Published on October 23, 2013
Forty-two people were sworn in as Canadian citizens during a ceremony in Stratford on Wednesday. Before the ceremony, the immigrants first participated in a series of roundtable discussions about what it means to become a Canadian.
Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Published on October 23, 2013
Samone Webster Stahel, left, a native of Switzerland, and Leek Deng Ayuel, a native of Kenya, were sworn in as Canadian citizens during a ceremony in Stratford on Wednesday.
Guardian photo by Dave Stewart
More than 40 immgrants talk about what it means to become a Canadian citizen prior to being official sworn in
Emotional, moving and touching is how citizenship judge Veronica Johnson described Wednesday's special community citizenship ceremony in Stratford.
An immigrant herself from Jamaica, it was Johnson's job on Wednesday to swear in 42 new Canadians.
But before the actual ceremony began, new immigrants and those who made Canada their home years ago joined with community members in a series of roundtable discussions about what life was like where they came from, why they decided to move to Canada and become a citizen.
Johnson didn't have to participate in the pre-ceremony discussions but she's glad she did.
"This speaks volumes about Canada and it says if you are willing to work hard and focus on your dreams what is possible,'' Johnson told The Guardian, tapping her hand on the table to emphasize her point.
The media was allowed to listen in on the discussions and much of the talk was emotional. Speakers talked about now having the right to vote in an election, falling in love, finally having a sense of ownership of the country they live in, how multicultural Canada is. A few joked about adjusting to P.E.I.'s winter climate.
"Buy a winter jacket and don't be cheap about it,'' one former immigrant joked.
Leek Deng Ayuel, born in Sudan before emigrating to Kenya, came to P.E.I. five years ago to study at UPEI. His goal is to eventually become a doctor.
His life has been full of fleeing conflict after conflict, always looking over his shoulder, never at peace.
"I decided to apply for citizenship because I wanted to feel as part of the community,'' Deng Ayuel said. "(Being on P.E.I.) has given me peace of mind. It doesn't matter where I work because I live in a peaceful country. When you live in conflict laces when you want to do something it isn't possible. I am following my dream (and) this country gives you the chance to do what you want to do, something positive. Where I live before, conflict always happening and people dying. We always had to run away from one point to another point.''
He was only able to go to school in a refugee camp, eventually working as a teacher.
"You never felt settled,'' he said.
Samone Webster Stahel of Switzerland came to Charlottetown to intern at the Atlantic Veterinary College. Love helped keep her here.
"Towards the end of my residency I met my husband and now it's been 12 years since I've been here,'' Webster Stahel said. "It's been a really emotional event for me today (hearing the stories of others) and it's special and emotional for me just because my family is Canadian and now I'm Canadian, too. It's a great country with a lot of good values that I really enjoy, like multiculturalism and openness. I am proud.''
Wednesday's event was run by a local volunteer committee and by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), a non-profit charity that was launched by former governor general Adrienne Clarkson towards the end of her term.
"People are sharing their migration story, what got them here and what they feel about becoming Canadian and being involved and engaged in their community and they country,'' said Heather Steel with ICC.
Johnson said she's always annoyed when she hears native Canadians being critical of immigration.
"I'm annoyed a little bit when I hear people say immigrants are people taking (jobs, etc). The majority of people are strong, hard-working, focused people; family-oriented people who just want the best for themselves and their families and that's what I'm hearing from the stories today.''
A second Canadian citizenship ceremony, in which another 43 immigrants will be sworn in as citizens, takes place Thursday at the Confederation Centre of the Arts at 10 a.m.