to the truth was hard, but getting to reconciliation will be harder. It requires that the paternalistic and racist foundations of the residential school system be rejected as the basis for an ongoing relationship. Reconciliation requires that a new vision, based on a commitment to mutual respect, be developed. It also requires an understanding that the most harmful impacts of residential schools have been the loss of pride and self-respect of Aboriginal people, and the lack of respect that non-Aboriginal people have been raised to have for their Aboriginal neighbours. Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.

Before the TRC, there was the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, or RCAP. Between 1991 and 1996, the Royal Commission’s five commissioners visited 96 First Nation communities and held 178 days of public hearings. Their mandate was to investigate the evolution of the relationship between Indigenous peoples, the Government of Canada and Canadian society broadly.

Further, they were to propose specific solutions to the problems facing Indigenous peoples as a direct result of experiences stemming from national and international relations. RCAP’s report, submitted in October 1996, consisted of 4,000 pages, five volumes, 440 recommendations and a 20-year agenda to implement the recommendations arising out of the report. Despite their call for sweeping changes, many of the recommendations were not implemented, due in part to a change in government.

RCAP noted:

Until the story of life in Canada, as Aboriginal people know it, finds a place in all Canadians’ knowledge of their past, the wounds from historical violence and neglect will continue to fester — denied by Canadians at large and, perversely, generating shame in Aboriginal people because they cannot shake off the sense of powerlessness that made them vulnerable to injury in the first place. Violations of solemn promises in the treaties, inhumane conditions in residential schools, the uprooting of whole communities, the denial of rights and respect to patriotic Aboriginal veterans of two world wars, and the great injustices and small indignities inflicted by administration of the Indian Act — all take on mythic power to symbolize present experiences of unrelenting injustice.

Colleagues, normally in June we celebrate National Indigenous History Month. Instead, this month, we are mourning the discovery of 215 Indigenous children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. It weighs heavily on all of us, especially on those directly and indirectly impacted by personal experience and intergenerational trauma. The silenced voices of 215 Indigenous children now speak louder than any words. For many Canadians, this may be the first tangible encounter with the truth of residential schools and the violence, abuse and lasting harm inflicted on Indigenous children, families and communities. But for Indigenous people, this pain is not new. It is palpable, triggering, exhausting and daunting. It is an inescapable part of our collective history that continues to shape and define us today. Resistant, resolute, resilient, we stand as one in our collective grief and sorrow more determined to ensure that we find and bring home all the Indigenous children.

My heart goes out to all the residential school survivors, their families, the communities and to those who never made it home and whose voices we have yet to hear. You are not alone. We share in your collective grief and outrage.

In the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, the first residential school was located at Shingle Point, Northwest Territories, from 1929 to 1936. It was replaced by the All Saints Anglican residential school in Aklavik from 1936 to 1959. In 1959, the new community of Inuvik was established and became the location of Sir Alexander Mackenzie School, or SAMS, a federal Indian day school. It was one of the first buildings constructed in Inuvik. Children continued to be taken from their parents and families and brought from across the N.W.T. to Inuvik to attend SAMS. While attending the school, children as young as five years old were forced to live in either Stringer Hall or Grollier Hall. Although control of both residences was transferred to the territorial government in the late 1960s, Stringer Hall was run by the Anglican Church from 1959 to 1975, and Grollier Hall by the Catholic Church from 1959 to 1997, making it one of the last residential schools to close in Canada.

We had 68 years of residential schooling in the Beaufort Delta. At least three generations of children were torn away from the love and safety of their parents, families, communities, culture and language.

As with most residential schools, there are horrific stories of physical, emotional and sexual abuse in both residences. Grollier Hall was particularly notorious. An RCMP task force struck to investigate Grollier Hall sex abuse allegations interviewed 432 people. Four supervisors were convicted of sexually abusing children and youth at the residence between 1959 and 1979.

We have our own stories about lost Indigenous children. One of those stories belongs to three boys from my community. On June 23, 1972 — 49 years ago this month — Bernard Andreason and his friends Dennis Dick and Lawrence Jack Elanik ran away from Stringer Hall. Bernard and Jack were 11; Dennis was 13. The boys tried to make their way on foot back home to Tuktoyaktuk, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. The sun doesn’t set in June. The land between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk begins as brush and opens into vast tundra filled with lakes, hills and rivers. There was no road and no path. The boys followed the line of telephone poles leading northward.

After two weeks, and despite an extensive search, on July 8, 1972, only Bernard was located alive, eight miles from Tuktoyaktuk. Jack was found deceased and Dennis Dick was missing.

In an interview dated September 21, 2017, Mr. Andreason noted that they ran away as they were scared to go back. He added that the supervisors were not nice people and were mean — so mean that they were afraid of them.

It is these stories we must remember. Our lost children have not been forgotten, and they are dearly missed. Sir Alexander Mackenzie School is gone now, as is the old high school, Samuel Hearne Secondary School. Both were closed in 2012 and torn down in the two years that followed. They have been replaced by East Three, which houses both an elementary and secondary school. Both residential schools have also been torn down and the lots remain empty. Nearby is Chief Jim Koe Park and a couple of baseball diamonds. The old Grollier Hall Arena has been transformed into a community greenhouse. If you were to arrive in Inuvik today, you would have no notion of the history of the residential schools unless you took the time to get to know the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in histories of the region.

