Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration hearings
on Bill C-18, the proposed Citizenship of Canada Act
[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
The Acting Chair (Mr. David Price (Compton—Stanstead, Lib.)): Good morning, everyone. Welcome to Victoria.
It's a pleasure for the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to be here today to hear from witnesses on several subjects. We have a couple of them, but I know you will be presenting on one in particular. I might have a question at the end for you on another subject that we're looking at.
You're going to start on Bill C-18, so please take the floor.
Ms. Kim Recalma-Clutesi (Chief Councillor, Qualicum First Nation): Thank you. My proper name is O'gwi'logwa. I am an elected chief from the Qualicum Band of Indians, which is a small band from the middle-eastern part of Vancouver Island. I'm also the president of the Aboriginal People's Commission of British Columbia, which is the commission that is part of the Liberal Party of Canada. As well, I'm a member of the riding association for the Vancouver Island riding of Nanaimo--Alberni, which developed policy around this particular bill last year and past policy at the Liberal convention in British Columbia last November.
In particular, I would like to speak as an aboriginal person and as an elected representative who represents aboriginal people within the confines of an Indian reserve in Canada.
I know that Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted at the time of my late father's birth. For many of the things we speak about today, I will speak about them in reference to the lack of freedoms and the lack of rights that were afforded aboriginal people and status Indians in this country for better than a century.
It is with that passion that I speak today about the issues of immigration. In effect, we were the first immigration officers in Canada, and in effect we were the people who began trade with different countries of the world, so I think we speak with a bit of authority when we speak of these issues.
Immigration is not a terrible thing to aboriginal people. It's not something that most of us feel bad about, but it is something in which, for everything we do in this land, we must ensure that the basic and fundamental freedoms and rights that apply to all Canadian citizens apply to all bills that are passed at this time. I don't believe this bill has that capacity at this moment.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister. I've cited it and included it in this package. Just for the record, I would like to read it and then speak fundamentally about the freedoms and the rights around citizenship for aboriginal people that have been lacking up until recently. The letter states:
Dear Prime Minister,
The Aboriginal People's Commission of British Columbia has grave concerns regarding the revocation of citizenship sections of the proposed Citizenship Act.
At the time it was Bill C-16 and we are now speaking of Bill C-18. The letter continues:
As members of Nations throughout Canada who trace their ancestry to the creation of this land, we feel our generational acceptance, welcoming and assistance to immigrants to our respective homelands gives particular weight to our deliberation and conclusions. We therefore respectfully submit the following motion passed unanimously by the Executive of the Aboriginal People's Commission of B.C. at our May 25, 2000, meeting:“That we call upon Parliament to amend the proposed Citizenship Act to guarantee that the courts, not politicians, will decide on revocation of citizenship, and;As descendants of the First Peoples of this land who welcomed and aided the ancestors of a majority of the Canadians, and as Liberals, we pray that you will guide your members to revisit the clauses in Bill C-16 with the same spirit and hope that founded this Country.
That there is a provision for appeals from a decision of the Federal Court (Trial Division) to the Federal Court of Appeal and/or the Supreme Court of Canada, with the leave of those courts, in both existing and new cases involving revocation of citizenship.”
I need to remind you that as aboriginal people there are several institutions throughout British Columbia that I know of, in particular from my own homeland, that have these kinds of provisions in our old customary laws. They removed from the hierarchy and the hereditary systems that decision-making process and put it into a separate body, which we call Kwi'kwa or “the sentinel of eagles”, which made decisions that are very similar to the courts of the land today. This is not an issue or an institution that we are unaware of, and it is important that we separate from the politicians these fundamental issues of citizenship and revocation.
If the Charter of Rights were in effect when my late father was born, I know that several parts would never have applied to him and in fact did not apply to me in my youth. In particular, many of the rights of aboriginal people have been denied over time. From 1884 to 1951, our rights even to exercise our cultural and religious practices were outlawed. That's not a very long time ago. Until 1960, the right to vote and to become a citizen was not granted to status Indians in this land.
I know what it's like to have these rights denied. I was alive at the time these things took place. I know my father was denied citizenship in this country even though he was a hereditary chief who could trace his ancestry. To be a hereditary chief in his cultural tradition, you have to trace your ancestry to the beginning of time, from the time your ancestors survived the flood, and in some cases that was up to 8,000 years ago. He had to go back to a place of a residential school education to be able to produce a baptismal record to even prove citizenship at a point in his life.
