Recently, an Ontario court ruled that forcing would-be Canadians to take an oath to the Queen as a condition of citizenship is constitutional, even if it does violate free-speech rights.
In his ruling, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Morgan dismissed an application by three permanent residents – from Ireland, Jamaica and Israel, respectively – who argued that the requirement was discriminatory and unjust, and who are now considering an appeal.
Morgan stated, “The oath of citizenship is a form of compelled speech. . .justifiable in a free and democratic society.” He also ruled the oath does not violate either religious or equality rights as was claimed.
The Citizenship Act requires applicants for citizenship to swear or affirm they will be “faithful and bear true allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors.” The long-time permanent residents oppose the oath on religious or conscientious grounds, saying pledging allegiance to Canada should be enough to become citizens, as is the case for those born here or abroad to Canadian parents.
The federal government maintains that taking an oath to the Queen has been tradition since Confederation and the “inability to enjoy the benefits of citizenship – to hold a Canadian passport and to vote – are amongst the costs reasonably borne by individuals whose personal beliefs run counter to Canada’s foundational heritage.”
Having recently gained permanent residency here in Vancouver, I have heard this argument many times before from fellow immigrants, mostly over a pint, who refuse to swear allegiance to the Queen based on their own personal belief systems.
As someone who will seek citizenship when the time comes, my response is always that we’re living in this awesome country by our own free will, so it goes without saying that we should have to adhere to our adopted culture’s constitution if we expect the constitutional right to vote. Right?!
We know only too well that our countries of origin all have rich and too often brutal histories, but the monarchy is so inextricably linked to the very fabric of the nation that we simply cannot demand special conditions.
A handful of surveys over the last year has shown that a majority of Canadian voters actually like the monarchy, and a large majority think Queen Elizabeth and her successors have important roles to play – no doubt thanks to the celebrity influence of hunky hubby Prince William (who, according to Forum Research, most favour as the next King over poor, hopeless Prince Charles), the ever perfect Princess Kate and new baby Prince George, who literally stopped time back in July as the world waited with baited breath for his bonny birth.
The counter argument of course is that, with Canada’s 150th birthday only four years away in 2017, the monarchy’s role in government has got to go. According to a February 2013 survey by Your Canada, Your Constitution (YCYC), 55 per cent of Canadians would prefer a democratically chosen Canadian-born head of state, with only 34 per cent wishing to continue with a member of the British royal family. The other 11 per cent couldn’t give a hoot, apparently.
Of course, this age old debate (from what I gather – I’m new to all this toing and froing. My native Ireland literally divided itself into two parts almost 100 years ago thanks to such disagreements, to put it mildly) caused an inevitable flurry of racism from both sides online.
Comments ranged from: “This is just another case of ‘I don’t want to do it, so I’m going to attempt to change the laws to suit me.’ Sorry, too bad it doesn’t work that way.” To: “Hello! Do we need you or do you need Canada? … You don’t want to say OUR oath, then BUZZ OFF!”
And not forgetting the unnecessary call for a revolution: “These three should just get on with it and find a country with the kind of wording which is more to their liking, and stop wasting court’s time and our money. We shouldn’t be worrying about silly inconsequential personal oaths, but instead towards ridding ourselves of our overlords and becoming a Republic.”
One more measured response, clearly from an immigrant who’s had enough, stated: “Once again, I am intrigued by the immigrant-bashing that has become obligatory whenever a topic is remotely related to that issue. A common misconception about immigration to Canada is that most immigrants come to Canada as refugees or are unskilled labourers and therefore should be ‘grateful to be here and that it is a ‘privilege’ to be a Canadian.”
“The truth is that the vast majority of immigrants come to Canada based on their skills. The average immigrant to Canada has a higher level of education than those born in Canada. They are actively recruited abroad to compensate for the shrinking population of Canada. Without immigration, the Canadian economy would fall apart rather quickly. It is no surprise that accelerated economic growth in Canada coincides with the beginning of large-scale immigration in the 1970s. It is also no surprise that the economic engines of Canada (Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal) are also the areas with the higher concentration of immigrants. Conversely, areas with the lowest number of immigrants are also the areas with the lowest standard of living (e.g. interior of BC.). . .It seems to me that some Canadians generally don’t like change, even if it’s a good thing.”
Well, like many of us, I’m torn. I have an international degree and a Masters, but I still feel like it’s a privilege to be here. I pay my bills and my taxes, I’ve never relied on the government for anything, but I’m still grateful to live in one of the greatest cities on earth.
And if staying here and contributing to civic decision-making means pledging allegiance to an institution that ain’t going anywhere fast, then I’ll swallow my Republican pride and do what I need to do.
It really comes down to a simple case of, ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.’ Either way, it’s a win-win situation, and that should be enough for us, right?