Honourable senators, the Senate is resolved into a Committee of the Whole on the subject matter of Bill C-8, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action number 94), as well as other matters related to the responsibilities of the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
Honourable senators, in a Committee of the Whole senators shall address the chair but need not stand. Under the Rules the speaking time is 10 minutes, including questions and answers, but, as ordered, if a senator does not use all of his or her time, the balance can be yielded to another senator.
(Pursuant to the Order of the Senate, the Honourable Marco Mendicino and his officials joined the sitting by video conference.)
We are joined today by the Honourable Marco Mendicino, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
Minister, welcome to the Senate. I would ask you to introduce your officials and to make your opening remarks of at most five minutes.
Hon. Marco Mendicino, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
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I would like to acknowledge that I’m joining you from the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit and the Haudenosaunee.
Honourable senators, it is an honour to address you on Bill C-8, which would amend the Oath of Citizenship to reflect Indigenous peoples and enact the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action number 94.
Before proceeding, I would like to express my gratitude to the sponsors of this bill, Senator Anderson, as well as to your predecessor, former senator Murray Sinclair, for your support, advice and encouragement. I also wish to thank the many other senators with whom I have had the chance to interact not only on Bill C-8 but on various other priorities related to immigration that are near and dear to our hearts.
A little over six years ago, on December 15, 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission delivered their final report. The report details the horrors of the residential schools and set out 94 Calls to Action, which we remain steadfastly committed to implementing.
At the same time, I am, like you, ever mindful that these proceedings today are occurring at a moment of pain, anguish and anger in the wake of the recent discovery of the remains of Indigenous children at the Kamloops residential school.
This revelation is a harsh reminder of the devastating consequences that do not merely represent a dark chapter in our history but, rather, remain a painful and visceral part of our present.
For Canadians, it was a wake-up call. It underscored the work we still must do to understand our history — the impact that it had then and the impact that it has now — and to address it.
This work must include our newest citizens, which is why it is so important that we as parliamentarians work together to embrace the commission’s calls to act.
One measure we can and must take is in Bill C-8, which we are discussing today. In response to Call to Action 94, Bill C-8 provides for a crucial addition to the wording of the Oath of Citizenship. The oath that invites new Canadians to faithfully observe the laws of Canada is now more specific thanks to the following addition:
. . . including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples . . . .
This is a profoundly meaningful change, as it recognizes the fact that Indigenous rights are collective rights constitutionally protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. These rights arise from the First Peoples’ historical occupation and use of the land now known as Canada.
In addition to changing the wording of the oath, the government is continuing its efforts to respond to Call to Action 93, which recommends that the citizenship study guide and knowledge test be revised “to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada.”
IRCC officials are revising the study guide to include these parts of our history that were left out for too long, so that new Canadians know the story of Indigenous peoples and their treaty rights, as they begin their journey as informed new citizens.
By amending the oath, the government is redefining the very concept of Canada as a place whose history began with the presence of the First Nations on these vast ancestral lands.
Bill C-8 represents more than a mere amendment of the language to our Oath of Citizenship. It is a public declaration of joining our country and everyone who calls it home, including Indigenous peoples. It’s a commitment to Canada, past, present and future. I know there will be questions regarding the language of the bill, the manner in which we engaged with Indigenous communities and advocates in the space as well as the forthcoming updated citizenship guide. I will endeavour to answer your questions to the best of my abilities, and I will acknowledge that this bill represents the culmination of ongoing collaboration. It is my hope that we will be able to pass this legislation into law.
Canada is once again evolving, Madam Chair. This evolution is one which acknowledges the ongoing impact of colonialism and invites all Canadians to join in the shared journey of reconciliation. Reconciliation is a national project — one that requires all of us. With Bill C-8, the newest members of our Canadian family will now better understand their unique role in it. I invite all members in this place to support it. Thank you, meegwetch.
Minister, you’ve already referred to this, but the inclusion of the recommendation to observe treaties with Indigenous peoples was, indeed, 1 of the 94 Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or TRC, of Canada. That recommendation was to replace the Oath of Citizenship, minister, with the following:
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.
I have both the bill and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action here, minister, and what I just read is not what we have in Bill C-8. Could you tell us why you refused to follow the advice? You’re saying it’s as a result and that this is, in fact, one of the Calls to Action, yet you have refused the advice of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and decided to change the suggested wording.
I want to begin by thanking you, senator, for the question. I think it is important that we commence by thanking the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for its work. As part of the very careful and agonizing study of the tragedy around the residential schools, a number of Calls to Action were put forward, including, as you pointed out, Call to Action 94, which put forward proposed text with regard to amending the Oath of Citizenship.
I would say that the government picked up on that Call to Action and began its own set of outreach to ensure that we were listening very carefully to Indigenous leaders and communities across the country as well as to other advocates in this space. What you have before you is both the culmination of the review of the commission’s Calls to Action as well as the government’s efforts to work with Indigenous leaders and parliamentarians, and thus we have arrived at the text that is before you.
You and Senator Gold have gone to the same school of answering questions, because you didn’t really touch on my question. I asked why, and you didn’t tell me why.
Your broadening of the TRC recommendation has been questioned by some, and you have talked already about consultation. The Assembly of First Nations, or AFN, for instance, argued that a phrase recognizing inherent rights, titles, treaties and agreements would have been better wording since it affirms Canada’s legal obligations to First Nations.
I am interested to know why you rejected this. Did you consult with the AFN and other groups? What caused you to reject their wording and choose the wording you did?
Indeed, we did consult with the AFN. I had a number of conversations with the National Chief. Obviously, that was just one set of conversations that we had over the course of a period of time.
