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Oct. 16, 2021 | Saturday
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Shaw Festival citizenship ceremony a first for many
Brianna Arevalo, daughter of new Canadian citizen Heydi Tobias, at the citizenship ceremony at the Festival Theatre. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

Two dozen new Canadians were sworn-in at the Shaw’s Festival Theatre last week and the special ceremony celebrated a series of firsts.

It was the first official Canadian act for the 24 citizens. It was the first citizenship ceremony attended by Lord Mayor Betty Disero. And it was the first time citizenship judge Rochelle Ivri, a Niagara-on-the-Lake resident, presided over a ceremony in her own town.

Ivri said she was happy to be able to showcase NOTL for the April 27 swearing-in. The ceremonies are often held at the offices of Citizenship and Immigration Canada .

When she was asked to suggest an off-site location to hold the event, Ivri said she thought of NOTL.

“The first place I thought of was the Shaw. Not because I was thinking, “Let’s do a ceremony in Niagara-on-the-Lake,’ but because it’s such an integral component of the region.”

Having sworn-in more than 10,000 new Canadian citizens since her appointment as citizenship judge in May 2018, she said it was “really special” to be able to welcome new Canadians at such an important cultural landmark.

Ivri encompasses so much of what the Canadian immigrant experience means.

“I like to think that I’m a good representation of what it is to be Canadian and the Canadian experience, and the Canadian immigrant experience as well given that my parents were immigrants to this country.”

She said if she can inspire others to achieve greatness and do something meaningful, especially volunteerism, it makes the role worthwhile.

Her mother arrived in Canada from Jamaica in 1967. Initially, she was here for a short trip. When she decided to renew her work visa, Ivri said it was suggested she apply for citizenship.

“So, she applied and then subsequently my father and brother came. I have some aunts and uncles that came. My grandmother came. And, of course, some stayed as well.”

Born in Canada, Ivri said she enjoys the best of both worlds. “My parents instilled in me that ... I won the lottery by being born in Canada, having the opportunities and privileges that go with being a Canadian. I’m very blessed.”

Building on those experiences, she said she thinks she’s well-suited for the role of welcoming, and sometimes deciding on the acceptance of new Canadians.

The decision to appoint Ivri as one of 10 new citizenship judges last May wasn’t made lightly, she said.

“I’m also a paralegal professor, so I teach law at Mohawk College. Before that I was appointed to the council of College of Midwives of Ontario. I sat on (that council) for eight years. Then I was also appointed to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library Board.”

In various roles on boards and taking part in disciplinary hearings in those roles, she said she already had the knowledge required for the citizenship position.

“In terms of that decision-making, reason writing, all of that, I had that skill-set. I also used to be an immigration practitioner, so I was an immigration consultant as well as a paralegal.”

The role offers flexibility and she is able to continue teaching, while enjoying the “feel-good moments” that go along with welcoming new Canadians.

“Citizenship ceremonies are very emotional, they’re fun. You’re doing something meaningful.”

Disero said she was “thrilled” to be on hand for her first citizenship ceremony as lord mayor.

“It was amazing to see how happy people were to be getting their citizenship and how proud they were,” she said, adding that she wanted to encourage the new citizens to grab any opportunities they encounter.

An emotional affair for the hard-working residents of Niagara, becoming an official Canadian citizen means so much more than just a certificate and recognition – it means the freedom and opportunities that go along with that.

Ivri said she feels blessed to be doing two things she loves. “I love to teach and I really love this job. To be able to go around the country and meet citizens and hear their stories, and just to make that connection is really meaningful.”