The impact of citizenship as powerful today as ever

There is much talk in the media about how this country is handing out citizenships “like popcorn” and how the pride and value of being a Canadian is somehow diluted or diminished by these perceived actions. As a bystander with more than a casual interest, I can tell you that none of those “wisdoms” are either wise or true.

After twenty-plus years of living as a foreigner among us, my American-born wife recently completed the required paperwork and officially became a Canadian. Her journey began 22 years ago when she first moved here from the USA. The initial steps involved obtaining, after the required waiting period, her permanent residence status. This status is somewhat jokingly referred to as the ‘Green Card’ period and required me to pay some significant fees and sign an undertaking that I would support her for at least ten years and acknowledge that she was ineligible for public assistance during that period. The final step was obtaining Canadian citizenship. This required a lot of paperwork and proof of language skills. After a year of waiting, we were notified that she had been accepted and that she was to attend a final interview and ceremony.

Arriving for the interview, the first thing that struck me was the wide range of applicants in the waiting room. There were men, women and children ranging from babes in arms to the very elderly. Assembled in the waiting room were people in caps and hats, turbans and head coverings. There were a multitude of skin tones and colours and all sorts of states of dress.. After a brief wait, the guard called on people who had failed their initial test and were there for a rewrite. Surprisingly to me, at least half of the room stood and followed him out of the room for another try. My wife’s interview was cordial and pleasant, but extremely thorough and we were told to come back the next day for the formal ceremony.

The next morning, we arrived to a packed room waiting to be sworn in. Everybody there was dressed in their finery and there was a happy but nervous energy in the room. The guests present entered the courtroom first and 72 nervous individuals followed behind. After an introductory video showing snippets of Canadian life, the judge spoke to the new applicants and delivered a speech on the importance of citizenship, of voting and becoming part of the greater community by sharing of themselves through volunteering and participating in Canadian society. At this point, the new citizens were required to swear allegiance to the Queen in English and French. Fourty-five years prior, my own personal immigrant story did not allow me to do this as I was a footnote on my parent’s application. The judge invited those who was there as guests to raise their hands and join in and I jumped at the opportunity. It became, for me and for many in the courtroom, a very moving and emotional experience. After congratulating 72 new Canadians from 19 different nations, the judge invited us to sing O Canada together, which we did. Nervously and quietly at first, the voices growing stronger as we all sang, some from memory, some reading from handouts. The ceremony concluded with pictures and smiles from all and tears from many.

After going through the process, I can honestly say that the emotions that day were real and genuine and that the feeling of acceptance and of community obviously meant a great deal to all who shared that day with my wife and I. The feeling of being “Canadian” and of being part of this great country is not diminished or diluted in any way and I have never heard our anthem sung with such emotion and heartfelt feeling.

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