This article is part of our series Counter-Counter-Counter-Point. To read about why you should still have a picture of the Queen in your house, Maxwell Stockton reports.
On Wednesday, the Ontario court of appeal ruled that swearing an oath to the Queen does not violate the freedom of new Canadian citizens, in a case brought up by three permanent residents.
The oath, which is compulsory to become a citizen reads, “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.”
Not only do you have to swear allegiance to the Queen, but, in taking the oath, you also swear to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Heirs and Successors. So, if Prince George decides to have a tantrum and throw his toys against the wall in a adorable fit of royal baby rage, every Canadian citizen better be there to faithfully support his royal highness 100%. Harry got caught naked in Vegas again? Don’t worry; Canada’s got your back.
The court’s decision concluded that the reference to the Queen does not refer to Queen Elizabeth the person, but is instead a symbol of Canada’s government and the unwritten constitutional form of democracy. That’s right, the oath is “symbolic.” Look, I love symbols as much as the next guy, but there’s a time and a place for them. They work great in poems and films, and where would our text messages be without the emoji? But oaths are one thing that should not contain symbols. If the words of the oath actually symbolize some other idea, then it’s no longer an oath. It’s the oath of citizenship, not the metaphor of citizenship.
The case was previously reviewed last September by Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Morgan, who ruled that, although the oath did impede on the right to free speech, it was “within a reasonable limit.” Well, isn’t it reassuring news that freedom of speech now has degrees of reasonableness?
It seems like the view of both the Superior Court and the Court of the Appeal is “look, we know it may seem dumb, but this is how we’ve always done it. We’d love to have you as a citizen, so just bite your tongue and say it. Really, the Queen’s a nice lady when you get to know her.”
To make the oath even more meaningless, no one born in Canada has to take it, and it’s more than likely that, if they did, they wouldn’t be happy. Do you think all of Quebec would just line up to swear their allegiance to the Queen? A recent survey found that 55% of Canadians no longer want the Queen to be the head of state.
The fact is that the Queen isn’t a symbol of Canadian democratic principles, she’s a symbol of Britain’s imperialist past. While Canada got along with their British colonizers (mostly because everyone living in Canada was at one time British), other countries weren’t as loving. It’s no surprise that two of the people suing are from Jamaica and Ireland, nations Britain wasn’t too friendly to in the past, and, while they may be more than happy to uphold the democratic principles of Canada, swearing an oath to the Queen of Britain is intimidating.
If we want new citizens to swear to uphold the democratic principles of Canada, all we have to do is change the oath. Enough with the symbolism. If courts don’t recognize this as a violation of freedom, then the next step is passing legislation to change the oath.