History and community at the forefront of ICC community citizenship ceremony at the Ismaili Centre

March 9, 2017

“I feel I have become much more Canadian today.”

Andrea Nemtin, CEO and founding President of the Inspirit Foundation, is addressing a group of 50 new Canadian citizens at an ICC community citizenship ceremony at the Ismaili Centre in Toronto. Earlier that day, she was one of 26 roundtable hosts — alongside President & CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation Sheherazade Hirji, Senator Ratna Omidvar, and Global News anchor Farah Nasser — who joined the ICC to facilitate roundtable discussions around citizenship with new citizens. While the new citizens shared their stories, citizens born in Canada — like Nemtin — had an opportunity to reflect on the privileges of their Canadian citizenship.

If you’ve never been to an ICC community citizenship ceremony, it’s a bit like being at a wedding; a beautiful venue with special significance, a warm welcome from your new Canadian family, and an opportunity to look your best for the special day. Community citizenship ceremonies begin with the ICC’s signature roundtable discussions on citizenship — unique opportunities for new citizens, guests, and community members to reflect collectively on what it means to be Canadian, and share their aspirations for the future.

At the Ismaili Centre roundtables, respect for community and history were at the forefront of many of the new citizens’ stories. One participant said he was happy to live in a country that recognized the rights of minority communities, and that the greatest privilege of citizenship for him would be giving back to Canada. A young woman shared a moving story about Muslim and Jewish families in her neighborhood working together to sponsor Syrian refugees, while others spoke to the importance of political participation. For all the new citizens, there was pride in being part of a society that encourages people of different backgrounds to come together and work together.

But what of the more troubling aspects of the national legacy? In her address to new citizens following the official oath-taking ceremony, Senator Omidvar emphasized the importance of “paying it forward,” and “owning our collective history.” “When you become Canadian, you become a part of the whole Canadian family and not just part of it,” she said, adding that they must not turn away from the injustices in our history, especially the treatment of Indigenous peoples. “It is our responsibility, and now your responsibility, to set this right.” Andrea Nemtin echoed Senator Omidvar’s sentiments, urging the new citizens to be part of the effort to redress historical wrongs. “In Canada,” she said, “we see a society that is not perfect, but is working to be better.”

In her opening remarks to the new citizens, Sheherazade Hirji, President & CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation and President of the Ismaili Council, Ontario, shared a story about the building of the Ismaili Centre. In 1996, when young members of the Ismaili community were asked what they wanted for a new community space — now the beautiful Ismaili Centre — they said they wanted a space through which they could integrate into society at large, and find opportunities to build friendships with others. Today, with 50 new citizens from 27 different countries  gathered in the Centre’s majestic sunlit space for an ICC community citizenship ceremony, it’s clear that dream has been realized.

Watch the Global News coverage of the ceremony here.

For more information on partnering with the ICC to host a community citizenship ceremony, email us: ceremonypartnerships@icc-icc.ca