Khitam Taha’s first name means ‘happy endings’ in her native country of Israel, but Friday marked a happy beginning for her as a new Canadian citizen.
The mother of seven was the only member of her family who had not yet received Canadian citizenship.
Her eyes welled with tears as she accepted her certificate and a Canada pin from two of her own children, who were asked to take part in the swearing-in ceremony Friday in their role as cadets.
“I’m so happy, more than you can imagine,” she said in an interview with The Guardian.
“I was the only one from the family — they were all Canadian except me. Since the moment I came into this country, I wanted to become a Canadian citizen. I love this country. Now I will be a citizen too. I’m so happy.”
Taha was one of 121 people from 34 different countries sworn in as Canadian citizens in Charlottetown Friday. This marked the largest citizenship ceremony ever held in Prince Edward Island.
Similar ceremonies were held in locations across Canada Friday, but P.E.I.’s was the largest.
The majority of those taking the oath of citizenship Friday came to the province through the Provincial Nominee Program. It’s the first wave of PNP immigrants to take the final step of becoming full citizens of Canada after living here for the last several years.
Norman Clarey, who works as an immigration consultant and is one of the seven provincially approved intermediaries who broker PNP investments, said he believes Friday was a landmark day for the province.
With more PNP immigrants choosing to live and work in P.E.I., the province stands to benefit in many ways, he said.
“The PNP will have more positive effects on the province than the building of the Confederation Centre of the Arts and the building of the fixed link (Confederation Bridge),” Clarey said.
When P.E.I. ramped up its immigrant investor program in 2007, the province nominated thousands of immigrants to come to Prince Edward Island. This has led to a boom in population growth for the province. It has also led to the development of many new services and organizations designed to help newcomers from foreign countries settle and integrate into the province.
“The PNP allowed a structure in our province to evolve and grow for newcomers,” Clarey said.
“Ten or 12 years ago, there was two Chinese families I knew on P.E.I. Now, if you look, because of PNP, every financial institution has representation, our government departments have representation from many different communities from around the world, and that makes it so much easier for the immigrants when they land here to settle here.”
One of those organizations formed to help new immigrants find a home on the Island is the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada.
This organization has grown substantially since it was first incorporated in 1993. It now offers an expansive list of services to help newcomers with everything from English language training to employment assistance and connecting new citizens to the local community.
Joe Byrne, who heads up the Community Connections Program for PEIANC, said P.E.I. is quickly becoming a more visibly diverse province.
“You can see it just in the grocery stores, where you can now buy foods that belong to other cultures,” he said. “Immigration has brought the world to P.E.I.”
Juan Du and her family were among those who came to the province though the Provincial Nominee Program. She said P.E.I.’s small size made it an attractive place to raise her children.
“Although it’s kind of tiny, this Island, everything you want you can find here so it’s easier for us to settle down in a small place,” she said.
She and her husband, Alex Yin, came to the Island in 2006. But like many immigrants who utilized this program to obtain permanent residency, they moved to Toronto soon after arriving here.
“I was the only one from the family — they were all Canadian except me. Since the moment I came into this country, I wanted to become a Canadian citizen. I love this country. Now I will be a citizen too. I’m so happy,” - Khitam Taha
It wasn’t long, however, before the Island’s charms lured them back.
“I just hate the highways in Toronto,” Du said. “Also when we were in Toronto, we really missed this place because (our son) was born here. It’s kind of our second hometown.”
Du and her family were among those who took the oath of Canadian citizenship in Charlottetown Friday.
She was beaming as she expressed her pleasure at her family becoming full citizens of Canada.
“Finally,” she exclaimed. “Now we’re citizens, so we have more responsibilities now, so we hope we can do something for the Island.”
She and the 121 others taking the oath gathered at the Rodd Royalty Inn for the event more than an hour before it began, despite white-out conditions caused by a late winter storm.
The poor weather did nothing to dampen the spirits of those in the room. Each candidate had their own cheering section of family and friends, who took photos and offered many warm hugs and congratulations.
Citizenship Judge Veronica Johnson spoke to the crowd about their rights and responsibilities as full-fledged members of Canada, focusing especially on the wide-ranging opportunities available for women.
“This is a great day. It is your day. Seize this day and remember it is an important step to achieving your dreams,” Johnson said.
Taha’s dream has been to become a full Canadian citizen, just like the rest of her family.
Surrounded by all seven of her children, aged eight to 18, Taha got to see that dream finally become a reality on Friday.
“Hopefully my heart will not stop. I’m so happy,” she said.
Taha is also a second-year nursing student and is set to graduate with top marks in two weeks. She hopes to one day work in a nursing home, caring for elderly Islanders.