Last week, Ahmed Hussen, the federal minister of citizenship announced proposed changes to the Oath of Citizenship.
He wants to add explicit reference to the rights of Indigenous people.
If Bill C-99 is passed, new citizens will be required to state:
“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.”
There are so many problems with the oath, I’m not sure where to start, but let’s go with: Why are they swearing (or affirming) to bear allegiance to the Queen?
I get that she’s the symbolic figurehead as we are technically a constitutional monarchy, but Canadians have not been British subjects since 1947 and isn’t it time that we shed this archaic vestige of an undemocratic and inegalitarian institution?
But never mind that.
Why does the government feel it is necessary to explicitly state that which is implicit? If citizens are required (we are) to faithfully observe the laws of Canada, it is completely unnecessary to say “including the Constitution” much less single out one, and only one, specific element of the Constitution.
But never mind that.
The real problem with the oath is that it exists at all.
As of Friday, I will have been a Canadian citizen for 56 years. Not once in those 20,454 days have I ever been required, or even asked, to take an oath of citizenship.
And rightfully so. I am a citizen, entitled to the benefits and privileges and bound by the obligations and responsibilities.
So, why do we require new citizens—those who choose to become Canadians and acquire the status through a long and rigorous process that includes proving proficiency in one of our two official languages, paying an application fee, previously attaining permanent resident status, paying taxes, taking a test and even being fingerprinted in many cases—to take it?
It is not right.
Am I any less obligated to fulfill the duties of a Canadian citizen because I never took the oath?
No, I am not.
Are the consequences of not fulfilling those duties any greater for my naturalized fellows?
No, they are not.
A citizen is a citizen is a citizen.
And no, the other option, to make us all take the oath, is not an option.
It would be, at best, redundant and I for one, would refuse on the grounds it violates my Section 2(b) Charter right to “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.”
In 2014, several new Canadians, including Israeli national Dror Bar-Natan, recanted the part of the pledge that deals with the monarchy at the citizenship ceremony moments after receiving their certificates.
The citizenship judge thanked Bar-Natan for his honesty and welcomed him to Canada.
Bar-Natan and others then challenged the constitutionality of the pledge in court.
The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled against the complainants saying the oath for new citizens was constitutional and the pledge to the Queen was merely symbolic and not to be taken literally.
Nevertheless, the court upheld the right of those new Canadians to publicly recant the portion of the oath they found offensive.
To rule otherwise would violate a citizen’s Charter rights, but it’s okay to deny those rights to prospective citizens moments before they become citizens only to allow it moments later?
If that does not underscore the need to abolish the oath altogether, I’m not sure what does.