All I can tell you, senator, is that the language that has been put forward before the Senate for its careful consideration does reflect the engagements, the consultations, the effort at doing outreach, and in a way that we believe best captures the diversity of views that were expressed to the government throughout that exercise.
You chose to include in the oath a reference to the Constitution, which was not in the TRC Call to Action, and you chose to reference specifically only the constitutional rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. You chose not to refer to other constitutional rights, such as gender equality and others. I would like to know why you made these decisions. Why did you include a reference to the Constitution? Why did you exclude other rights from the oath?
I would begin by saying, senator, that the reference to the Constitution does allow us to anchor what we are endeavouring to do by responding to this Call to Action in section 35 of the Charter, from which we also drew from in order to arrive at the language before you.
I would also add to that, senator, that in the express reference to the Constitution — which I believe was an effort to, again, anchor Indigenous peoples and the principles of section 35 of the Charter — there is absolutely no intent, by extension, to exclude other rights that are captured in the Constitution and the Charter.
What we have before you is, really, a step forward along the lines of what the commission called for, which was to have an Oath of Citizenship that does better reflect Indigenous peoples. What you have before you is a text that we feel reflects those conversations that we had and does take us one step closer.
Of course, the oath that we have today is very straightforward and inclusive of everybody, minister. It calls on new citizens to bear allegiance to the Crown, to observe the laws and to fulfill their duties as citizens — of all citizens. It is inclusive. When citizens commit to observing the laws of Canada, that includes the Constitution and treaties, minister. Are you concerned that now that you have recognized one group, and one group only, that there will now be considerable pressure to expand this considerably? How do you now say “no” to others who come and ask? Are you open to considering other modifications? If you are, why? If you are not, why not?
I would begin by underlining, senator, that our relationship with Indigenous peoples is unique. Indeed, that is a theme that is replete through the work of the commission. The Calls to Action do really underline and speak to the sui generis and unique nature of our relationship with Indigenous peoples. The bill that has been put before you is the government’s best effort to move forward with that Call to Action to put into a revised Oath of Citizenship a series of words that better reflect Indigenous peoples so that, as we welcome new Canadians into our fold, they are better educated about that.
But it isn’t just about educating new Canadians as they take their oath; it’s about educating all of us. I believe that was something I spoke to in the course of my introductory remarks.
Senator, I have attended quite a number of citizenship ceremonies now. I have to tell you that of all the functions I’m privileged to exercise through this office, there are few others that compare. In fact, I don’t think there is any comparison to being able to not only preside over a citizenship ceremony but to participate in one — to be able to look at newcomers who have overcome great adversity just to come to Canada, satisfied all the requirements that we have put before them and arrived at that milestone where they are able to take their oath and officially become members of our family.
In all of my interactions, I have always been profoundly overwhelmed by the sense of gratitude to Canada but also the hope and optimism that, on the taking of the Oath of Citizenship, they will contribute.
In my experience as Minister of Immigration and as the son of an immigrant family, that is consistent with my experience. Indeed, it is one of the most inspirational things that I get to do, as you can probably tell from the tone of my voice. This bill is a step in that direction.
Thank you, minister, for being with us today. This bill is about Canada. It’s about the rightful place of Indigenous peoples in our country and in our oath. But it is also about new Canadians who ultimately will swear the oath. I want to ask you what consultations you had with immigrant communities. What did you hear from them about this amendment?
I want to thank you, senator, for your question. I also want to thank you for your advocacy. I have to tell you that in our conversations I’ve always felt that you have helped me do my job. Certainly, that applies to this bill.
Throughout the course of my remarks this morning and in my prior exchanges, I’ve said that in the stages leading up to the putting of this bill before this chamber, we did undertake a number of exercises to do outreach with Indigenous leaders across the country but also with advocates in the immigration space.
As we have explained before, we reached out to work with settlement service providers and organizations that represent and advocate for refugees and asylum seekers in an effort to understand how we could best educate newcomers to Canada about Indigenous peoples. As you pointed out, understanding our history is such a critical part of becoming Canadian — not only our history but our present, and Indigenous peoples are obviously an essential part of that.
Thank you. I’m glad to hear that you consulted with them. You talked about education, so let me stay on that strain. I hope you will agree that by the time an immigrant gets to the stage of citizenship — it’s normally four years by the time everything is done — it may be time lost. Would you then agree that integration, which starts on day one, would go hand in hand with reconciliation? What can you tell me about your plans to restructure integration services so that the education starts on day one and not at year four?
Thank you for the question, senator. I think you’ve touched on some very important issues there, both with regard to the work of reconciliation and how passing Bill C-8 into law can be a meaningful step toward achieving that with Indigenous peoples, but also where our immigration system fits into that work.
On a number of occasions you mentioned the word “integration,” which is indeed one of the core objectives that we try to accomplish in our work as we welcome newcomers from abroad.
I’m very proud of the work our government, public servants and partners in the settlement service ecosystem do — and that we get to do with you — in the work of integration. It’s something that we have been revered for by many other like-minded countries from around the world. Where I think we can restructure this particular part of our work is by both passing this bill into law — because, as we’ve discussed, a revised oath that speaks to Indigenous peoples will add to that educational component for our new Canadians — and equally through what we hope will be the very imminent updating of our citizenship guide so that it won’t be just a tool that you have to wait for until you take your oath. You’ll be able to use that guide broadly for those aspiring new Canadians who, as you say, will be able to access it on day one and learn more about the history of Canada, including Indigenous peoples.
I’m hoping I’m hearing you say that, in fact, the history of Canada’s Indigenous people and our efforts in reconciliation will be embedded into language classes. That’s where many of immigrants go to learn English. From day one, we spend lots of money on doing this. I would urge you to aim for a triple bottom line as opposed to a double bottom line.