Colleagues, it is critical that Canada ensure that the work and recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, or RCAP, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or TRC, are not forgotten, that our history as Indigenous peoples on this land known as Canada is documented and acknowledged and that Canada continues to work with and forage an honourable relationship with Indigenous peoples, as promised in our treaties and Aboriginal rights.

Further, all Canadians should commit to educating themselves, not just about the legacy of residential schools, but of our country’s colonial history, which is seeped in erasure, assimilation, disenfranchisement, racism and acts of genocide of our people, culture and language, affecting every aspect of our lives. This work is part of our collective responsibility in the pursuit of reconciliation, equality and equity for all. We are all responsible for participating in the forging of a new relationship that recognizes the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples.

The history of Canada’s treaties with Indigenous peoples goes back to the earliest Indigenous-newcomer interactions. Indigenous people regularly made political and military alliances with New France and with the British. With the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the British government committed to signing treaties with Indigenous peoples prior to occupying their land.

Following the War of 1812, however, the British no longer saw Indigenous people as valuable partners and allies. Instead, we were seen as childlike and ill-prepared for the modern world. With this shift in attitudes, our treaties began to be ignored. The Indian Act of 1876 codified these attitudes and the Government of Canada’s self-assigned responsibility for Indigenous people. Here officially begins Canada’s systemic project of assimilation, segregation and erasure of Indigenous peoples.

Between 1871 and 1921, as Canada expanded westward, the government negotiated 11 numbered treaties, removing Indigenous people from the best agricultural lands and attempting to bring us into the farming economy. Between 1923 and 1971, no new treaties were negotiated. In fact, from 1927 to 1951, it was made illegal for Indigenous people to raise money or retain counsel in order to pursue land claim actions.

In 1969, in response to public pressure over the course of that decade to address the socio-economic and living conditions of Indigenous peoples, the government tabled the white paper of 1969. The white paper reiterated Canada’s objectives to assimilate First Nations into Canadian society. It proposed the transfer of responsibility of First Nations peoples to provincial governments and called for the extinguishment of the Indian Act.

Indigenous people actively resisted the policies proposed in the white paper and it was withdrawn in 1971. In the 1973 Calder decision, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that Indigenous peoples do have title to their ancestral lands. That same year, the government announced a new comprehensive land claims policy, initiating an era of negotiations of comprehensive land claim agreements and, beginning in 1995, of self-government agreements.

Since 1975, 25 modern treaties have been negotiated.

Bearing all of this in mind, I sponsor Bill C-8, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action number 94), which proposes to amend the oath of citizenship.

The text of the current oath of citizenship 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, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.

In contrast, the proposed new text 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.

In doing so, Canada is taking measurable action on a further call to action that ensures that new Canadians are educated and acknowledge the historical truth of their new country, beginning not with Confederation but with the presence of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Indigenous partners, including the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council, expressed that the oath originally proposed by the TRC’s call to action, which referenced “treaties with Indigenous peoples” and no reference to Aboriginal rights, was not relevant to all Indigenous peoples.

Although many First Nations are party to formal treaties, Métis and Inuit agreements with the Crown are not always characterized as such. Through collaboration with Indigenous groups and organizations, the government believes that the wording of the oath put forth in Bill C-8 is more inclusive and representative of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people’s experiences.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, or ITK, has advised that the current wording of Bill C-8 is an improvement over what was initially set out in the TRC’s Call to Action 94. Although it was not the preferred wording that ITK submitted during the consultation period and resubmitted during committee study in the House of Commons, they urge the swift passage of Bill C-8. ITK stated that “this legislation is interconnected with, and essential to, our ongoing work toward reconciliation.”

Further, a background note submitted by ITK to my office continues:

Inuit share the priorities of the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Canadian Citizenship, as set out in his ministerial mandate letter, to implement the TRC calls to action. We believe that all Canadians, and all governments, organizations and business in Canada, share a responsibility to uphold and achieve the ambitions of these agreements which set the terms with our relationship with Canada. We also eagerly await the release of a revised version of the Citizenship Guide that serves as a valuable tool for education about our land claims agreements, our homeland, our language and critically, what connects Inuit as a people, distinct from First Nations and Métis.

Through communications with my office, the Assembly of First Nations, or AFN, has urged senators to support Bill C-8 in its current form, stating:

The AFN supports the passage of Bill C-8 and has previously worked with INAN Committee members to pass a number of amendments suggested by the AFN. We are happy with the amended bill. We urge the Senate to pass this at the earliest available opportunity and we look forward to Royal Assent!

The wording proposed in Bill C-8 is a deeply meaningful change as it recognizes the fact that Indigenous rights are constitutionally protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. These rights are built upon the historic occupation and use of this land by Indigenous peoples. The revised oath would underscore the need for new Canadians to demonstrate an understanding of Indigenous peoples and their constitutional rights.

