The federal government’s move to cut local citizenship ceremonies and testing will likely hurt Campbell River’s chances at attracting immigrants, says North Island MLA Claire Trevena.
Trevena said it’s a concern that government services for immigrants are so far from home. Citizenship and Immigration offices in Nanaimo and Victoria were shut down in May due to budget cuts, now the closest office is in Vancouver.
“You want to encourage immigrants to settle here but if you make it hard to take the citizenship test here and you make it hard to settle here, they’re not going to want to move here,” Trevena said.
For more than 40 years, Campbell River has hosted its own citizenship ceremonies for immigrants being sworn in as new Canadians at the the Maritime Heritage Centre.
But last week, Campbell River’s Immigrant Welcome Centre raised the flag that there are no further plans for local ceremonies.
Philippe Couvrette, spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, told the Mirror last week that the department would provide services outside its offices to regions across the country.
“Citizenship and Immigration expects to be in Campbell River this spring,” Couvrette said. “The frequency of our itinerant service will depend on the number of people who require ceremonies or other services.”
However, on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website, services are only scheduled to come to Nanaimo, which will serve Campbell River, Courtenay, Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni listed as the areas served. The services listed as coming to Nanaimo are citizenship tests, hearings and ceremonies. Citizenship and Immigration is scheduled to be in Nanaimo in June 2013.
Trevena said making local residents travel to another city takes away from the experience.
“The ceremonies were quite lovely,” she said. “It’s a great setting and there’s a real sense of community – there are representatives from council there – a cake. A real sense of ‘you are here, you are part of the community.’ It will take something away from the ceremony (to have it in Nanaimo). It will make it harder for friends and neighbours to come.”
Trevena said immigrants will also be burdened with the cost of transportation and the cost of taking time off work to access services. Rachel Blaney, executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Centre, said she has already had at least one client forced to travel out of town.
“The client drove to Nanaimo and wrote the exam,” Blaney said. “Following the test she was told that she would receive the results by mail from CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada). There was no judge or ceremony, only a promise that a citizenship ceremony will be held at a future date, probably in Vancouver.”
Trevena said the loss of local celebrations will “hurt the community” and make the ceremonies “much more isolating for people.”