Welcoming New Canadians

by Mike Ulmer
January 14, 2008

They waved their flags, those little paper flags, and the sound of it did nothing to wake the handful of babies sleeping through citizenship court.

Seventy-nine people from 27 countries, bringing countless skills and incalculable experience, were sworn in as Canadians Monday at a federal building in the heart of downtown Toronto.

There were homemakers, businesspeople, civil servants and one sports announcer. Seattle native Chuck Swirsky, the voice of the Toronto Raptors, waved his tiny flag with the rest. Its been a decade since Swirsky drove across the Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit and Windsor. He was coming for a try in Canada. When he was a kid all he knew about Canada was that the bacon and maple syrup were good and that Vancouver was a pretty city. Even, as an adult making that drive he didnt know a whole lot more.

My first impression when I made that drive from Detroit was this is a huge city, a huge market he said. There was opportunity for Swirsky, but there was also something more.

What I love about Canada, he said, is the people, the diversity, the connection people have with each other here.

That connection was on full display, Monday. The Brazilians squeezed in beside the Japanese who shared space with the Kazaks and the Vietnamese. Within a year, 250,000 more people will pack virtually all their belongings, leave all that they know and come here.

They are after what a 33-year-old Nigerian woman named Patricia Dumkwu called security. Not the kind of security basketball players talk about at contract time, but rather the privilege of living free of fear.

The insecurity in Nigeria, she said was getting too bad. There are frequent robberies and armed people break into houses.

There is also a security in being free to make your own choices. Had she stayed in Nigeria, Dumkwu would have likely been the subject of a marriage arranged to bolster her familys status.

It can all be about the familys background. Often a family will give up their daughter to advance that, she said. Canadian women are liberated. They make decisions for themselves.

Patricia Dumkwu wore red and a radiant smile. She is a social services worker. She works with kids and the poor and she did more to make Canada better before she became a citizen than most of us will do from our first day to our last.

One hundred flags flapping and not a sound but the ripples will carry into homes and lives all across the country.

After a rousing version of O Canada, the new citizens and their families disappeared, not into a sea of white faces, but into a country with faces like theirs in a place they call the City of Nations.