Portrait of a citizenship judge

A Filipino man is sworn in as a new Canadian citizen in a citizenship ceremony | Photo by antefixus21, Flickr

A Filipino man is sworn in as a new Canadian citizen in a citizenship ceremony | Photo by antefixus21, Flickr

Taking the oath of citizenship is often a second step in immigrants and refugees’ settling process. The Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), in partnership with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, operates a national program aiming to ease citizenship procedures for the 1500 plus applicants each year and help them connect to their new community. Their volunteer-run Building Citizenship program organizes community citizenship ceremonies and roundtable discussions.

When Citizenship Judge Dane Minor speaks at schools, he begins with a simple exercise. Every child born in another country is asked to stand up – there are usually two or three. Then everyone with immigrant parents is asked to stand – a few more. Grandparents? Great-grandparents. By now nearly the whole room is on their feet says Minor.

“We need to be more aware of the impact immigration has had on our country,” Minor adds, who is recognized for his ethnic outreach.

Minor, now retired from the field of technology, has acquired a deep understanding of youth violence over the years and has been an advocate for victims’ rights. He co-founded Crime, Responsibility and Youth in 1993.

Minor will lead a Philosophers’ Café (SFU) on the meaning and value of Canadian citizenship at the Surrey City Centre Library.

Citizenship ceremonies

Minor is a second-term citizenship judge, appointed in 2011. He presides over several citizenship ceremonies a week, with about 75 people participating in each ceremony. With anywhere between 20–30 other judges running on a similar schedule, he encounters a volume of new Canadians most people have no reference to.

“Every four years, a million people choose this country to be their own,” says Minor.

As a public educator Minor says that – besides a basic inattention to the scale of this subject – he often encounters the misperception that citizenship, immigration and refugee status are synonymous.

Citizenship – knowledge and duties

Individuals are not independent of each other. We have individual rights, but we also have duties to others,” said Adrienne Clarkson, 26th Governor General of Canada (1999–2005), in the five part radio series Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship, the 2014 CBC Massey lectures.

Citizenship is not the process of entering the country, but of learning its languages, values and history, as well as being physically present for several years, says Minor. Immigration and refugee standing are ways of actually crossing the border. Citizenship therefore progresses out of immigration and refugee movement. Instead of considering the process by which people enter the country, citizenship judges oversee the process of becoming a full-fledged member of the Canadian community. It is this process targeted by the recent Bill C-24, Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, passed in 2014. Several areas of the act were revised, from age requirements to residency terms and provisions for members of the Canadian armed forces – but most relevant to Minor is the new approval process. Whereas a citizenship judge used to consider every application, Minor is now only required to weigh in on referred cases.

“I still settle cases where the residency requirements are questioned,” he says.

Challenges and rewards of Canadian citizenship

On the challenges that would-be citizens encounter, Minor says that he often sees a “basic distrust” of social structure.

“They need to learn that the governments can be trusted here, that the police can be trusted here, that the judges can be trusted here,” says Minor.

Minor says that on the list of most-coveted rewards are the right to vote and the Canadian passport, a document that allows free entry to over 150 countries.

Minor considers being a citizenship judge one of the most enjoyable jobs he has had.

“So many people “came here for a better life and they found it,” says Minor.

The Philosophers’ Café will be held at 7 p.m. on March 14, in Room 402, City Centre Library, 10350 University Dr., Surrey. For more information, please visit www.sfu.ca/continuingstudies/events/2016/03/canadian-citizenship.html