Marchi: Citizenship ceremonies are too valuable to replace with a mouse click

Former Minister of Immigration (1994-96), Sergio Marchi, nails it. Minister Fraser, his staff, and the officials who recommended this change should reflect on his commentary, and how the changes would further diminish the value of Canadian citizenship.

Have been working with others on additional op-eds so stay tuned:

Processing Canadian Citizenship applications has become frustratingly long process. It is not unusual for it to take up to two years. With the excitement of becoming a citizen, this is a cruel punishment for applicants. They, and we, deserve better.

Last weekend, federal officials proposed doing away with the swearing an oath before a citizenship judge. The alternative? People can take an oath on their own, perhaps by the click of a computer mouse. They claim that this measure would save three months.

Talk about adding insult to injury!

Why debase the value of citizenship, for the sake of gaining a measly three months? I hope Canadians — and those actually waiting in the citizenship queue — will voice their displeasure. As a former minister of citizenship and immigration, I cannot believe that this, or any other government, would approve such a misguided idea. 

And here’s why:

  • First, the act of swearing allegiance to one’s country before a citizenship judge is a powerful, and moving ceremony. It helps to cement a formal commitment to country, and witnessing these ceremonies was one of my highlights as minister. Watching hundreds of people — young and old, women and men, Black, white, and brown — all raising their right hands and reciting the pledge was wonderful to behold. These moments would always be embraced by tears of joy, and immense pride. After migrating from Argentina, my parents and I stood before a judge, too. For years, my parents would recount how momentous and meaningful this date was. Why would government want to rob future citizens of this feeling of attachment?
  • Secondly, the ceremony is not just for the candidates. It is a special occasion to be shared with other Canadians. It helps to remind us all of our civic obligations and respect toward one another. As minister, I encouraged hosting these sentimental events in our communities — in churches, schools, recreational facilities, libraries and community centres. I wanted neighbours to see firsthand who these new citizens were. I wanted them to also celebrate this solemn ritual. The auditoriums were consistently full and local residents willingly helped with the organization and refreshments. In the process, it helped to break down barriers between old and new Canadians.
  • Thirdly, the functions regularly enjoyed the participation of numerous youngsters — underaged children who were automatically assuming Canadian citizenship on account of their parents; youth over 18 years who stood taking the oath; and many local students as observers. The latter would sing the national anthem, waive small flags, and applaud enthusiastically. At a time when we question if our kids are taught enough about our country and its traditions, these ceremonies served as a practical lesson in civics. After all, what can be more important than citizenship?
  • Finally, there are other ways of reducing backlogs without undermining the meaning of citizenship. The government could easily allocate more funds for the hiring of additional citizenship judges. Keeping the rendition of an oath in our courts and communities would be worth every additional cent.

Or, even better, enlist recipients of the Order of Canada to preside over these ceremonies. That is what I directed my officials to do when we faced long waiting times in the early ’90s. The recipients loved it and they happily volunteered. Moreover, what better role model for our new citizens, than fellow Canadians who were awarded our country’s most prestigious award? It served to underline civic duty and honour.

As well, we could summon an army of young Canadian students to help applicants prepare for their citizenship exams. The landed residents would find their confidence much quicker, and pupils could do this as part of their school curriculum. Talk about a win-win.

Taking an oath of citizenship, in the presence of other applicants and a community of Canadians, has been in vigour since 1947. It’s an elegant and unifying act that bolsters patriotism. It would be scandalous to replace this by a laptop relegated to the privacy of one’s home.

If anything, we should be further strengthening the institution and importance of Canadian citizenship.

Source: Citizenship ceremonies are too valuable to replace with a mouse click

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.

One Response to Marchi: Citizenship ceremonies are too valuable to replace with a mouse click

  1. This is very well said and includes all the benefits with excellent ideas to resolve the backlog. I’d support those ideas in a BC minute.

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