“We can fake the oath!”

February 5, 2012

“We can fake the _____!” has become the hottest catchphrase in journalism since CP reporter Jennifer Ditchburn broke the story about the faked citizenship ceremony on October 19th, 2011 at Sun TV in Toronto.  Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney blamed a middle level bureaucrat for the fiasco, so for your amusement I decided to fake an excerpt from the autobiography of the scapegoat, Tracie LeBlanc.

Tracie’s, my handbag salon, used to be a T-shirt shop in the basement of the Eaton Centre. It’s tough starting out in retail, but if the business fails it’s because of what I did or didn’t do, not because The Minister told Raylene to find a scapegoat for last October’s foul-up at Sun TV.

I was working at Citizenship and Immigration on a short-term contract. In the job interview I told them that the character in literature which had the most influence on me was Winston Smith in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four.  I loved the way that each day Winston had his hand on the pulse of the nation, and was able to contribute using his intelligence and imagination, even within the confines of a bureaucracy. Both of my interviewers smiled when I mentioned Comrade Ogilvie, the heroic character Winston completely made up to fill a news gap.

Then two weeks later a voice called and asked me to start at 400 University Avenue, where I was escorted to a fourth-floor cubicle not unlike the one Winston occupied in the first chapters of Orwell’s novel.

I was to be an acting senior communications advisor. My job was to sign letters and press releases cranked out by The Minister and many levels of management above me. The letters were already written by the time they got to my inbox, but it was my name, Tracie LeBlanc, that was the signature on the final copy.

Then came the show at the Sun TV studio at 25 Ontario Street. The Minister wanted a Citizenship Week ceremony on a tame network and Sun TV was happy to oblige.

Someone had to call new Canadians and ask them to come to the studio. Margaret asked me to round up ten bodies and get them in front of a camera on Wednesday, October 19th at 2:00 p.m. She sent along a list of 3000 names and phone numbers.

Nobody answered during working hours. The machines contained messages in languages I couldn’t understand. When I stayed late to call, I’d get a couple of words out and then somebody would swear at me for interrupting their supper hour. Whatever happened to phone manners?

But on Saturday morning I did manage to nab one sweet Pakistani woman who was very polite to me. She confided that she was a stay-at-home mother and would only be able to attend the ceremony on a Wednesday if she could bring her son and daughter along. I assured her that would be just fine.

A dozen others agreed to come, but they didn’t sound serious about it. I put them down as possibles, and warned Margaret that we might have a problem with numbers because most new Canadians who would talk to me couldn’t take time off work.

As a backup I slipped over to the Eaton Centre, found a T-shirt store having a going-out-of-business sale, and had the guy print me ten, extra-large T-shirts. He only had white left, so I took them.

As a student I had learned that there are two things that motivate everybody: free food and free clothes. I figured if I couldn’t get enough new Canadians into the studio, I could nab a few people in the office with T-shirts and Subway coupons.

At ten o’clock Wednesday morning I made like a T-shirt cannon, tossing shirts over the cubicles to anyone who looked up. “Does this mean I have to become a Canadian citizen again?” Fred yelled.

“That’s what it says. I’ll likely only need you as a spectator, but I’ll buy lunch, and you might get on camera if nobody shows up.” More arms went up.

As I had feared, only the nice Pakistani lady and her two kids showed up. Seven of my crew extended the line in front of the camera. The other three mugged behind the glass and took pictures for the office bulletin board.

My bosses were effusive in their praise for my “quick thinking.”  “Thanks for the feed back and the quick fix to bring CIC staff,” wrote Raylene Baker. Senior management had noticed me!

The whole thing would have been just an amusing incident if not for Jennifer Ditchburn. Using a freedom of information chit she nabbed the emails which had been flowing back and forth from The Minister to our office and to Sun TV.  When she put together the account of my T-shirts and the bogus photo-op, it hit the fan.

By then I was well out of it. My contract hadn’t been renewed because of the upcoming federal budget.  If I do another contract maybe it will be in the Prime Minister’s Office. Those guys are no more qualified than I am, they make a lot of money, and they get to have the real fun.