Justin Trudeau answers questions after federal leadership debate. Aug6/15
Justin Trudeau has been sworn in as the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada. It was a truly magnificent event in Canadian history – and not just because the HarperCons are gone. The Liberal majority proves that Harper did not irreparably alter the soul of Canada.
The new Liberal cabinet achieves a gender parity that's a teachable moment for the rest of the world. The new cabinet has members from every province and the North demonstrating the prime minister’s commitment to ensuring that all the people of Canada are represented in his government as he promised.
Which made it all the more eerie to hear the prime minister and his cabinet swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen of England, "her heirs and successors," and not the people of Canada who elected them.
Trudeau's father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, recognized the problems inherent in being subject to the authority of Westminster when he patriated the Constitution of Canada from British authority in 1982. So did Jean Chretien, who tinkered with the idea of doing away with the oath of allegiance altogether when he was prime minister. He backed down in the heat of the battle over the Quebec referendum. He didn't want to be fighting sovereignists and monarchists at the same time, or so the story goes. Australia, another member of the British Commonwealth, ditched the oath more than 20 years ago. That hereditary monarchy exists at all in the 21st-century should give pause.
Around Christmas 2011, Quebecker Chantal Dupuis wrote directly to the Queen asking her to remove Stephen Harper from office, because "Canadian democracy is in danger like never before in its history." She cited the fact that the Harper government had been found in contempt of Parliament for, among other things, refusing to share information with opposition members on key pieces of legislation. Dupuis wanted Harper dismissed and Parliament dissolved and wondered “when Your Majesty would intervene to protect us Canadians?”
The Queen's senior correspondence officer, Sonia Bonici, responded in February 2012, thanking Dupuis for her letter but confirming that "Her Majesty has no plans to remove Harper from office.” Dupuis wrote back perplexed. "Has Your Majesty heard that during the past May election, it was recently found that mechanisms were put in place that might have altered the elections’ results?"
Protecting and defending the democratic institutions of Canada is not the job of the Queen of England.
The courts have suggested that the oath is merely symbolic. And that politicians who pledge their allegiance to the Queen are swearing an oath not to the Queen but this country's institutions of the Crown. But the reality is that a prime minister of Canada is merely the “first” minister in the hierarchy of British bureaucracy controlling Canada, a member of the British Commonwealth. Under this construct, the prime minister is ultimately responsible to the British monarchy not the people of Canada.
The existence of the British monarchy in Canadian affairs arguably contravenes some of our most cherished Charter rights. The British monarchy must also be the head of the Church of England. There can be no separation of church and state under this arrangement.
Before 1982, to amend the portion of the Canadian constitution dealing with the British monarchy, required a resolution to be passed by the House, the Senate and seven provinces representing at least 50 percent of the Canadian population. Curiously, after the patriation of the Constitution in 1982, the amending formula was changed. Now the unanimous consent of the House, the Senate – an unelected body – and all provincial legislatures is required to remove the British monarchy as head of state of Canada.
When the Senate expenses scandals broke, Justin Trudeau kicked all 32 Liberal Senators out of caucus to sit as independents in the upper chamber, acknowledging that an unelected Senate has no place in a democracy. He has promised free votes in the House, electoral reform and that a Liberal government will not "resort to legislative tricks" to avoid scrutiny.
The Liberal party is surfing a great wave of desire for change. The process of transforming Canada into a true democratic republic that was begun by Trudeau's father should be completed.
The ABCs on the Oath of Allegiance: a declaration of loyalty to the monarch
What it says “I, … do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors. So help me God.”
Canadians who have publicly rejected the oath Victoria’s new mayor, Lisa Helps, who faced an onslaught of angry emails. She admits to not being a “big fan” of the monarchy but explained, “I work closely with local First Nations, and I think to honour that work and the process of decolonization, I couldn’t in good faith take this voluntary oath.” More than half the city’s nine-member council followed Helps’ lead in refusing to take the oath. Councillor Ben Isitt stated on his website. “As a Canadian and British citizen, I think democracy works best when it flows from the bottom up, firmly rooted in a mandate from the people with unwavering respect for human rights.”
What the experts say “There are some people who don’t believe in monarchy and think that it’s anachronistic that, in this day and age, we still swear an allegiance to a rich old lady in another country." Dennis M. Pilon, associate professor of political science at York University, who notes that we didn’t have Canadian citizenship until the 1950s and God Save the Queen was our national anthem until the 1960s.
Is the oath merely symbolic? Gary Levy, a fellow in Canadian Parliamentary Democracy at Ottawa’s Carleton University, offers that even if the oath were modified from declaring loyalty to the monarchy to Canada and it’s people, it would ultimately mean the same thing. “The crown is the symbol of Canada,” he says. “Sovereignty is with the crown and it’s a concept that forms the basis of our whole system of government.”
In the early 1990s Toronto lawyer and activist Charles Roach argued in Federal Court that the Canadian Oath of Citizenship violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by forcing new citizens to swear an allegiance to the monarch. His case was struck down on four separate times. The Federal Court ruled that allegiance to the Queen was “a solemn intention to adhere to the symbolic keystone of the Canadian Constitution, thus pledging an acceptance of the whole of our Constitution and national life.” However, the judge in the case also found that “It may be argued that it strikes at the very heart of democracy to curtail collective opposition and incentive for change by demanding loyalty to a particular political theory.”
Compiled by Michelle da Silva