Opinion: lies, limelight and citizenship

Who will you trust more – the politicians, the bureaucrats or the media? And who would you turn to, when these three pillars of trust come together to overshadow one of the most sentimental events in your life?

In an unexpected turn of events, an access-to-information request filed by the Canada Press has revealed that the Canadian immigration department faked a citizens’ reaffirmation ceremony for a television programme.

Watch the video of the ceremony at the end of the article.

The incident in question happened in October 2011 when the immigration minister Kenney asked the immigration department to organise an oath reaffirmation ceremony for existing and new citizens. This ceremony would be for conservative Sun News Network so that the oath could be videographed and aired on television.

The department, given a short notice, struggled to get confirmations for attendance from willing citizens who were busy with their work. While the bureaucrats tried to convince the minister’s office and the television network to videograph one of the 13 already-planned reaffirmation ceremonies, the channel instead suggested another option.

“Let’s do it. We can fake the Oath,” says an email from a Sun News address. (Name blacked out in the documents released to media.)

As a last resort, six immigration employees posed as new citizens, took the oath and even answered the television presenter’s questions.

The news channel has denied any knowledge about the immigration officials posing as new citizens. In the end, it was the staff of Citizenship and Immigration Canada that were blamed by the minister. “It turns out that in the ceremony in question . . . some of the people invited did not arrive. I think the response to that was poorly handled,” Kenney clarified.

However, the documents released show that the public servants tried their best to explain the sensitivity of the ceremony to the minister’s office. “We have to keep in mind that the ceremony should first and foremost be a special (sic) for the new citizen, most of whom will want family and friends (sic) attend this very special day in their lives,” a bureaucrat wrote to Kenney’s office.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong, per se, in immigration officials restating their citizenship oath. Any citizen can. However, the fact that they were event organisers, should have been disclosed.

The incidence shows lack of sensibility toward an emotional event in the life of not only new citizens but also naturalised citizens. It’s an event that a new migrant looks forward to. It’s an event that nominally marks the completion of the migration experience and almost signifies formal acceptance into the host community. It is not just the residency status; it is an expression of commitment and trust between the immigrants and their adopted nation, which is mutual.

For naturalised citizens, the oath expresses their commitment to Canada.

That level of respect due to the ceremony was breached by the “sensationalisation” of the ceremony.

However, the event also raises more concerns. It compromises media’s independence when a television channel agrees to a minister’s request for the ceremony.

And third, it raises questions about ministerial interference in the operational arm – the bureaucracy. Why not let the officers do their job?

The incidence shows that the nexus of the powers-that-be not only influence our perceptions but also control what we see.

Vaibhav Gangan is the managing editor of The Global Indian magazine. 



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