Two attacks on the Monarchy

2520272240_be9b5a1df5_oThere are two legal challenges that could threaten Canada’s status as a constitutional monarchy. Individually, neither challenge is particularly ground-breaking. Even put together, there is not much of a legal threat to the Monarchy, but with support for the Monarchy down to about 28%, these two cases might actually get more people thinking about g-filing this antiquated institution.

First, we have three new Canadians challenging the oath of citizenship. The inherently offensive oath demands that all new citizens swear (or affirm) allegiance to “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors…”. It doesn’t take much to see how that could offend people’s religious beliefs. It should also be understandable that an Irish immigrant whose family has been oppressed by the Queen and her predecessors wouldn’t be too comfortable with declaring such allegiance.

Other Commonwealth nations have changed their oaths to eliminate a specific reference to the Queen, and there is nothing stopping Canada from doing the same. The oath is mainly symbolic and it would be easy enough to eliminate the offensive wording without changing the spirit of the oath.

Of course, monarchists far and wide are up in arms over this triviality. As Supriya Dwivedi notes:

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.

Regardless of the merits of the complaint, I can see few legal reasons to uphold the challenge. The Queen is the head of state. It’d be odd to suggest that the very essence of the sovereignty of Canada is essentially unconstitutional. As Ms. Dwivedi notes, this is a matter that should really be addressed at the political level.

The next issue that has arisen is that of succession. As some may recall, Britain “recently” changed its succession laws so that women and Roman Catholics could become monarch. Stephen Harper’s government decided that Canada would merely assent to this change in succession laws. Two Laval University Professors have objected, claiming that there must be a more substantive change to Canadian law in order to change the rules of succession.

Writing in Maclean’s, Philippe Lagasse argues that the monarchist government actually dealt a grievous blow to the notion of a separate Queen of Canada by creating this short-cut to amend the rules of succession:

Heritage Minister James Moore laid out the government’s thinking at a press conference this past Wednesday. According to the minister, succession to the throne is not a matter of Canadian law. Instead, succession is a question of British law alone. Only the British Parliament can set the rules for who ascends to the throne, while the Canadian Parliament’s only authority lies in assenting to the changes. Put differently, the authority to legislate the rules of succession belongs with the British Parliament because the Canadian constitution does not address matters of succession. The legal pretext for this interpretation is the preamble to the 1931 Statute of Westminster, which states that the United Kingdom will obtain the assent of the Dominions when altering succession to, and royal titles and styles of, their shared Crown.

The defense that I have tended to hear from monarchists when someone objects to being ruled by the British crown is that it’s not the British crown, it’s the Canadian crown. However, I do not understand how we can have a separate crown if the rules of succession are dictated by Britain rather than Canada. At his blog, Prof. Lagasse lists a series of questions that should help to define the nature of Canada’s head of state depending on the court’s ruling. (In a separate post, Prof. Lagasse describes the various roles and definitions of the crown, the Queen and the Sovereign… I won’t argue with his interpretation, but it seems to me that the convoluted nature of it all is, in itself, an argument against the institution(s).)

Neither of these cases should be a decisive blow against the monarchy, but we are seeing defenders of monarchy twist and turn as they try to defend the indefensible. The “Queen” isn’t dead, but she might as well be.

 

 

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44 thoughts on “Two attacks on the Monarchy

  1. Does Canada and Canadians derive any benefit from being a constitutional monarch. The main benefit is that they get a head of state on the cheap. One of the problems with parliamentary republics is that they get a Ceremonial President instead of a Ceremonial Monarch as head of state. Ceremonial presidents don’t seem to inspire the warm and fuzzy feelings that constitutional monarchies do, which is the chief advantage of constitutinal monarchy. You get a head of state that people could look up to and feel warm and fuzzy about while allowing them to express all sorts of feelings at the head of government. In presidential and semi-presidential republics, the emotions get fuzzier. People naturally seem inclined to want to express warm and fuzzy feelings towards their leader but they also want to be able to get angry at him or her to. Ceremonial presidents don’t really seem to inspire the feelings of unity that monarchs do.

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    • Before you continue to indulge in condescension toward monarchists, you might give some consideration to the reality we face here in this country: an executive president who is a complete dilettante (but who evidently inspires warm fuzzies in some segment of the electorate).

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      • People who are annoyed by President Obama, as good a head of state as we’ve had in many decades, are cordially invited to consider the alternatives. Perhaps they’d have preferred Plastic Man Romney. That Bush43 guy, now there was a Uniter, not a Divider. Or Cardboard Man, Ronald Reagan, a man who never saw a dictator he didn’t like, or an enemy he wasn’t willing to sell arms to — the alternatives to Obama are many and varied. But they have this in common: none of them can dance, except little shrieky, spastic two-steps of rage around the fire, accompanied by discordant war whoops.

