For the past few weeks, I've been embroiled in a protracted battle with my lovably contrarian monarchist uncle. Our verbal joust was sparked by the Canada-wide celebration of the queen mother's centenary.
My dear uncle, save his black Barbadian soul, maintains that the very concept of the monarchy has promoted the "royal trinity" -- order, civility and honour -- among the Canadian polity and throughout "the empire."
He contends that the annual "stipend" received by the British royal family is a rather puny price to pay for our liberty, prosperity and democracy.
Now, I have no particular bone to pick with the sprightly queen mum. Anyone who can survive 100 years of the English diet is worthy of great praise.
But I do believe that this grand celebration of the Great Dame and all things royal affords us the opportunity to pose a few uncomfortable questions about the nature of the British monarchy and the legacy of the British empire at the dawn of the 21st century.
Given that the empire effectively ceased to exist in 1914, at the beginning of the Great War, why, may I humbly ask, is our royal family still so bloody rich?
As some folks may know, the royal family (George III and an earlier Queen Elizabeth, et al.) were pioneers of the Atlantic slave trade and profited enormously from the bustling colonial economy of the West Indies and South Asia.
People may be less familiar with the extent of the royal investment in the "development" of pre- and post-apartheid South Africa and the former Rhodesia. As we now live in an era when even German and Swiss firms acknowledge their responsibility for the exploitation of Jewish slave labour during the second world war, it is high time the royal family also fessed up by disclosing a historical inventory of their global investments and offering reparations and sundry apologies to the tens of millions of victims who resisted and suffered under the yoke of British imperialist rule.
Perhaps a royal commission is in order. Even the pope issued an apology earlier this year for the transgressions of his Catholic Church over the course of the last millennium.
The British monarchy has a rich and storied past, but let's remember the totality of that legacy throughout the year-long celebration of the queen mother's centenary.
Let us refrain from gawking at the spectacle of natty hats and powder-blue dresses, stunning pearls and chestnut horses. For there is nothing particularly honourable or royal, civil or noble about sweeping the memory of millions into the dustbin of history.