This article is part of our series Counter-Counter-Counter-Point. For why we should get rid of this silly old tradition, check out what Anna St. Clair has to say.
On Wednesday, Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Karen Weiler ruled that an oath to the Queen is still necessary to become a good oft-apologizing, Tim-Horton’s drinking, hockey-worshipping citizen of Canada.
The clause of the citizenship oath that the three permanent residents took issue with involved swearing to be “faithful and bear true allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors” (for once King Charles ascends). Apparently this violates “their freedom of expression, their freedom of religion and their freedom of conscience,” as would (presumably) promising anyone anything.
For some reason, outraged Canadians across the land have seized this opportunity to turn this oath into a referendum on the monarchy, with pro- and anti-Elizabeth camps forming and ready to debate the merits of our current system. While I love a good old fashioned “quarter the treasonous rebels,” that’s not what this case is about.
At stake yesterday was not our opinion on the monarchy but the authority of our laws. Pledging an oath to the Queen is not optional because it is a fundamental part of being a Canada citizen. Since confederation, that has been the state of affairs in our country. If you disagree with that, you’re welcome to. There’s a reason that we have a group of people who meet from time to time to discuss the laws of our country (the three levels of government: politicians, judges, and angry protesters).
But, in order to be part of that process of designing Canada’s laws, there must first be evidence that you’re actually working towards Canada’s common future, reading indicated through admiring Canada as it is now, and believes in making it better. Not someone who dislikes Canada as it is now, and refuses to conform to its laws even in advance of becoming a citizen.
Strangely enough, one of the three residents who sued the government is actually a Jamaican citizen, meaning that they already technically regard the Queen as their ruler, and that one of their ancestors swore fealty to the British Crown. Simone Topey, who lived in a country where the Queen was the head of state tried moving to another country where the Queen was the head of state, and wanted to sue it over this fact. That’s like going from one Tim Horton’s to another and complaining about the coffee. The fact that she argued that pledging allegiance to the Queen violated Rastafarianism does not change the fact that she already lived in a country where the Queen is the head of state.
The coin flip known as our judicial system ended with the Queen looking up, as Justice Weiler elegantly wrote that “the oath to the Queen of Canada is an oath to our form of government, as symbolized by the Queen as the apex of our Canadian parliamentary system of constitutional monarchy,” and that “because the Queen remains the head of our government, any oath that commits the would-be citizen to the principles of Canada’s government is implicitly an oath to the Queen.” A pledge to Canada’s government would be unacceptable for the same reason and would equally offend the claimants (if they remained true to their stated principles).
As argued by The Globe and Mail last night, the Crown is used as shorthand for our entire parliamentary system. As long as you vow to work within legal means to change the system, you are welcome to. But that requires agreeing to uphold the laws as they stand purely on the basis that they are laws. Otherwise they mean nothing, just like the oath to the Queen.