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      • I believe you have mistaken “Self Made Man” for dilettante.
        Perhaps that is your class privilege, that you fail to recognize that our President might be from another class than yourself?

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      • Tellin’ y’all, there are people in this country, conservatives mostly, who will not rest content until America has a King. They need someone before whom to grovel, someone who will kick their backsides. Everything’s the President’s fault. He’s the reason this nation is headed to Perdition in a little red Radio Flyer wagon in the HOV lane. Nasty little fascists, every one of them.

        Jove and the Frogs. They will get their theocracy and they will not like it.

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      • You have proven yourself once again to have nothing of value to say.

        You are a hack. An absolutely shrill hack.

        Hack? This is a minor avocation for me.

        Shrill? That word does not mean what you think it means.

        Nothing to say? You’re awfully hot and bothered by my blancmange.

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      • I don’t think I need to raise my sights. That was just a ranging shot and I seem to have the windage right. Keep poking that fat head up. TMFT. Trolls make fine targets.

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  2. And so I checked all the registered historical facts
    And I was shocked into shame to discover
    How I’m the 18th pale descendant
    Of some old queen or other

    So I broke into the palace
    With a sponge and a rusty spanner
    She said, “Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing”
    I said, “That’s nothing, you should hear me play pianner”

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  3. I still find the idea of Canada having a Queen more than faintly anachronistic. Of course, it’s your nation and you can have a Queen if you feel that’s part of your national identity. In my mind Canada is culturally no more connected to Great Britain than the USA was in the early twentieth century. The government isn’t labelled with “Royal” ir “Her Majesty’s” prefixing everything like the Royal Mint or Her Majesty’s Post. (Although she is on your money.)

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    • Legally speaking Burt I think you’re rather off base. If you were to take a shovel to any portion of the Canadian legal system and dig down sooner or later you’d run *clunk* into the Monarchy. All the chittering clanking machinery of the entire legal system sits on the concrete bed of the institution. That’s a pretty big connection in my mind.

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      • Not living there, of course I don’t encounter things like that all that often. I’m just saying — from an outsider’s perspective — it doesn’t seem all that connected, on a cultural level if not necessarily a legal one, to the monarchy.

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  4. It’s high time Canada eased its way out from under this sort of pledge. Here’s the problem: the Queen is not merely a monarch, she is Defender of the Faith, Supreme Governor of the Church of England. That crosses an unfortunate line. ceremonial monarchs and other such titled persons shouldn’t sidle up to Religion in any capacity. I earnestly wish we’d remove chaplains from the US Congress, they’re an affront to our Separation Clause.

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  5. An oath of citizenship is ‘indefensible’? Since when has Canada been overrun with Dunkers and Mennonites? (Who, can, in any case, sign an affirmation).

    (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

    What’s wrong with type three? People make it a point to immigrate to Canada and they refuse to offer an oath of allegiance. If thy cannot offer allegiance what are they doing there and why are they seeking citizenship? Why is it you make it your business to make the world congenial for the puerile and contumacious?

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  6. The Canadian system of parliamentary government kind of requires that the head of state be distinct from the head of government. The Governor General is only a stand-in for the monarch and in fact during state visits by the Queen is nowhere to be seen. In parliamentary systems where there is no monarchy, the head of state is an elected president. But that can lead to situations where the president differs significantly from the prime minister and things get difficult – see, for instance, France.

    The current situation may not make clear logical sense in a poli-sci-third-year kind of way but the state is stable and that’s what counts. We’re the ultimate pragmatists up here – if it ain’t broke, leave it the hell alone.

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    • France is a semi-Presidential system rather than a parliamentary republic like Germany. The French constitution gives the President many more powers than those normally vested in parliamentary republics like Germany, Israel, and Ireland. The French President isn’t supposed to be a ceremonial head of state, he or she is supposed to be a chief executive like ours except that there is also room made for a prime minister and cabinet responsible to parliament as it is in parliamentary systems.

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      • That’s my point, Lee: when you have an elected head of state AND an elected head of government, there are going to be political clashes based on the who’s-really-in-charge issue. And there are enough political clashes between the government and the opposition without dragging the president into it as well.

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      • DRS, a lot of countries have parliamentary republics without having the problems you describe. It’s only a problem if you design a system where it can be a problem. Germany, Israel, and so on… no problem. It’s a problem in France only because they vest significant powers into their presidency.

