‘It feels something was missing’: Pandemic forces new Canadians’ citizenship ceremonies onto Zoom

Hopefully we will be back to more regular in person ceremonies but with social distancing, no handshakes and likely masks, in the next few months:

It’s a moment that Haseena Hotaki and all immigrants long for: taking the oath, shaking hands with the citizenship judge, waving the Canadian flag and cheering with other new citizens.

Instead, on this big day, the 29-year-old Afghani immigrant found herself alone in the living room of her Toronto apartment, in front of her laptop awaiting the appearance of Judge Hardish Dhaliwal on her computer screen so she could be sworn in on Zoom.

“I have heard all these stories from others about what happened at these ceremonies. I pictured what my own ceremony would look like, holding a Canadian flag in a room with other new citizens,” said Hotaki, who came here in 2012 under a government sponsorship.

“Did it really just happen? I just had this over an online meeting through Zoom?” asked the Kandahar native after the 30-minute solo virtual event hosted recently by the judge and four immigration and citizenship officers. “It feels something was missing.”

It wasn’t the dream ceremony Hotaki envisioned when she passed her citizenship exam last September, but it’s still better than a further delay in becoming a full Canadian.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada had to cancel all citizenship ceremonies in mid-March because it’s impossible to enforce social-distancing at these functions attended by new citizens and their loved ones.

Immigration department spokesperson Beatrice Fenelon said officials began holding virtual ceremonies on April 1, beginning with individuals and families whose ceremonies had been cancelled and who had contacted IRCC with urgent reasons for needing citizenship, such as employment requirements.

Last year, an average of 20,000 immigrants became new citizens each month. To date since April, 96 ceremonies have been held.

“An important aspect of holding online group ceremonies is the verification of applicants’ identities, which is important to the integrity of the program, especially in an online environment,” said Fenelon.

A virtual ceremony is similar to an in-person one.

In Hotaki’s case, she was asked to show the immigration officers on the screen three pieces of picture ID before she took her oath in English and French with Dhaliwal and signed her citizenship certificate — with an e-signature.

There were no RCMP officers in Red Serge present or singing of the national anthem.

The process wasn’t without its hiccups. Hotaki said her ceremony was twice disrupted due to internet problems that forced her to log onto Zoom again.

“It made me nervous,” said Hotaki, who worked for international aid groups as an English translator in Afghanistan and in the not-for-profit sector after coming to Canada. She started her bachelor program in international development at the University of Toronto last fall.

Hotaki picked a traditional Afghan kochi dress, worn only for celebrations, for her citizenship ceremony to honour this special moment of her life. But she was disappointed there was no one around her to share her joy other than her two young daughters.

The whole experience was surreal, she said, until a citizenship officer asked her to cut and void her permanent residence card.

“The whole ceremony was like a dream. When I looked at my PR card in small pieces, that’s the only thing that seemed real,” said Hotaki, who has founded her own group, Humanity First for Peace, to provide education programs for girls and women in Afghanistan.

“I am grateful for the opportunities Canada has given me and I am extremely proud of who I am today. I have come a long way and feel I finally belong.”

Hotaki kissed and hugged her daughters after the ceremony, then called her parents in Afghanistan to share the news before ordering takeout from her favourite Thai restaurant to celebrate a new leaf of her life in Canada.

New Canadians take Oath of Citizenship at ceremony tied to Capital Pride


As about 50 people became Canadians at a special citizenship ceremony held at the Horticultural Building at Lansdowne Park Thursday morning, 25-year-old Roksana Hajrizi and her mother, Celina Urbanowicz, looked on from the just outside the area cordoned off for officials, volunteers, celebrants and their friends and families.

They watched as Bibiane Wanbji, who six years ago left her husband in Cameroon and brought her four children to Canada to find a better life, smiled at the vastness of the world that had just opened up to her. Having a Canadian passport, Wanbji explained, means she can travel just about anywhere. She hasn’t seen her extended family and friends back in Cameroon since coming to Canada, so that’s a definite destination. So, too, are the U.S. and Cuba, and “the city of love” that she’s always wanted to visit: Venice. “It’s like a passport for the world.”

And although she’s been in Canada for six years already, Thursday’s ceremony left Wanbji feeling a bit different, she said, that she has “more to give in this country, to contribute to build the country.”

Hajrizi and her mother watched, too, as 50 new Canadians, including Haguer Abdelmoneim and her children, Mahmoud, 10, and Youssef, 5, sang their new national anthem. They and Abdelmoneim’s husband came from Egypt in 2014 “for a better education for the kids” and “for a better community to grow in.”

