I arrived in Canada in 1942, when I was about two and a half years old. My family took refuge here after the Japanese conquered Hong Kong. We were welcomed, and were very fortunate to have a number of people take interest in us; helping neighbours was – and still is – an instinctive Canadian action.
I became a Canadian citizen when I was 10 years old, and with each passing year, I grow more proud to say I belong to a country that welcomes the world.
Canada is unique in the way we welcome immigrants. People come here in search of a different and better life for themselves and their children, and we open our doors with the shared understanding that their stay is for the long term; roughly 85% of eligible permanent residents become Canadian citizens. We have constructed an inclusive society that accounts for differences. We acknowledge how much courage it requires to start fresh in a new country. Most Canadians believe everyone – regardless of whether they’re Canadian or foreign-born – can be a good citizen.
In Canada, citizenship enables equal access – it’s the most important thing we have, and share with one another. Canadian citizenship binds us together.
I was the first immigrant to become Governor General, and I’m very proud of that. When it happened, I received many letters from new Canadians who were thrilled that someone with a story like mine could reach the highest office in Canada.
My appointment was proof for new Canadians that Canada is a place where the sky is the limit, and I wanted to do more to ensure new citizens felt they had access to everything Canada has to offer – just as I felt when I was growing up in the country that took us in so generously.
In 2006, I founded the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), a non-profit charity that works to ensure our country’s newest citizens feel welcome and included, and engages all Canadians in active citizenship. We achieve this through programs like our Cultural Access Pass program (CAP), a gift to new citizens and their children that provides a year of free access to cultural places and spaces across the country to connect new citizens to a wealth of Canadian experiences. And, our Building Citizenship programwelcomes and celebrates Canada’s newest citizens by working with a national network of volunteers and our partner, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, to host community citizenship ceremonies with roundtable discussions where community members and new citizens exchange experiences related to being and feeling Canadian.
The ICC helps create a sense of belonging for all Canadians regardless of whether their family has been here for five years or five generations.
It’s important for all Canadians to make their connection to citizenship: take a moment to welcome a new citizen, play an active role in your community or connect with Canadian culture.
Full citizenship begets full participation in society. All Canadians must take on the role of active engaged citizens – it’s the only way our country can continue to grow.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the Institute for Canadian Citizenship please visit icc-icc.ca or follow them on Twitter (@ICCICC). This first-person piece is being published as part of Citizenship Week across Canada.