Citizenship ceremony a first for St. Paul Law Day

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Canada flags flew proudly and bagpipes sounded, as 38 people were sworn in as Canadian citizens in a special addition to St. Paul’s annual Law Day, last Friday at St. Paul courthouse.

The handful of local residents who were among those getting sworn in confessed to being shocked to find out the ceremony would be taking place so close to home.

“I read the letter 10,000 times just to make sure it was in St. Paul – I couldn’t believe it,” said St. Paul’s Charu Gavane with a big smile.

Immigrants from nine countries – who now make their home in northeast Alberta – pledged their oath to Queen Elizabeth II (whose birthday actually fell on the same day) and promised to obey the laws of Canada and fulfill their duty as Canadians.

Gavane came to Canada seven years ago from India, to join her husband at the time.

“It was a big shock. It’s a totally different culture,” she said, adding she was worried at the time about being accepted by local people. “For them, we were more like aliens because there were not many foreign workers at that time.”

After being separated from her husband, she thought she might go back to India, and for a long time, held off on applying for her Canadian citizenship.

But Gavane, who holds three jobs at Mark’s Work Wearhouse, H & R Block, and TD Canada Trust, said her co-workers told her that she should stay in Canada, and that perhaps things would work themselves out.

“I had very strong support from my colleagues,” she said, noting the people who were by her side for the oath were not her family, but friends and supporters from work. “There are people out here who are so friendly.”

Taking her citizenship oath was a moment of pride for her, as she says she was glad to join a country that accepts people of all backgrounds.

“Whether you are single or married, black or white, it doesn’t matter,” she said.

Renee Moore, who wore two hats as a primary Law Day organizer and the representative of the Canadian Bar Association at the ceremony, was giddy with excitement about having Citizenship and Immigration Canada agree to hold the ceremony in St. Paul. Most often, the ceremony takes place in Edmonton or Calgary, but is, at times, held outside of the two major urban centres.

Moore said over the past 15 years, there has been a push to have the ceremony held locally, and she has been personally working to bring it to town in the past four years, since getting involved in Law Day.

Law Day is all about informing people about access to justice and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and citizenship fit perfectly into that, she said.

“We really wanted to have this type of ceremony here to add to our day,” she said, calling it “so, so exciting,” to see it finally happening.

Elk Point’s Sheena Panganiban was another person incredulous to get a paper informing that her citizenship ceremony would be taking place in St. Paul, saying at first she thought it was a joke.

Panganiban’s mother left for Canada when she was about 14, she said, adding that her mother sponsored the rest of the family to come and join her.

As she was moving to Elk Point from the big city of Manila, she was apprehensive, saying she wasn’t sure what to expect moving to a small town in Alberta.

“I wasn’t expecting this place at all,” she said.

After graduating from high school at FG Miller, Panganiban now works as a pharmacy assistant at Guardian Drugs.

While she has embraced Canada and Canadian traditions – even so far as sporting an Oilers keychain and talking about her love of the Blue Jays – she said she didn’t feel like she needed to change her citizenship.

“This year, I applied because I want to vote,” she explains; now Panganiban and the other 37 new Canadian citizens will be able to vote in October’s municipal elections or even to run themselves, as dignitaries urged them to consider as they talked about Canada being the “land of opportunities.”

Changing her citizenship doesn’t change her, she says, adding, “I’m still going to be me.”

But in other ways, Canada’s newest citizens see the ceremony as an official way to embrace the country that has embraced them.

“I’m excited – because I feel like I’m home,” said Panganiban.

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