MaRS welcomes New Canadians

Citizenship @ MaRS

In “The Rise of the Creative Class,” Richard Florida writes that the diversity of an area tells us much about an area’s openness to different kinds of people and ideas, including the innovative ones that can result in financial gain. He believes the diversity index is an “indicator of a region’s overall standing in the creative economy and I offer it as a barometer of a region’s longer run economic potential.”

Last Thursday, May 15, MaRS had the privilege of welcoming more diversity to this community as we celebrated 60 new Canadians from 26 countries at a Citizenship Court held in the MaRS Auditorium.

The special extended ceremony held here was a concept created by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. This institute was co-founded by the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul and was created to help New Canadians bridge the gap from immigrant to fully engaged citizen by:

  • increasing awareness of, disseminating information concerning, and promoting successful grassroots immigrant support programs;
  • providing forums for national non-partisan information exchanges and discussions on issues related to immigration and citizenship; and ,
  • analyzing and disseminating existing research on issues related to immigration and citizenship.

The primary difference between an extended citizenship ceremony and one that takes place in a courtroom is the opportunity for new Canadians and established Canadians to meet and discuss some of the pressing issues they are facing as someone new to this country. Members of the MaRS community encouraged the lively discussions about why they were becoming a Canadian Citizen. In this way, these new Canadians were engaged in conversation with everyone from MaRS Founders (John Evans and Lawrence Bloomberg) to leading scientists in their field, such as Steve Scherer (recent winner of the Premiers Summit Award), and tenants from the MaRS Centre, Tony Cruz from Transition Therapeutics, Bern Grush from Skymeter, Keith Jarvie from Clera and Courtney Pratt from TRRA. This diverse field of participants listened to the stories of the New Canadians and were profoundly affected by their experiences.

Part of the program was for each of the groups to report out on what was discussed at their table. The themes most prevalent in the discussion were about safety and security and what that means after becoming a Canadian citizen — access to the health care system, the quality of education and the diverse opportunities available. Many now felt that they could express themselves safely and are still able to maintain their culture of diversity. For a family of refugees, Canada welcomed them and provided them with the “means and opportunities to create a new identity, one that was not that of a victim, from a broken place. Canada was a fresh start that allowed them to be strong and independent.” It was a great reminder to those of us who had lived their entire lives in Canada about how fortunate we are.

The court itself was a great celebration. Judge Raminder Gill was the presiding officer and led the new Canadians in their oath of citizenship. This was a wonderful opportunity for all in the room to reaffirm their oath or for those born in Canada perhaps speak the words for the first time. Madame Clarkson spoke of the importance of what it means to be a Canadian and spoke passionately about her immigrant experience and how in her role as Governor General she was welcomed as a Canadian across the world. The platform party including MaRS’ own Dr. John Evans and Ilse Treurnicht, presented each of the New Canadians with gifts – including charters and Canadian flags. One of the great collaboration efforts that has taken place in the GTA is the creation of the Cultural Pass. This was designed for new citizens to become more familiar with Canadian culture and some of our most prominent cultural institutions in their community. The pass is free and provides complimentary admission for a family for one year form the date they are sworn in to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Ontario Science Centre, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Textile Museum of Canada.

The crowd was treated to a wonderful musical performance when the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus sang Siyahamba a traditional Zulu spiritual in honour of the new citizens. And to close the ceremony, the CCOC led the new Canadians and all assembled in a moving rendition of our national anthem. This being the first time, these 60 individuals and their families sang “O Canada” as Canadian citizens. There were few dry eyes in the auditorium at that moment.

The celebration continued with many cheers and many photographs in the lower concourse of MaRS where two giant Canadian flag cakes were enjoyed by all. RCMP Constable Terry Russel was by far the most popular person in the room at that time. Nothing could have been more Canadian right then and there. There were tears of joy and relief as families were reunited, yells of “finally” as people who had hoped and dreamed for this day were finally Canadian.

What does this mean for MaRS? The joy and excitement of those taking their oath was inspiring. MaRS was created to bring people together to build a vibrant future. And on this day, our community was thrilled to welcome these New Canadians into the MaRS family.

Photos of the Citizenship event at MaRS are available on Flickr