Canada 150 and the Meaning of Citizenship

Last week, I attended a ceremony for 80 new citizens as a guest of Friends of Filipino Immigrants in Manitoba. The room was packed with folks from 18 different countries all coming together to celebrate becoming Canadian. The atmosphere was festive, bordering on jubilant. A choir of children started the national anthem and we all joined in. Some sang in English and others in French. And the Citizenship Judge, Dwight MacAulay, reminded us of some of the key events over the past 150 years that have built this country before he bestowed the prize that each of them had been waiting to receive: Canadian citizenship.

As an immigration lawyer, I toil away trying to fix all the problems that come across my desk but I realized during the ceremony that it is also important to step back sometimes and remember the prize: Canadian Citizenship. It is so easy to take it for granted.

In the wake of everything going on south of the border, or across the oceans, I truly believe that we should be celebrating more of what we have accomplished in Canada. We have our problems here, of course. We are not immune from hate speech, racism and ignorance. But I also believe that we have achieved significant milestones in terms of cultural awareness and celebrating our differences. It may be trite to say but our diversity is our strength.

With each family filing up to greet the Citizenship Judge, I could not help but wonder how they came to Canada and all the possible strife they may have had to overcome to get to that moment. How many of them arrived as refugees? How many had to fight for refugee status? How many were sponsored by a family member? How many came as international students and figured out how to stay? There are so many potential paths and yet they all lead to one potential prize.

My mum said to us growing up, “never miss an opportunity to celebrate.” Our day to day work is focused so much on resolving issues, mitigating risk and finding solutions to problems (some of them created by our clients while others are based on jaw-dropping miscarriages of justice), we can easily lose sight of the importance of celebration and reminding ourselves of everything we have to be thankful for.

As noted by Dwight MacAulay, who gave a speech from the heart, the 80 new Canadians immediately made Canada a better place to live. Each immigrant brings skills, knowledge, and life experience to share. I was reminded of the Syrian refugees out east who rebooted their chocolate business, my Burundi client who is starting his IT company and my American clients with their hunting lodge in rural Manitoba. Not to mention my client who came as a refugee and now works for Air Canada (and is one of their best employees, IMHO) or the Chinese clients who bought a dairy farm. So many success stories. Our diversity is truly amazing.

OK – back to work. I need to help some more folks get closer to their prize. In the meantime, if you, dear reader, are Canadian, I hope you have spent a moment to be thankful for the prize you have before you have to get back to trying to solve the wrongs in the world.

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