Canada’s first Indigenous citizenship judge uses ‘best job in the world’ to champion Indigenous issues

Of interest:

With the Canadian flag, a portrait of the Queen, and a bright orange “Every Child Matters” T-shirt in her Zoom background, Suzanne Carrière, LLB’03, gets emotional when she talks about her work as a citizenship judge with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“I still choke up sometimes delivering my speech, no matter if the ceremony is on Zoom or in-person, because you can see in the participants’ faces that the moment is so meaningful for them,” she says. “You can see some of them crying, hugging their children, and you can see that they’re thinking about their journey. It’s so special and a constant reminder of how lucky and privileged we are to be Canadian.”

Suzanne Carrière, LLB’03, is Canada’s first Indigenous citizenship judge.

Since being appointed in 2018 as Canada’s first Indigenous citizenship judge — Carrière is Red River Métis from Manitoba — she has presided over more than 1,300 ceremonies and has sworn in more than 65,000 new Canadians. She also presided the first virtual oath-taking in Canadian history when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person ceremonies, and, in June 2021, Carrière presided over the first ceremony in the country using a revised Oath of Citizenshiprecognizing the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, a moment she considers a career highlight.

Growing up, Carrière never had any intention to pursue law. She studied Indigenous issues, criminology and psychology in her undergraduate studies at the University of Manitoba. While completing a field course on alternative justice initiatives in Indigenous communities, her supervisor asked her about her plans for her future. After telling him she was contemplating doing a master’s in criminology, he encouraged her to pursue a law degree.

When she questioned him about it, he said to her, “Anything you can do with a master’s degree, you can do with a law degree. You’re a woman, you’re bilingual and you’re Métis — with a law degree, there’s nothing you can’t do.”

“And that made sense to me,” Carrière says. “And he was right.”

Hearing stories from 200 residential school survivors 

After graduating from UCalgary Law, Carrière worked for a few years on the legal team at WestJet, but ultimately knew corporate law wasn’t what she wanted to do. When she eventually moved back to Manitoba to start her family, a friend told her that the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) was hiring lawyers to do work related to Canada’s residential school system. It was a no-brainer for Carrière as she knew that this work that would be incredibly fascinating, historic and important. She applied and was hired, and, for five years, she was involved in the Independent Assessment Process to resolve claims of abuse suffered at residential schools.

Through that claimant-centred, non-adversarial process, Carrière estimates she heard approximately 200 first-hand accounts from residential school survivors about the abuse they suffered and how it impacted their lives.

You don’t do that kind of work without it changing you and your life.

As for the conflicted feelings she had at times about representing the Government of Canada in that forum, she says she had to remind herself that it’s important to have Indigenous people in all spaces and arenas. “You need people with empathy and compassion doing that work, and it was a real honour for me to be there and to bear witness on behalf of the government,” Carrière says.

After the residential school work ended, she stayed with DOJ’s Aboriginal Legal Services team for another three years. However, she no longer felt fulfilled by the work she was doing. A friend showed her a posting for a citizenship judge and suggested she apply.

Still a champion of Indigenous issues

“I had some hesitation about leaving the Department of Justice to become a citizenship judge because my passion had always Indigenous issues and Indigenous culture. But I knew I was no longer happy at DOJ,” Carrière says. “Thankfully, I got the appointment, and the biggest surprise has been how there is still room within my role as a citizenship judge to champion Indigenous issues in my own small way.”

Each June, Canadians commemorate National Indigenous History Month to recognize the rich history, heritage, resilience and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples across Canada.

Indigenous Peoples are the first peoples of this land. They were here since time immemorial, and ultimately, Indigenous history is Canadian history.

“At the same time, it’s not just history. Indigenous People are still here and they’re still contributing to our society. It’s important to celebrate the beauty of Indigenous Peoples, cultures and languages — and the contributions, heritage and the unique stories that we gain from Indigenous people so that we can all move forward together with better understanding, compassion and relationships.

