As a citizenship judge, Patricia Phenix said citizenship ceremonies are the most enjoyable part of her job. But citizenship ceremonies in the community, such as the one at Valley Park Middle School on Jan. 20, are the best of all.
That morning, nearly 50 people from more than 20 countries became Canadian citizens within the school’s cafetorium. Members of the school choir observed and also sang for their guests.
“It’s very significant that we get into the communities more and reach out to the people, especially the young people in the communities,” said Phenix. “For one thing, it teaches them a sense of place.”
The event was organized by Yousuf Syed, chair of Thorncliffe Park’s citizenship ceremony committee. His is one of eight such committees in the city that are partnered with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. While he said the ceremony was held at Valley Park due to the educational aspect it offered the students, those taking the oath also benefit.
“I had my ceremony in the court and it’s very plain, very normal,” Syed said. “At this ceremony we have a reception where you have a chance to network with people and meet a lot of established Canadians.”
Before the ceremony itself, a roundtable discussion was held in the school’s library. During the discussion the soon-to-be Canadians were able to speak with successful Canucks such as author and Order of Canada recipient Michael Bliss.
“The new Canadians get a chance to sit at the same table and have a one to one discussion and share their experiences, share their emotion, share their reason for coming to Canada,” Syed said.
Newly sworn in Canadian Ahmad Ijaz said he wasn’t too keen on coming to Canada from Pakistan at first.
“In the beginning I didn’t want to come,” he said. “It was a family decision to move here.”
Four years later, he said he’s happy he applied for Canadian citizenship.
“It was probably the best decision I ever made,” Ijaz said. “Things have worked out pretty well for me. I wouldn’t be at the same level if I was back home.”
One by one the new citizens were called up to receive their papers from the judge as well as words of encouragement from local politicians such as MPP Kathleen Wynne and Ward 26 councillor John Parker. However, it was MP John Carmichael who, at the end of his speech, summed up the overall feeling of the event.
“Congratulations and welcome home.”
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