In that spirit, you spoke about citizenship ceremonies. I, too, have attended many and spoken at many, and it is truly the most uplifting experience that I have had in this space.
But citizenship ceremonies that invite you and me to speak are —
At the outset, I want to put on the record that I support Bill C-8. I’m happy to see that the bill received widespread support in the other place — a sure sign that this change to our Oath of Citizenship is long overdue.
My question relates to the citizenship guide. I know your department has been working on a revised guide and knowledge test to better reflect our history and the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Assuming Bill C-8 receives Royal Assent and becomes law, what changes do you expect will be reflected in the new version of the guide to accurately showcase the role, influence, rights and reality of the Indigenous people? What additional educational tools might support this objective — if you want to add to that, as we already spoke to it — and when can we expect the new guide to be released? I know the review has been ongoing for many years already. I have a quick second question; if you wish to answer the first one, I will gladly listen and then ask my second question. Thank you.
Thank you, senator, for the question. Certainly, I too was very encouraged by the unanimous support of the House in allowing us to pass this legislation through third reading so that it can now be before you. With regard to our efforts to update the citizenship guide, they are ongoing. We have reached out to many different groups and Indigenous communities across the country, as well as other advocates in this space, in an effort to better include Indigenous history, cultures and values as part of the citizenship guide because, as we just heard Senator Omidvar mention, there is a need to have a restructuring of the way that we educate not only new Canadians, but all of us when it comes to our past, our present and our future. Certainly, that has to be in concert with Indigenous peoples. That will help us fulfill our efforts at reconciliation.
These are conversations that are ongoing, but I think I’ve touched on a few areas where we hope the revised guide will better reflect our relationship with Indigenous peoples.
On Sunday, you announced a travel exemption for the NHL playoffs, allowing teams to cross the border for the next round without a 14-day quarantine. Of course, this is great news for our Habs, the Kings of the North — I won’t rub it in as to whom they beat — but I know there will be several protocols in place, including bubbles, daily testing, strict quarantining and pre-approved hotels and arenas, in addition to respecting all local and public health rules.
Can you speak to us about the factors that led you to announce this exemption on the grounds of national interest? Can we expect the same for Major League Baseball and the MLS soon? I’ve been speaking to our local team, and I know that some of the Canadian teams are eager to return home. When can we expect an announcement on easing border restrictions for these sports teams who are, for the most part, fully vaccinated? I also know there is a lot of chatter in the media about opening the border to fully vaccinated international travellers, too.
Thank you, senator. In my capacity as a minister of the Crown, I promise that I will disabuse myself of any partisanship to my hometown team. Obviously, as the Canadiens are moving on to the semis, we can all unite behind them.
What I will say with regard to the decision that we exercised recently is that we took this decision very carefully. We did it on the strength of the advice that we received from our public health care officials at every level of government — federally, provincially and municipally. That was an absolute precondition to the exercise of the discretion of this office under our national interest exemption protocols.
I will also say that my officials and all involved undertook a very careful analysis of the proposal that was put forward by the NHL, which, in our estimation, was a very responsible and rigorous plan that touched on a quarantine with modifications for work only, with very strict regulation of movements between the arena and the hotel for visiting teams.
I would give a very similar answer in that we would hope to be able to launch the revised citizenship guide as close in time to the passage of Bill C-8 into law so that they can be used as companion tools of education.
You mentioned in your opening remarks that your department has people beavering away at making sure it’s ready to go. I presume that the goal is having new citizens swearing to something that they actually have an understanding of that came from the guide. So would you see those in tandem?
I wouldn’t necessarily say in exact tandem. What would I say, senator, is that, yes, our goal is to try to launch the guide as soon as we can. I also want to make the point that we are still having important conversations with parliamentarians, as well as with Indigenous leaders and the community broadly, so that we can make this guide as reflective of our relationship with Indigenous peoples and also have it be responsive to the Calls to Action.
One of the things that we’ve heard around a number of these things — for the Calls to Action and so on — are questions about the government’s plan to back up their actions with substantive educational programs and engagements that are funded. Can you give us an idea of what the funding effort is around this particular initiative once it’s passed?
I may defer to my officials for a precise breakdown of what that figure is, but as part of our ongoing efforts to grow the country through immigration, we have made investments that are commensurate with those ambitious goals. By extension, settlement service providers as well as partners in this space will benefit from the additional funding and resources that we provide them. We hope very much that will include education around the oath as well as the distribution of a revised citizenship guide so that as many people can learn about our relationship with Indigenous peoples as possible in a way that is more inclusive and reflective of the actual nature of that relationship.
I think you could score a lot of points, not just with me but with lots of senators, if you could ask your folks to work us into the order. We represent those new citizens as well, and while we’re not fishing for votes from them, we would like to be able to celebrate and for them to see us showing respect. If you could give that some thought and maybe provide an instruction, I think a lot of us here would appreciate that. Thank you.
The government has announced that it is going to start easing border restrictions soon. What preparation is your department taking to respond to border reopenings in terms of what might be a pent-up situation with asylum seekers crossing at land borders?
I want to thank you for that question, senator, because it allows me to shed light on two things. First, we take the decisions at our border very seriously. As you know, we’ve put in place a series of significant travel restrictions and also rigorous health protocols that have been very effective, I would argue, at reducing the risk of the spread of the virus. While we’re at a different stage now, the epidemiological context is certainly improving in Canada. We’re going to make sure that we’re always informed by the best public health care advice that we can get.
