Working with volunteer presiding officials

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff. It is posted on the Department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

When citizenship judges are not available, volunteer presiding officials may be asked to preside at citizenship ceremonies, administer the oath of citizenship and present certificates. Their participation shows the importance of active citizenship and strengthens ties to the community. Although hosts may suggest possible volunteer presiding officials, the decision to appoint one rests with the department.

Staff should not preside over ceremonies unless a citizenship judge is unavailable and reasonable efforts to secure a volunteer presiding official have been exhausted.

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Eligible eminent Canadians

Volunteer presiding officials may include the following:

  • governors general
  • lieutenant-governors or commissioners of the territories
  • recipients of the Order of Canada (all levels)
  • members of the Order of Military Merit (all levels)
    • Note: Serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are required to obtain permission from their chain of command (at the minimum level of base, wing or formation) before accepting this role.
  • recipients of the Victoria Cross (all levels)
  • recipients of the Royal Victorian Order (levels: commander and lieutenant)
  • recipients of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces (all levels)
  • recipients of the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers (previously known as the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award) who are Canadian adults 18 years or older
  • recipients of the Polar Medal (previously known as the Governor General’s Northern Medal) who are Canadian adults 18 years or older
  • recipients of the Meritorious Service Decorations (Civil Division) who are Canadian adults 18 years or older (all levels)

If a volunteer presiding official has received an award, medal or honour in the past, and that award’s name has now changed, the previous and new names of the award should be mentioned during introductions:

  • Mr. John Smith, recipient of the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award, now known as the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers
  • Ms. Johanne Tremblay, recipient of the Governor General’s Northern Medal, now known as the Polar Medal

Role and responsibilities of volunteer presiding officials

  • Volunteer presiding officials have no administrative or judicial responsibilities – they only take on the ceremonial responsibilities of a citizenship judge during a citizenship ceremony.
  • Volunteer presiding officials administer the oath of citizenship and ensure candidates take the oath.
  • If there is a reception following the citizenship ceremony, the volunteer presiding official is invited and expected to attend.
  • Often, new citizens ask to have their photographs taken with the presiding official. The media may be present and wish to interview or photograph the presiding official.

Becoming a volunteer presiding official

Once the Governor General awards an honour to new recipients, a congratulatory letter is sent on behalf of the Registrar for Canadian Citizenship (prepared by National Headquarters [NHQ]) to the new recipients inviting them to preside at citizenship ceremonies. Newly awarded recipients can preside at a citizenship ceremony even if they have not yet received their official insignia. Sometimes, a long-standing recipient (who may or may not have received a congratulatory letter from the department) may wish to become a volunteer presiding official; they, too, can write to the local Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada office closest to them and express their interest.

Once a recipient accepts the invitation to preside and provides NHQ with a short biography, NHQ provides the eminent Canadian with various tools to preside. NHQ will also ask the eminent Canadian about their bilingual language capacity. Their information is then forwarded to the appropriate local citizenship office. NHQ will update the master list of volunteer presiding officials as well.

Orientation for volunteer presiding officials

Local citizenship offices are encouraged to contact eminent Canadians who have volunteered to be presiding officials to introduce themselves and explain that they will be contacted based on the particular needs of their office. The following may also be discussed at this time:

  • Up-to-date contact information. If contact information has changed, staff are to provide NHQ with new coordinates for the volunteer presiding official.
  • A short biography, if one was not provided. This can be used by the clerk of the ceremony to introduce the volunteer presiding official at future ceremonies.
  • An invitation to the volunteer presiding official to attend a citizenship ceremony well in advance of when they are expected to preside. This can be combined with the first orientation meeting.
  • An invitation to the volunteer presiding official to attend an orientation session to review the process and discuss the office’s particular needs and schedules. Offices can meet with volunteer presiding officials individually or in a group session.

Working with volunteer presiding officials

Scheduling volunteer presiding officials

Local citizenship offices are responsible for maintaining a working relationship with volunteer presiding officials and should be available to answer questions about scheduling or planning for local ceremonies.

When possible, depending on the availability of volunteer presiding officials and the needs of the local office, it is best to set a schedule with volunteer presiding officials so they know well in advance when they are to preside at a ceremony. The schedule should be available to all citizenship office staff involved in planning ceremonies.

It is preferable to not have presiding officials who are connected with the host organization in order to maintain the distinction between host and the department. It should be clear that the volunteer presiding official is speaking on behalf of the citizenship program and Canada and not as a representative of the host organization. The delineation also helps in the planning phases of the ceremony. Exceptions may be made; contact NHQ for guidance.

Approving volunteer presiding officials

As per the delegation instrument, the approval of the Registrar of Canadian Citizenship is required before a volunteer presiding official does the following:

  • presides at a ceremony
  • administers the oath
  • hands out citizenship certificates

Travel expenses

While there is no payment for presiding at a citizenship ceremony, the department reimburses volunteer presiding officials for certain pre-approved travel expenses directly associated with the ceremony, if applicable.

Prior to the ceremony

The volunteer presiding official must acknowledge the Indigenous territory where the ceremony is taking place in their speaking points. Citizenship staff must provide the volunteer presiding officials with the proper wording to acknowledge the Indigenous territory as well as any special themed-speaking points (for example, “First celebrated in 1990, Canada’s Parks Day is an opportunity for Canadians to participate in one of the hundreds of unique and fun events taking place in parks and sites from coast to coast”). Staff can also provide the volunteer presiding official with the Microsoft Word version of the Sample Speaking Notes so that the presiding official can add their own personalized story to it.

Remarks by volunteer presiding officials are to be reviewed by staff in advance of the ceremony the first time they preside. They should also be reviewed when changes are made, or annually.

On the day of the ceremony

The volunteer presiding official should be asked to arrive at the site of the ceremony where they are presiding at least a half-hour before the scheduled start in order to review the program and their speaking notes.

The volunteer presiding official should be advised of any special guests and about introductions and any special acknowledgement or thanks to be made during the ceremony.

After the ceremony

Staff can have a debrief with the volunteer presiding official after the ceremony to provide constructive feedback, if needed, on the following:

  • speed and volume when reading remarks or the oath
  • tone/messaging
  • areas of improvement

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