René Lévesque and Lucien Bouchard, among others, were quite willing to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, when they became premiers of Quebec, although they were dedicated to making Quebec independent from Canada and consequently to instituting some new headship of state for a new country.
Likewise, the three permanent residents of Canada, living in Toronto, who have brought a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Ontario to declare unconstitutional the requirement that new citizens swear allegiance to the Queen, should accept a significant form of words that is deeply rooted in Canada’s Constitution.
Once they can vote in Canada – having sworn the oath – Michael McAteer (an Irish-born-and-bred republican), Simone Topey (a Rastafarian) and Dror Bar-Natan (a mathematician) will be in a better position to try to turn Canada into a republic. It is not treason to peacefully and lawfully pursue change of a country’s institutions – even when the proposed changes are wrong-headed.
It should go without saying that the three applicants have no power to amend the Constitution by themselves, and that the oath in the citizenship procedure is not some isolated regulatory quirk. “The Executive Government and Authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen,” says the Constitution Act, 1867. The amending formula for the monarchy is particularly stringent, in the Constitution Act, 1982.
Moreover, it makes no sense to invoke one part of the Constitution – in this case, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – in an attempt to alter the structure of government laid down in much of the rest of the Constitution. In other words, the Charter and the Constitution Act, 1867, have equal status.
According to the former federal cabinet minister Sergio Marchi, Jean Chrétien, when he was prime minister, considered changing the oath to the Queen to an oath to Canada, but he wisely concluded – as the 1995 referendum drew near – that it would be too much to take on the separatists and the monarchists at the same time. He made the right choice, respecting a group of his fellow federalists, if only for a tactical reason.
The Crown is a powerful and historic symbol. Far from diminishing Canadian citizenship, it enhances Canada.