Last week, the Ontario Superior Court heard arguments pertaining to the legality of the current citizenship oath. As it stands, the Citizenship Act requires would-be citizens to affirm that they will be “faithful and bear true allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors”. Three permanent residents are challenging the oath saying it violates their freedom of religion, conscience, and expression, as per sections 2(a) and 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as contravening the right to equality enshrined in section 15.
Any personal derision aside, most reasonable people can agree that having would-be Canadians assert their loyalty to the monarchy in 2013 is antiquated and absurd. The composition of the Canadian population has changed drastically in the last sixty years. No longer are we a country of primarily British origin. In fact, a large proportion of Canadians are from former British colonies. To deny the atrocities committed by the British Crown is to suffer from historical myopia. Moreover, there are other commonwealth nations – Australia for example – that have retained the Crown as its head of state and make no mention of the Queen in their citizenship oath.
Yet editorials, op-ed columns and blogs from around the country have taken to berate the entirety of the legal challenge. Defenders of the citizenship oath can generally be categorized into three groups: (1) sincere traditionalists who have a deep respect and admiration for our constitutional monarchy and the Canadian citizenship process; (2) indifferent citizens who are bound by the Crown due to apathy and their love for the status quo; and (3) the overtly xenophobic “if you don’t like the way things are done in this country then go back to yours” type. Thankfully, the overwhelming majority seems to fall into the former two categories.
These opponents argue, rather logically, that the oath boils down to semantics. After all, if the allegiance to the Queen were to be struck down, it does not change the fact that Canada’s head of state is still the Crown. Thus, by pledging allegiance to Canada one really is still pledging de facto allegiance to the Queen and her successors. Additionally, as a constitutional monarchy, the Crown is very much the embodiment of the state on all levels; a change in the wording of the Citizenship Act will provide little solace to those who wish to cut ties with the monarchy completely.
However, as much as I commend the efforts of the three permanent residents challenging the oath, it seems this is an objection that would be better served at the political level, rather than seeking affirmation of their beliefs from the judiciary. The ever-boisterous NDP MP Pat Martin has taken issue with the citizenship oath as well, tabling a private member’s bill that will be up for debate this fall.
Support for the monarchy nation-wide is tepid, at best. An Angus-Reid poll conducted in April found that a mere 28 per cent would prefer the Crown to remain as Canada’s head of state. However, opposition to the citizenship oath’s reference to the Queen appears to converge with its support, at 48 and 45 per cent, respectively. Thus, regardless of one’s own stance on the issue, the very fact that this legal challenge has brought the role of the Crown in Canada to the forefront of our public discourse is a good thing.
Laws change. Policies evolve. Constitutions get repatriated. And maybe, just maybe, citizenship oaths will pledge allegiance and loyalty to the country in question, and not a relic of an institution. God save the Queen, because Canada might not.
Supriya Dwivedi is pursuing graduate legal studies and is co-host of ‘Delmar & Dwivedi’ on CJAD 800 in Montreal. You can follow her on Twitter @supriyadwivedi