My wife and I attended a citizenship ceremony in Ottawa last Friday afternoon. We didn’t know any of the people who were taking the oath of citizenship that day. We just thought it would be a good idea to observe.
The ceremony was a formal and dignified affair. For 80 newcomers to Canada, the event represented the last step in a long process from immigration to naturalization. Following words of welcome, the presiding judge congratulated the candidates – they had met all the requirements of the Citizenship Act and were about to become Canadians. She recognized that the decision to become citizens, for many of them, meant adapting to a new culture, a new climate and a new language.
The judge then explained what Canadian citizenship means. Citizenship is much more than a certificate or a passport. It is a covenant with their new country that includes responsibilities to uphold shared traditions and values such as the equality of women and men, to protect our heritage and environment and to obey our laws. Citizenship is active. The newcomers are expected to get engaged in national affairs, to vote and to contribute.
In return for allegiance, Canada guarantees to protect their rights and freedoms. The judge emphasized that thousands of Canadians have fought in wars and died for these rights and freedoms; these brave people must never be forgotten.
She then led them in the Oath of Citizenship. The end of the oath was followed by applause and cheers from the guests and attending friends. This was the moment that the newcomers officially became Canadian citizens with equal status, rights and freedoms as for those of us who were born in this great nation.
The new citizens represented a variety of generations, races and ethnicities. I was especially heartened to see entire families become citizens at Friday’s ceremony. The motivation to pursue citizenship for many of those parents, I suspect, was to give their children a chance for a better life.
I thought of my maternal great grandparents who emigrated from Scotland with their children after World War I. Grannie and Dide Buchan sought a better life in Canada and more opportunities for their children. The pioneering spirit, family values, kindness and strong moral fiber of my Buchan ancestors added value to our nation. If I could go back in time, I would’ve liked to have attended their citizenship ceremony – how poignant that would be! Grannie and Dide’s courageous decision to leave everything behind and immigrate to Canada resulted in more opportunities for their descendants (me included) than they ever imagined.
My wife and I believe that immigration strengthens our national fabric. We’re pleased that Canada is perceived internationally as a cultural mosaic and that immigrants are encouraged to retain traditions from their birth countries. Diversity makes our country stronger. It fosters quintessential Canadian traits such as politeness, courtesy and diplomacy. It is at the core of our international reputation for being cosmopolitan, broad-minded and welcoming people.
Friday’s ceremony buoyed my spirits. Rising with my new compatriots at the end of the ceremony for the singing of our national anthem was an especially proud moment for me.
I recommend that each Canadian who was born in this nation attend a citizenship ceremony. Thousands are held each year. Check the website of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada for the schedule of upcoming ceremonies in your community.The public is welcome to attend.