With regard to our ongoing efforts to provide safe harbour to the world’s most vulnerable, I’m very proud of the fact we have continued that work, notwithstanding the disruption that has been caused by the pandemic. It has allowed us to resolve some of the more urgent cases, to extend status to protected persons who are already here in Canada, as well as creating new legal pathways for some asylum seekers who have worked in hospitals and long-term care homes. We should all share in the pride of the work that Canada does in defending human rights through its asylum system.
I have one last question around access to information delays, which I understand is part of your brief.
The Information Commissioner tabled the results for an investigation into the systemic delays and your department’s handling of access-to-information requests. She noticed that the vast majority of requests relate to the status of immigration files. You set an ambitious plan in response to the recommendations from the commissioner. There has been a culture of delay there.
If I recall correctly, you set a target to secure short-term human and financial resources by the second quarter of this fiscal year in order to resolve this backlog. How many people have you hired so far, and are you on track to have all the workers in place by the end of the second quarter, which is by the end of September?
Thank you, senator. I do want to underscore for all senators in the chamber today, and everyone, that transparency and accountability are very important to the government and my department. That’s why we’ve worked very closely with the Information Commissioner to improve our access-to-information processes.
I will simply point out that we are far and away the most requested department in the government through the ATIP process, and in our collaboration with the Information Commissioner, we’re hoping to improve the quality of that service.
In the meantime, we’re also doing some short-term things that will mitigate, including improving access on our website and providing additional transparency around how it is that we arrive at certain decisions. Those are all part and parcel of our efforts to assure people that we take immigration very seriously, that we want to provide outcomes and that there’s transparency around those outcomes.
With regard to the precise number of personnel that have been hired, we recently hired 62 new full-time employees in Atlantic Canada who are mostly dedicated toward processing permanent residency applications, but additional resources, if necessary, will be allocated to deal with ATIPs as well.
At this point, I will turn to one of my officials whom we have at the ready in the event there might be a precise number we can offer the senator.
Daniel Mills, Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
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Thank you very much, minister. To answer the senator’s question, we’re in the process of hiring additional ATIP staff. I don’t have the exact number, but rest assured that we’re in the midst of a competition to staff these additional positions.
We are also reviewing our processes. As the minister mentioned, we’ve launched various initiatives in recent weeks and months. For example, citizenship applicants can go to our website to check the status of their application. We call it a tracker tool. This application lets them track their citizenship application step by step. This initiative was launched on May 6 and should enable us to meet applicants’ needs.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Minister, as I told you today at noon when we had the first opportunity to speak briefly on this bill, of which I am the critic, I was sorry not to have an opportunity to raise my questions ahead of time during a critic’s briefing or technical briefing, which is the normal practice. However, I’m happy for an opportunity to ask some questions of you today. I have at least three, so I would appreciate your continued brevity in your answers given our short time.
First of all, could you quickly list the Indigenous groups and organizations in total that you consulted with in finalizing this bill?
I can, senator. Before I do that, I do take your point around briefings. As I said, we’re committed to working with you and your staff to ensure that you have all the information you need with regard to Bill C-8 and all other work that we do together.
For Bill C-8, we consulted with the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council. We also consulted and reached out to the Land Claims Agreement Coalition, an organization that represents the Inuit, Métis and First Nations modern treaty organizations. We had outreach with the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. The department also engaged in other consultations with other stakeholders and advocates, but if I understand your question correctly, it was to focus on Indigenous representation.
Thank you for that. I find that answer interesting because the written response provided by your department to NDP MP Jenny Kwan’s office, that my office was able to obtain, did not list CAP, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, or the Native Women’s Association of Canada, NWAC, but today you included NWAC and CAP on the list. I have to ask you, minister, frankly how do you define consultation? It’s important as you just talked about including those organizations in finalizing the citizenship guide.
NWAC told the Commons committee they had only received information about the content of Bill C-8 a week prior to their appearance. When you show Indigenous organizations like NWAC a draft document without involving them in consultations from the beginning of the process, it’s clearly not respectful of the FPIC process in UNDRIP, which is referenced in numerous statutes and the government’s Bill C-15. And CAP even described your consultation process on this bill as racist and said they had not been consulted.
Could you please explain what your department is calling consultation? Do you feel that you have obtained free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous organizations on this bill?
Senator, I take your comments to heart. We have had and will continue outreach to Indigenous leadership across the country in an effort to work with them so that we can move forward with reconciliation through the passage of this bill. That is my commitment to you. That is my commitment to all Indigenous leaders and communities across the country.
As I said in my remarks, this is a bill that I hope represents the culmination of ongoing collaboration and our effort is to do this work together.
Thank you for that. I hope that there will be a better process going forward.
On another issue, minister, the Bloc Québécois vocally opposed having the new oath affirm the rights outlined in the constitution. You were probably too young, but it was in this Senate Chamber that meetings took place that excluded Quebec from the repatriated Constitution, as I’m sure you know.
I note that Éric Cardinal, an Indigenous legal scholar from Quebec, noted that the current wording calls for an affirmation of the Constitution Act, 1982, which Quebec does not recognize, and most important, which some treaty rights holders say excludes them. Your mandate letter, like all mandate letters, includes a requirement to work with provincial governments and Indigenous leaders.
My question is this: Why has your department included this reference to the Constitution? Why did government members on the Commons committee reject an amendment which would have removed that reference in the oath, which I believe is notably contentious to the Province of Quebec and leaves out some treaty rights holders?
Thank you for the question, senator. I believe I shed some light on the inclusion of the word “constitution” in the text of Bill C-8 which is before you, which is the product of a number of conversations and engagements and our effort to best reflect the Call to Action, in addition to the input that we received over the last period of time in arriving at where we are right now.
