Thank you for that introduction. Please be seated everyone. The honour is really mine, to be with all of you. I don’t think there’s anything we do in our jobs as elected representatives, as Canadians who care about this country and all that goes into keeping it great; I don’t think there’s anything more moving than a citizenship ceremony with so many of you from so many different countries, your families and the stories that you have been part of, the places that you were born in and lived in before Canada.
It’s written on your faces and in your hearts. We also know very well how much you have all sacrificed, how hard you have all worked towards this day. From all of us, congratulations from the bottom of our hearts. It really is a great honour to be with you during Citizenship Week and in these wonderful surroundings.
Judge Frustaglio, to you and your team, thank you for organizing a great event, as you always do. Thank you CS for being here with me and other colleagues. Members of Parliament from the greater Toronto area, from across the country are attending dozens of these ceremonies just this week.
Thank you to the Tzu Chi Foundation because to have a ceremony here in this esteemed institution means a lot to us. It speaks to the richness of the Canadian family and the achievements of this Foundation, your dedication to sincerity, integrity, faith and honesty, the good works that you have done in the great tradition of Buddhism, one of the great religions practiced in Canada to focus on charity, to promote the advancement of medicine, to commit yourselves to education and to a larger humanity. These are the kinds of commitments that all of us as Canadians make in our separate and diverse ways and we’re very proud to be associated with the Tzu Chi Foundation today and on a continuing basis.
Citizenship Week, as you know, allows us to call attention to the fact that we as citizens have both rights and responsibilities. Without the one or the other we would not be the prosperous pluralistic successful country that we are. This week perhaps above all other weeks during the year, Canadians put their citizenship front and centre, the civic duties, the affiliations and allegiance we have in common as Canadians.
We celebrate it proudly in hockey arenas, in ceremonies like this one, in small and larger ways across the board and we reflect on what it means to us each personally because citizenship for Canadians means more than ever today. It is not every country that has managed to shape a civic identity for the people who live here, the people who call this country home, that is as welcoming and as inclusive as Canada’s citizenship has been.
The roots of that broadly based citizenship go back a long way. They certainly go back to our aboriginal communities. They certainly go back to the time when the dominant European language in Canada was French and when different religions were practiced even in the time of the French regime in Canada.
It certainly goes back to the time when the British first started to be the principal sovereignty that was recognized on the territory that now is Canada and the tolerance of those original British generals, administrators, settlers for French language, for Catholic religion, for the traditional legal code of New France, began that tradition of accommodation, of celebration of diversity, of strength in diversity that continues to this day.
We made that one of the principal foundations of our confederation in 1867, almost 150 years ago, when people like Georges Etienne Cartier, MacDonald’s great ally in framing Confederation, committed themselves to a unity and a nationality that would go beyond ethnic background and religion, that would allow everyone to celebrate their origins, to celebrate their culture, to celebrate their difference, to worship in their own way but within one great framework of Canadian citizenship that allows us to vote and build democratic institutions together, live under the rule of law and get the best out of each other…achieve the potential that each one of you has to thrive in this country.
That’s why we’re so proud as Judge Frustaglio said to be welcoming record numbers of citizens this year, 150,000 in only the first seven months, so we’re on track to have a very large number by the end of this year. Many Canadians have participated in reaffirmation ceremonies at community events from coast to coast to coast, all reiterating their pride and loyalty to Canada.
We even have quite a few NHL teams that are bringing new Canadians onto the ice before the game, between periods, to take the oath with an entire arena of tens of thousands of people joining them. Today it’s your turn, and your dream of becoming a Canadian citizen has come true. The memory of this day should last for a lifetime.
The oath of citizenship, the allegiance, the loyalty to our laws, the commitment to fulfill your duties as a Canadian citizen, those are commitments that stay with us for our lifetimes and which enrich this country in immeasurable ways, because Canadian values have become your values. Your story has become part of our larger Canadian story which began with the ancestors of 35 million people who are here today but it’s still being written, and written more broadly than ever.