The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples has highlighted this in a statement submitted to my office:

We support the draft of this bill in its current form. It accurately reflects the legal language in the constitution of Canada, recognizing the aboriginal peoples of Canada, including the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples, both status and non-Status, on and off-reserve. The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples represents self-governing communities belonging to all of these categories, who continue to be rights-holders within Canada. We approve of this language which acknowledges their rights and identities and will help to inform new Canadians of their obligations and relationship to Indigenous peoples.

My honourable colleagues may recall that along with its proposal to revise the oath, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission also called upon the government to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and the citizen test under Call to Action 93.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada has emphasized the importance of the study guide and the need for considerable revisions of the current version. They stated:

[I]t is not enough to simply amend the oath in the Citizenship Act. For this amendment to make any meaningful and substantive difference in our community there needs to be a commitment to amend the “Discover Canada — Canada’s History” study guide. The study guide as it reads now is wholly inadequate to acknowledge the history and continued atrocities faced by Indigenous peoples, and specifically Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse peoples.

The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada study guide is an integral component to Call to Action 94. It is a booklet given to immigrants seeking citizenship in Canada and is one of the key tools to prepare for the citizenship test. It was last updated in 2012 and is currently undergoing revisions and updates to support Call to Action 93 and 94. The new Discover Canada – The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship is a work-in-progress. To update the citizenship guide, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has consulted citizenship stakeholders, academics, community organizations and numerous interest groups. They have worked with national Indigenous organizations to develop content for the guide that will help new Canadians understand changes in the oath or affirmation that reflect the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

The new citizenship guide will include questions about Indigenous peoples and their rights. The ministry is working on supporting educational tools to include more information on Indigenous history and treaties and fulfill the TRC’s Call to Action 93 with the recognition that education is a key component for new immigrants to Canada. In addition, educational resources will be provided to classrooms across Canada so all students can learn these critical lessons.

I note, honourable senators, that these efforts complement other Calls to Action, specifically Calls to Action 62 through 65 in the TRC report pertaining to education and curriculum development for schools. Such efforts will help Canadian students learn about the complete and often difficult history of Indigenous peoples, shedding light on the history that continues to resonate in the lives of Indigenous people and forge new relationships based on fact and understanding.

Honourable senators, whether someone is born a Canadian or whether they choose to become Canadian comes with a responsibility of learning, sharing, coexisting and understanding the history of Indigenous people on this land, a land that we have lived on since time immemorial. Canada has systematically severed our connection to the land, to each other, to our culture and to our languages. We have been regulated in all aspects of our lives and relegated to strangers on our own lands.

When it comes to this country’s relationship with Indigenous people, actions speak louder than words. The passing of Bill C-8 is a concrete step toward reconciliation that goes beyond just spoken and written words. It is an observable and measurable action that helps to rebuild the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples, basing it on honour and trust.

This government has promised to work better with Indigenous peoples and has reiterated that the most important relationship to the Prime Minister and to Canada is one with the Indigenous people. I, as an Indigenous person, will hold you to that promise. We deserve nothing less. We expect justice and action on systemic issues that continue to plague us in health, education, housing, food, security, water, child and family services, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

I note that between the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, there is 13 years’ worth of evidence, collected over 438 days of hearings from more than 8,886 witnesses, resulting in a total of 766 recommendations for change in the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples. It is disgraceful that the Government of Canada, regardless of party, has not committed to act fully on these reports dating back 20 years.

The time for words, promises, symbolic gestures and more reports are past. We have at our disposal copious, thorough and extensive reports on the history and current situation of Indigenous people in this country. It is high time as elected and appointed parliamentarians that we honour this collective work with concrete actions.

I urge you all to support this legislation. With much respect, I leave the final words to former Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild:

As a former TRC Commissioner, since this was one of our Calls to Action (94), I fully support the adoption of Bill C-8. It is very important for new Canadians to be informed about a reality which all previous immigrants were not required to be aware of — our existence. This new Oath or Affirmation will develop new relations in a positive way and build a better, stronger and more inclusive Canada.

QuyanainniQuanaMahsì. Thank you.

Hon. Ratna Omidvar: Will Senator Anderson take a question?

Senator Anderson: Yes, I will.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you, Senator Anderson.

I really appreciate your words and your comments. I learn something new about Indigenous history every day in the chamber. You have certainly done that for me today. It is remarkable how little new Canadians know about the history. I want to thank you for contributing to my ongoing education.

This bill touches on new Canadians as well, because in the end they are, in the main, the people who will consume the oath, who will use it and its words. But nowhere in the documents leading up to this moment in the Senate, nowhere in the legislative briefings, nowhere in the House of Commons committee did I note that new Canadian communities were consulted. As the sponsor, can you help me understand this?

Senator Anderson: Thank you for the question. I unfortunately do not have an answer in regard to whether or not new Canadians were consulted. That might be best left for the Committee of the Whole. I do concur with you that all voices are important and all persons impacted or affected by legislation should be part and party to consultation.

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