Basic citizenship rights have been denied to us as status people, and so I feel very strongly that immigrants or people who have naturalized as Canadians be given the same kinds of citizenship rights that were denied the people of this land.
In order for our people to even get fishing licences, they had to produce citizenship papers, and most aboriginal people did not have citizenship papers until their right to vote was granted, until they were given the franchise to actually vote in this country.
I know the freedom of peaceful assembly was denied to the people until 1951. To assemble outside of Christian religious purposes was a right that was denied aboriginal people as well as the freedom of association, the freedom to hire a lawyer, and the freedom to discuss certain aspects of the land claims question.
I speak from a place where I know what it's like, and I was born at a time when my citizenship was not guaranteed as a Canadian. I feel very passionate about that because we were the founders of this land and we welcomed people, contrary to a lot of popular belief -- because we do hear things to the contrary. On this coast, we were the last place to be colonized in most of this modern world, and active colonization didn't begin until 1849. We still have a living memory of those generational people who met, greeted, and provided the basis and foundation for immigration in this territory.
With that, I'd like to speak very briefly of a political side on which I work. Because we feel so strongly about these fundamental rights, we work within the Liberal Party of Canada. It affords a commission that speaks to people of different groupings: the youth commission, the aboriginal commission, the seniors' commission and the women's commission, and we operate within those commissions. I have with me Diana Recalma, who actually wrote the policy on revocation that was passed as one of the priority resolutions within our riding association.
We have one riding of Nanaimo--Alberni. It's one of five ridings in British Columbia that have a large aboriginal population as well as a large multicultural population. The immigrant population and the aboriginal population actually forwarded this policy, and I have it before you today. It speaks primarily to the issues of revocation and the Charter of Rights infringement, the right that the clause actually infringes upon.
With that, I'd like to welcome some of your questions, but I need you to understand that I speak passionately about a question of freedom. I know what it's like to live in a land where freedoms and rights have been denied to a group of people. I can't stand by and watch it being legislated into effect so other people have those similar freedoms and rights denied in this modern time. It's unthinkable.
The Acting Chair (Mr. David Price): Thank you very much for your passionate presentation. We could feel where you were coming from.
We'll start off the questions. Lynne, would you like to start?
Mrs. Lynne Yelich (Blackstrap, Canadian Alliance): I would like to just mention that you're speaking from the Liberal point of view and your policy of being a Liberal. My question would be that perhaps you should have an all-party commission and an executive so that we could all hear your concerns and help you build policy for your people. I guess that's just a comment I want to make. I really don't think that it's policy when in fact we've heard in these hearings that bureaucracy is our biggest problem across the nation in almost every area of our government, and Citizenship and Immigration is not exempted from that. The bureaucrats are causing a lot of problems.
I'm very surprised in a way that citizenship would even be a concern. I just thought that you were automatically citizens as you were born in Canada. Doesn't that automatically make you citizens?
Ms. Kim Recalma-Clutesi: Not prior to 1960.
Mrs. Lynne Yelich: But now anyone born in Canada automatically is a citizen.
Ms. Kim Recalma-Clutesi: That's right.
Mrs. Lynne Yelich: Just like the rest of us. But your problem is that now, of course, it would be revoking and --
Ms. Kim Recalma-Clutesi: My problem is about revoking, but I'd like to first comment on your all-party concern. This is not a pitch for partisanship, but I look very carefully whenever we participate. My father joined the Liberal Party in the 1960s, shortly after he was granted the right to vote and after careful consideration and looking at the framework and policies that matched our customary laws and how we operated.
I'm not doing a partisan pitch, but there are other political parties that work actively to deny aboriginal rights. I have to speak in a partisan way because I am part of the Aboriginal People's Commission, but I speak here primarily as an elected chief.
As you know, a lot of mayors and elected civic representatives also are partisan to other areas, but I want to be honest about my partisanship. I also want to be honest in that the policy-making process is one that a lot of aboriginal people have adopted because the policies match and mesh. This is absolutely not a partisan sell, but it is by way of being honest and a reflection of this area.
