Local immigrants share insights with citizenship process

Sam Odrowski

Canada’s values, freedoms, safety, and equality make it an appealing place to live for those who reside in less-democratic parts of the world.
With Oct. 8-14 being Citizenship Week in Canada, much of what makes our country great was highlighted by those who have immigrated here.
A Grade 5 class at St. Francis School participated in Citizenship Week last Tuesday by hearing about the experiences of recent local immigrants.
“In the Grade 5 class, they’re learning about the process of becoming a Canadian and why people want to move to Canada,” said Jean Bujold experiential learning lead for the Northwest Catholic District School Board.
“I think it’s important for them to learn about [the] citizenship process because it reinforces the core values that Canadians hold,” she reasoned.
Fifyan Canoon, originally from Iraq who moved to Fort Frances in December, spoke to the class and shared her story.
“Me and my family . . . were forced to leave when terrorist came to my city and took it over,” she recounted.
“The reason I had to leave my city in Iraq was because it was not safe for people from different religions to stay there.”
ISIS took over the community Canoon once lived in and removed anyone who was Christian or didn’t follow their religious beliefs.
She still is in the process of becoming a Canadian, and is excited to be able to vote and leave the country freely once the process is complete.
Canoon told the class she loves how big Canada is and the willingness of people who live here to accept everyone, regardless of their culture or race.
Tracey Omerod, who moved here from England in 2010 and also is going through the process of becoming a Canadian citizen, told the students about her experience and what attracted her to coming here.
“My favourite part has got to be that everyone is very accepting of each other,” she remarked.
“With religions and how everybody lives all inside each other.”
In England, Omerod found people to be less accepting of other cultures.
“There’s a lot of racism there, a lot of condensed crime . . . and people don’t tend to integrate,” she noted.
“Say you’re from Pakistan or Afghanistan, then you live together in your own little communities, so there’s all these different communities that live very separately in the same town.”
Since coming to Canada, Omerod has been faced with a few challenges, such as not being able to travel freely.
“The hardest thing for us is the restriction of movement,” she admitted. “Getting back into the country.
“There’s a lot of red tape and that’s been very frustrating because in England right now, you’ve got the freedom of movement through all of Europe.”
Coming to a new country seemed daunting at first for Omerod, but she’s since become acclimated to Canadian living and built a lot of confidence during her time here.
“It’s been awesome,” she enthused. “It’s totally taken me out of my comfort zone and made me take on challenges that I never would envision that I could have dealt with and overcome.
“Now I’m not scared of anything. Throw anything at me [and] I can do it.”
Sarah Eltahan, who originally is from Egypt, told the class her favourite part about Canada is the level of opportunity.
“Canada is a nice place to work,” she lauded. “You feel that there is hope here that you can do whatever you like.
“If you want to change your career, you can do it,” she noted. “It’s never too late.”
All three speakers came to Canada for different reasons but all were united in their desire to vote in a democratic society, said Bujold.
“With National Citizenship Week taking place this week, and with the upcoming municipal election taking place on [Oct. 22], this is an important message and reminder to those of us who sometimes take this right for granted,” she remarked.
“This was a perfect opportunity to show students that it’s everyone’s responsibility to be involved in issues that affect our communities and to work for the common good of all.”
Bujold and Grade 5 teacher Artina Gurski embarked on this project together to show students why Canada is seen as a great place to live, as well as the importance of the rights and freedoms its citizens enjoy.
“I think that when a child is exposed to something like this, it really brings in the realization of how great the country of Canada really is,” Gurski reasoned.
“We saw how the [speakers] felt about it and that’s a really good thing for kids to see.”
Both Gurski and Bujold were appreciative of the three guests who came in to share their experiences, and are hopeful the students took away a better understanding of the country they call home.