ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

At the CN Tower welcoming 50 new Canadian citizens at a special ceremony kicking off Citizenship Week 2013

Maple Leaf Cinema, CN Tower
Toronto, Ontario
October 21, 2013

As delivered

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Thank you so much for being here with us today. It is your good fortune to be with one of Canada’s best citizenship judges, Judge Klein, and also in this great city to be joined by our Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who is a fantastic civic representative of all that is good in this biggest city of Canada.

I am particularly proud to be able to join you today at the beginning of Citizenship Week, the week when we celebrate everything that has gone into citizenship in Canada over centuries, to build up this institution, to build up these symbols that we now see all around us as well as everything that we take out of citizenship, everything that benefits us, and benefits the world because of the strength of Canadian citizenship. I am glad to be right here at the CN Tower, because if there ever was a symbol of Canada’s strength, of our vibrancy, of our achievements, it is this place.

I remember growing up as a student in Toronto in the late 1970s, I guess it was by then, going to Oriole Park Public School, where maybe one of you will send your children one of these days, and looking down Avenue Road at these huge Ukrainian-American helicopters, Sikorsky’s, at that time – I think one was called Olga – that put the final pieces on the top of the CN Tower, and thinking, my goodness, highest freestanding structure in the world. That means we have a lot to live up to as Canadians.

We have an advanced billing that will be hard to fulfill, but when you think of where Canada has come in the 1980s, the 1990s, this century, free trade agreement with the United States in 1988, just last week a comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the European Union, with 500 new partners, economic partners of ours, consumers, the largest common market in the world.

When you think of our performance through a terrible economic downturn, when Toronto was the symbol of well-managed, well-regulated, well-run banking, insurance, pension funds, in the world, and what that has meant for the reputation of our country, for the vibrancy of our country, in spite of the adversity that so many other countries have faced. I think we can all truly say that we are living up to that billing, that with our citizenship, the rights and duties that come with it, there are now benefits of which we could not have foreseen even a few decades ago, which impose even greater responsibilities on all of us.

When the Economist magazine says three of the top five most livable cities in the world are in Canada, Toronto is one of them. Another important index, assessing reputations, says Toronto is the second-most reputable city in the world. I was just at an announcement relating to start-up visas for entrepreneurs, and we now know that for technology start-ups in the world, two of the top ten cities are in Canada. One is Toronto. The other is Vancouver.

These are huge achievements. They are the achievements of Canadians like yourselves who have worked about as hard as anyone on the planet to start small businesses, to do their jobs well, in public service, in the private sector, across the board. We are proud of what we are able to do together with our diverse origins, with our cultural diversity, with our multiculturalism, but above all with our spirit of tolerance for one another, under laws that have served us well now for many, many generations, but which continue to be refined and improved for this generation.

Citizenship Week calls attention to the rights and responsibilities we have as citizens of a strong, prosperous and pluralistic country.

It’s an opportunity for all Canadians to put our citizenship front and centre, on display, to celebrate it proudly, to reflect what it means to each of us on a personal level, and to put it to the test. What can we use our citizenship to do next? Who can we help, next door, in our neighbourhoods, in our cities, in our aboriginal communities, elsewhere in the world, who may not benefit from this affluence, this standard of living fully, and who may not be able to exercise their rights as fully as we know Canadians ought to be able to do.

Those are our responsibilities as Canadians. That is what is exciting about Canadian citizenship – the opportunity to not only live it, benefit from it, but also to have a sense of duty emanating from it and take it into the world – our local world, our broader world – to change the world for the better.

Some 4,400 people will become Canadian citizens this week at 58 different citizenship ceremonies in communities across the country. Many others will participate in reaffirmation ceremonies at community events from coast to coast to coast, all reiterating their pride in, and loyalty to, Canada. Some of us will have the opportunity to take part in one of those ceremonies in what is now called the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, where the entire audience, in this case for a hockey game, will reaffirm their citizenship.

This is particularly exciting and moving, even for those of us who have been citizens for some time. This very structure is a lasting symbol of our identity, our ingenuity, of what we can accomplish. To all of you who had the dream of becoming Canadian citizens and saw that dream come true, I hope that this memory of being here in the CN Tower in Citizenship Week, the week after our country concluded a historic trade agreement with the European Union, will last you a lifetime.

