Virtual Canada Day citizenship ceremony celebrates nurses, care workers

Virtual Canada Day citizenship ceremony celebrates nurses, care workers

OTTAWA — When Sweeny Karande was in her nursing program in India, her teacher presented her with an award as the best outgoing student.

“This is just the beginning,” her teacher said. “You can’t stop here.”

Karande took those words to heart.

The next nine years were full of new beginnings as she journeyed from India to Ontario to Nova Scotia and then the Northwest Territories, where she now works full time as a registered nurse.

There will be another new beginning this Canada Day: Karande is set to join 18 others in swearing the oath to become a Canadian citizen.

Canada Day citizenship ceremonies are a holiday tradition, but this year, the COVID-19 pandemic means the celebrations are going digital.

Karande’s ceremony won’t be the first held online. Since April 1, over 1,000 virtual oath ceremonies have taken place, mostly quiet affairs.

The marquee Canada Day group event will be streamed on YouTube, and is expected to feature remarks from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former governor general Adrienne Clarkson.

People ranging in age from six to 66 will take the oath, representing 13 different countries, the Immigration Department said.

While they’re all united in their new citizenship, some have another bond: they work in health care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the role new Canadians play in the health-care system.

According to data from the 2016 census, more than a third of the 245,000 people working as nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates are immigrants.

Karande, now 29, grew up in a large village in the southwestern Indian state of Goa, where she’d always wanted to become a nurse.

Her family couldn’t afford university tuition, so she enrolled in an auxiliary nursing and midwifery program.

When a recruiter for Canadian personal support worker programs came calling in 2010, her siblings pooled their money together so she could enrol.

She arrived in Cornwall, Ont. the next year, where she lived in a two-bedroom apartment with three other Indian students, often relying on the food bank to get by.

She did a placement at St. Joseph’s Continuing Care Centre, and one night her colleagues knocked on her door. On the street was a whole SUV filled with food for her and her roommates.

She would find equally welcoming communities, she said, when she arrived in Halifax for nursing school, and again when she moved up to Hay River, N.W.T., to take a full-time nursing job.

“This was my end goal, and finally I am a nurse and I’m getting my citizenship — this is really awesome,” she said.

“I love every bit of it.”

Omair Imtiaz is also becoming a citizen on Canada Day, a feat he also attributes in part to the kindness and guidance of many near strangers along the way.

He was sent to Canada by his father in 2007 to join his older brother, already in Moncton, N.B.

From there, he moved to P.E.I, and found himself struggling to balance the demands of his undergraduate degree, part-time jobs and the freedom of student life in Canada.

He ended up suspended from university, and was on the cusp of losing his student visa and being forced to leave.

A classmate sat him down at a party and said she’d help him get through it.

The day before his visa expired, they went to reenrol in school. He had intended to study to be a pharmacy technician, but he changed his mind after speaking with the enrollment officer and he signed up for a residential care worker program instead.

The woman from the party? She became his wife. And the program led to the job he’s now held for eight years at the John Gillis Memorial Lodge in Belfast, P.E.I.

“I can never count my blessings enough for what Canada and its people have given me,” he said.

“So this is my way of giving back to the community, giving to the most vulnerable.”

Imtiaz, 32, said when he walked through the doors of the care home, many residents had never seen a brown person before.

He was met with hostility, but within days familiarity bred comfort and then genuine friendship, he said.

“Education and that personal contact can go a long way,” he said.

Karande said she’s fielded her own experiences with racism. But it was finding out about Canada’s own record on that score that has stuck with her more.

While in nursing school, she learned about Indigenous history and the impact the residential school system was having on the current health and well-being of Indigenous communities.

India had its own experiences with British colonialism that linger to this day, she said, but to be confronted with the harmful effects on Indigenous Peoples in Canada shocked her.

She decided to turn the anger to action.

“I felt like I was obligated to do so,” she said.

“I was just doing my part.”

She began to search for nursing jobs in Indigenous centres, finally landing in Hay River, a town of nearly 4,000 people where just under half identify as Indigenous.

She’s been there now for almost a year, working at the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority. She described the move up North as scary, given what she’d heard about the cold, but has now embraced the outdoor lifestyle.

She is also committed to reconciliation.

With her citizenship comes the right to vote — a right that she intends to take seriously.

“It is a privilege to have the opportunity make change,” she said.

“I believe there is a lot of change that needs to be implemented in terms of Indigenous people, in terms of different races and how they are being treated in Canada. I’m very excited that I’m finally a citizen.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

citizenship

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

100 Women Who Care make a donation to Sylvan Lake Food Bank and Bethany Care Centre. Photo By Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News
100 Women Who Care donate to four Sylvan Lake groups

The Food Bank, Bethany Sylvan Lake, Community Partners and the Library all received a donation

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

Shaelynn Decock and her dog Taco, who has been missing since Aug. 26. Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake woman looking for closure for her stolen dog

Shaelynn Decock says it has been two months since she last saw her dog Taco

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Thursday October 22, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
O’Toole tells Alberta UCP AGM Liberals were ‘late and confused’ on COVID response

He says Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has taken charge and not waited to make things happen

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Inquiry into oil and gas foes to deliver report next year: Kenney

A lawsuit filed by environmental law firm Ecojustice argues the inquiry is politically motivated

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

This photo provided by Air Force Reserve shows a sky view of Hurricane Epsilon taken by Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter team over the Atlantic Ocean taken Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.   Epsilon’s maximum sustained winds have dropped slightly as it prepares to sideswipe Bermuda on a path over the Atlantic Ocean.  The National Hurricane Center says it should come close enough Thursday, Oct. 22, evening to merit a tropical storm warning for the island.  (Air Force Reserve via AP)
Hurricane Epsilon expected to remain offshore but will push waves at Atlantic Canada

Epsilon is not expected to have any real impact on land

A voter places her absentee ballot in the ballot box, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Robert F. Bukaty
American voters living in Canada increasingly being counted in presidential race

The largest number of Canadian-based American voters cast their ballots in New York and California

A composite image of three photographs shows BC NDP Leader John Horgan, left, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sept. 25, 2020; BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, centre, in Victoria on Sept. 24, 2020; and BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Sept. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck, Chad Hipolito
British Columbia votes in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan called the snap election one year before the fixed voting date

Nunavut's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, on Tuesday June 30, 2020. The annual report from Nunavut's representative for children and youth says "complacency and a lack of accountability" in the territory's public service means basic information about young people needing services isn’t tracked. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Nunavut’s young people ‘should be expecting more’ from government services: advocate

‘The majority of information we requested is not tracked or was not provided by departments’

Most Read