Following the committee’s initial opposition to the text of the bill that is before you, I was indeed very encouraged to see that the Bloc provided its unanimous support for Bill C-8, which has allowed us to bring it to you. My hope is that, while I think there are various perspectives that might lead to variations in the text of the bill, that looking at it in its totality, it does genuinely reflect a step in the right direction towards better reflecting a relationship with Indigenous peoples and therefore reconciliation.
Okay. Thanks for that. The existing oath of citizenship is short and to the point, and so it should be because of these ceremonies, but the reason for that, I understand, is partly that new Canadians may not always have English or French as their first languages, so plain language in either official language is important. Maybe with the complex range of new concepts involving Indigenous rights and history, including treaties, there are nuances and complications that a lot of Canadians need to better understand.
I think we have to be very careful to ensure that this oath is actually meaningful and easily understandable to new Canadians. In that context, I would argue that makes the new citizenship guide — which is also the subject of Call to Action 93 in the TRC — absolutely integral to providing that much-needed context to this oath.
I just found your answer to Senator Tannas a little bit uncertain. I’d suggest this to you, if we pass this bill, will you agree not to proclaim the bill to come into force until the citizenship guide has been approved and finalized?
First of all, senator, I want to thank you for your question regarding the citizenship guide and for the feedback you have offered around consultation and outreach. Your feedback allows me to highlight that we are indeed working very hard on this with regard to the guide. We have reached out to a number of Indigenous leaders and communities, as well as parliamentarians, and that work continues.
I will say that it is our intention to ensure that this guide better reflects and includes Indigenous principles, values and history so that we can educate newcomers and Canadians. As I said to you earlier today, senator, I am committed to doing that work with you and with everyone in the chamber — indeed, with all Canadians — so that we can better educate and achieve reconciliation, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called upon us to do.
Wouldn’t the best thing to do would be to finalize the citizenship guide and then proclaim the bill, rather than have it be a work-in-progress with these brief words in the oath approved by Parliament?
Senator, certainly it is a matter of opinion and perspective, but I do think we have demonstrated that we are able to proceed with both of these objectives at the same time. As I said earlier, it may not be that they are directly in tandem so that the oath of citizenship comes into effect the same day as the guide, but —
Hello, Minister. Thank you for being here today, and I want to thank Senator Anderson for sponsoring this bill.
My question is about the cultural aspects of the oath ceremony. We know that we have a long way to go to ensure that Canadians and newcomers understand and appreciate the rich and diverse cultures and traditions of the Indigenous peoples.
Minister, can you explain how, exactly, the ceremonies will reflect the diverse Indigenous cultures and traditions, and can you tell us how you plan to ensure that these peoples are involved in developing the content of these ceremonies?
Thank you for the question, senator. It’s a very important one, and as I said, the citizenship ceremonies play a key role in the process of becoming part of the Canadian family. I can give you a couple of examples of ceremonies that incorporated Indigenous traditions. For example, on a number of occasions, we welcomed elders and had an exchange of gifts. There were other examples where Indigenous traditions played a big part in the ceremony, in the spirit of the process of becoming a new citizen. I think this is very important, and it is one way to move forward on the path to reconciliation.
Thank you, minister. Obviously, like you, I recognize that these ceremonies are very moving. Since they take place in various locations across Canada where different Indigenous groups live, how will Indigenous traditions and cultures be incorporated into oath ceremonies so that they best represent the local Indigenous peoples and locations where they are taking place?
That is a good question, senator, and it’s one of the main reasons we continue to engage with all Indigenous communities across the country, in order to better understand their respective traditions. I hope that the new citizenship guide that will be published soon, hopefully in the very near future, will provide explanations of these Indigenous traditions and principles. That is one way to educate everyone, not just newcomers and new citizens, but all Canadians.
Thank you, minister. I would like to add, in closing, that this guide will help newcomers but also the people who organize these events and ceremonies, so that they too can be fully aware of the diversity and richness of Indigenous cultures. Thank you. I yield the floor to Senator McPhedran.
Minister, it’s good to see you. Thank you for joining us in this important conversation that has been made possible by sponsorship of Senator Anderson.
My question is about inherent rights. Minister, you’ve given us information about the government’s consultations, and my question is quite specific.
The Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Marlene Poitras recently presented her position on this bill to the Independent Senators Group. She advised that the AFN had recommended that the amendment to the oath of citizenship include the following language: “honouring laws, including inherent rights of title treaties and agreements of Indigenous peoples.”
This was not implemented. In the words of Chief Poitras:
Treaties were not an agreement by Aboriginal peoples to give up their rights, reflected in using “inherent” in this proposed amendment.
Your government has demonstrated its commitment to implement Call to Action 94. We saw Bill C-99 in 2019, and Bill C-6 in 2020, making three opportunities to use the AFN-preferred language to better represent the rights of Aboriginal peoples.
Minister, why did the government choose not to implement this language in the oath?
Thank you very much for the question, senator. As I said earlier in an exchange with one of your colleagues, we had a number of conversations with the AFN, and I had a number of conversations with the national chief. Certainly, I think it does reflect that there are a number of different perspectives on how the language of a new oath would best reflect reconciliation. You heard from other colleagues who proposed alternate language.
What I will say is that we have tried to arrive at language that we believe best reflects the diversity of those views. I would simply add to the answers I provided earlier and say that in no way diminishes the work our government is doing in other areas where we expressly refer to the inherent right to self-governance. Obviously, our UNDRIP legislation — which is another bill that this chamber is in the course of considering — is exactly the way in which we are trying to move forward meaningfully with reconciliation.
