OTTAWA — Allowing new Canadians to take the oath of citizenship by clicking a box online is a disgusting idea that will cheapen the process and open the door to fraud — or a forward-thinking notion that will help decrease a backlog of citizenship applications, depending on who you ask.
That's according to the hundreds of comments the government received about the idea over the last few months.
In February, the Liberals asked the public to weigh in on their plan to let people opt out of a formal in-person or online ceremony and instead take the Oath of Citizenship with the click of a mouse.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser pitched the concept as a way to quickly work through a backlog of people waiting to swear their oath and officially become Canadians. It's expected to save people roughly three months of waiting between taking their citizenship test and officially becoming a Canadian.
The 691 comments sent in reveal deeply divided opinions on what would be a fundamental change to the way new Canadians pledge their allegiance to King and country. Names were removed from the comments before they were posted online.
"This is a HORRIBLE idea!" one person wrote in response to the proposed regulations.
"This proposal takes what should be one of the most meaningful things a person will ever do in their lives and equates it with ordering a new pair of underwear from Amazon."
Several comments suggested the change would more closely resemble online shopping than a solemn, life-changing ceremony.
Some called it disgusting, a disgrace or a travesty.
Others saw the one-click option as a way to give people some much-needed flexibility and certainty, particularly for those living in remote communities or who can't afford to take time off work.
"This is a progressive, forward-thinking, and truly commendable initiative and should be implemented as soon as feasible," one person wrote.
"It would help to increase citizenship acquisition rates, particularly by individuals in the Indigenous and racialized minority communities, as these communities are disproportionately lower income and have less flexibility to schedule a day off from employment to take the oath at a traditional ceremony."
During the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, new Canadians began taking their citizenship oaths through virtual Zoom ceremonies presided over by a citizenship judge or official.
Even after the government began in-person ceremonies again, the majority of new Canadians have been instructed to take their oaths online as a way to get more people through the system quickly.
In the latter half of 2022, fewer than 10 per cent of citizenship ceremonies were in person, and the vast majority were held over video conference, according to government data provided to Parliament.
The government doesn't track how many people asked for an in-person ceremony and did not get one, but said it expects that if the change were to go ahead there would be fewer people choosing to attend a ceremony and fewer ceremonies overall.
The new proposal would take virtual ceremonies a step farther, eliminating the need for a judge or official to preside over a ceremony and allowing new citizens to attest to their oath with a single click of a mouse.
"Although I definitely am enthusiastic about the idea of having an in-person ceremony … if it comes at the cost of delayed citizenship, I would rather choose the faster option," one person wrote.
Others pointed out that longer wait times can delay delivery of new Canadian passports needed for travel.
"I loved my ceremony, and the opportunity to mark the occasion, but it was tight getting my new passport to travel when I needed it, so the opportunity to reduce waiting times is great," one person said.
"I have heard of many people who suffered because they had to wait for a long time to get their passports," another said.
Critics said government backlogs and a lack of available in-person ceremonies were a poor reason to threaten the time-honoured tradition.
"The objective should be trying to process the backlogs by providing more ceremony opportunities, instead of cheapening the experience by making it a self-administered click," one wrote.
Others still worry about the possibility for fraud, though the government plans to use a secure web portal for the one-click oaths.
If approved, the changes to the citizenship regulations would come into effect as early as this month at a cost of about $5 million over 10 years.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2023.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press