Jenny Kwan, MP

Member of Parliament, Vancouver East

Jenny on adding respect for Indigenous peoples' treaty rights to the Canadian Citizenship Oath

On February 24, 2020, I rose to speak the Bill C-6, "An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94)."

Madam Speaker, for generations, Canada has welcomed newcomers from around the globe looking to arrive here and contribute to this great place we call home. Canada has openly welcomed people fleeing political, economic and social hardships as well as those looking for better opportunities to better themselves and their families.

The multicultural mosaic of Canadian society has been shaped by people from all walks of life who have chosen to live freely together to ensure peace and respect for all. In welcoming those to our beloved country, we look to continue and strengthen that tradition of diversity and inclusion for all and those who wish to call Canada home.

As we begin to debate on Bill C-6, an act to amend the Citizenship Act, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94, we need to acknowledge Canada's colonial history. Embedded in that history are many chapters of how Canada legislated against and discriminated against the ethnic minority community.

The Chinese people who came before me helped Canada build the railway to connect this country from coast to coast to coast. They went through hell to earn me the right to stand here today. They sacrificed everything, and some paid with their blood. They took on the most dangerous work to help build the railway, and they fought for Canada even though they were deemed “aliens”. They were discriminated against and mistreated in ways that will make us hang our heads in shame.

I have learned from elders and the stories of how it was Indigenous peoples, themselves experiencing discrimination, who came forward to support the Chinese people. They helped them, housed them, fed them, clothed them, gave them medicine and offered a sense of belonging, and treated them with humanity. In practice, they have shown the world again and again that the most important life lesson is humanity; this from the very people who were experiencing colonization, who suffered extreme hardships and discrimination themselves.

All of this is to say how very grateful I am to the Indigenous peoples for their teachings, kindness and their humanity. What a privilege it is for me to learn from them, to stand with them, to thank them, to appreciate them for the teachings that they have given to all of us. These are the teachings of lifting each other up, of being land defenders, that water is life and that mother earth is sacred. These are teaching of being united with one heart.

As a non-Indigenous person, I stand as an ally. That is why the bill before us is so important. We, as settlers, must learn and understand Canada's colonial history.

The bill would change the text of the citizenship oath taken by new citizens of Canada to align with Call to Action 94 of the TRC and include a reference to treaties with Indigenous peoples. The revised citizenship oath would read as follows:

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 fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.

I am proud to stand in this House in support of Bill C-6.

Taking the citizenship oath is a significant moment in a newcomer's journey to Canada. With that privilege comes responsibility. It is absolutely essential that new Canadians understand and respect the constitutional rights of all Indigenous peoples and, in fact, I would say it is every Canadians' responsibility to be educated about the constitutional rights of Indigenous peoples.

For far too long, successive governments have made aspiration statement after aspirational statement about how they would build a new nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples, about how they would take reconciliation seriously. However, as we know, this always follows with broken promises and shameful disappointments. We have all heard that the current Liberal government would be different. We all wanted to believe that would be true.

However, even with the bill before us, which is a simple but important change, it has been five years in the making, despite being cited as a top priority by the government. In the last Parliament at committee, I tabled an amendment to make this change in another immigration bill that was also called Bill C-6 on May 3, 2016. Unfortunately, the committee deemed by amendment out of scope and so it did not pass.

In the last Parliament, former MP Romeo Saganash wrote to the former minister of immigration in April 2017 to offer the NDP support and assistance to realize this measure. This offer of collaboration was ignored. Even though this change was outlined in a mandate letter to the former immigration minister, no action was taken until the dying days of that Parliament before the election. Bill C-99 did not even make it to second reading.

In that not so subtle way, it was clear the Liberals were merely trying to set the stage to say they did try to make this change for the upcoming election. If it takes the Liberals this long to add a line in the citizenship oath, is it any wonder they are failing so miserably on their new nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples? To date, there are only nine completed calls to action out of 94, and 10 with this bill. For someone who claims this is his most important relationship, it sure as heck is moving at a snail's pace. That is 2.25 calls per year. At this rate, it will take approximately 38 more years before all of the calls to action are implemented. That would mean reconciliation in 2057. Eva Jewell and Ian Mosby, academics at the Yellowhead Institute, called the Liberals' track record on the TRC calls to action, “dreadful progress”.

