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June 4, 2019

Changes to the Oath of Citizenship

Posted by Rikhav Shah - Bellissimo Law Group PC

On 28 May 2019, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the Honourable Ahmed Hussen introduced Bill C-99 to change Canada’s Oath of Citizenship. The proposed change involves referencing the rights of Indigenous peoples in the oath. The current wording of the Oath of Citizenship is 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, and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.

The proposed new additions (in bold) are:

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.

The Oath of Citizenship is recited at the citizenship ceremony and is a legal requirement for applicants 14 years of age or older to become Canadian citizens. It represents a promise to adhere to follow the laws of Canada, fulfill their duties as a citizen, and a declaration that the new citizens are committed to Canadian values and tradition.

This proposed change responds to the Calls to Action put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). The TRC was established in 2008 and disbanded in 2015 (its work now continued by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation).  The TRC’s purpose was to research and receive feedback from the indigenous peoples of Canada regarding the extent of the harm to their culture, community and way of life from the actions of previous governments of Canada, specifically with regards to residential schools. The aim was that it would further the understanding of Canadian history and help foster reconciliation and healing.

In 2015, the TRC released a report entitled “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action”, which outlined 94 steps that could be taken by various levels of government to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation. The 94th Call to Action was rewording the Oath of Citizenship to 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 Heir 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.

Although the wording was not adapted exactly, the message remains that same: to highlight that Indigenous and treat rights are not just important to Canada – they are an essential part of the country’s character.  It is an important step to reconciliation, which will hopefully have knock-on effects, as stated by The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship:

“The change to the Oath is an important step on our path to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada. It will encourage new Canadians to learn about Indigenous peoples and their history, which will help them to fully appreciate and respect the significant role of Indigenous peoples in forming Canada’s fabric and identity.”

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