Readers of my blog will know that my dear friends Kamo Mailyan and Mary Hovhannisyan, and their sweet little daughter spent the last five months in Armenia. Kamo, “the man behind my book,” Grit and Grace in a World Gone Mad, was working there on behalf of civil society and fair elections. They returned home to Canada on Sunday, and yesterday they became Canada’s newest citizens. I was honoured to be their guest at the ceremony.
Albert Wong, a Citizenship Judge for the Greater Toronto Area, presided. His opening remarks were thoughtful and heart-warming. He began by mentioning the indigenous peoples of Canada who lived here for thousands of years and how, over the centuries, people immigrated to Turtle Island (a term for the North American continent). He acknowledged that some immigrants had an easy journey to get here, but some journeys were hard and even dangerous. All came for the opportunity for a better life. He himself was an immigrant, having been born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He said that he was amazed that this country would accept someone not born here to serve in the Canadian Armed Forces, which he did for 38 years.
Wong stressed the importance of our country’s slogan and what we value: Peace, Order and Good Governance. And in a subtle way, he demonstrated that by pointing out the important work of public servants to keep the government mechanisms moving well, including the process of organizing the ceremony itself and all the previous and ensuing paperwork. He emphasized that the courtesy we Canadians display to one another (we’re known for being polite!) contributes to the peace we enjoy in our daily lives. And when he offered to have the new citizens take photos with him, he reminded them to line-up in an orderly fashion along the window. All these small acts add up, and allow us to live in the kind of country we want.
He also told them to remember to include art and music in their lives. That was probably to remind people that, though math and science and business are important, a balanced life is a healthy life. As a gift, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, founded by former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and her husband, John Ralston Saul, gives to every new citizen the Cultural Access Pass. It’s a one year’s free membership to 1,300 cultural institutions and discounted travel in Canada to help them learn more about Canadian history, geography and society.
I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.
The judge then presided over the taking of the oath of allegiance. He encouraged the guests to raise their right hands and join in. So I, along with Kamo and Mary and the other dozens of people, repeated the oath. One thing that surprised me was that the judge’s assistants (public servants) stood at the ends of the rows, moving back and forth to cover a few rows each, to make sure they saw the oath-takers actually moving their mouths. I realized that this is a very serious step these people are taking, and a very serious acceptance by our country. As the judge had explained, he—and by extension, his assistants—needed to witness the individuals’ affirmation to “bear true allegiance.”
The first thing Judge Wong did after the oath was to welcome them as citizens of Canada. I’ll admit, I had a bit of a lump in my throat. It was quite moving. Then the first row of new Canadians lined up in an orderly fashion to receive their citizenship certificate from the judge, and shake his hand. It took about a half hour for everyone to go through this process. I had a nice chat with the woman seated beside me in the guest area. She was born in Russia and had become a Canadian ten years ago; her sister had just taken the oath, and they were both beaming. For every person shaking the judge’s hand, there was a guest also beaming and taking photos. For Kamo and Mary, it was me.
Afterwards, we all sang our national anthem, O Canada, and some had their pictures taken with the judge. Back at Kamo and Mary’s home, I looked at their impressive certificates (their daughter, Mariam, got her own, but being less than 14 years old, did not have to take the oath). Kamo proudly showed me the welcome letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I had brought some Canadian wine (a good merlot), and we toasted to their citizenship.
As the judge told them, they now have all the rights and responsibilities of every other Canadian citizen, including voting to continue supporting peace, order and good governance. I’ve already written about how hard-working, optimistic, generous and kind Kamo is, but so is Mary. She reminds me of my Canadian-born mother: working hard at a job full-time, studying at night school to improve her mind and opportunities, being a full-time wife and mother, and taking moments here and there in her busy life to be a good friend. Kamo, Mary and Mariam are a valuable addition to Canadian society and will help make it an even better country and a positive member of the international community.
Cheers to my Canadian friends, Kamo and Mary!!!