Canadians are coming to terms with our colonial history and want a Canada where the rights of Indigenous peoples are recognized and respected. The Liberal government is continuing to deliberately disadvantage Indigenous peoples, and Canadians from coast to coast to coast are noticing. In our country, a shocking 25% of Indigenous peoples are living in poverty, despite making up only 5% of Canada's population. This figure is even worse for Indigenous children, with 47% living in poverty, and this figure rising to 53% for children on reserves.

We continue to see Indigenous peoples getting poisoned because they do not have access to clean drinking water. What is a bare necessity for every other Canadian is not afforded to some Indigenous communities. What is our basic human right is being trampled on for Indigenous peoples.

It is disgusting that Indigenous children are being brought to court by the Liberal government. There have been nine non-compliance orders, yet 13 years later the Liberal government continues to appeal a Human Rights Tribunal ruling that it has wilfully and recklessly discriminated against Indigenous kids. First nations children have been harmed by the severe underfunding of the on-reserve child welfare system and are now being punished due to continued government neglect. Instead of providing funding to support Indigenous peoples, the government has spent almost $10 million on legal fees in the war to denying rights to Indigenous kids. If the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples is the Liberals' most important relationship, then why will the Prime Minister not honour the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling and stop taking Indigenous kids to court?

At the forefront of our nation, we continue to see this colonial approach by the government in addressing the Wet'suwet'en protests. The Prime Minister's comments on Friday were reckless and irresponsible. He said, “Every attempt at dialogue has been made.” What a joke. Right from the beginning, he was trying to avoid any accountability. He refused to meet with the hereditary chiefs when they made the request to him weeks ago. Up until February 18, he did not even recognize the dispute is a nation-to-nation one. Now he has the nerve to say that patience has run out. Never mind the fact that Indigenous peoples have waited 150 years for justice. This is a failure of leadership. It is a failure of reconciliation. It is time for the Prime Minister to realize that every attempt at dialogue has not even been close to being made. A comprehensive, credible plan for de-escalation and dialogue is required. In order for meaningful dialogue toward a resolution to take place, the hereditary chiefs have said they will not negotiate with “a gun to their head.” They want the RCMP to stand down and the project to halt.

Given that Coastal GasLink's final technical data report has been rejected by the BC Environmental Assessment Office, this is an opportunity for all levels of government to de-escalate. The government should seize this opportunity. The Prime Minister said that the onus is on the hereditary chiefs. I say the onus is on him.

His irresponsible words on Friday only served to inhibit progress for a peaceful resolution. He should check himself. He should heed the words that are being added to the citizenship oath for newcomers and take to heart Canada's obligation to the rights of indigenous people under Section 35 of the constitution, which clearly states that “The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.”

The Prime Minister should also know that Section 10 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clearly upholds the principle of free, prior and informed consent. Based on Canada's highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada, the landmark Delgamuukw decision has reaffirmed the rights of Indigenous peoples.

When people throw the words “rule of law” around, they need to consider all law. Canada needs to stop using the rule of law as a weapon against Indigenous peoples. Canada needs the Prime Minister to warrior up, and show some real leadership.

I will also remind everyone that Canada refused to acknowledge Indigenous titles some 40 years ago under Pierre Elliott Trudeau's government.

Former Justice Thomas Berger was appointed by then Indian affairs minister Jean Chretien to lead a public inquiry into the proposed Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline. Thomas Berger said, “In my judgment, we must settle native claims before we build a pipeline.

Canada is at a critical time in our history.

Remember the Liberal election campaign? “Choose forward” they said. Is this going forward? At a time when it is the most critical for the government to firmly reinforce its commitment to Indigenous reconciliation, the Liberals are going to delay the introduction of UNDRIP. Delaying the introduction of UNDRIP in the House at this time sends a clear message of what the Prime Minister is all about. Time and again when it comes right down to it, Indigenous rights is always put on the back burner. Justice for Indigenous peoples can wait. That is the message from the Prime Minister.

To further add fuel to the fire, we are hearing language from the Conservatives' which has not been helpful. The more they denounce Indigenous protesters as lawbreakers and radicals, they serve to inflame the situation.

