By TOM GODFREY
A Mississauga immigration office has been packed for weeks with new Canadians being sworn in just in time to celebrate Canada’s 147th birthday on July 1.
More than 100 new citizens from 27 countries were given the Oath of Citizenship by Judge Karen McMillan in the first of two hour-long ceremonies held one day last week.
A proud Clive Townsend, a former soldier from Jamaica, was applauded by attendees as he saluted McMillan on receiving his Certificate of Citizenship.
“It is a privilege to finally become a Canadian,” an ecstatic Townsend said. “I have been waiting for this for a very long time.”
The former member of the Jamaica Defence Force is proud to be a citizen on Canada Day.
“One of the first things I want to do is to vote,” Townsend said. “They didn’t allow me to vote in the provincial election (June 12) because I am not a citizen.”
He promises to be the first in line to cast a ballot in the Mayoral elections on October 27.
Townsend plans to attend some of the celebrations and fireworks displays taking place around the GTA to mark our nation’s birthday next Tuesday.
Also beaming with big smiles were Kulwant Kaur and her son, Sukhjinder, of North York, whose lives changed minutes earlier when they became Canadians.
“This means a lot to us,” Kulwant said. “This is a country of opportunities and I hope my son will have a much better life and achieve more.”
The family, with Canadian flags in hand, plan to return to India to visit family members and “share our happiness”.
Canada Day celebrates the anniversary of the July 1, 1867 enactment of the British North America Act, now called the Constitution Act, which united three colonies in a single country called Canada.
The City of Ottawa has already set up a task force to plan Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017 with a birthday bash that is expected to attract more than one million people.
All was quiet in the room as Judge McMillan reminded the newcomers that they had to live up to Canadian values and responsibilities, which include voting at election time.
“It is a privilege to witness and share this day with you,” she told the crowd. “Take pride in the Oath and always defend the Canadian way of life.”
Many of the new citizens have suffered and fled countries with violence and strife.
Lara, who did not want her last name used, said her family fled Lebanon with their lives.
“My parents wanted to live where it is safe and the people have rights,” Lara explained. “We have been through enough and want to live in safety with no violence.”
On this day, Rana Khan, an official of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), gave a brief talk about World Refugee Day, which is marked on June 20.
“This is a great country that you can finally call home,” Khan said. “Toronto and Canada have been generous hosts to refugees who are fleeing conflicts in many parts of the world.”
The UN estimates there were about 10.4 million refugees of concern last year. Another 4.8 million are looked after in some 60 camps in the Middle East.
Canada accepts about 15,000 refugees annually and more than 60 per cent of the newcomers end up living in the Toronto area, statistics show.
Already Toronto City Council is struggling with ways to improve their lives with a Newcomer Strategy and Newcomer Employment Initiatives to help them get up and running.
The newcomers are “a priority group who benefit from targeted programs and services that lead to more equitable outcomes”, according to a Toronto Employment and Social Services committee.
Some 130,000 people were granted Canadian citizenship last year, or an average of 10,745 each month. More are expected this year to help renew our aging population.