Thank you. My second question is about the TRC Call to Action 93, which advises the government to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada, as well as its citizenship test, to reflect a more inclusive history of the diversity of Aboriginal peoples of Canada. This ensures that the amendment to the oath reflected in Bill C-8 is not simply empty words for newcomers, but a commitment to respect the history of Aboriginal peoples, as they have come to learn about it in preparation for this important ceremony.
However, consultations with Aboriginal leaders — such as those most recently conducted through study of Bill C-15 by APPA, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples — have revealed a growing concern about the pan-Aboriginal approach taken by the government in its implementation of the Calls to Action. This approach, it is argued, fails to recognize the autonomy and diversity of Aboriginal groups across Canada.
Minister, how do you plan to ensure that this pan-Aboriginal approach is not pursued as part of implementing Call to Action 93 once Bill C-8 has passed?
Thank you again for the question, senator. I will say, as I mentioned before, that we are continuing to do the important work of updating our citizenship guide.
I wholeheartedly agree with your point that the new guide should better reflect Indigenous history. I would submit to you that we have to do a better job around educating new Canadians and all of us around residential schools, just by way of an obvious example.
With regard to the specific point in your question, again, my commitment is to work with you, your colleagues and with Indigenous leadership to ensure that we are educating through this new guide in a way that best reflects the diversity of Indigenous traditions, principles and cultures right across the country.
Thank you, minister, for your presence here and for answering our questions.
I know a lot of questions have been asked. In some ways they sound repetitive but at the same time the more you hear the question, you hear more of what we’re trying to fully gain. I have a question about the wording as well. So I’ve been listening and I’m trying to unpack this very simple bill, in essence. It’s not long, but the Oath and every word does matter. I’m going to leave that until a bit later.
My first question, minister, is this: The change in the Oath of Citizenship was one of the 94 Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Several other Calls to Action have not yet been acted upon five years after the report of the commission.
Would you further explain your choice in choosing to focus on this Call to Action and not others? Are you looking at some of the others in your department? I would like to understand your choice of this focus today.
Thank you very much for the question, senator. Certainly, what I have endeavoured to do throughout my evidence before you today is to shine a light on the areas for which my department and I are responsible, according to the mandate that has been given to us by the Prime Minister, to contribute to reconciliation, and certainly that focus is on Calls to Action numbers 93 and 94. The urgency, as I tried to lay on the table very honestly at the beginning of my remarks, has been, no doubt, intensified by recent developments and discoveries in Kamloops at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which I think is a very harsh reminder of the devastating consequences that were visited upon Indigenous children, not only as a matter of history but something that still impacts all of us today.
I think that is consistent with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s sense of urgency in moving forward with these Calls to Action. So this is something that we’ve been working on for a while, but I do think that, given the moment that we find ourselves in, it just further underlines that we continue to do the hard work of reconciliation. I’ve put this bill forward to you for your careful consideration in the hopes that we can pass it into law so that we can take that next step toward reconciliation.
Yes. I think we all agree on that objective. But I was looking at this revised affirmation or Oath of Citizenship. At the time of taking the Oath, English will most often be the second language of these new citizens, and they will say the words but I’m really wondering about how much these words will really mean what they should mean. Senator Patterson’s question of waiting to just ensure that everything that they do to study and prepare to eventually take the Oath will have that much more impact.
Even just in the wording of the Oath, when you talk about Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, we often use Aboriginal and First Nations interchangeably, even Canadians who have studied this. Then it goes on to say, “. . . First Nations, Inuit and Métis . . .” and I wonder if new citizens will be able to say these words and really understand what it means. Because I’m looking at Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations. In that, there’s a whole list but we say “Indigenous,” and “Indigenous” is missing from this oath. I was trying to understand the choice of words and whether this will have the kind of outcome, in effect, on new citizens saying these words, and that they will fully understand.
I was thinking about the timing and how it would be important to have everything ready.
You raise a very good point, senator. Certainly, it has been my experience that language is very important to Indigenous peoples. I believe it was Senator Sinclair, your former colleague, who has said on a number of occasions that much of the work around reconciliation really centres on or should begin with language. So you’re right to ask about the text. I appreciate where you’re coming from.
What I will tell you is that the language is drawn from Indigenous history and cultures that have certainly manifested in a variety of our laws, including the Charter, which is where we drew from for this bill, as well as the consultations that we have continued to undertake.
The other thing of which I want to assure you, senator, because I think it’s really important that you know what my experience is, is that in each and every one of the ceremonies that I have been part of, I have seen just an incredible outpouring of goodwill. People understand the significance of uttering those words when they take the Oath. They truly do. It gives me, and I hope all of you, great confidence that they see this not only as a test or a milestone but as part of the journey of becoming Canadian.
This is what I think reconciliation has to involve. It has to involve Indigenous peoples. That’s the real objective of this bill: to ensure that, as they utter those words, they do understand their meaning. Not that it’s simple; often it’s very complex and indeed painful and agonizing, but —
Minister, it is not simple. It is complex, even for Canadians, to understand what these words actually mean. Calls to Action 71 to 76 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada concern missing children and burial information. As we have seen in the last few days, finding the truth about what happened to these children is an essential part of our reconciliation journey. Your government did nothing on those specific Calls to Action. You decided to focus on the Oath of Citizenship, something that does not touch Canadians but only new citizens. I’m really interested in, again, the choice to focus here; also, what about the rest of Canada and how all of this will interface very effectively?
I would say two things very quickly. First, I respectfully disagree that the new citizenship would not touch anyone but new Canadians. The second thing, as I was in the course of finishing my last answer, is that despite those complexities, I genuinely believe that newcomers understand and appreciate the significance of the language, including the new language that we will hopefully put before them.