They didn’t just choose somewhere other than Egypt, she added; they specifically chose Canada. “We like the values. It’s a very inclusive country, very welcoming to newcomers.”

Another “new” Canadian, Saiful Azad, who arrived on Canada’s shores from Bangladesh 21 years ago, agrees. “A lot of people don’t understand how important it is to be a Canadian citizen and the opportunities that are given to you here,” he said. “I don’t believe the U.S. is the land of opportunity; I believe Canada is.”

Like Wanbji, Azad, who operates a Greek on Wheels franchise in Hunt Club, cherishes his new-found ability to travel as much as his right to vote. “When you’re a Canadian citizen, people look at you differently and treat you differently. Everyone thinks that Canada is a great country, and I think they’re right.

“People who live here and want to be Canadian citizens should pursue that.”

Thursday’s event was unlike most citizenship ceremonies in that it was one of about 75 sponsored each year by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, a national not-for-profit charity that promotes active and inclusive citizenship.  As at other ICC-hosted citizenship ceremonies, this one opened with intimate roundtable discussions at which soon-to-be Canadians were engaged in conversations with other community members.

A lot of our soon-to-be Canadians have had long journeys and long stories in getting here,” said ICC chief executive and former Ottawa-Centre Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi just prior to the start of the ceremony, “so we want to talk a little about that. But most importantly we want to talk about what the journey is going to be like after they become Canadian citizens. How are they now going to contribute to the building of Canada? We want to promote active citizenship.”

Thursday’s ceremony was also co-hosted by Capital Pride, a first for both organizations.

“It’s an opportunity for our community and the candidates for citizenship to engage in dialogue about what our community is about and what the experience of being 2SLGBTQ is,” said Capital Pride founding director Sarah Evans. “A lot of newcomers, and even established immigrants, don’t always know a lot about the 2SLGBTQ community, so it’s a good opportunity to build that awareness.”

As she watched from the sidelines, Roksana Hajrizi was keenly aware. Describing herself as a “proud lesbian,” she attended Thursday’s ceremony partly in support of Capital Pride, and also to congratulate those being sworn in as new Canadians. “I am proud and happy for those who are Canadians today,” she said, “and I hope that one day my family and I could be citizens of this great country.”

Truth be told, Hajrizi already feels very much Canadian. She was just three years old when she and her family — her mother, father, Ismet Hajrizi, and younger sister, Camila, arrived in British Columbia from war-torn former Yugoslavia almost 23 years ago. She even has two brothers born in Canada: Sebastrijana, 22, and Daniel, 19.

But she, her mother and sister are living in Canada without official status, in constant anxiety that they will be deported. They are Roma — her mother a Polish Catholic Roma, her father a Yugoslavian Muslim one. Romas are not welcome in most places, she says, and gay ones even less so.

The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has noted the discrimination that Roma people face worldwide, an Anti-Gypsyism expressed by “violence, hate speech, exploitation, stigmatization and the most blatant kind of discrimination.”

Hajrizi’s family was denied refugee status, and now she fears for her life and the lives of her sister and mother if they’re forced to leave the country. In 2008, her family, except for her brothers, was scheduled for deportation but was given a reprieve.

Still, Hajrizi’s father, she says, despite being a Serbian citizen, was deported in June to Kosovo, where he lives in a garage with no papers. She, with no birth documents herself, worries that it’s just a matter of time before she and her mother and sister will suffer similar fates, that she will never get to be on the other side of Thursday’s ceremony, that despite living in Canada for very nearly her whole life, she will never know what citizenship is like.

“I believe in my heart that I’m Canadian. I believe in my heart that my sister is Canadian. I believe my mother and farther are also Canadian. We’ve been here for 23 years and our roots have spread through Canadian soils. We have given our time, our compassion, our love, our kindness to our community, to our city. People who know us know that we are a good family.

“My family is being ripped apart,” she said. “My father was taken from us, and now my mother is next. But we will fight to stay in Canada.”

Source: New Canadians take Oath of Citizenship at ceremony tied to Capital Pride

Citizenship ceremony got ‘heated’ over niqab

Convenient that this story came out now during the last week of the campaign. While it could have been an official who leaked it, more likely at the political level (although less sensitive than other leaks – see Neil Macdonald: Government sensitivity over you hearing about ‘sensitive’ information – one wonders whether CIC will call in the RCMP to investigate this one as well?).

None of this excuses the man’s behaviour and it appears CIC officials handled the situation appropriately:

A leaked e-mail obtained by the Toronto Sun, sent to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) from an official at the ceremony that day, depicts an ugly confrontation between the man and several CIC employees, including the clerk of the ceremony, assisting officers, judges and a manager.

