By Ruth Mojeed
I have always considered my nationality a form of identity and I sought to better understand this identity when I left the shores of Nigeria to pursue a new career and educational prospects. I wanted to learn and experience a world beyond the one I was familiar with. That experience has been a journey in self-discovery; I did not realize how Nigerian I was until I moved to Canada. My cultural idiosyncrasies as a Nigerian became points of exceptionalism in my new Canadian environment—the kind of exceptionalism that gives room to learning, unlearning, and re-learning the world around me.
I discovered a world beyond the confines of my singular view during my postgraduate studies. I was learning with other students from different nationalities who, like me, were attempting to make sense of the world vis-à-vis their new experiences. I soon discovered a diaspora community that was a rich blend of cultures and worldviews that were vastly different from mine. I was becoming more conscious of my unconscious biases and the nuances of my new cultural environment—a world far from the one I had left behind. My new experiences spoke to new possibilities—the kind one would only find in a world that appreciates and gives voice to the unique and multifaceted experiences of people of different backgrounds and worldviews.
Canada soon became my definition of a multicultural society and as I got involved with my community, I found my place as part of its cultural mosaic. My experiences did not come without challenges, however. I found that workforce engagement or social inclusion is often skewed in favour of those with more similar or familiar experiences. Different is not always considered valuable, and maintaining the status quo is sometimes favoured by those who would rather not make the effort to learn new ways of being, doing and seeing.
Through my work on The Inclusion Project—a platform for engaging private and public sector stakeholders on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion—I’ve thought and learnt a lot about the correlation between a sense of belonging and one’s status on the citizenship spectrum. The project was inspired by some of the conversations at 6 Degrees Toronto, the forum presented by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship that I attended as part of my fellowship, as well as some international conversations around citizenship and migration.
Access to healthcare, employment, and some social services are sometimes allocated based on citizenship status. While there is a justifiable need to grant primary access to those who, by birth or naturalization, are citizens, this could also lead to the exclusion of those who do not (yet) have the privilege of citizenship. The illusion of permanence for immigrants, refugees or other newcomers becomes apparent when it becomes increasingly difficult to access much-needed services or the extent of their contribution to the society is limited by their residency status.
Certain rights (and privileges), such as the right to vote or run for office, should be reserved for citizens, but the growing need for skilled labour and the aging Canadian workforce no doubt, calls for new talent that would likely need to emerge from other parts of the world. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland have caught up to the need to support foreign medical talent to meet their needs; other provinces and professions need to catch up to this trend and consider new ways of gauging skills and experience beyond the number of years a person has spent in the country or their citizenship status.
For me, civic engagement and finding a sense of belonging in my local community goes beyond the parameters of a certificate and the accompanying privileges. I see citizenship as the everyday experience of contributing to my local community through responsible and active engagement. This, to me, is what it means to become Canadian.
Ruth Mojeed is a 2018–2019 ICC Fellow. For more information on the ICC Fellowship, visit https://www.icc-icc.ca/site/icc-fellowship.
Photo: Institute for Canadian Citizenship / Alyssa Faoro