With regard to your question regarding missing children and burial information, my colleagues in government continue to do that important work with Indigenous communities. Certainly, I know that that is a part of our ongoing commitment to implement all the Calls to Action and to advance reconciliation.
Since you are here, minister, if I may just ask you about the Citizenship Act, which I think does require amendments and improvements in various places.
You decided to use your precious legislative time to address this one specific change to the act, which, again, I think all of us here do support. Why did you choose to focus on this change to the Citizenship Act and not on other ones? Is that something you will be doing? There are many areas of the Citizenship Act that we know we must correct and improve.
Again, I appreciate your question around the focus of Bill C-8 and, as I’ve tried to explain, this is very much a reflection of the Calls to Action as well as the mandate that has been given to me and my department, hence our focus on amending the Oath of Citizenship and updating the citizenship guide.
I will just say, senator, this does not come at the exclusion of doing other important work when it comes to citizenship. Over the course of the pandemic and despite all of its challenges, we have welcomed tens of thousands of new Canadian citizens as a result of innovation and new technology. We now do virtual ceremonies. I hope we can extend an offer to you and your colleagues to be part of them. I do think that would also enhance the value of the experience for you and for our new members of our Canadian family.
I certainly wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that this is the only area in which we are continuing to ensure that we’re growing our Canadian family in the right way.
Minister Mendicino, thank you for joining us this afternoon. Before I ask my two questions, I wanted to place on the record and state my support for Bill C-8.
The first question I want to ask you, however, is about labour shortages — specifically, labour shortages in relation to health care.
At the beginning of the pandemic, long-term care homes and rules around workers working in only one location shifted and exposed what we already knew. We have a severe shortage of qualified health care workers, especially lower-skilled and lower-paid health care workers. Health care is, of course, in the purview of provinces. We know that. But many view immigration as an important, if not central, strategy to increase the pool of available workers in this and other sectors.
According to The Conference Board of Canada, we also know that over the next 15 years, we will need to more than double the number of beds in long-term care homes to meet the demand, which means we will need to find individuals to staff those beds.
We have a pressing issue now that will only get worse as time goes on.
How do you and your colleagues in cabinet plan to address this labour shortage where immigration can help and where newcomers and asylum seekers can potentially provide a significant increase to the pool of available workers? Has there been any collaboration with the provinces on the specific needs in provincially regulated sectors? Are current policies sufficient in your mind, or do you think we need to be more aggressive?
Thank you for both of those questions, senator. It allows me to highlight what I think is one of the main economic imperatives behind having an ambitious immigration agenda and one that has served us very well over the course of our evolution as a country.
Senator, you pointed out that there are labour shortages, and you identified the health care sector as being an area where there are acute gaps in labour domestically. I would say, just to be more specific, that roughly one in three of the doctors, nurses and pharmacists that work on the front lines of our health care system is an immigrant. Just imagine for a moment if we were to remove roughly a third of our workforce. It would put health care under even greater strain for Canadians at a time when we need it so demonstrably as a result of the pandemic.
What we have tried to do over the course of our strategy to respond to COVID-19 is to shine a light on the contributions of newcomers who are already here so that we can provide them with legal pathways to stay in Canada. That is something that we did when we created our essential workers’ pathway for up to 90,000. There has been significant uptake.
Also, to continue to be ambitious in our immigration agenda, we’ve set a target of welcoming 401,000 new Canadians. It is our belief, and this is, we think, very much supported by the evidence, that by growing the country through immigration we will create jobs, further growth and prosperity.
By creating these pathways— which we think we can align to where these shortages exist, including in the health care sector — we can address those shortages and also create that long-term growth we all want.
Minister, I would like to move on to my second question. I’ll pick up from what you just talked about, welcoming over 400,000 immigrants. I applaud that; obviously, it’s a needed strategy.
As co-chair of the Canada-CARICOM Friendship Group, one of the things I have heard, repeatedly, is that consulates in many CARICOM countries have restricted their access and their services due to the pandemic. These restrictions make it very difficult for folks to begin to process applications to come to Canada.
Minister, you seem to be confident that Canada will meet its immigration targets for 2021, despite the number of barriers presently in place for existing applicants.
To your knowledge, how widespread is the issue of restricted access to consulates? Is this something that is occurring solely in the CARICOM region or elsewhere because of COVID? What are the additional resources, innovations or strategies that you have put in place to overcome these issues?
Thank you very much to the minister for attending today. I truly appreciate your attendance.
We have addressed in Bill C-8 the issue of the new citizenship oath. I would like to appreciate the challenges of legal drafting, given the tremendous diversity of negotiations, treaties and modern-day treaties that are recognized in the Constitution that exists across the country.
I would also like to express my appreciation to my colleagues for raising the issue of the citizenship ceremony and to you, minister, for addressing it.
I’d also like to express my thanks to our Member of Parliament, Larry Bagnell, and his office staff for his assistance because they are continually dealing with immigration issues as we do not have a large consulate office in the Yukon, and we deal with Vancouver immigration offices.
The office in Vancouver has advised that in terms of the citizenship ceremony, the protocol is that the speech goes to the member of Parliament and to the MLA where the ceremony takes place, which is generally in Whitehorse. There isn’t an invitation extended to the senator, and I would like to follow up on that. The commissioner, who is the equivalent of the lieutenant-governor, usually attends.
Minister, I would like to highly recommend to you that we give not just approval of this new Oath of Citizenship but that we give it life and meaning, and that the protocol for invitations to the ceremony be expanded to ensure that we include the chief of the self-governing First Nation upon which the ceremony takes place, or the grand chief, in our case, of the Council of Yukon First Nations. I believe this change of protocol will truly recognize and give life and meaning to the new citizenship oath if we ensure that, in our case, Yukon First Nations are recognized.