In the e-mail, the official wrote the situation caused “considerable moral distress” to staff and those in attendance. Those involved were “distressed at the prospect of being any part of the husband’s efforts to coerce his wife.” Those who were at the ceremony said the husband and wife were there with their four children.

In accordance with protocol, a female officer with the citizenship court checked the woman’s ID and informed her she would need to unveil during the ceremony.

“This lady said ‘yes,’” a source told the Toronto Sun. “She was willing to do it.” The woman, who was the applicant for citizenship, wasn’t involved in the argument between her husband and officials.

“He’s pacing furiously and she’s just standing there,” said the source.

When the husband’s objections grew increasingly louder, CIC staff pulled the man into a side room.

People walking by could hear the yelling through the door.

“We’re talking the span of an entire citizenship ceremony this was going on.

Loud, loud, loud yelling,” the source said.

“He spent the entire time having a screaming match with the manager,” the source said.

As the argument continued, the woman “slipped into the room” where the citizenship ceremony was taking place, removed her niqab and swore the oath of citizenship.

“It was a terrible, terrible feeling to have this woman want to exercise her legal rights and to have her husband try to use us,” said the source. “And were we, you know, at the back of our minds a little bit afraid for her safety? Yes.” Federal officials refused to give specifics about what happened, but confirmed with the Sun that an incident did in fact take place on that date.

“The 10:30 a.m. ceremony was delayed by more than an hour because of a candidate’s question around a CIC policy,” said CIC spokesperson Remi Lariviere.

The right of Muslim women to remain veiled during Canadian citizenship ceremonies has defined one of the more contentious issues in this election campaign.

Source: Citizenship ceremony got ‘heated’ over niqab | Malcolm | Canada | News | Toronto

Jason Kenney s’invite dans la circonscription de Maria Mourani: Targeting citizenship ceremonies to “shop for votes”

This takes “shopping for votes” too far. Having citizenship ceremonies for one particular community, religious or not, takes away the power and symbolism of new Canadians of different origins and faiths, coming together to join the “Canadian family.”

Undermines all the messaging on integration and the building of bridges between communities, one of the key objectives introduced by Kenney in 2009-10:

Le ministre de la Défense et du Multiculturalisme, Jason Kenney, poursuit sa conquête des appuis des communautés religieuses. Il s’est aventuré à Montréal dimanche, dans la circonscription de la députée Maria Mourani, Ahunstic-Cartierville, en tant qu’invité d’honneur de la cérémonie de citoyenneté de l’évêque catholique Ibrahim M. Ibrahim.

Contrairement aux cérémonies qui réunissent habituellement des dizaines de nouveaux citoyens canadiens devant un juge de la citoyenneté, l’événement avait été organisé exclusivement pour l’évêque par sa communauté, à la cathédrale Saint-Sauveur Melkite. C’est lors d’une messe que Mgr Ibrahim a prêté le serment de citoyenneté canadienne, devant Jason Kenney, qui a joué le rôle de juge de la citoyenneté. La paroisse était pleine à craquer et M. Kenney a été mis à l’honneur, sur un fauteuil au centre de l’allée principale.

Même si les conservateurs n’ont pas la cote à Montréal, le ministre Kenney réussit habilement à tisser et à conserver des liens avec des communautés religieuses de la métropole. La communauté arabe catholique de Montréal ne fait pas exception.

Dès son entrée dans la cathédrale, M. Kenney a salué chaleureusement l’évêque Ibrahim en arabe, puis a poursuivi la discussion en anglais. Il n’en était pas à sa première visite.

Interrogé par Le Devoir, l’évêque n’a pas caché sa proximité avec le ministre, qu’il connaît depuis 2005. « C’est un ami de la communauté. Il est proche des arabes », a-t-il lancé.

Jason Kenney a dit avoir bon espoir que la communauté de cette église, constituée en bonne partie de Québécois d’origine libanaise, appuiera son parti aux élections de l’automne. « Une communauté entière ne vote jamais de façon unanime, mais nous croyons que beaucoup de Canadiens d’origine libanaise ont des valeurs conservatrices. »

L’évêque connaît aussi la députée Maria Mourani, qui est d’origine libanaise comme lui. Il ne souhaite pas choisir de camp pour les prochaines élections. « Maria Mourani fait partie de notre communauté, mais nous ne sommes pas des politiciens. Nous sommes en faveur de tout le monde », a-t-il indiqué au Devoir.

Would be interesting to know whether CIC provided any advice on the wisdom of community-specific citizenship ceremonies in general, and this one in particular.

Jason Kenney s’invite dans la circonscription de Maria Mourani | Le Devoir.