The number of Canadian citizens grew by at least five dozen today, as a special citizenship ceremony was held in Toronto.
The Institute for Canadian Citizenship, a national charity that aims to “inspire inclusion, create opportunities to connect, and encourage active citizenship,” organized the swearing-in ceremony at Corus Quay Thursday morning.
New Canadians from countries that included Jordan, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Pakistan, and the Philippines, among others, read aloud a citizenship oath in both English and French before officially becoming citizens.
WATCH: New Canadians reflect on why they chose Canada as their home. (Nov. 30)
Hanan El-Zoueiter moved to Canada with her husband and two children from Jordan.
“I chose to become a Canadian citizen because I wanted a place to call home. I wanted a safer place for my kids to grow up, and be who they are,” she told Global News.
The event was presided over by Justice Albert Wong, a citizenship judge for the Greater Toronto Area, and a 35-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. Justice Wong took time during the ceremony to reflect on his own path to Canadian citizenship after immigrating to Canada as a child from Malaysia.
Canada admitted over 296,000 new permanent residents in 2015. That number is expected to top 300,000 in 2017.
Taking part in the ceremony was President and CEO of Corus Entertainment Doug Murphy, and Global News Toronto anchor Farah Nasser, who closed out the event with a speech highlighting the power of citizenship.
Read Farah’s full speech below:
What a moment! Congratulations to all of you and thank you. I know I speak for everyone in this room. We are so honoured and privileged to be here for such an incredible moment in your lives and in our country’s history. You are now part of our fabric. We are in this beautiful mosaic together following in the footsteps of so many that came before us.
At a previous ICC ceremony, I saw a new Canadian holding that citizenship paper you will have in your hands and I said to him, “‘You’re holding a winning lottery ticket in your hand.” He said, “No, this is not a lottery ticket at all. This is much better because with money you spend it and it’s done, but no one can take this away from me.” I thought that was just so poignant and perfect.
My Canadian brothers and sisters, you are now part of a country that is not only tolerant to your beliefs and culture but also values the fresh prospective you bring from an outside country.
I can’t imagine the adversity many of you have had to overcome. First, travelling a great distance, then learning a new language, adapting to a new culture and climate.
You have faced challenges and you will continue to find your way everyday. But I’m here to tell you how this country can change your family’s trajectory in just one generation.
My parents came here in the early 1970s. They were part of exodus of South Asians that left East Africa because of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
Growing up in Tanzania, they knew nothing about Canada. My grandma didn’t even know what to pack. She had this suitcase and had to decide whether she took clothes or pictures.
I mean you are packing up your life – what do you take? You know the one thing she felt like she couldn’t live without? Lemon powder. She didn’t know if they had lemons in Canada and she didn’t know if she’d ever eat one again, but she did know she wanted to have the ability to make curry for the rest of her life and you need lemons for that. You can imagine the regret she felt when she walked into her first Canadian grocery store.
There were a lot of ‘Canadian-isms’ that my family had to learn like when my uncle went to a pizza place for the first time. He didn’t quite figure out the whole concept of slices and instead ordered a large pizza for every member of the family.
My parents, both from the same country, met here doing volunteer work in our community. My mom came here first at 18 with her 10-year-old brother. He washed dishes while she worked in a mail room. There were many days when they had to decide between buying food and paying the bills. Eventually they both saved enough to pay for their own education and worked hard.
My father and uncle left on their own and the first in their family to immigrate to Canada. They say that first winter was brutal but that was nothing compared to finding a job back then. My uncle always told us this story of how he walked the entire Bloor subway line, stopping at every stop from Kipling all the way to Kennedy handing out resumes. He was an engineer back home and didn’t even get an interview. But he and my dad didn’t give up. They worked hard, volunteered, made as many connections as they could and eventually found jobs.
When we were growing up, we didn’t have a lot. My parents drove beat up old cars, we had hand me down furniture and barely took vacations. They put a second mortgage on the house to send my brother and I to private school.
And like many immigrant parents, they wanted to immerse us in the “Canadian experience.” We were registered in every extra-curricular activity you could image, especially the winter sports. Unfortunately, as my brother likes to point out, my father thought figure skating was a prerequisite to hockey so we both are pretty good at toe jumps. He never did make it to hockey.
My parents also taught us about what it really means to be Canadian – giving back. We were always told, “If you can help someone or an organization, you don’t say no to a volunteer opportunity.” In fact, I met my husband volunteering and volunteering at a community television station is how I got my start in journalism.
We were also taught about the importance of democracy, having a voice and speaking out for others.
My parents sacrifices paid off. My brother, also a journalist, is in the U.S. and graduated with a PhD from Harvard. I still pinch myself before every newscast because I can’t believe how lucky I am to be living my dream – anchoring and reporting for Global News in the best city in the world and in my hometown.
It’s all because we live in a country that values pluralism, sees diversity as strength and ambition as a way to re invest in Canada.
I was asked to give you some advice today. But I think you’d be better served getting that guidance from my parents. I asked them what they would tell themselves so many years ago.
I’m going to read part of what my mom wrote to me.
“As first-time immigrants, we thought we knew everything and would teach our kids our traditions, culture and way of life. Little did we know that our children adapted faster than us and learned the Canadian education system, language and culture.
One piece of advice from an immigrant who has been here for 45 years, please do not think that our culture that we brought from back home is the only one that is correct. Also give time and listen to your children, their teachers and their counsellors at school to be able to realize how, and what, our children have adapted for their environment outside the home.
Talk to your children, keep the lines of communication open – a two-way system – hear them and let them hear your stories. This way you will be able to create a merged value system, and that is what makes Canada work.”
I want to thank you for choosing Canada. We are all better off for having you here.
We may not share the same the past, but we do share the same goal for our future – to keep Canada the tolerant, progressive, welcoming and unique nation she is.
Each of you has so much to be proud of. We are humbled by your strength, your sacrifice and honoured by your decision to make Canada your permanent home.