Ottawa

Ottawa family gains citizenship, but without mother

A family who fled Ethiopia for Canada four years ago say they are frustrated with Canada's immigration rules, after the father and three of his children gained citizenship but the mother was denied over a failed language test.

Bittersweet ceremony

11 years ago
Duration 2:18
An Ottawa woman had to watch from the sidelines as the rest of her family became Canadians.

A family who fled Ethiopia for Canada four years ago say they are frustrated with Canada's immigration rules, after the father and three of his children gained citizenship but the mother was denied over a failed test.

Mersha Yirga Nekash and three of his children became Canadian citizens at a ceremony in Ottawa Wednesday, but he said the real celebration won't begin until his wife, Menen Garsherba, becomes a Canadian as well.

Nekash said Canada has offered much to his family, providing him an opportunity to earn a living at two jobs and allowing the family to buy a home, but said Wednesday was a bittersweet day.

"She's not part of this, it's sad for me," said a sobbing Nekash. "We're not celebrating, we have to wait for her day to celebrate ... it's really emotional."

The family got their citizenship decision letters two weeks ago. Garsherba said she was shocked to learn she had failed the citizenship test, which includes both a language component and questions about knowledge of the country.

"I was expecting they would call all of the family together, but when I received my letter when I see I didn't pass it, I feel really bad."

She admits her English isn't perfect, but said she hasn't had problems communicating with others in the city and hasn't needed an interpreter.

While the rules haven't changed, enforcement of language aptitude has become tougher.

It was two years ago when Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney said immigrants who can't speak English or French well enough should be denied citizenship.

Kenney called for stricter enforcement, and many immigration lawyers CBC News spoke with said it is tougher now to pass the tests.

For Garsherba, the result means she will have to appeal, a process she estimates will cost about $4,000. If that fails, she will likely have to re-apply for citizenship. As a non-resident, it will also mean a lengthy wait for a travel visa.

But the couple say after fleeing violence in their home country, they are prepared for a long road.

"I will keep going, it's not over," Garsherba said. "I will try to do my best, I will reapply."

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