Welcoming 100,000+ newcomers to Canada

It’s not every day you see a judge in black ceremonial robes, crouching down to speak to a four-year-old girl. Judges are usually seated behind an imposing desk on an elevated platform.

But this is a citizenship ceremony and this judge is Albert Wong (BSc ’80), who remembers well what it feels like to be a child, and to leave behind everything you know, to start a new home in Canada.

“I recognize that many of the children are too young to understand the significance of the moment,” Wong says, who has sworn in more than 100,000 new Canadians since he was appointed a citizenship judge in 2014. “But I hope to make an impression on them so that when they look back on those first moments of becoming a Canadian, they remember feeling valued, respected and the sense of belonging.”

citenzship ceremony

Citizenship ceremony with Judge Albert Wong (BSc ’80).

Wong, who immigrated from Malaysia as a child, remembers his own citizenship ceremony in a federal building in Sudbury, Ont. After reciting the oath as a teen, he walked across the hall to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces and went on to a distinguished 39-year career. It was the 1970s and Wong remembers a very different Canada. He was the only student of Chinese descent in his Sudbury high school, and Toronto was the closest place his family could buy soy sauce.

“Every person who comes to Canada has their story and each one is significant,” Wong says. He remembers an older man from Tibet with tears in his eyes who pressed Wong’s hand onto his forehead, not wanting to let go. There was another man who had never had citizenship in any country. Stateless his entire life, the father of three children stood before Wong proudly reciting the oath of citizenship with his young family.

There was a refugee from Syria, whose citizenship ceremony happened in a hospital room because she was dying of cancer. She held a photograph of Niagara Falls. It was the photo her father had showed her as a little girl back in Syria, with a promise that she would one day see the falls as a Canadian citizen.

“To have the privilege of being part of the fulfillment of so many people’s dreams is a huge honour,” Wong says.

Judge greets child

Judge Albert Wong (BSc ’80) greets a child.

Wong does something unique at the end of each ceremony. He asks everyone at the ceremony to give a loud, joyful cheer. “I want to recognize that this is a joyful day for the newcomers, but it is also a joyful day for Canada,” Wong says. “And I want to acknowledge that when we are joyful, we are showing that we belong here.”

Photography by Ryan Antooa