Hugo O’Doherty has been Product Manager at Moving2Canada for four years. Today, he became a citizen of Canada. This is his story.
Becoming Canadian took about 30 minutes over Zoom, after roll-call was complete. That’s about how long it takes to run a laundry cycle or cook a decent meal. A hockey period, with stoppages. An encore at a gig.
Before the ceremony, I was not a Canadian. After it, I was.
In truth, becoming Canadian took a bit longer. In my case, 11 years and four months, or 4,142 days. Nearly one-third of my life to date.
On many of those days I struggled, not knowing how, or if, I would be able to stay in Canada. Before becoming a permanent resident I had five temporary work permits, sometimes separated by chunks of time on status that would not allow me to work in Canada if I left and returned, and I actively pursued three distinct permanent immigration routes before landing on one that demanded I prove near-fluent French ability. I failed that exam twice. On opening the not-good-enough results of the second failure, I adopted a more steely, I’ll-show-you mentality and enrolled in an evening course — four evenings per week, four hours per evening, for two months. Instead of movies and restaurants and sports, I was in an overlit classroom trying to figure out verb conjugations after yet another day stuck in a job I didn’t enjoy, unable to take up another offer because of my status. I passed that exam the third time.
Becoming Canadian is easy in the relative sense — it’s easier to become Canadian than it is to, say, become American or Japanese. But, it’s no slam dunk for anyone. Every person’s route is unique. Mine was in fact more straightforward than many others’ because I leveraged spadefuls of privilege into my initial move through the IEC Working Holiday program, which is available only to people from select countries.
I am lucky in that the moment I became a Canadian was not a moment I had to cease being a citizen of my home country. Many other people are required to make a choice, where becoming one thing means unbecoming something else. I get to have my bread buttered on both sides. Becoming Canadian does not make me less Irish, either in law or in my heart.
Canada is a community of communities. Canada does this stuff well. It is tightly-knit, but not too tightly-knit as to be inaccessible. Being a Canadian now makes me part of the club — an insider with a voice and a stake. Sure, before this week I was able to speak out, but Canada was not obliged to listen. Now with my right to vote, the country is obliged to listen.
Canada makes it somewhat tricky for a new person to join, to become an insider. But, notably, Canada does not derive the value of citizenship from scarcity or watering things down. Hundreds of thousands of us become citizens every year through naturalization. Many more are born with Canadian citizenship, some of whom don’t have Canadian parents but are born on Canadian soil. Together, we strive to build a slightly better version of the country every day.
And yet, I live in a part of Canada where that insider-outsider dynamic is quite different. In Quebec, many people are born Canadian in the legal sense, but often resist wearing a Canadian identity in public, in private, or both. The pure laine, dyed-in-the-wool descendents of the French settlers of what is now Quebec form a club you can only be born into.
When I first landed in Montreal on a freezing January evening, I got lost trying to find my accommodation. Carrying a suitcase, a guitar, and other belongings in a time before good smartphones with a magic blue dot to guide you where you need to go, I finally found the place. With teeth chattering and frozen facial hair, I tried to check-in with broken, error-strewn French. It was not remotely on my mind that evening that this was somewhere I would not only call home, but a place I would help to maintain as a citizen.
During the citizenship ceremony, they make you take an oath. It’s like a set of vows, only you’re marrying the second-largest country on Earth. This is a lifetime commitment.
In addition to the vows all 153 of us (from 40 countries) took on Zoom today, I’ll add my own.
I recognise that living on land that was not given by, but taken from, indigenous people gives me a responsibility to continue learning about the history of the land, and to co-create a great place to live with those who have called the land home for far longer than I have.
I promise to visit every province and at least one territory. I’m currently on three, which after a decade-plus here already is simply not good enough.
I promise not only to be a good citizen, but to raise one. Our beautiful daughter, who became a Canadian at birth 15 months before I became one by naturalization, continues to astound us every day.
Like her, I also became a Canadian on my birthday, 36 years after becoming a citizen of my home country. Quite a gift. Merci, Quebec. And thank you, Canada.
How to become a citizen of Canada
After reading the above, you may be wondering how people from around the world become citizens of Canada.
First, you need to become a permanent resident. In order to transition from permanent residence to citizenship, you then need to reside in Canada for at least three years (1,095 days) within five years of obtaining permanent resident status.
There are more than 100 pathways to Canadian permanent residence across a range of economic, family class, and refugee and humanitarian categories.
Some people move to Canada with permanent resident status, while others only obtain this status after first moving to Canada on temporary status, such as with a temporary work permit or as an international student. Canada actually allows a portion of time spent on temporary status to be attributed towards the residency days for citizenship eligibility.