In Canada we are all responsible for writing the pages of our country’s history. Whether our ancestors arrived over 60 years ago or just recently, our families’ stories all begin with immigration. This story of arrival—of immigration—is still alive for all of us. I had a grandmother who was born in Glasgow. I grew up in the city of Toronto surrounded by immigrants from all parts of the world (as you represent every part of the world).
This is what makes it exciting to be Canadian. This is what makes the quality of life in our cities and our communities second to none. These are the stories of people who helped to build our country and who continue to shape its work as we work towards a common future, because you don’t become a Canadian just by crossing the 49th parallel or just by getting off an airplane.
It does take work to discover this country, 10 million square kilometres. I don’t think any of us can say that we’ve seen even most of it or understood how people live in the far north fully, in the Arctic, in our vast boreal forests, some of the largest in the world, in some of the more ancient communities of Atlantic Canada which have their own traditions, often very different, one community from the other.
It’s an exciting journey to become a Canadian and then to deepen one’s knowledge continuously over the lives that we have before us. Our freedoms, way of life and values exist here because Canadians have fundamental beliefs that we know we must uphold and cherish. Canadian citizenship is not a passport of convenience. It’s not simply a commitment we make superficially.
It is a deep commitment which Canadians sense more profoundly than ever before because we see the advantages that this country has. We see the opportunities that this country has, and we want to carry them further. It’s a pledge of mutual responsibility, a shared commitment to values rooted in our history.
When we say mutual responsibility, we mean the responsibility of each one of us to all the others, as well as the responsibility we have to those who came before us to live up to their expectations and standards and to those who will come after us to later generations to whom we want to pass on a Canada that is better than ever where the environment is better protected than ever before, where the economy is stronger than ever before.
Our citizenship represents our loyalty to Canada in that deeper sense. When you choose to become citizens you’re promising to embrace those values, to strengthen your community, your province and your country. Many of those contributions you will make, the most important contributions we make as Canadians, aren’t necessarily in our working lives though that is very important, aren’t necessarily in our family lives but we all celebrate strong families and want to contribute to them when we have the opportunity.
It’s what we do beyond those work and family obligations. It’s what we do as volunteers. It’s what we do in civic associations that we’re not obliged to be part of, but which make our neighbourhoods cleaner, safer, which allow us to have sports, athletics, cultural events in our communities and which—above all—allow us to be charitable and helpful to those less fortunate than ourselves.
Our government is very committed to preserving and further strengthening the value of citizenship. That’s why we renewed the act that sets out the rules for Canadian citizenship today, this year in the Parliament of Canada. We’ve made processing faster. We’ve reinforced the value of citizenship with a slightly longer residency requirement starting next summer.
We’re strengthening the integrity of the system, countering fraudulent attempts to gain citizenship and we want to honour those who serve, whether they’re in the armed forces or in our diplomatic missions abroad by allowing them to have faster and more reliable access to Canadian citizenship. These changes will ensure that our citizenship will continue to be the envy of the world for years to come, we hope for generations to come.
As you take the oath today, you are becoming part of this story of preserving the achievements that this country has and preparing the way for an even greater future, one that will involve a commitment to freedom, the freedoms we enjoy here, to democracy, to human rights and the rule of law, one that involves the defence of our values when required.
I gave you all a bookmark that celebrates the War of 1812. We don’t celebrate war in this country. We don’t take decisions to join a coalition now going off to combat in Iraq lightly, but we know that over generations Canadians have stood up when the values we treasure have been threatened at home and abroad. We are proud of the fact that on our territory, on this vast territory, it has been 200 years since we saw conflict, war, invasion of any scale. That itself is a huge achievement for our country, one that we hope can be emulated in other parts of the world.
We know that many of you have fled persecution, have fled conflict in pursuit of these freedoms. Many of you are here for happier reasons but almost all of you are here because you came in search of a new beginning in Canada. Canada is lucky to have you and we are here today together to welcome you as warmly as we possibly can. On behalf of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the government of Canada, congratulations and welcome.