Truth and Reconciliation — We Can't Wait Until 2058

Updated: Jan 27



On November 23, 2020 I gave a speech on Bill C-8, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act. This Act implements the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action number 94. Below is the transcript of my speech:


Madam Speaker, it is an honour and privilege to speak today on Bill C-8 from the traditional unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw people. I want to acknowledge that the riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith lies within the territories of the Snuneymuxw, the Snaw-naw-as, the Stz'uminus and the Lyackson first nations.


Huy ch q'u siem.

I would like the thank the hon. member for Sydney—Victoria for sharing this time with me today so that I could speak to this important bill.


Bill C-8 is an act to amend the Citizenship Act. The bill would change the oath of citizenship so that newcomers to Canada, in addition to pledging allegiance to the Queen, will also faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the aboriginal treaty rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis people.


The Snuneymuxw people, whose territory I am speaking from today, signed a treaty in 1854. This was the 14th and the last of the so-called Douglas treaties, and it was ignored for over 100 years. It was not until the landmark White and Bob Supreme Court case in 1965 that this treaty was finally recognized by the Government of Canada. This historic case marked the beginning of the modern era of treaty and aboriginal rights and title, advocacy and activism across Canada.


I learned about this treaty while working on a film about the Nanaimo River, entitled Voices of the River. In my interviews with Snuneymuxw elder Ellen White and with her grandson Doug White, who was the chief of Snuneymuxw First Nation at the time, they both emphasized the importance of this treaty and the rights and title that it enshrines. Most residents of Nanaimo would have no knowledge of this treaty and what it means. It is a constant struggle for the Snuneymuxw people to have their treaty rights recognized.


This is true for first nations across Canada, as we have seen with the Mi'kmaq fishery in Nova Scotia and the Haudenosaunee dispute in Caledonia, Ontario. We are all treaty people in Canada. We have historical treaties that need to be respected, and for those first nations that have never signed treaties, it is incumbent upon the government to go through the modern-day treaty process in a respectful way.


It is important for newcomers to Canada to understand the indigenous and first nations rights enshrined in the Canadian Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All Canadians, including new Canadians, need to understand these legal documents. They should understand that if they are not in a region that is covered by a treaty, then they are in a region that has never surrendered and is still legally indigenous territory.


The bill would complete number 94 of the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That does not mean that the current Parliament has finally gotten to the end of the list and has implemented the previous 93 calls to action, far from it. We have a very poor record of implementing these calls to action. Earlier this year my colleague, the hon. member for Fredericton, presented a scorecard in her speech on this issue. Out of the 52 broader reconciliation recommendations, seven have been completed. Under justice, it is one out of 18; language and culture, one out of five; health, zero; education, zero; and child welfare, zero.


In the first year, five recommendations were completed, and just four since 2016. At the current rate, it will take approximately 38 more years before all of the calls to action are implemented. This is not reconciliation in action.


Call to action number 94 is important, but there are far more urgent calls to action that we need to turn our attention to. Call to action number one calls upon federal, provincial, territorial and aboriginal governments to commit to reducing the number of aboriginal children in care. Right now there are more indigenous children in the child welfare system in this country than there were children in the residential schools at the height of the residential school system. This is an ongoing abuse of human rights and a violation of fundamental social justice.


When I talk to local leaders from first nations and urban indigenous communities in my riding, they tell me the same thing: Children are being apprehended by provincial child welfare agencies, and it is not because the parents have neglected to provide their children with love, care or attention. The majority of child welfare apprehensions are a direct result of poverty and inadequate housing. The Government of Canada could deal with this immediately with a poverty reduction strategy and rapid housing program for first nations and urban indigenous populations.


The missing and murdered indigenous women and girls inquiry recommendations called for a guaranteed livable income to ensure no Canadian needs to live in poverty. A guaranteed livable income would remove the bias inherent in our social welfare programs and would be a step toward ending systemic racism in this country. Indigenous people are overrepresented in our prison system and in our homeless population. This is also a direct result of poverty and the disproportionate number of children pulled from their families and communities by the child welfare system.


We have a long way to go toward true reconciliation with indigenous people in Canada. Under the reconciliation section of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action, the first call to action, number 43, calls upon federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation. This is important and we need to get this done right away. Why are we not debating this right now?


It is a national shame indigenous communities have boil water advisories that go on for years and even decades, that indigenous communities deal with serious and persistent poverty, that indigenous people are overrepresented in our criminal justice system and in our homeless population, that we have such high levels of suicide among indigenous youth and that health outcomes for indigenous people are comparable to those of residents of low-income countries.


It is an international black eye for Canadians that we have encroaching developments and industrial projects forced upon indigenous communities after sham consultations and then have those developments and projects rammed through with enforcement actions by highly armed militarized police forces.

We need economic reconciliation to improve the conditions for economic development and economic sovereignty for first nations. The connection to land is key to the culture of indigenous people in Canada, but as colonizers we have broken that link. The reserve system forced indigenous people off the land and took away those key connections to their culture. Industrialization has destroyed many traditional territories with resource extraction, including excessive logging, mining and oil and gas production, destroying biodiversity and leaving behind toxic messes.


In my riding of Nanaimo Ladysmith, the traditional lands of the Hul'qumi’num-speaking people were stolen out from under them with the E&N land grant 150 years ago. Coal baron and B.C. cabinet minister Robert Dunsmuir was given 8,000 square kilometres of land, or 20% of Vancouver Island, to build the E&N railway from Esquimalt to Nanaimo as part of the deal for B.C. to join Confederation. This corrupt deal and historic wrong need to be corrected. We cannot celebrate 150 years of B.C. joining Confederation next year without reparation for this theft. Reconciliation must be more than words, it must include reparation for historic wrongs.


There is a long list of things we need to do to make things right in our relationship with first nations, Inuit and Métis people in this country. If this is indeed our most important relationship, as the Prime Minister has often repeated, then let us get on with it.


I have had the honour and privilege of working with many newcomers to Canada and I know they are keen to be good citizens and become part of our communities. Many of the newcomers arrive from difficult situations and have faced war, poverty, environmental degradation and human rights abuses. Once they learn about our history and fully understand the circumstances many indigenous people live with in Canada, these newcomers are shocked.


Bill C-8 is an acknowledgement of the responsibilities of all Canadians, including new Canadians. It is an important piece of legislation. The Green Party supports this legislation. We support all the calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we support the recommendations of the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls inquiry and we support the full implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


I hope to debate much more legislation implementing urgent calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation report soon. I hope this happens in the very near future.