Rob Mason: It’s time Canada removed the Queen from the oath of citizenship

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      Unlike her ancestor, Henry IV, the head that wears the crown of Canada will lie easy tonight, comfortable in the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear a challenge to the Canadian oath of citizenship.

      Last year, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the literal interpretation of the oath to the Queen is wrong, but that new Canadians can still be required to pledge an oath that is literally untrue. For anyone who takes the oath of citizenship seriously, as all Canadians should, this is an absurd requirement. After all, what’s the point of swearing an oath if its meaning is unclear?

      More importantly, this doublethink that the oath requires of new citizens speaks to a more pervasive problem in our constitutional system. The Crown is the most powerful institution in Canada, but it is also completely powerless in our politics. The governor general is tasked with safeguarding our democracy, but is seen as illegitimate if that task requires opposing the prime minister’s wishes.

      For most Canadians, the monarchy is an awkward but insignificant relic of our history. Royal fashion and scandals can be gossiped over in our tabloids, the Queen is on our currency, but beyond these glimpses of royalty we rarely think much about monarchy. To a small and vocal minority, this antiquated institution is even a source of pride. They argue that if the Queen’s role is merely symbolic, there’s no need to change anything.

      The first problem with this reasoning is that mere symbolism is not enough. There is currently no effective check on executive power in Canada, meaning that a prime minister with a majority government can do virtually anything, at least in the short term, whether it’s constitutional or not. Our current prime minister derives all of his authority from the will of Parliament, and yet he has twice steamrolled the governor general into shutting down Parliament for purely political purposes.

      Moreover, it is not enough to say that the Queen is symbolic and therefore unimportant. How we choose our head of state and what we choose as our national symbols affects our international reputation and our cultural development. Our common monarch with Great Britain was part of the Conservative government’s justification for sharing embassies in several countries, sacrificing Canada’s ability to develop a proud and unique identity separate from our colonial history.

      According to the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Queen represents the rule of law and democracy, but to many Canadians she represents just the opposite; class privilege, authoritarianism, and imperialism. What does it say to our children that the highest office they can aspire to is in service of someone who earned their position by their blood? If the Queen were a mere symbol, surely we could choose a better one.

      The Supreme Court’s decision is not the end of this issue. The oath may not violate the charter, but it does violate Canadian ideals. Democracy, national independence, and meritocracy would be better served by replacing the Queen with a less contradictory symbol.

      Nearly a decade of Conservative government has left us instinctively looking to the Supreme Court for leadership on progressive issues. However, all that the Supreme Court can offer is to make our laws compliant with the Constitution. Meaningful, substantive change can only come from Parliament. It’s time to reassert the progressive power of our democracy. Improving the oath of citizenship would be a strong start.

      UBC law student Rob Mason is a candidate for the federal NDP nomination in Vancouver Granville.

      Comments

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      16 Comments

      Don't agree.

      Mar 3, 2015 at 11:52am

      whether the author likes it or not, much of what canada is today links directly back to the UK - its laws, its values, and its culture. its one thing to be forward thinking and progressive, but should we should lose sight of our history and tradition? If we get rid of our history, then we lose a big chunk of our culture.

      Me too

      Mar 3, 2015 at 12:11pm

      While we are at it lets bulldoze old buildings, and do away with anything that honours the history of our country, onward and upward!

      Progress over tradition

      Mar 3, 2015 at 3:18pm

      Canada has a long history of progress. We went from colony to confederation to repatriation and the Charter. 1982 wasn't and shouldn't be the end of our growth as a nation.

      @Don't agree.

      Mar 3, 2015 at 6:05pm

      A bigger chunk of history comes from aboriginal peoples. And we have lost sight of that in the genocidal nature of UK laws, values, and culture.

      Felix Cortina

      Mar 3, 2015 at 7:39pm

      One of the favourite arguments by desperate monarchists is that making our Head of State a Canadian instead of a foreign Queen or King is that it would erase our history and traditions. First of all, you can't erase history if people remember it; and second, having a British monarch is a British tradition and we stopped being British citizens a long time ago. Let's cut the last colonial tie that's keeping us from true independence. Let's give ourselves the opportunity to create our own distinctly Canadian traditions. Let's finish this country, shall we?

      Think again

      Mar 3, 2015 at 9:18pm

      Democracy, national independence, and meritocracy sound like American values to me. Maybe the authour wants Canada to be a Republic? Or... I should say author.

      @felix

      Mar 4, 2015 at 7:49am

      what are our distinctly canadian traditions? Drinking molson beer, watching hockey night in canada and then going to the tim hortons drive-thru??

      Ronald Berdu

      Mar 4, 2015 at 10:31am

      Here's the Pledge of Commitment for new citizens of Australia. I think we ought to put our heads together and come up with something similar.
      "From this time forward, I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey."
      The Pledge came into effect in January 1994.
      Well done Australians!

      Kid Canada

      Mar 4, 2015 at 6:30pm

      We don't need a foreign German heritage Queens or Kings in the 21st Century in Canada.

      Queen Elizabeth II is the male-line great-granddaughter of Edward VII, who inherited the crown from his mother, Queen Victoria.

      His father, Victoria's consort, was Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; hence Queen Elizabeth is a patrilineal descendant of Albert's family, the German princely House of Wettin.

      (Other notable members of this house are King Albert II of Belgium and former King Simeon II of Bulgaria.) source...wiki

      Just the savings on their Royal paid Vacations and various Governor Generals and Lt. Governors would pay for a lot of Canadians, Healthcare and Education at least.

      At least the Aussies got it right in their Oath.

      Even the UK for Gods Sake has a SEPARATE Oath since 2004 in addition to pledging Allegiance to thier/our German heritage Queen...;

      United Kingdom

      Since 1 January 2004, applicants for British citizenship are also required, in addition to swearing the oath or affirmation of allegiance, to make a pledge to the United Kingdom as follows:

      I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.

      Persons acquiring British overseas territories citizenship make an equivalent pledge to the relevant British Overseas Territory.

      In the very unusual cases of an acquisition of British Overseas citizenship, or British subject status, no pledge would be required.

      Time for us in Canada to grow a pair and just grow up already Country before Royals please.

      Felix Cortina

      Mar 4, 2015 at 7:32pm

      As I said, we would have the opportunity to create our own traditions.

      And democracy isn't a Canadian value? Yes, if we had a Canadian Head of State we would be a republic. No, it doesn't mean that we would be like the country down south; we would be Canadian. There are many other republics around the world. The United States isn't the only one. Oh, and 'author' is spelled 'author', there's only one 'u' no matter on which side of the border or ocean you are.