Ms. Margaret Mitchell (Vancouver East):
Mr. Speaker, I also rise in support of the motion by the member for Saint-Laurent-Cartierville and commend her for bringing this forward.
The motion asks the government to:
-amend the Canadian Citizenship Act to ensure it reflects the
evolving nature of Canadian society and considers Canada's
commitment to diversity and individual human rights.
I agree with most of the points that both my colleagues have raised. This is certainly a non-partisan issue. This is a question of great importance to all Canadians. The point the hon. member raised about swearing allegiance to Canada rather than to the Queen is again something that we should move to as quickly as possible.
For five years the Minister of Multiculturalism and Citizenship-and I wish we could reverse the importance of those two words-has been proposing amendments to the Canadian Citizenship Act. Amendments to the Citizenship Act of 1974 are long overdue. Our population has greatly changed and greatly increased. In 1974 we were a country of 12.5 million people. Now we have over 27 million people. We have maintained about the same proportion of immigrants each year, 16 per cent, but the numbers have greatly increased and the countries of origin have changed.
May 3, 1993
It is veiy important that our concept of citizenship and our Citizenship Act must reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada. It must be concerned to a greater degree than it is at present with the rights and responsibilities and the education of all our citizens, both native-born and immigrants. The present act pertains mostly to new immigrants.
As a country that is rich in cultural and racial diversity we have much to learn from each other as we forge ahead to redefine ourselves as a country and to clarify our goals as a unified nation. Any changes to the act should involve wide public education and consultation, which is in itself an educational process. Canadians should be encouraged to carefully reconsider what it means to them to be Canadian.
I agree with my Conservative colleague that we need more emphasis on civics and Canadian studies in all our educational systems, including adult education.
The Citizenship Act needs to be reviewed and updated to truly reflect the nature of modern Canada. We have come of age. We are a bilingual country that recognizes the two official languages of our founders, but we are no longer a white colonial society that can ignore the rights of aboriginal people and newcomers who are not of English or French heritage.
Canadian society has evolved and changed over the past 46 years. In the 1960s four out of five immigrants were from Europe, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. By the 1980s two out of three immigrants came from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Inherent aboriginal rights are now recognized by all governments and by most Canadians. Persons who used to be referred to in the Trudeau years as "others" and are now referred to as allophones, have full rights and responsibilities as Canadian citizens, and they should not be seen as an adjunct.
We are all citizens of a multicultural Canada with equal rights and responsibilities. Although our Canadian culture is constantly evolving we have developed a common sense of beliefs and values. Canadians believe in democracy, justice, and the right of individuals to be free of hunger, violence and poverty. Canadians want a caring and compassionate society that cares for children and the elderly, that ensures education and jobs and promotes the universality of health care, the kinds of things that we were proposing in the social charter in the
Private Members' Business
constitutional draft. Our national values are reflected in the pride and participation of our citizens. Last summer's Voyageur program was very successful for young people. It was an exchange between different regions of Canada and should be an annual event to promote friendship and understanding between regions, francophones, allophones, aboriginal people and anglophones.
Our national symbols, our role in the United Nations and our international peacekeepers promote pride. These are the kinds of things we should not be shy about. We should be proud we are Canadian. Certainly those who travel realize very quickly how fortunate we are to be Canadian citizens.
Citizenship requires responsibility as well as rights. Citizens participate in the political process, in strengthening our communities, in eliminating discriminatory barriers and in supporting social justice ideals. The Citizenship Act needs to be revised to reflect these values and to include the commitments under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which states in section 15: "Every individual is equal before and under the law".
New and old Canadians must accept this as a given. We no longer should have to challenge these rights under the charter. We must work vigorously to eliminate the inequalities and injustices that unfortunately exist in our daily lives and in society as a whole. Racism must never be tolerated.
Canadian citizens want to have equal opportunities in jobs, education and training. We prosper as a nation when people reach their full potential, when they are not ghettoized in dead end, minimum wage jobs, when the cycle of poverty is broken and violence in all forms is ended. The Citizenship Act must clarify policies for newcomers, as it has in the past, how they apply for citizenship, what are their rights and so on. It should be available to citizens, as my colleague has stated, in their first language.
There must be an increase in language training opportunities for all newcomers in order that they will be able to participate fully in Canadian life. This is something that has been very lacking. The cutbacks in language training and the cancellation of the SLT program are a real detriment to citizenship.
May 3, 1993
Private Members' Business
The Citizenship Act should also be reviewed so that the legitimacy and the integrity of citizenship judges are clear. Judges should not be political patronage appointees. A review of the Citizenship Act must address how appointments are made, what qualifications judges should have and why citizenship judges are different from judges and courts other from the legal courts of Canada.
Amendment to the Citizenship Act must include a responsibility to develop citizenship education programs. This I cannot stress too strongly. I am very concerned about the cuts this government has made to citizenship training. Many new Canadians are better informed as to what it means to be Canadian than are those of us who are bom in Canada. We need to broaden citizenship education and make it meaningful to all segments of Canadian society, in the schools, through public programs using modem media techniques such as videos and television.
We must all have a better knowledge of Canadian history, including our ethnic history. The recent referendum showed that Canadians want to revitalize their citizenship and have an active say in public affairs. It is time for a review of the 1947 Citizenship Act. In amending the act we must do away with the distinction between Canadians by birth and Canadians by choice. Every citizen is part of our Canadian family with equal rights and responsibilities. Citizenship is a commitment between citizens with each other and with Canada. It is an active partnership.
I say to the Minister of Multiculturalism and Citizenship, let us get on with this important job right now.
Topic: PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS