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Montreal: Citizenship judge Alain-Michel Ayache threatens participants during citizenship ceremony

Photograph by Valerie

Montreal: Citizenship judge threatens attendants during citizenship ceremony

Submitted by M.B., a new Canadian citizen

Montreal, August 5, 2011

8:30 am, Sainte Antoine, 1025, citizenship ceremony event

At the entrance, the woman at the security desk, speaking French with a heavy Spanish pronunciation, directed us into the lobby. My two guests (my husband and my mother-in-law) were told to wait in the lobby before joining me in the ceremony room.

I left them there and I entered the pre-ceremony room (the same room where I had had my citizenship test), and I sat down on the same very uncomfortable chairs along with the 114 future Canadian citizens.

 We were called by a panel and in turn we left our resident cards and signed consent forms that would allow Canadian media to film and photograph us if they were so inclined. We were also given a booklet (a booklet that would have been very useful to study two months ago, before I got the citizenship test), a maple leaf pin, a bookmark with the national anthem and vouchers for a few local museums.

I studied the literature, put the pin on the collar of my white shirt and happily waited for the moment when my husband and my mother-in-law would join me for the ceremony. I smiled gleefully, overwhelmed with emotion, profound gratitude and pride for being  so fortunate  to become a citizen of this great country that I love so dearly.

The clerk of the ceremony even suggested that, if we found the situation too upsetting, we could leave and have another citizenship ceremony, some other time!/Photograph by M.B.

Before the ceremony, the clerk suggested that we take a ten-minute break and with a cursory explanation, we were informed that, due to the unexpected number of those present, our guests would not be able to join us during the ceremony. We would have to be alone during this one-in-a-lifetime event, even if the citizenship ceremony invitation letter clearly stated that we were allowed two guests per participant. I was to experience this unique moment alone.

The reason we were given? Too many people had showed up! They had presumed and expected that only a fraction of the attendants would show up for their own citizenship ceremony.

 There were 115 permanent residents to receive citizenship that day and if each new Canadian had brought the two guests, the total number of those in the modest sized room would have been 345, more than triple the number of chairs available.

 We all left for ten minutes and informed our guests about the situation. I then realized that nobody from Citizenship and Immigration Canada had bothered to address the guests in the waiting room. They hadn’t even been told about this situation!

 We were the forced bearers of the bad news because no one from CIC had found the courage or decency to inform them. The total lack of professionalism displayed by CIC officials that day was an embarrassment. The pitiful management of this ceremony is hard to forget.

 Upon sharing the news that families and guests could not attend the ceremony, the sentiment of the event unanimously and instantly shifted from pride  to a gloomy air of disappointment.

 The CIC knew that we would not be able to share this moment with our families and friends well beforehand, but we were mislead to believe the contrary. Before we had entered the ceremony room, the CIC personnel even told us that our guests would join us later.

The two explanations given to us by the clerks at the ceremony were flimsy. One was a story about a recent fire safety inspection and the other claimed that too many people showed up. While both horrible excuses, more disappointing was CIC’s incapability to deal with a very unpleasant situation, as well as their inconsistency in fabricating explanations.

They did not even consider apologizing to our guests who were kept in total darkness until we informed them about the situation. We were supposed to choose one of their excuses and explain it to our two guests.

Facts 

CIC knew the exact number of those scheduled to take the oath on Friday, August 5th (115 future Canadians) and they also knew that, if each attendant brought the two guests allowed, the total number would be  345.

If the fire department had told the CIC that the room was safe for only 120 people, why didn’t the CIC simply change the room? Or, why did they schedule 115 people for that day, at that hour? Or, why didn’t they choose another venue, as the citizenship ceremony can be held in libraries, cultural centers, at community-based sites, museums, parks, etc.? The Planetarium is right across from the CIC. We could have all been invited to go there and share this moment with our families and friends.

It was simply nothing but a crass lack of interest to solve the issue and lack of respect for the future Canadians and their families and friends.

Benoit Laurent, apparently the event planner, had no decent explanation for this unprofessional citizenship ceremony. Valerie, my mother-in-law, found out his name. While I was in the ceremony room, she talked with numerous guests. She told me that there was even a woman, Veronica L., who came all the way from Mexico to see her cousin becoming a Canadian citizen.

What bothered me was their attitude towards us and our guests as they made zero efforts to solve the issue. We were served the fact and we had to accept it.

The ceremony began in a tensed atmosphere with the clerk of the ceremony explaining when applicants are to stand up, how to take the oath and how we will be called to receive our certificates. 

The clerk of the ceremony also asked the audience to toss the chewing gum as citizenship judge Alain-Michel Ayache doesn’t like to see people chewing gum during the ceremony. She even brought a trash bin.

She finally apologized for the situation claiming that it was too difficult for them to contact everyone and let us know that we could not be with our families and friends during the ceremony (So, she basically indirectly admitted that  the two explanations given earlier were nothing but blatant lies).

She even suggested that, if we found the situation too upsetting, we could leave and have another citizenship ceremony, some other time!

I was flabbergasted. For a few seconds, I even thought about leaving as I felt not only disrespected, but also emotionally assaulted. I did not feel welcome, I felt like a number, I felt humiliated.

The CIC couldn’t call us and let us know about this? Our guests had taken days off from work, or had to travel from other cities and CIC did not find time to inform us?

Moreover, they gave us false hopes that we could share this important day with our families and friends. We were mislead from the very beginning and we were expected to be cheerful and in a celebratory mood.

Citizenship judge Alain-Michel Ayache with a new Canadian after the ceremony/Photograph by M.B.

All rise!

The audience was asked to rise while the citizenship judge was ushered in. Judge Alain-Michel Ayache made a speech and then asked the audience to rise to take the Oath of Citizenship in both official languages.

During his speech, he agreed that the situation was not as we wanted and he threatened those who would misbehave due to their discontent that would not get their citizenship and that they would be sent to court.

We took the oath.

THE OATH OF CITIZENSHIP: 

From this day forward, I pledge my loyalty and allegiance to Canada and Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada. I promise to respect our country’s rights and freedoms, to defend out democratic values, to faithfully observe our laws and fulfill my duties and obligations as a Canadian citizen.

After the oath, the clerk of the ceremony called out the name of each new citizen  and  the judge presented the citizenship certificates.

There were closing remarks and then the singing of the anthem in both English and French.

 There was no feeling of celebration. Because nobody felt joyful, Judge Ayache had to ask us to clap and he also asked us to congratulate our neighbours on our left and right.

We conformed to his request with  paralyzed smiles on our faces.

We did it like robots. We sang the national anthem with no joy.

I felt like crying with sadness.

He emphasized the multicultural character of our country, reading the countries of origin of the 115 new citizens. He also reminded us that in Canada we enjoy freedoms and rights we never had back in our native countries. He also reminded us of our responsibilities as Canadian citizens and Canadian passport holders.  When we travel abroad with our Canadian passport, we represent Canada. Also, he said that one of our rights in Canada is also that of filing a complaint.

Before the closing of the ceremony, he took the time to congratulate Muslims on their religious holiday.

Pictures were taken outside of the room of ceremonies and many people said they would file complaints related to this unacceptable situation.

Together with my husband and my mother-in-law, we went across from the CIC and sat down on a bench in front of the Planetarium.  My husband gave me an éclair and my mother-in-law gave me a beautiful purple passport holder that came in a lavender embroidered purse with a letter she wrote.

I read the letter and I cried with joy.

That was my real citizenship ceremony.

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