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  7. Canada should redefine their relationship with the UK as a personal union and name an appropriate successor to QEII, someone like Wayne Gretzky or Celine Dion.

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  8. Of course ol’ J-Mc is just tossing this out here because he wants to draw me out. That’s fine, ol’ buddy, I’ll take a bite at the bait even though these “attacks” are as toothless as a pair of gassy ol’ far left wing corgies.

    As far as I’m concerned the assenting part is a perfectly fine defense for the (legally and factually correct) Queen of Canada. It so happens our Queen has several other jobs, good for her. Plenty of people can relate to having to hold down a couple jobs for various reasons (though I don’t think HRM needs it to keep Charles fed or pay the rent on Buckingham Palace). In any event the point is that she’s our Queen too, which is why if succession gets changed we have to agree to it. That’s ownership right there. You wanna change how to Monarch of Canada is selected; ya gotta get the agreement of Canadians. Sounds good to me.
    I went a-hunting for your poll number which sounded a mite odd and managed to find a reference here: http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/12/27/kates-royal-tummy-bump-credited-as-poll-finds-canadian-support-for-the-monarchy-growing/
    As I read it one of the polls did find 29% of Canadians saying the monarchy is “a homegrown Canadian institution with Canadian values”. Not an impressive showing for red blooded monarchists I’d say but when you check in on the opposition from the same poll the picture gets more ambiguous as only 16% say it’s “an imported institution, with foreign values” (evidently everyone else had either no or more ambiguous opinions). Now 29% is bad but I’d opine that a 19% opposition level to the monarchy is worse and should have Canadian republicans driven to drinking.
    Left out of this analysis is always the question of what we’d replace it with. Canadians pretty readily recoil when presented with the spectacle of yet another government appointment or yet another elected office for scum bag politicians to rat-race for. Compared to that proposition a bunch of harmless and pleasant old aristocrats that tie into an institution that runs back to the birthplace and birth pangs of modern western democracy looks pretty tolerable. It’s also an easy way to differentiate Canadians from Americans. Also the brits handle most of the expenses so frugal minded Canadians are probably getting their ceremonial head of state on the cheap. Plus the monarchy dates back to 1707 at the youngest, so it’s frugal AND vintage!
    Seriously, let’s face reality here. The Monarchy works pretty well as a head of state institution. It contains within itself, inert and harmless, all kinds of jingoist pomp and genuine legal power safely out of the reach of politicians. Could you imagine Harper merrily wrapping himself in the mantle of head of state and the military? I can and I don’t like the prospect one bit. I’ve always looked askance at the aura of special reverence the presidency has accumulated which has been primarily a consequence of not having a separate head of state. I love the way parliamentary systems merrily go after their most powerful political figures (their Prime Ministers) with everything from invective to brickbats. It’s healthy and keeps those weasels on their toes.

    No, from fondness to tradition and heritage to political considerations to governing principles to political practicality I’m still content to say God(ess?) save the queen. Though at the moment she’s doing pretty well herself and now her great grand baby seems to be doing some lifting as well. How’s that for work ethic; contributing to the family business before he’s even in diapers!

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  9. If Canada insists on having their own rules of succession, then Britain should take advantage of it and allow the Canadian and British monarchies to diverge within the House of Windsor, perhaps with a first-born daughter sitting on the British throne and her younger brother sitting on the Canadian throne. Eventually the genetic lines should diverge sufficiently so that Canada and Great Britain could re-unite through royal marriage without getting too incestuous, and then the progeny of that union could start the whole split/re-unite process over again.

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    • You think you’re making a joke George but actually you don’t know how accurate your comment might have been. During the recent royal pregnancy there was a lot of comment about how the rules recently changed so that gender no longer counts in the succession: that a daughter would have the same rights as a son to the crown when the time came. The genesis of that discussion began outside the UK several years ago as an argument in Canada and other Commonwealth nations that retained the monarchy.

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      • I doubt it’d happen personally. If dissatisfaction with the Monarchy reached the level where it’d effect actual change I doubt that the outcome would be two Monarchies.

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      • Oh, who knows? They’ve begun diluting the royal bloodline, traceable back thousands of years, by interbreeding with commoners.

        Fortunately modern genetic testing applied on a mass scale should be able to discover which remaining citizens have the most royal blood. From there they should be able to cross breed them to recover the true strains, or use the more direct method of sorting and separating royal from common chromosomes as part of in vitro fertilization. It shouldn’t be too difficult, especially with finds like King Richard III’s grave.

        If scientists can think about cloning a mammoth, surely they can clone a true king, and if so they could produce extras for places like Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

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