Citizenship was not automatically granted to aboriginal people. It actually was denied under the Indian Act. There were several restricting pieces of legislation and statutes that denied basic foundations of citizenship, one being the right to vote. There were several other areas as well. It is now automatic, but it was not then.
I sit here today because I know what it's like to be born into a country where basic fundamental rights of citizenship were denied to me at the time of my birth. I do not want to have those kinds of things happen to immigrants. There were definitions in the Indian Act that described a person as someone other than an Indian. That existed until 1951.
Mrs. Lynne Yelich: I am very pleased that you came here today. When I saw who you represented, I was very pleased, because we have not had anyone from the aboriginal communities at the table. You certainly have a very valid concern, and it's something we will be looking at. You have taught me something today about where the first nations have been with citizenship. I thank you for joining us.
But I do think it would be more effective...because we are all working towards the best for first nations and for the citizenship act. I think we are all starting to agree that revocation is not something we want to see, so you can be quite pleased to hear that we are all thinking on the same line. I think we are.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Acting Chair (Mr. David Price): Thank you, Lynne.
Mr. Andrew Telegdi (Kitchener—Waterloo, Lib.): Thank you very much.
Mr. Louis Plamondon (Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, BQ): I have a point of order, Mr. Chair. [Inaudible—Editor]
Mr. Andrew Telegdi: I don't mind.
Mr. Louis Plamondon: In the regular committee, what do you do? Is it seven, seven, seven, and five, five, and five?
The Acting Chair (Mr. David Price): It's not a question of time. We're more flexible when meetings are open to the public. Go ahead, but we'll take down names.
Mr. Louis Plamondon: Fine.
Like my colleague, I too am surprised to see you here as the Liberal Party representative. I think you must be at the wrong table. You should be making your demands known to the Liberal party Convention. You should know that the opposition parties share your views and it's the Liberal Party that in fact believes otherwise. It's all rather surprising.
You spoke, and rightly so, of the injustices that First Nations have suffered. However, I would point out that over the past 100 years, the Liberal Party has been in power for 85 per cent or 90 per cent of the time. Therefore, it may have addressed some injustices, but it has also let problems slide for a long time.
I'm surprised that as leader, you claim to be partisan, a claim that cuts you off considerably from other parties that might be able to help you, a claim that undermines significantly the credibility of any argument you might put forward, since up front, you claim to be partisan.
I've listened closely to your demands and I enjoyed the historical account you gave us in an effort to broaden our understanding of the experiences of First Nations. My riding is home to two First Nations, and to two Abnaki nations, with whom I share a very close friendship. Ten years ago, I was honoured with the title of Honorary Chief. I have been an MP for 18 years.
I have come to understand many of these nations' demands, having visited often. For example, I remember the expression “les affranchies”,the “excluded”, as it applies to women and to the injustices they have long suffered. This wrong has been redressed, but you are right to say that it had an adverse affect on aboriginal culture.
I would appreciate further clarification. In your resolution, you call for guarantees to be provided by the courts, not by politicians.
When you say “not by politicians”, I have no desire to remind you that the politicians in power, the decision-makers, have represented the Liberal Party for quite some time now.
Why not clarify the wording of this resolution which calls for authority over citizenship issues to be transferred from politicians to the courts? As my colleague noted earlier, the level of internal bureaucracy is tremendous. The decision-making process is extremely slow. Isn't there some way of combining the two, that is allowing for more political intervention on occasion and at the same time, opting for recourse to the courts in extreme cases?
Could you explain the first part of your resolution to me in further detail?
Ms. Kim Recalma-Clutesi: Certainly, and I thank you, but first a comment.
My custom and my laws dictate that I am honest, that I am upfront, and that I clarify.... In other ways as well, it's really important that I am upfront. My partisanship is not about excluding other parties, because quite frankly I do work with other parties as well. I have worked both provincially and federally, and I do consult and do work. It does not undermine my credibility as much as it is about honesty and being very upfront. As an elected official, it is a brave thing to do and I believe it does not undermine my credibility. I have sat with my father in the House of Commons for close to 40 years.
I come from a mixed racial background. My mother is Icelandic, and her father came to this country as a result of an immigration issue, her homeland having been consumed by volcanoes. The homeland she came from was the place that founded democracy, so I am rooted in one side of democracy and I am rooted in customary laws that deal with heredity and also situations around honesty and bringing forward these areas.
