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Ottawa attempting to change citizenship oath to include respect for Indigenous treaties

People take the citizenship oath at Pier 21 immigration centre in Halifax on July 1, 2017.
People take the citizenship oath at Pier 21 immigration centre in Halifax on July 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adina Bresge

The federal government is trying to change the wording of the citizenship oath to include respect for Indigenous treaties.

As the House of Commons returns from a break week, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino on Tuesday morning tabled “an Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action number 94).”

That call to action from the 2012 Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls on the government to amend the oath of citizenship taken by new Canadians.

The wording proposed by that call to action would change the oath to: “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

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COMMENTARY: This Canada Day, we need a new citizenship oath

The oath currently 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.”

It will be the second time such a bill is tabled in the House of Commons.

The Canadian Press reported last year on a previous attempt introduced by the Liberal government in May 2019 but it did not pass before the election was called.

That legislation proposed changing the oath to recognize Indigenous rights but stopped short of requiring new citizens to swear to observe treaties with Indigenous Peoples as part of the laws of Canada.

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Instead, it proposed having new Canadians promise to honour the Constitution.

“I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 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 Metis peoples, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen,” the bill from 2019 reads.

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It’s not yet clear whether the wording of the new bill will mirror that from the last attempt.

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was asked about the plan on Tuesday during a press conference about the ongoing blockades of rail and border crossings that are in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people in B.C. and their fight against a pipeline project.

He said it’s too early to comment on what the specific language in the bill could be but said he thinks it’s important for new Canadians to be aware of and recognize the challenges facing the country’s Indigenous people.

“We have a lot of work to do. I think the newcomers coming in should be aware of that, some of the struggles,” he said. “It’s important.”

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