JUDG­ING CIT­I­ZEN­SHIP

The race-tinged na­tion­al­ism be­ing pushed by far-right groups is that “old stock” Cana­di­ans are some­how more Cana­dian sim­ply be­cause they are white and Euro­pean

NOW Magazine - - FIRST PERSON - By EVAN BALGORD

Cana­di­ans by birth some­times take cit­i­zen­ship for granted, with­out re­ally ap­pre­ci­at­ing the pow­ers it gives us.

They came from 26 coun­tries, some flee­ing vi­o­lence and per­se­cu­tion, oth­ers seek­ing better op­por­tu­ni­ties for them­selves and their chil­dren. They were joined by their friends and fam­i­lies, and after tak­ing their oath of cit­i­zen­ship, the ner­vous en­ergy in the room switched to celebration.

On April 6, 59 new Cana­di­ans be­came cit­i­zens at a cer­e­mony at the MaRS Dis­cov­ery District. Ev­ery Cana­dian by birth should go to a cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­mony at least once in their lives.

It’s not only a celebration of our shared val­ues, op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as Cana­di­ans, it’s also a pow­er­ful an­ti­dote to the racially tinged na­tion­al­ism be­ing pushed by far-right move­ments in Canada who be­lieve that our cul­ture is un­der at­tack and that so-called “old-stock” Cana­di­ans are some­how more Cana­dian sim­ply be­cause they are white and Euro­pean.

New Cana­di­ans who had to strug­gle to earn their cit­i­zen­ship ap­pre­ci­ate the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of what that means more than some of us who were born here.

The April 6 event was part of an en­hanced cer­e­mony put on by the In­sti­tute for Cana­dian Cit­i­zen­ship, co-founded by John Ralston Saul and for­mer Gov­er­nor Gen­eral Adri­enne Clark­son. The ICC and other com­mu­nity groups find spe­cial venues, speak­ers and cu­rate round­table dis­cus­sions, which are not part of reg­u­lar cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­monies.

The cer­e­mony has an of­fi­cial pur­pose to ad­min­is­ter the Oath of Cit­i­zen­ship, but it’s also a celebration open to the pub­lic. For new Cana­di­ans, be­ing part of an en­hanced cer­e­mony is by luck of the draw.

El­der Garry Sault of the Mis­sis­saugas of the New Credit opened the cer­e­mony with a song and a story.

When it was time for the oath, all the soon-to-be Cana­di­ans stood at the front. But Judge Al­bert Wong, one of Canada’s five cit­i­zen­ship judges, also in­vited ev­ery­one who is al­ready a ci­ti­zen to reaf­firm their oath to­gether with the new Cana­di­ans. We all raised our right hands. “I swear that I will be faith­ful and bear true al­le­giance to her Majesty Queen El­iz­a­beth II, Queen of Canada...” Then we sang O Canada.

For new Cana­di­ans, the oath is the end of a years-long process. Many at this cer­e­mony had to learn English as their sec­ond or third lan­guage. After years of res­i­dency they had to ap­ply and pass a writ­ten test on Cana­dian his­tory and pol­i­tics, as well as an in­per­son in­ter­view.

After the cer­e­mony there were sand­wiches and cake. One man joked that now his kids – who have their cit­i­zen­ship – can’t tease him about not hav­ing his. I was asked by the ICC to host a round­table on what it means to be Cana­dian.

I sat down with the Shakil fam­ily, who mi­grated from Pak­istan six years ago. Daugh­ter Urooj has a de­gree in bio­chem­istry and now works in early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion. Son Shayan is study­ing to be a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer at Hum­ber Col­lege and sits on the board of the stu­dent union. They and their par­ents, Aziz and Farhana, all ap­plied to­gether and helped each other study for the cit­i­zen­ship test.

Urooj is look­ing for­ward to vot­ing, while Aziz wants to get a per­ma­nent job.

I asked them what they want to tell those who were born here about be­com­ing a ci­ti­zen.

“A lot of peo­ple don’t ap­pre­ci­ate Canada the way they should,” says Shayan. He’s right. Cana­di­ans by birth some­times take our cit­i­zen­ship for granted with­out re­ally ap­pre­ci­at­ing the pow­ers it gives us: self-de­ter­mi­na­tion through demo­cratic par­tic­i­pa­tion, a safe place to live, pro­tec­tion from per­se­cu­tion, to name a few. Evan Balgord is an ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Anti-Hate Net­work. news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

Part of an en­hanced cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­mony put on by the In­sti­tute for Cana­dian Cit­i­zen­ship at the MaRS Dis­cov­ery District, April 6.

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