Question Period: Volunteer Presiding Officials

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, this question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate and is with regard to volunteer presiding officers of Canadian citizenship ceremonies.

New Canadians, as we all know, make significant contributions to the fabric of Canadian society, the economy, health and culture — such as those of Yisa Akinbolaji. Citizenship ceremonies are memorable and moving.

The honour to be invited to serve Canada as a citizenship ceremony presiding officer is, I understand, accorded only to members of the Order of Canada or recipients of the honour of the Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, presented personally by Her Majesty the Queen.

Leader, why, unlike other federal boards, do these volunteers not receive honoraria or per diems? Their commitment is like those of other federal boards. One Manitoba presiding officer alone has, since 2012, presided over 500 ceremonies and sworn in approximately 35,000 citizens. This year, to the end of August, this individual held 70 ceremonies: 5 in-person pre-COVID and 65 virtual ceremonies. The time, talent and commitment for each of these are significant.

I must say that, although presiding officers do not receive an honorarium, I’m pleased First Nations elders are paid for performing an opening prayer. Why are presiding officials of Canadian citizenship ceremonies not considered in the same light as members of federal boards? When will the government address this discrepancy and provide honoraria for presiding citizenship officers?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you, senator, and thank you for the advance notice of this question.

The government understands and knows that volunteer presiding officials play an important role in citizenship ceremonies by taking on the ceremonial responsibilities of a citizenship judge. This includes providing opening remarks, administering the oath of citizenship and handing out citizenship certificates. Of course, it does not include any administrative or judicial responsibilities, as such.

I’ve been advised, as well, that the volunteer presiding officials are supported by staff from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and are provided comprehensive training as well as pre-written scripts they may adapt according to their own preferences.

While there is no payment for presiding at a citizenship ceremony, the department does reimburse volunteer presiding officials for certain preapproved travel expenses directly associated with the ceremony, if applicable.

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