Ottawa Reevaluates Virtual Citizenship Ceremonies Amid Growing Public Sentiment

Ottawa Reevaluates Virtual Citizenship Ceremonies Amid Growing Public Sentiment
Virtual citizenship ceremony

The debate over virtual citizenship ceremonies heats up as the federal government is considering its stance on the digital format. A petition, with over 1,500 signatures, calls for the cessation of online ceremonies, reigniting discussions about their significance and efficacy.

A Push for In-Person Ceremonies

Immigration Minister Marc Miller weighed in on the value of in-person ceremonies, saying, “Doing your citizenship ceremony in public, in front of all your family and with people that are becoming new Canadians, is a moment to remember in people’s lives. It is the absolute preferred option.” However, he also emphasized the need for modernization, stating, “I’ve been asked to take this department in the 21st century.”

The push for in-person ceremonies gains traction from its advocates. “Citizenship ceremonies mark the end of an often-lengthy and difficult immigration journey, and provide a unique celebratory moment for new and existing Canadians,” says the petition launched by Andrew Griffith, a former director general at IRCC. The petition raises concerns that the “stated cost and time savings” for virtual ceremonies are overestimated and marginal.

Ottawa Reevaluates Virtual Citizenship Ceremonies Amid Growing Public Sentiment
A new Canadian holds a Canadian flag, their citizenship certificate and a letter signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they sing O Canada after becoming a Canadian citizen during a citizenship ceremony in West Vancouver on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

High-Profile Opposition

Adding gravitas to the call for in-person ceremonies are several renowned Canadian figures, notably former governor-general Adrienne Clarkson. “Those ceremonies aren’t just a matter of administrative ability… They are a bonding experience of us as a nation,” said Clarkson, who was herself a refugee to Canada in 1941. She highlighted Canada’s distinct approach to citizenship, contrasting it with countries like France, where citizenship documents are mailed to recipients.

Clarkson’s sentiments are echoed by former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, who believes that in-person ceremonies hold profound value. He argued against the notion of geographical inconvenience, emphasizing that “the vast majority of immigrants go to cities in Canada.”

Citizenship ceremony

The Rise of Virtual Ceremonies

Virtual citizenship ceremonies emerged as a pragmatic solution during the COVID-19 pandemic, driven by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). They were instituted to tackle a growing backlog and address public health concerns such as social distancing. The department noted an unexpected outcome: a significant spike in popularity for the online format, with less than 10% of new Canadians opting for in-person ceremonies in the latter half of 2022.

Voices in Favor of the Virtual

Yet, not all Canadians see the virtual route as lacking in emotional depth. Kimberly Simon, a Zimbabwean native who received her Canadian citizenship online in 2021, shared a touching experience. “I cried, actually, when [the citizenship judge] said… ‘Canada is your home now, you belong to Canada and Canada belongs to you,'” Simon recalled. For many like Simon, the online ceremony retained its heartwarming essence, proving that the format is not devoid of sentiment.

What Lies Ahead?

As debates intensify, the government’s decision will likely weigh the cultural and emotional significance of citizenship ceremonies against modern logistical challenges and the changing preferences of new Canadians. Whatever the outcome, it’s evident that citizenship ceremonies, whether online or in person, hold a special place in the hearts of Canadians.