This afternoon I went to a ceremony of admission to Canadian citizenship. I went because my former in-laws, Suzanne and David, were to become citizens, after more than three years of bureaucratic misery which came to a happy conclusion when they were informed a short time ago that they were to be admitted as citizens today, October 16.
They were not alone, of course: they were two among 74 admitted at the same time, and an equal number had been admitted to citizenship at each of the two ceremonies earlier in the day. From the judge’s remarks we learned that the new citizens at this ceremony came from 19 countries.
After a staffer told us that the ceremony was about to begin, the robed clerk of the court sketched out the procedure. Shortly thereafter, a Mountie in scarlet came in and asked us to rise; he was followed by the judge in her robes and a guest speaker from the public library.
The Mountie was of Asian ancestry, perhaps Chinese or Korean; the clerk of the court, from her surname, was of Greek ethnicity; and the judge was of Vietnamese origin. In her address to the citizens-to-be she told the story of a little girl from a war-torn country, who spent four years in refugee camps or leaky boats, arriving in Canada at the age of nine. From the beginning of the story, of course, we knew that the judge was talking about herself, which at the end of her story she acknowledged. All the formal parts of the ceremony were offered in English and repeated in French.
As the ceremony proceeded, I found my eyes moistening, although I didn’t weep. But this took my mind back to something my former research assistant at SFU, Anastasia, told me. She and her mother came to Canada as refugees from Moldova, when Anastasia was 13; she told me that the day of their admission as Canadian citizens was the happiest day of their lives, an occasion on which they both shed many tears–of joy–aplenty.
Then came the oath of citizenship. Those of us born here have never taken it, but it is assumed that we consent to it by our continuing to live here and function as citizens. Here’s the oath–you can ask yourself how you are doing in keeping the substance of the oath you have never formally taken.
I swear (or affirm) / That I will be faithful / And bear true allegiance / To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second / Queen of Canada / Her heirs and successors / And that I will faithfully observe / The laws of Canada / And fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
“Bear true allegiance”–a courtly, medieval touch! “Her heirs and successors”–hmmm: Charles, William, George? Perhaps, perhaps not. I know support for the monarchy is declining. However it has long been my conviction that it was one of two factors which prevented our being inhaled by our great neighbour to the south, the other being the large cadre of French speakers concentrated in Québec. If we do let go of the monarchy, we will need to count the cost before we do.
The judge told those who were planning to swear (or affirm) on their holy book to hold it in their left hands so that they could raise their right hands. In fact, although I couldn’t see the left hands of all those taking the oath, I saw no holy books in the hands that I could see.
A high point of the ceremony (the highest point, even perhaps higher than the moment of oath-taking, was the judge’s story about herself) was when the judge told the new citizens that they would now be able to vote on Monday. There was a notable rustle of appreciation and excitement in response to this.
The librarian spoke, encouraging all to join their local library; we sang “O Canada” with considerable gusto; the judge asked the new Canadians to congratulate their neighbours; the certificates of citizenship were handed out; the new citizens shook the hands of the judge, the librarian and the Mountie; and many cell-phone cameras recorded the moment. Finally the Mountie asked us all to rise, the judge made her exit, and the ceremony concluded.
It was a moving and joyful and sobering event. It comes at a critical moment, I believe, in our common life. The country needs citizens who will take their civic responsibilities more seriously than the large percentages who don’t vote. I’m hunching that the percentage of these new citizens who vote on Monday will be very high. May it be so, and so continue.