I don't wish this to be partisan, which is why I was very clear about saying who I was, to begin with, so that it would not be a difficult situation. Because I am a descendant of people who founded the first legislative assembly and also the hereditary system, I feel quite blessed to be here to describe this.
Now, I am also part of an aboriginal community where, when we have elections on reserves, there is no transparency. It's handled totally by bureaucrats and by politicians. I am aware that it is not a form of democracy that I've seen in any other part of the world. It is because of this that I'm asking that neither politicians nor bureaucrats be part of this policy and that the courts handle these things in a transparent and judicial fashion. I am too aware of how systems on reserve eliminate that kind of judicial process and the harm that it can cause.
It is imperative that we remove those kinds of processes that actually leave it to an individual. I believe that is an infringement of a right. I don't think we should have politicians who could potentially be influenced, as I have been attempted to be influenced here today. I don't think that anybody's credibility should be at question when they are dealing with a social justice issue. A social justice issue belongs in a higher body, with rigour, with transparency and standards that are consistent day to day, not consistent because of political whim or because of an election coming up or because of leadership debates.
I'm actually kind of happy to be part of a party that allows me to be as rigorous an advocate as I can for different areas. I am also very proud of the other parties that sit around this table that do the same thing. It's important that those kinds of advocacy issues and the kinds of influence that we can have on politicians be removed and that it be left to the standards of a court and judicial system. Living on an Indian reserve, living within systems where it is left in the hands of bureaucrats, I know that human rights are infringed upon, as they are in a lot of my day-to-day life.
The Acting Chair (Mr. David Price): Andrew.
Mr. Andrew Telegdi: Thank you very much. Bienvenue.
Let me start by commenting that less than 2% of the Canadian public is involved in political parties, which is a real democratic deficit and is really the lowest in any of the mature democracies. It is really a democratic deficit in terms of our body politic. Now, any person from any political persuasion can come to any meeting of Parliament and take a position. That's just only right and that's only democracy.
To my colleagues and for the opposition parties, let me say that what Ms. Recalma is saying here today is that she fought within the Liberal Party of British Columbia to have the revocation issue be a priority resolution and it came out of something like 400 resolutions debated. Ten of them got sent to the national convention. The initiative that started here also got picked up by the Liberal Party of Ontario, where again a priority resolution was passed, again from about 400. Then it went on to the province of Quebec, where the resolution was passed again. Then it went on to the province of Alberta, where it was supported again. Eighty-five per cent of the country is represented by those four provinces.
I think Chief Recalma is being rather brave in coming forward and saying that we are fighting this within the ranks of the Liberal Party and we are not being listened to. The role of the opposition, I guess, could be to pick that up and say to the government, this is what your membership is saying; how can you deny basic human rights to naturalized Canadians?
You know, what is very interesting -- and I mentioned this in the hearings on Friday -- is that as we were going around this country from Toronto to Victoria, a consistent message that came forward from groups representing naturalized Canadians was that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms must apply. The charter is very clear in section 7, under equality rights, when it talks about life, liberty, and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
When this issue was debated in the House of Commons--and Lynne has been with the tour and she will have heard -- I gave kudos to the Alliance and the Bloc because I said they were two parties that recognized the significance, that you do not decide on basic human rights issues in a political fashion that is not transparent and that is contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It certainly is contrary to the spirit of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Bloc and the Alliance were unanimous in supporting the resolutions to make this legislation better.
I wish you were a little more vociferous in the House of Commons to hold the government to account, because this is a real injustice.
What has been interesting is that the people who have known oppression are the loudest advocates for this. Certainly, having the Aboriginal Peoples' Commission supporting this shows a degree of understanding and it shows that they care about the fundamental rights. Politicians can play a role, and normally the role they play is in humanitarian and compassionate decisions where they believe that clemency should be granted, if you will, but they can never, ever play a role in denying basic human rights.
The present act, with no appeal rights, where we decide on a balance of probabilities instead of beyond a reasonable doubt, and having the cabinet make decisions in secret, is just incredibly unjust. I mentioned on Friday that in some ways Pierre Trudeau must be smiling because he sees that the Charter of Rights that he enshrined in the Constitution is being defended by the people from the communities that he tried to empower. And we have seen that right across the west.
