Toronto , Canada

Citizens For Citizenship

Institute For Canadian Citizenship

December 14, 2009

Citizenship ceremonies bring communities together in celebration.

Building Citizenship ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, includes Governor General, His Excellency, David Johnston, Madame Adrienne Clarkson, former Governor General of Canada and Founder & Co-Chair of the ICC. Photo credit Eva Hadhazy

Ten years ago when Shiv became a Canadian citizen, it was the final step in what had been a long and emotional journey from leaving his home in Sri Lanka to relocating to Canada.

The ceremony was a moving but formal process, held in a government building and presided over by a citizenship judge who administered the oath of citizenship and then handed him his certificate.

When his brother Ram recently took his citizenship oath, the ceremony was far different. Held on the grounds of the local elementary school, it included numerous people from the community and a spirit of celebration. “It was great since Ram was able to meet and celebrate with people from his new neighbourhood. Everyone had brought food and there was music and people all shared their own stories with him and the other ten people taking their oaths,” Shiv describes.

This difference is the work of the Institute For Canadian Citizenship (ICC) and its “Building Citizenship” Program that aims to connect new and established Canadians by encouraging community celebrations around the rites of citizenship. ICC takes a well-established Canadian tradition (and condition) of citizenship and embeds it in the heart of newcomer communities.

Getting Started

Per capita, Canada welcomes more new immigrants than any other country in the world. Over a quarter million immigrants enter Canada annually.

The citizenship ceremony is a unique part of Canadian life. It is also a formal celebration of citizenship instituted by the Government of Canada to welcome new Canadians into the Canadian family and to recognize the acceptance of the rights and responsibilities of membership. A mandatory part of Canada’s citizenship process, Citizenship and Immigration Canada hosts approximately  2,500 citizenship ceremonies across Canada every year.

Community citizenship ceremonies were initiated by the ICC to address the isolation that immigrants often feel within their larger community. To bridge this distance, ICC’s service model actively engages community partners in the delivery of citizenship ceremonies. Planned and hosted by local residents and community groups, each ceremony becomes a unique event that reflects the distinct and frequently diverse culture of that community.  The whole community participates in these celebrations of citizenship.

ICC in Halifax

ICC in Halifax

Launched in July 2006, the Building Citizenship program creates a national network of local citizenship committees that organize and host ceremonies which are more personable and reflective of the local community. Groups can host the ceremony in public spaces such as schools, community centres, parks, and libraries. Participants are encouraged to add unique aspects to the ceremonies such as dance or musical performances to make each ceremony special and memorable.

Before the ICC ceremony participants will meet in roundtable discussion groups to talk over what is important to them in terms of citizenship and community. New citizens are also encouraged to join citizenship committees, to share their experience and take part in planning ceremonies for future citizen candidates.

The Building Citizenship program receives funding from the federal government and fund raises to support the staff and resources from the Institute for Canadian citizenship. Organizing committees are asked to take on the cost responsibility for space rentals (if necessary) and refreshment costs, but they are given support and guidance in how to approach elected officials, community groups etc. for donations of these funds.

Looking ahead

Building Citizenship is one of three programs run by the ICC, an organization founded and co-chaired by the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul. The ICC is dedicated to the idea that citizenship is a bond that must be fostered and shared by a community though meaningful connections and being actively engaged.

Other ICC programs include the “Cultural Access Pass” program which offers new citizens (and their children) the chance to visit more than 1,000 museums, galleries, discovery centres, parks, historic sites and monuments across Canada for free for a full year from the time they’re sworn in as a citizen. To date, more than 37,000 new citizens have registered and used their Cultural Access Pass to curate their own Canadian cultural experiences. The ICC continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Its national network of volunteers has increased to over 550, with 26 citizenship committees across Canada. Focused on becoming Canada’s leading non-government voice on citizenship, the ICC continues to develop and expand its programs to connect and engage even more Canadians.

Making it Work for You:

  • The Building Citizenship program re-worked an existing program to make it more reflective of the community and to involve established as well as new citizens.
  • Is there an existing program running in your community that could be expanded to be more inclusive and achieve greater impactful?
  • Buiding a feedback loop into program articulation helps improve the quality of your programming as well as the outcomes it delivers to your stakeholders -clients and funders.
  • Citizenship is more than a certificate of belonging. What is your organization or community doing to make your work and your community more inclusive?

For this Good Idea contact:

Claire Reid
Institute for Canadian Citizenship
260 Spadina Avenue, Suite 500
Toronto, Ontario, Canada,
M5T 2E4
416 593 6998
creid (at)

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