Ottawa, Canada (o.canada.com) – Heavily sedated and barely conscious on her deathbed, Veronica Singh-Boles had little to gain from Canadian citizenship.
Cervical cancer would claim her life long before she could ever obtain a Canadian passport, vote in an election or exercise her right to run for public office.
But on June 28, with her husband, Jim, and seven-year-old daughter, Leah, by her side, the 31-year-old Guyanese native, whose life had been anything but easy, was granted this much sought after status during a private ceremony at a hospital in Milton, Ontario.
“By that time she was losing a lot of her ability to talk but she could still communicate,” said her Canadian husband who took the oath and signed the paperwork for her.
“I said ‘what do you think of that Veronica,’ and she just lifted up her thumb.”
Singh-Boles died three days later. As fate would have it — on Canada Day.
“She kind of was aware of the irony of the situation. You finally get your dream and you know that you can never use it,” he said, adding the silver lining was knowing her daughter, who also became a Canadian citizen that day, would not endure the same struggles with poverty that she had.
“She wanted, more than anything else, for her to grow up in this country and to have all the opportunities it gives you.”
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney indicated last December that the citizenship oath was a “public declaration” that must be taken “freely and openly,” typically at Government offices, cultural venues or military facilities across the country. At the time, the Minister was defending his decision to ban Muslim women from wearing face coverings at citizenship ceremonies.
But it seems there are rare occasions where Citizenship and Immigration will waive language proficiency, knowledge of Canadian history and current events as well as other eligibility rules and conduct ceremonies in private by telephone, at people’s homes or by their bedside.
According to records obtained by Postmedia News through Access to Information, there were about four such ceremonies last year.
“Private ceremonies may be considered in urgent and extenuating circumstances, including for terminally ill candidates who are unable to travel or people living in remote areas where travel would cause an undue burden,” Kenney’s spokeswoman Alexis Pavlich said.
Renata Brum Bozzi, a Toronto-area citizenship judge, has presided over several citizenship ceremonies for people who were dying or acutely ill, including that of Singh-Boles.
She describes it as one of the “most rewarding” parts of her job.
“It’s more uplifting than sad and always the celebration of an achievement,” she said.
“It confers an official status but on an emotional level, it says you belong here and that’s comforting at the end of their lives and it’s always a triumph.”
Brum Bozzi arrived at Singh-Boles’ bedside with a flag, balloons, a T-shirt and book about Canadian symbols for Leah and spent an hour-and-a-half chatting with the family.
Sitting at the edge of her bed, she rubbed Singh-Boles’ hand and head to wake her and explained that she’d be receiving her citizenship.
The government, she said, usually finds out about these cases when applicants call or write about their situation. Additional information, like doctors’ letters, are often required but efforts are made to move quickly given the urgency of the situation and these assignments often come up at a moment’s notice.
“In these cases, I have to say we’re part of a bureaucracy which is sometimes very cumbersome, but it moves with extraordinary speed to try to get it done in a timely way,” she said.
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