Televised citizenship event 'poorly handled,' Kenney says

Immigration minister Jason Kenney says he only learned Thursday of a televised citizenship event in October in which federal bureaucrats posed as "new Canadians."

Immigration minister Jason Kenney says he only learned Thursday of a televised citizenship event in October in which federal bureaucrats posed as "new Canadians."

Documents released under access to information, initially obtained by The Canadian Press, outline how federal workers tried to cope with an order from Kenney's office to arrange a citizenship ceremony in the studios of Sun News.

The documents show officials initially protested, saying there were several citizenship events planned at other sites that the network could attend, but agreed to arrange for 10 "new Canadians" to take part in a reaffirmation ceremony — essentially, to re-take the oath of citizenship before a citizenship judge — on-air to help mark Citizenship Week.

Participants in a citizenship reaffirmation ceremony appeared in this photo posted on the immigration department's Twitter feed in October. Six federal bureaucrats were drafted to appear as new Canadians for the ceremony on a private TV network. (Canadian Press)

When the officials were unable to find enough real new Canadians who would agree to be featured on the Sun News network broadcast, six workers from the department stood in as new citizens in the ceremony.

Kenney told the House of Commons Thursday the event had some "logistical problems" and was poorly handled.

"The department organizes dozens, dozens of special citizenship and reaffirmation ceremonies every year, which I think are a great way of highlighting the value of Canadian citizenship. It turns out that in the ceremony in question for reaffirmation some of the people invited didn't arrive," Kenney said in response to a question by NDP immigration critic Don Davies.

"I think the response to that was poorly handled, I regret that, but ... we shouldn't allow it to undermine the important value of these special citizenship and reaffirmation ceremonies."

Kenney said his department learned of the civil servants' actions Wednesday follow a media request, and he saw the media coverage Thursday morning.

Earlier Thursday, Davies called the incident "very deceptive" and put the blame on Kenney.

"Just a month and a half ago, the minister of immigration told Canadians how solemn Canadian citizenship ceremonies are, and in fact, they indeed are," Davies said. "And here we have a story of him using … employees in a deceptive way, [in a] made-up ceremony to mislead Canadians. You know, that's, that's hypocrisy to a great degree."

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said a televised citizenship reaffirmation ceremony in which federal bureaucrats posed as 'new Canadians' was poorly handled. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Liberal immigration critic Kevin Lamoureux said the staff should have been spending their time processing a backlog of citizenship applications instead.

Kenney's office said the minister's staff had tried to call off the October event but were reassured by bureaucrats it could go ahead — and were surprised to learn this week six of those bureaucrats ended up taking part in the ceremony.

A spokesperson for Kenney called the bureaucrats' actions a "well-intentioned mistake" and said department officials would have a chat with the workers involved. The spokesperson said neither Kenney's office nor Sun News knew about the bureacrats' decision to take part in the ceremony.

Judge Aris Babikian, who conducted the on-air ceremony, declined comment when reached by CBC News Thursday.