So it's not a political issue. If somebody came from the Bloc and made a presentation on it, I would not hold it against them; I would applaud them for it.
In terms of the present situation of the first nations, I want to pose a question.
The Acting Chair (Mr. David Price): Yes, that's fair, but --
Mr. Andrew Telegdi: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I think it is important to address it, because everybody --
The Acting Chair (Mr. David Price): Yes, and I let you go to the end.
Mr. Andrew Telegdi: I think what the members need to understand.... I wear this pin, the 60th anniversary pin of the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia, and I want to have Chief Recalma tell us what the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia was and to tell us about the kind of rights that they had to fight for, some very basic human rights. I wear this with pride, because I feel a great affinity to the struggles they have gone through, and I very much appreciate that they came to the defence of the six million Canadians who were citizens by choice, not by birth.
Is there a comment?
Ms. Kim Recalma-Clutesi: I too am a member of the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia, and before we pass judgment on what it is, it is not an organization like the Assembly of First Nations or any other of the modern aboriginal organizations that you see today.
In 1927 the Indian Act was amended to disallow aboriginal people to speak of the land question. British Columbia was the last part to be colonized in Canada, and treaties were never signed in that area, apart from a few Douglas treaties that were signed at the time of a proprietorial colony being established in the 1850s. The Native Brotherhood was established three years after the fundamental rights of aboriginal people to assemble were denied.
The Native Brotherhood began as a covert Christian organization that used as its battle hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers. Any time the government officials came to see what they were rallying about...because the only manner in which our people could assemble from 1927 to 1951 lawfully was for Christian purposes. So during those organizational meetings, if they were raided or if they were discovered, they broke into hymn. We still now have a really large population that is very fluent in singing hymns, because it is the way that we plotted and worked toward recapturing inherent rights that were fundamentally ours prior to the immigration beginning in this land.
So the issues around the right to vote were argued in private. The issues around the treaty were argued in private. The fundamental old age pension was not granted to aboriginal people until the Native Brotherhood worked toward that, nor was the family allowance.
At the time the grant finally was passed in 1960, a political organization called the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs stepped in, in the late 1960s. It voluntarily began to split the issue of talking about the land question, and the Native Brotherhood assumed a role and a responsibility to deal only with aboriginal fishing rights in the commercial fishing industry.
It is the oldest aboriginal organization in North America and it is the only one that continues to exist from that time of oppression until now. I dare say most of those people worked underground with whatever political organization they could to have their voice heard and to work through advocacy, because they understood that the foundations of democracy were what they had to live with, and they embraced it, worked with it, and they sent members.
The former president of the Native Brotherhood was the second aboriginal person ever to sit in Senate, Senator Guy Williams. He was the man who fought vehemently for the old age pension, and he fought at that time for the vote as well. Len Marchand was elected as the first aboriginal MP from the ranks of the Native Brotherhood as well.
My late father was the business agent for the Native Brotherhood for many years. It is with that voice of the fundamental oppression of human rights, which I have inherited generationally, that I speak today as an elected chief.
The Acting Chair (Mr. David Price): Thank you very much for your answers. I have just one last question, and you don't have to answer it right away. You could send it to us in writing, if you'd like.
The minister is putting out feelers for a Canadian identity card. You've probably heard a little about it. It's just an idea. Quite often we have problems identifying people. It would probably be something with biometrics, like fingerprint, photo, eye scan, something like that. We'd love to hear comments on it. It's very pre-operation. There's nothing on the boards yet; it's just an idea floating out there.
Ms. Kim Recalma-Clutesi: Well, I don't want to chat too much about this, but I have lived with an Indian identity card for my entire life. I don't have my number tattooed on my arm, but out of protest some of my relatives have. I worry about that, about having to pack those kinds of things around for even access to medical care and that type of thing. I worry. I can recite my Indian identification number in my sleep.
I'm not sure whether this is a response to terrorism and 9/11 or whether this is something that is actually needed in Canada. If it is a response to that, I have issues about that, but I'm a little leery because I'm probably the wrong person to ask. I carry an identifying mark now, and I'm not entirely happy with that.