Citizenship ceremonies are emotional and personal experiences, especially for those of us New Canadians who had the privilege of participating in one. Now the Department of Citizenship and Immigration has given notice that they were contemplating an end in-person citizenship ceremonies in favour of a “secure online solution.” In-person ceremonies could still be arranged upon request, but subject to a delay.
I still remember the citizenship ceremony that I had to attend when I proudly became a Canadian citizen in 1975. Dressed in my Hugo Boss suit, I was with my wife and son, all of us dressed up in our finest, lined up with New Canadians of all backgrounds, happily showing off the Canadian flags.
When the time came to sing the newly memorized national anthem, I was so emotional that my eyes welled up with tears. Every Canada Day, I still have visions of my touching and heart-breaking citizenship ceremony experience, and thankful prayers to Canada for providing a happy, wonderful, and prosperous life. Yes, Canada, I haven’t been disappointed.
I am horrified the government is proposing to abolish this special welcoming in-person citizenship ceremonies with an administrative online box and do away with a group singing “O Canada.” The government brief also notes that the new system will prevent the inconvenience of new citizens having to book time off work to make the ceremony. What a concession!
The fact that Canada, the most friendly and welcoming nation in the world, would resort to a computer-oriented system to announce that immigrants are now citizens is appalling and upsetting. Ceremonies in everyone’s life, be it a birthday or a retirement party, play an important part, signifying a milestone in their lives.
A former minister of immigration under then Prime Minster jean Chretien, himself an Argentinian immigrant to Canada, was so upset that he wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star, calling it “an insult.” “For years, my parents would recount how momentous and meaningful (the ceremony) was. Why would government want to rob future citizens of this feeling of attachment?”
Another prominent defender former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson who came to Canada as a refugee from Japanese-occupied Hong Kong and presided over a few citizenship ceremonies herself as an Officer of the Order of Canada, said she was “horrified” by the proposed change.
Tareq Hadhad, a Syrian refugee famous for founding the Nova Scotia-based chocolatier Peace by Chocolate, described Canadian citizenship ceremonies as “the magical rituals that bring together everyone (new and old citizens) to celebrate the true meaning of the Canadian dream.”
“We cannot afford to lose the significance of this celebration of belonging nor can we diminish the value of Canadian citizenship,” he added.
Credit should, however, be given to the government for moving a notch forward towards truth and reconciliation of indigenous peoples by officially recognizing First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, and the obligation of all citizens to respect the treaties between the Crown and Indigenous nations.
The new oath now includes “Indigenous, Inuit and Métis rights, and will help new Canadians better understand the role of Indigenous peoples, the ongoing impact of colonialism and residential schools and our collective obligation to uphold the treaties.”
“Canada’s Oath of Citizenship is a commitment to this country—and that includes the national project of reconciliation. This new Oath now includes Indigenous, Inuit and Métis rights, and will help new Canadians better understand the role of Indigenous peoples, the ongoing impact of colonialism and residential schools and our collective obligation to uphold the treaties. This is an important step on our shared journey of reconciliation,” said Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
“The new language in Canada’s Oath of Citizenship is a concrete step forward on rebuilding relationships with Indigenous peoples as it responds to Call to Action 94 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is so important that new Canadians understand the rights and significant contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.”
The new language of the oath reads: “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.”
All Canadians and would be citizens should protest the proposal to replace citizenship ceremonies with something tantamount to “dial a citizen” method. Becoming a citizen by ticking the “Make Me A Canadian” box from anywhere is an impolite method of becoming a citizen of one’s country.
Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist and author of three nonfiction books: Off the Cuff, Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West and A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.