Sixty-eight new Canadians sang the anthem as citizens for the first time in a downtown conference room on June 20.
For the new citizens, it was the end of cross-continental journeys from 26 countries, years of residency without voting and acclimation to a far-off country. Friends and family cheered on the new citizens as they raised their right hands and took their oaths before receiving a certificate, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a small Canadian flag.
For Amir Khatibi and Sara Jalali, the world had opened up. Previously, the travel restrictions on their Iranian passports prevented the couple from travelling abroad.
“The whole world belongs to us and we can just go freely as we want to,” said Khatibi.
Their first stop is Paris, he said.
“We started feeling that we belonged,” he said as they studied for their citizenship exam, which included questions on Canadian history, laws and culture.
They first came to Canada four years ago, landing in Montreal after travelling and working in various countries. They moved to Yellowknife for work, and decided to stay.
“We came here with so many unknowns, like so many people, I assume,” said Khatibi. “Step by step, NWT felt so homey and cozy … we decided to stay longer. And it’s home now.”
“Whoever is Canadian, and takes it as a granted, should know that people tried hard to get it,” he said. “We feel lucky. We don’t take it for granted. We earned it and we love it.”
Christine Delosreyes waited seven years for the same moment, moving straight to Yellowknife from the Philippines. She fell in love with the land and the city before applying for citizenship last year.
“I thought this was the right time to be a citizen and exercise the right of a citizen,” she said. “It’s an overwhelming experience.”
“I’m home,” she added.
Premier Bob McLeod attended the ceremony and helped confer certificates, shaking hands and taking pictures with the new Canadians commemorating the moment. In his remarks, he praised the new citizens for setting down roots in Canada and the North.
Dr. Ewan Affleck, a member of the Order of Canada, also helped conduct the ceremony. He formerly delivered babies in his practice and he compared the ceremony to his past work.
“Both tend to be joyous occasions,” he said.
He told each child at the ceremony that they could be prime minister as he handed over their citizenship certificates.
“We really have to remember that social justice and equity are central to who we are, and we get away from that sometimes,” he said.
He said he wasn’t claiming Canada was perfect — particularly in regards to its relationship with Indigenous peoples — but that it had the capacity to be a more equitable country.
“We always have to strive for it because it’s easy to slip,” he said. “And many of us as Canadians who were born here and live here forget this. We become complacent and take it for granted.”