“I have a bit of a platform as a citizenship judge. I can talk about my Métis heritage, reconciliation and how that fits in with newcomers to Canada. I’m talking about these important issues more, meeting more Indigenous people and I feel like I’m making more of a difference now, with a different, and very receptive, audience. It’s been an incredible four years so far, and I truly feel I have the best job in the world!”

Source: Canada’s first Indigenous citizenship judge uses ‘best job in the world’ to champion Indigenous issues

Daphne Bramham: Canada’s flawed bill will make it easier for ‘citizens of convenience’

Will see whether other former citizenship judges speak publicly on C-6 either against or in favour (the article mistakenly states that the Liberal government is eliminating the physical presence requirement – it is not):

Some of what Robert Watt saw and heard during six years as a citizenship judge shocked him. It’s why he’s so deeply concerned about some of the Liberals’ proposed amendments in Bill C-6.

“Memorably, on one occasion, several newly sworn in citizens brought suitcases to the ceremony room for a rapid departure to Vancouver International Airport,” he wrote in a submission to the committee that studied the bill.

He calls them citizens of convenience.

“Very early on, it became clear that a noticeable percentage of all applicants were not really interested in citizenship,” he said.

Many had left Canada immediately after making an application to return to work or to school in their country of birth or residence. They stayed there until they were required to come back to have their documents checked and take the knowledge test. Then, they’d leave again, “coming one more time to take the (Citizenship) Oath, and then leaving again.”

In many cases, he wrote that they “distorted and misrepresented” how long they had been in Canada. Using their permanent residents’ cards, they left no record of the times they came and went from Canada via the United States.

Along with other citizenship judges, Watt held hearings to try to extract the truth about how much time they had been here. In some cases, they found that applicants in line for citizenship had been outside Canada for so long that even their permanent resident cards had expired.

“These applicants were at first startling,” Watt wrote. “Then, as they kept turning up, they provided the most dramatic evidence why it was essential to have the requirements for citizenship made as clear as possible; and, to have assessment processes which would ensure that those who deserved citizenship and truly qualified for it, received it and those who fell short … did not.”

Three of the Liberals’ amendments cause the former citizenship judge the most concern. They are: reducing the amount of time spent in Canada before applying for citizenship; limiting the requirement to speak one of the two official languages; and, eliminating the “intent to reside” provision.

Source: Daphne Bramham: Canada’s flawed bill will make it easier for ‘citizens of convenience’ | Vancouver Sun

Ex-citizenship judge jailed for illegally revealing citizenship exams

Another bad political appointee but fortunately caught out:

A retired citizenship judge has become the first in Canada to be imprisoned for breach of trust after illegally providing copies of citizenship exams.

Family members wept as Philip Gaynor, 71, was led away in handcuffs Wednesday following Ontario Court Justice Harvey Brownstone’s sentence of three years. He said Gaynor’s “reprehensible” and “appalling” actions went “straight to the heart of the integrity of Canada’s immigration system” and potentially tarnished new Canadians’ perception of the judiciary.

“In my 20 years on the bench, I have never had the misfortune to deal with something like this,” he said.

While still a citizenship judge in February 2012, Gaynor began stealing exam papers and providing them to Scarborough immigration consultant Li Ling, 49, whom he had meet in 2007, and her assistant Mo Sui Zhun, 58. Brownstone said this continued even after Gaynor’s retirement in September 2012, lasting until about April 2013. Li and Mo were charged with possession of stolen property last year. The status of those charges is unclear.

The papers were then given to citizenship applicants who went through Li’s consulting business. The court heard that Gaynor had engaged in a “social” and later “personal” relationship with Li — inappropriate given his position, said Brownstone — and was paid in cash for the papers. It is unclear how many applicants benefitted from this arrangement.

… A longtime resident of Durham Region, Gaynor was appointed a citizenship judge in 2006 by the Conservative government and reappointed to another three-year term in 2009.

The court heard he had been a volunteer on the election campaign of late federal finance minister Jim Flaherty and was a Toronto auxiliary police officer for 18 years. A Citizenship and Immigration Canada biography listed him as a former executive at the T. Eaton Co., Gordon Brothers and Premier Brand Foods.

Ex-citizenship judge jailed for illegally revealing citizenship exams | Toronto Star.