A group of aspiring Canadian immigrants are challenging alleged violations to their rights of political and religious expression for being barred citizenship after refusing to swear an oath to the Queen. Predictably, the Conservative government has commissioned a passionate defence of the oath’s necessity, believing that the refusal to swear allegiance towards the royal family as the head of state is justifiable grounds for disallowing citizenship. The case will be taken to the Supreme Court, and has produced a variety of divisive opinions. However, when the constitutionally embedded Charter of Rights and Freedoms is weighed alongside the democratic principles of this country, it becomes clear that it is the beliefs of the Crown, rather than the immigrants, which violate Canadian social culture and spirit.
Much is made of the Queen as a symbol of Canadian heritage. While the importance of Canadian history cannot be disputed, all of the events within history have transpired in the progression of creating what Canada is now known as: a free and democratic society. Critical aspects of a said free and democratic society which effectively separates Canada from authoritarian states are the rights to political expression, religious freedom, and institutional protection from discrimination. As it stands now, the compulsory oath of fealty to the royal family is an autocratic measure which is in direct violation of the decidedly Canadian principles of pluralism and liberty. Proponents of the royal family along with the Crown expect all immigrants to swear a pledge of fealty to an institution which, while symbolic of Canadian heritage for them, is symbolic of much darker history for others. The value of symbols, while most often expressed in the rhetoric of pro-monarchists, carries similar weight in the argument against a mandatory oath of fealty to an establishment which elicits varied opinions.
Among the group of immigrants in the Supreme Court is an Irish native by the name of Michael McAtneer. McAtneer, like many Irishmen, is not well disposed to the British monarchy due to the role it has played in Irish history and oppression. British imperialism may have helped shape Canada as the country we know today. However, it has many less than admirable moments in their past which consequently renders them controversial across the world. The British monarchical system carried severely negative consequences for a variety of nations, and as such is symbolic of a wide range of emotions; both good and bad. To expect citizens with diverse political beliefs to conform to one mindset is nothing short of autocratic in a nation who’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms explicitly protects political freedoms.
A small number of the citizens who are protesting the oath are Rastafarians, who recognize the title of “Queen” to the Queen of Babylon exclusively. As such, to force these individuals to swear oaths to another Queen would be nothing short of religious discrimination. Therefore it can be seen that beyond the ‘grey area’ moral arguments that can be made on either side of this debate, the enforcement of this vow is a clear and serious violation of the law stated in our Charter.
Beyond pure legality however, lies a serious inconsistency in the existence of the mandatory oath of fealty. It is reported that Canadians are split evenly on the issue of abolishing the monarchy entirely, meaning that a very large percentage of homegrown citizens do not even approve of the institution. This means that despite 50% disapproval of the monarchy’s very existence, individuals who lie within that spectrum of disapproval are permitted to enjoy the enormous tangible benefits of being a Canadian citizen due to a circumstance beyond our control- our place of birth. These immigrants involved in the Supreme Court case have fulfilled every single requirement for citizenship that other Canadians have, yet are refused citizenship for not swearing an oath to an administration that half of our citizenry would like to see destroyed.
The monarchy has undoubtedly played a strong role in shaping Canadian history. However, a nation’s history is in essence a culmination of events which progress towards the creation of a distinct country, with a distinct social and political culture. In Canadian society, this culture has become one that heavily emphasizes the liberties of the people, the welcoming of immigrants, and the contemporary appreciation of Canada as a diverse cultural and political mosaic. To enforce strict adherence and fealty to a monarch as a requirement of obtaining citizenship is completely contradictory with these principles. Ironically enough, this requirement opposes the pillars of Canadian society which were in part formed by the very monarchy who we are apparently required unquestioned allegiance towards. It is time for the Supreme Court of Canada to at last recognize the legal and moral imperatives of the “free and democratic society” enshrined by the Charter, and allow these immigrants to proudly exercise their rights of political expression in a society that guarantees them.
Eli Vincent Zivot
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