Thank you very much, senator. I will say I’m grateful to you for identifying the member for Whitehorse, who is a good friend and colleague. I look forward to being able to come and visit you again in person as soon as travel restrictions will hopefully ease and permit.
I also endorse the points that you have made around both protocols around invitations. I think if there’s one takeaway that is emerging from our exchange this afternoon it is that senators have a great interest in participating in citizenship ceremonies. I commit to you that we’ll work with our department to endeavour to make that happen more frequently, but also to work with you and local Indigenous leaders so that ceremonies themselves do reflect the spirit of the Calls to Action, so that as we welcome new citizens to our fold they truly do have the opportunity to experience some of that as they take their oath. I thank you for both questions.
Thank you. I would emphasize that the invitation to the Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations is more important than the invitation to the senator, although I do welcome it.
As a Yukon senator, I also would note that border questions are very, very important in the Yukon, particularly to the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and the White River First Nation on the border with Alaska. We can have situations, minister, where we have First Nations with status who may be a member of, for example, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, but they’re actually American citizens who happen to be members of a Yukon First Nation. White River, like many, many Canadian communities, has families who live on both sides of the border.
This presents particular challenges for First Nations who were present in our countries long before the borders existed.
Would the minister consider, perhaps in the spirit of truth and reconciliation, ensuring that there is a policy adviser and that there are staff assigned specifically to recognize the somewhat unique situation or recognize the situation of Indigenous people who cross borders?
Welcome, minister. I would like to thank the CSG for giving me this time.
Minister, I support Bill C-8 and the new Oath. I have spoken with a presiding officer of Senate citizenship ceremonies who likewise is pleased with this change.
You have talked about the different wording from that in Call to Action 94 and your consultative outreach. I’m going to turn to the citizenship guide, an important educational tool for the school curriculum as well as the citizenship test.
Can you assure this chamber that it will include a meaningful discussion of the rich Indigenous cultures and their artistic expressions? How will the material in this new guide be circulated to schools and incorporated in the curriculum? How will it be circulated to citizenship candidates and among Canadians more broadly? I’m looking for content and the “how” of circulation.
Thank you for those excellent questions, senator. With regard to your question around content, we continue to have ongoing discussions and collaborative efforts to update the guide, as I have mentioned on a number of occasions now, in a way that better reflects Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples and is certainly consistent with Call to Action 93. That work is ongoing.
With regard to the process of circulating the guide, you have really pointed out how important it is that, once you have the content, it gets out, is amplified and is shared as broadly as it can be. Certainly, I have seen over the course of the last year that we are becoming better at leveraging technology and social media platforms to distribute that information. We can do that with the guide as well.
I’d also point out that, with regard to the curriculum and the schools, it’s important that we work with our provincial partners who have the day-to-day administrative responsibility for education.
Certainly, you highlight an area where we should really be thinking forward to ensure that the guide is accessible to schools as a resource. Certainly, I will take that as a constructive suggestion.
Thank you. For Canadians as well as citizenship candidates, it’s really important.
I want to underline one thing for the content. The artistic expressions of Canada’s Indigenous artists honestly are among the best Canadian works. We’re known internationally for the work by Indigenous artists. It’s critically important that that be included in the guide.
I’m going to cede the rest of my time, Madam Chair.
Thank you for being here today, minister. I have a question about your ministerial discretion. Last week, the Senate unanimously adopted a motion calling on you to grant Canadian citizenship to Raif Badawi, who is being detained in Saudi Arabia. A similar motion was adopted in the House of Commons. Do you plan to take action in response to this motion?
Thank you for the question, senator. My department and I have carefully reviewed the motion adopted by the Senate. This issue is very important to everyone.
We are looking into all of the legal obligations. This is a very delicate situation, as you know.
I’m very concerned for the safety of Mr. Badawi and his family. We are in contact with our counterparts, and I’m committed to remaining in contact with all members of Parliament and senators to work on this matter.
Minister, my next question is about those temporary workers who come to Canada. A report was released by Dalhousie University, St. Thomas University and the Cooper Institute about the conditions of these workers in P.E.I. Recently we heard about the condition of these workers in Quebec. The situation is the same. There are appalling conditions.
Are you considering tagging the authorizations given to businesses to bring foreign workers into Canada to a set of undertakings to provide proper accommodation and proper living conditions to these workers?
Thank you very much for the question, senator. I do echo your concerns around the conditions that migrant workers have had to endure over the course of the pandemic.
The pandemic has certainly visited upon that community a high degree of cases. I will just simply assure you and all members of the chamber that the government is very sensitive to that. That is why we have provided over $100 million intended directly to support migrant workers and to improve their conditions. We are looking at other areas where we can provide certainty for migrant workers, including the essential workers’ pathway, which does provide status for some workers who are employed on farms and in food processing plants.
We know there are challenges, but we are certainly committed to working with you, with employers in the sector and, indeed, with the migrant workers themselves. When you come to Canada, whether you’re here temporarily or you’re here to start the next chapter of your life, it’s the government’s expectation that people can work in a safe and healthy environment. That is something that we are committed to ensuring.
Honourable senators, the minister has now been with us for 95 minutes. In conformity with the order of the Senate, I am now obliged to interrupt proceedings.
Minister, on behalf of all senators, thank you for joining us today to assist us with our work on the bill, as well as for dealing with issues within your fields of responsibility. I would also like to thank your officials.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
The Chair: Honourable senators, is it agreed that I report to the Senate that the witnesses have been heard?