PCO looks to add Indigenous treaties into citizenship oath

Hardly news – mentioned in Minister Hussen’s mandate letter more than a year ago.

Will, however, be interesting to see what “the very near future” means in terms of legislation actually means and whether it is stand-alone legislation or combined with other unannounced changes:

The federal government is looking at adding a commitment to Indigenous treaties in the oath that new Canadians take.

A spokesperson for immigration minister Ahmed Hussen said that while no official decision has been made, legislation to change the oath’s wording will be brought forward in “the very near future.”

The last sentence of the oath currently reads: “I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.” A possible new wording would oblige new Canadians to say “I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

The idea of additional language in the oath of citizenship was included in poll questions by Forum Research Inc. The firm conducts regular surveys for the Privy Council Office.

Just under half – 49 per cent – of Canadians polled said they agreed with the proposed change. Twenty two per cent were on the fence, while 26 per cent were opposed.

The polling used a mixed sample of landline and cellphone responses. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.38 percentage points and a confidence level of 19 times out of 20.

Respondents only supported the change with a caveat that newcomers be adequately educated about Indigenous peoples and treaties to ensure they don’t struggle with the new wording, according to the Canadian Press.

The Canadian Press also obtained notes that showed the government intends to modify the script for those presiding over citizenship ceremonies. The changes would refer to “ceremonies on traditional territories, and include remarks on the history of Indigenous people.”

If implemented, the change would put into practice one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action.

Capping off the list at No. 94, the call to action in question proposes the government make the exact change to the citizenship oath’s wording that was considered in the polling.

Hussen’s mandate letter includes an order to add the acknowledgement of Indigenous treaties to the oath.

A spokesperson for Hussen also asserted the government’s commitment to make changes to the citizenship guide and to the oath of citizenship to reflect Indigenous treaties.

This isn’t the first change to the existing citizenship processes to cross Hussen’s desk. Last fall, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel sponsored a petition to “ensure that the final draft of the new citizenship guide includes the condemnation of female genital mutilation.” The petition has over 25,000 signatures.

In late January, the government committed to including a warning about FGM in the citizenship guide.

There is no word yet on the exact timeline for potential changes to the citizenship oath, although Hussen’s spokesperson said legislation will be introduced in “the very near future.”

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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