Hainsworth: My Syrian refugee friend became a citizen. So why was I barred from the ceremony?

Something for IRCC to think about as it maintains the shift to virtual citizenship ceremonies:

I cried tears of joy.

A friend of mine who left the destruction and despair of Aleppo, Syria, became a Canadian citizen on Jan. 24.

And, for me, that is a cause for great joy and celebration.

I too am an immigrant, a naturalized Canadian citizen.

I arrived in Canada Dec. 27, 1971.

My friend left Aleppo in 2016, arriving in Canada in late 2017.

And, I too have been through the ceremony.

Compared to my friend’s journey to citizenship, my family’s immigration to Canada was a cakewalk.

We came from England in late 1971 so my father could take a job in Trail, B.C.

The memory of our departure still causes pain. Indeed, this past October, I stood on a train platform in the city of Leeds, where 50 years ago, my grandparents stood outside the train waving as we pulled away bound for London. And, I cried at the memory. Half a century later, the pain remains. It is not an easy thing to leave one’s homeland and extended family. Even typing this, I get choked up.

Still, I count myself lucky.

I did not have to live through a brutal dictatorship like that of Syrian president Bashar Hafez al-Assad.

I did not have to endure my home being relentlessly bombed.

I did not have to witness the destruction of the city in which I lived.

I did not have to flee to the safety of Beirut, Lebanon, in order to get to Canada.

In all that, I have been blessed beyond measure.

Further, having covered refugee cases, I have been astounded at the thoughtlessness — if not inhumanity — of some Canadians who attempt to deny Canadian citizenship to others fleeing here for their lives.

One former senior journalist was critical of Sri Lankan refugees who spent their life savings to come to B.C. in leaking, rust-bucket boats to escape civil war. He said they should have stood in line at a Canadian consulate in their country to be processed like every other applicant.

I countered that filling out forms and waiting for the mail is hard when people nearby want to slice you apart with machetes. Yes, I listened to the stories of some of those Sri Lankans, some of who arrived one August on the cargo ship MV Sun Sea. I saw their injuries, their missing limbs, as they were led in shackles through a Vancouver office tower for refugee hearings. Some were little old ladies, their heads hung in despair. Yeah, terrorists.

This Canadian says, ‘welcome.’

More than 12 years later, I wanted to be part of my friend’s ceremony, to see them go through that profoundly touching rite. I cry every time I witness it.

Citizenship brings with it great privilege: the right to cast Canadian votes, the right to carry one of the world’s greatest documents – a Canadian passport.

I do not take these things lightly for granted. I am profoundly grateful for them. I did not get them through an accident of birth.

And, as my friend said to me, “The most beautiful thing about being a Canadian is the right of speech.”

That’s free speech, my friends.

However, when I joined the ceremony’s Zoom meeting, I was booted out. People taking the citizenship oath only, I was told.

And, while I accept pandemic restrictions, it is something I must protest.

Now, the citizenship oath includes reference to the monarchy, but it is not an oath to Elizabeth Windsor; it is an oath to the head of state. And, the head of state is an embodiment of the covenant that binds us as a group known as Canadians. This is why the monarch uses the pronoun ‘we.’

And, as part of that ‘we,’ I really, really wanted to be part of my friend becoming a part of this club we call Canadians. I’m somewhat biased but, it’s one of the best clubs in the world.

Further, there is another ‘we’ involved.

It’s a group of people who bonded six years ago to help a then-stranger. Some were friends, others strangers. We (that word again) came together for a common purpose, that most noble of callings, to help another.

To be fair, the oath invitation was really not to be shared. And, I can excuse my friend for sharing it. They were excited.

No Zoom at the inn

To be fair to the organizers, there are restrictions on Zoom, which make it difficult to have multiple people participate in an event with all microphones muted. The citizenship candidates must be allowed to speak and all else remain silent. And, we don’t need people being jerks and interrupting. I respect that.

Could organizers have done it differently?

Well, it is a citizenship court with the oath administered by a judge. I am frequently in the courts and they are not using Zoom. They use Microsoft Teams.

No media, I was told, despite my having explained I am both media and a sponsor group member.

“Due to privacy concerns, media is unable to attend our standard virtual ceremonies,” said a statement from Julie Lafortune, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokeswoman. “The candidates do not sign media consent forms before these events and their names and images appear on screen throughout the event.”

All I could see before being booted off Zoom was faces with numbers.

In all the in-person ceremonies I’ve been to, I’ve never seen a media ban, nor have I seen people signing consent forms at such public events.

Further, Lafortune said, “at this time, only selected ceremonies that are broadcast live are shared with media. We continue to explore alternative videoconferencing platforms that have the functionality required to manage large volumes of participants while ensuring client privacy is maintained during the administrative steps of the ceremony.”

All, that said, my friend’s ceremony is complete.

They are a Canadian.

My heart was with them in spirit and my soul soared for it was a magnificent day in a beautiful person’s life.

I am not naming my friend. There are, sadly, people in this country who will attack refugees and immigrants. Despite the usual bigoted assumptions, my friend has been employed almost since arrival and helps others. Our group raised funds through friends and colleagues and helped them with housing and furniture. Taxpayers didn’t pay for this.

I will not expose my friend to that, and I won’t let such things spoil this magnificent day. Seventy-plus people from around the world became Canadians. And that is a beautiful thing.

I am profoundly grateful to be a Canadian.

What was my friend’s immigration experience like? 

“The journey of belonging was and is not easy. I remember the first day I arrived in Canada. I felt like ‘why am I here? How stupid I was when I left my country and come into the unknown.’

“It seems like I am in the middle of the black and dark ocean, knowing nothing, where to go, how to begin,” they said, tears streaming.

“Challenges are really very important in human being’s life because they make us stronger.

“Despite the days I spent crying or feeling down, this journey of fighting for survival adds more skills, experience and makes me more resilient.”

Welcome, my friend. Welcome.

Source: https://www.coastreporter.net/opinion/my-syrian-refugee-friend-became-a-citizen-so-why-was-i-barred-from-the-ceremony-4992718

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

2 Responses to Hainsworth: My Syrian refugee friend became a citizen. So why was I barred from the ceremony?

  1. Irep Cakir says:

    Dear Andrew,

    I’m afraid Hainsworth was misinformed or was not well informed.

    We had our citizenship ceremony (Myself and my three children) on October 26th via Zoom. We had close friends at home. They watched it and applauded and cheered and we celebrated together. And this wasn’t an exception since it is even encouraged -as written on the ceremony invitation email sent by IRCC, you’ll find attached.

    And Andrew, thank you very much for the great job you are doing. It is so much appreciated. I don’t start my day without reading your agenda, the articles that you have chosen or commented on.



    Irep Cakir

    Turkish Voice of Canada / Founder & Content Creator & Presenter Broadcast Journalist

    T: + 1 (647) 223-2852 Turkish Voice of Canada – YouTube Turkish Voice of Canada – Website Turkish Voice of Canada – Facebook Turkish Voice of Canada – Twitter Turkish Voice of Canada – Instagram

    İrep Güner Çakır – Twitter İrep Güner Çakır – Linkedin

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Andrew says:

      Dear Irep, Appreciate your sharing your personal experience and the correction. Lets see if Hainsworth responds, will flag this to him. And thanks for the feedback. Best, Andrew

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