When you choose to become citizens, you are promising to embrace Canadian values and to strengthen your community, your province and your country. We take these responsibilities seriously. We ask of you that you do your best, that you unleash your potential, but that means helping others. That means looking beyond ourselves, our careers, our families, to what those in need all around us might require.

When you take the oath of citizenship, our story becomes your story. You become part of a much larger Canadian story, which began with our ancestors and is still being written. This is what we all find most exciting about being Canadian. We know who we are. We know where we come from, but we know that the story is not over. It has hardly begun. The best is yet to come.

The Canada everyone knows and loves did not come into being by accident. One does not simply head north of the 49th parallel, or across the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans to find oneself inherently or stereotypically Canadian. No. Our freedoms, way of life and values exist here because of very particular historical events, as well as because of fundamental beliefs and knowledge that we have deployed to uphold those beliefs.

Canadians have never been complacent, and we should remind ourselves never to become so in the future. We know we can always do better by doing good at home and on the world stage. As the Governor General said in last week`s Throne Speech, we are inclusive. We are honourable. We are selfless, smart and caring. And if there is one virtue that in many ways encompasses all of those. it is that we have humility.

We understand that we have had good fortune as a country. We understand that the job of protecting our standard of living, our institutions, our freedoms, begins anew every day, every morning. Canadian citizenship is more than a passport of convenience. It’s a pledge of mutual responsibility, a shared commitment to values rooted in our history.

Talking about mutual accountability reminds me of my experience as a Canadian in Afghanistan over six years, where we played a leading role in development. We played a leading role in organizing elections in a country that had never had them on that scale. We played a leading role in defending Afghans against the return of a vicious and repressive regime in the form of the Taliban. It was because of mutual accountability that that system worked.

Afghans had their responsibilities. We in the international community had our responsibilities. hat is a way of operating that is second nature to Canadians, and we will do well to remember it, to strengthen it, to deepen it in everything that we do at home and abroad.

Like the Canadians, First Nations, and British soldiers who fought side by side in the War of 1812, like our forces who fought German militarism in the First World War and Hitler’s national socialism in the Second, opening the way to the unification of Europe, to the Common Market that has brought a new chapter, an unprecedented chapter of prosperity to that continent, like the Canadians who played their role in fighting communism in Korea, in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and in many other smaller conflicts over the last century and a half, we know that defending our freedoms, meeting our international responsibilities, doing our duty in the world, often includes the very hardest tasks.

We’ve championed our beliefs in protecting human rights, freedoms and democracy by defending them abroad in times of injustice when they were threatened. We will no doubt do it again, as we do as peacekeepers still in 18 missions around the world, as we do as proud members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as we do as allies of an increasing number of countries around the world who are, like us, committed to democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

Today you are swearing allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada and our head of state. We had a Speech from the Throne last week. Her Majesty was not on the Throne, but she has delivered that speech twice in her reign. That program for our government, for all Canadians, is given in her name because of what she represents as our monarch, as the wellspring of our democratic traditions.

Some of you may be here in Canada because you fled persecution in pursuit of freedom. Others may be here for happier reasons. Almost all of you are here because you came in search of a new start in Canada. Your presence here is a tribute to your courage and tenacity. We know the great sacrifices you have made to come here and become Canadian citizens and to overcome all of the challenges an immigrant must face.

I recognize that some of you have had trying journeys just to reach our shores. Let me say that Canada is lucky to have you, is privileged to have you, and remind you how important it is to be positively engaged, to be an active participant in Canadian society. It’s in the water. It’s in the air here. It’s what we do, and I’m sure it is what you will do.

On behalf of the government of Canada, let me conclude by saying to all who are becoming Canadians today: Congratulations. Welcome home.

In conclusion, what a huge pleasure to be with you in the shadow underneath this enormous tower, whose view across this whole city, all the way some days to Niagara Falls, which I’m told will also be red and white for us for all of this Citizenship Week.

The view seems to extend all the way across Canada, from sea to sea to sea. I hope you will encompass in everything you do the scale of this country, the scale of its achievements, the scale of its potential. Thank you very much for being here with us today.

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