Caught Off Guard

August 4th, 2015

Opening a copy of the Montreal Gazette yesterday morning, I was drawn to an article in the Opinion section titled ‘Becoming Canadian’. It was a superb piece of writing by an American, or rather American-Canadian, writer by the name of Elizabeth Adams.

In the short piece, Ms Adams provides details of the Canadian citizenship ceremony she attended last week, at which she took the oath of citizenship along with 299 other individuals from 70 countries. She had first moved to Montreal in 2006 before becoming a permanent resident. Now, after satisfying the requirements for citizenship, she was becoming a part of the Canadian family.

The poignancy of the occasion clearly got to her, in the best possible way. “When the judge spoke of ‘freedom’ the word hit me with more force than ever before. Even without a personal history of oppression or persecution, I know now what it means to be an immigrant with certain hopes, but an uncertain future.”

And she could see this all across the room. There was an acknowledgment that here were 300 people from every walk of life and every social status, with shades of skin that ran the full gamut of all the ethnicities that cover the Earth.

There was one paragraph, however, that was just plain odd.

“When it came time to take the oath of citizenship, immigration guards suddenly filled the aisles. We were told to repeat the words in either French or English, but that our voices must be audible and our lips seen to be moving. The guards — mostly white men — meant business: they watched us like hawks and I saw one approach a Hasidic man and insist that he raise his head and speak aloud.”

I have no reason to doubt that Ms Adams is telling the correct version of events as they occurred during the ceremony last week, and so, taking this anecdote at face value I found myself asking — really?

Imagine the scene. Three hundred individuals are about to make a commitment under oath to uphold the rights and responsibilities that come with Canadian citizenship. If someone is not seen to be in lock-step with protocol, however, that person is forcibly coerced to act in a certain way. This is most un-Canadian, completely at odds with our past, and worrying for our future.

While many people may affirm an oath with gusto, others may take a more solemn approach. If a head is bowed, or eyesight is not fixed on a single thing, or someone is rendered literally speechless by an occasion that is entirely normal for some people. Human beings react to emotions and significant life events in a variety of ways. If anything, that is what gives us all our humanity. It does not mean that the person reciting an oath more tangibly is therefore a more desirable citizen than one who is not.

In Canada, we have been taught to embrace variety, diversity and individual choice, and to respect other people always so long as they are not harming anybody else. This episode, assuming all the facts have been laid out, is worrying. If it’s the norm and not just an outlier, it is even more worrying. It is not a welcome to the family that we should be happy to continue.


 
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19 Responses to “Caught Off Guard”

  • On August 4th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    I would guess that at some point a would-be immigrant who contravened the law said “Oh no. I didn’t swear to the oath. Can’t hold me liable.” I would also assume that the presiding official asked all in attendance to raise their heads and speak the oath aloud. For the opportunity to live in freedom that is not too much to ask. When you fly on a plane in the emergency row you are asked to give an audible reply, and not to mumble. It could be the only time in the rest of their lives that they will ever speak a word of English or French or even acknowledge that they live free in a new land.

  • On August 4th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    I don’t think this is an exceptional occurrence, but rather that this is the current protocol for the ceremony. I took the oath in Vancouver in May this year and the same happened here: staff surrounded the soon-to-be-Canadians and we were told multiple times that they had to see our lips move.

  • On August 4th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    After posting my previous comment, I see that someone before me said something about non-English speakers pretending they didn’t take the oath. This person knows nothing of Immigration Canada: a new immigrant has to pass a test of English and signs the oath so there is no such workaround as pretending they didn’t understand.

  • On August 4th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    Dear Mr. Cohen:
    I am a RCIC and I just want to let you know that I enjoy reading your bolg. Deborah

  • On August 5th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    Well, in a way, I totally understand if this is taken seriously. An oath is like signing legal agreement … you have to sign ir it won’t be valid… & may be there was a case before that an immigrant said he never agreed on this or that & never recited the oath etc… that’s why now they have to ensure it! Just my thought as an Arab immigrant myself & believe that an important oath such as this should be respected & taken more seriously… We shouldn’t use the “freedom excuse” as compromising

  • On August 5th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    Agreed. Absolutely.

    As an immigrant to Canada, I have lived and travelled extensively around the world, and I always feel welcomed in Canada. Couldn’t believe my ears when I landed with my family in Calgary, almost fifteen years back and after completing the paperwork, the lady behind the counter said with a genuine smile: “Welcome home.” The ladies at the airport in the red hats, even had toys for my restless young kids. No one had ever said that to me, even in my home country.

    The citizenship oath in Calgary was a solemn occasion for me and I don’t recall seeing guards during the ceremony, so the incident you referred to, hopefully was a one-off.

  • On August 5th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    Why those guards skin color matters? Why the author adds “mostly white men”? What she wants to say, specifically? To me, she sounds just like “equality advocate” in its unfortunate modern day interpretation that usually serves as cover for anti-white racists. Dr. King taught us that to be equal we have to be color blind. Yet these “equality activists” cannot spend a day without dividing us and playing us against one another.

  • On August 5th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    As an American citizen, Canadian permanent resident, and aspiring Canadian citizen, I completely agree with enforcing a true oath. A person unwilling to recite allegiance to Canada should have no right to become a Canadian citizen.

  • On August 5th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    Is this real? unbelievable

  • On August 5th, 2015, Carmen said ...

    There must be a reason for this, in this unsafe world we live in , in no matter what country..its today not yesterday

  • On August 5th, 2015, Tajamal Hussain Raja said ...

    Its very use full site for those interesting to work in canada.Like me but its only my dram.

  • On August 7th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    THE REALLY GOOD THINGS, THANKS

  • On August 8th, 2015, nwozuzu chukwunonso iheanyichukwu said ...

    it is really nice,for people that have a good ambition to work and leave in Canada just like i have been desiring it but no opportunity,because those one with an illegal ambition has spoil the mind of Canadian embassy.wish i will be favored to work and leave in Canada as a company truck driver.

  • On August 8th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    What is the big deal?

  • On August 9th, 2015, Sean Lynott said ...

    I’ll have to ask if my friend experienced the same thing (recently became a citizen). I don’t have a problem with people having to recite an oath. The police state tactics are troublesome.

  • On August 11th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    wow what a great story thanks Mr Cohen for sharing with us

  • On August 14th, 2015, onyema omeni said ...

    its a lot of information in this site for lots of people around the world with plans for a better life and better opportunity in canada. either for work or school. i will encorage my friends to go to this site.its really amazing

  • On August 18th, 2015, Anonymous said ...

    I took my citizenship oath in January, and there were no guards. I arrived Canada 2010 and these same guards welcomed my children and I very warmly after a very long flight of about 72hrs. Myself a widow with 3 children, full of anxiety and trepidation was much comforted when one of the airport staff said ” thank you for bringing these lovely children for us” . At the desk the border service agent told my boy ” look after your mum, this is a land of opportunities, the more you put into it the more you get out of it”. It was a good welcome.

  • On January 11th, 2016, Anonymous said ...

    as ex-member of the Canadian military – we swore our allegiance to Canada, and where our duty lies – and we were obliged to verbalize this too – I support new Canadians no matter where they come from – because in all reality we are all immigrants relative to the time we came here since the 1600’s ?? or so ?? Excluding of course all First Nations people – So swearing allegiance to become Canadian Citizens or even to First Nations people to swear allegiance to Canada is to my way of thinking part and parcel to citizenship – Especially in todays teeming upheaval of terror attacks and sleeper cells etc.

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