Recent comments by Peter McKay, a leadership hopeful for the Conservative Party, promoting vigilante action by congratulating far-right groups that have associations with yellow vest protesters, were highly irresponsible. Congratulating these far-right groups that have outright called for acts of violence against protesters will only contribute to worsen the situation. It is so disappointing to hear a leading Conservative leadership candidate take this approach.

In addition to that, the current Conservative leader, who advocates that enforced violence is the best solution, has the audacity to tell Indigenous protestors to “check their privilege”.

A reply from Molly Wickham, a spokesperson for the Gidimt’en camp of Wet'suwet'en members , may have put it best, when she said, "All of Canada is subsidized by Indigenous people. All Canadian industries and transportation infrastructure rely on the theft of Indigenous land for their existence...Calling Indigenous land defenders 'privileged' when so many of our communities are denied basic human rights and services is racist and absurd."

We see time and again everyone citing the rule of law, but whose version of the rule of law are we following? The government cannot pick and choose which laws to follow and which laws to ignore. Will the rule of law continue to be only used as the government's self-serving cause or will it finally acknowledge Canada's colonial history, the precedent-setting landmark decisions which defended Indigenous rights such as Delgamuukw?

This is about the perpetuated discrimination and mistreatment to which Indigenous peoples have been subjected to for over 150 years.

Look around at what is happening. This past weekend in Toronto, thousands of people stood in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people. In my riding of Vancouver East, we had countless rallies as well. We had a rally at Vancouver City Hall organized by Dakota Bear and his family, where scores of people gathered to stand in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en peoples.

The message is loud and clear. The time has come for Canada to be on the right side of history and has to be entrenched in the path forward for Canada in action. To quote statements made by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip to the media: 

"The challenge here is to move beyond public platitudes and eloquent rhetoric about the intention of implementing the United Nations Declaration, both federally and provincially. It has to be followed through with the work of legislative reform, policy development and rules and regulations that stipulate very clearly how the entire population — both hereditary and elected band council — are able to participate in an exercise to register their support or disapproval of large-scale resource development projects...... We're not there yet. And again, corporations and governments attempt to take the shortcut and we find ourselves in the courtrooms, we find ourselves on the land, upholding and defending Indigenous law."

He further stated that:

"—reconciliation cannot be achieved at gunpoint. And we cannot achieve reconciliation by throwing matriarchs and elders and children in jail. We cannot achieve reconciliation by choppering in paramilitary RCMP forces in full battle gear, surrounding encampments."   

"I can tell you, if choppers start landing in your backyard and teams of heavily-armed police start running through your front yard and dragging you out of your home, you'd be a little upset."    

This is Canada' history. This is colonialism. This is a history that newcomers must learn. This is a history that all Canadians must take to heart. This is a pivotal time for the Canadian government to prove its commitment to Indigenous people to prove that it takes reconciliation seriously and to prove once and for all that it will honour the rights of Indigenous peoples and work with them in equal footing in the new nation-to-nation relationship.

Again, quoting Grand Chief Stewart Phillip:

"The law clearly states that not only must there be substantial and thorough consultation, but there must also be consent. It must involve both parties, both elected and traditional."

This is a test of the government's will make good on their promises. I call on the Prime Minister to seize this opportunity of not just committing to Bill C-6, but committing in truly re-imagined nation-to-nation relationship where Indigenous children are not taken to court, where UNDRIP is finally implemented and carried out in action as promised and where he takes personal action in accountability to engage with Wet'suwet'en people.

We are now waiting for the government to do the right thing by honouring Indigenous rights, respecting sovereignty and treating all people, including Indigenous people, with basic human rights. The time to act is now and the world is watching. There's a lot to say to new Canadians what it means to honour the rights of Indigenous people. It is time for the government to take those words to heart and act accordingly.

The NDP supports Bill C-6 and we consistently call for the full implementation of all of TRC's call to action. The NDP honours the work of Justice Murray Sinclair, Dr. Cindy Blackstock and my former colleague, MP Romeo Saganash. In the words of Justice Murray Sinclair, “the road we travel is equally important to the destination we seek”.

There are no shortcuts. When it comes to truth and reconciliation, we are forced to go the distance. It is time for all levels of government to go the distance.