The monarchy and Canada’s citizenship oath

2008-05-22

in Canada, Law, Politics, Rants

Sign at a bookstore, Toronto

When my mother became a citizen of Canada, I remember noting the absurdity of the citizenship oath:

I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful
and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty
Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada,
Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully
observe the laws of Canada
and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.

The monarchy is a sad reminder of Canada’s imperial past, not something that should be at the heart of becoming a Canadian citizen. It would be far better to have those who are becoming citizens assert their support for the Constitution, democracy, and the rule of law only, rather than giving such prominent treatment to an irrelevant legal hangover. To paraphrase Monty Python: supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical tradition of bloodline descent.

It is certainly an excellent thing that the monarchy has been pushed to the symbolic edge of Canadian law and society, represented by mere remnants like a titular governor general, the queen on currency, and legal conventions like Regina v. Whoever for legal cases. That being said, it makes sense in this day and age to finally eliminate the trappings of family-line rule and become a proper republic. Of course, there are those who disagree.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily May 22, 2008 at 9:02 am

Awesome. The Mulroney biographist hits home with mindless patriotism, and queen-o-philia.

My favorite part of that article is how he makes it sound like the queen has tied us to the train of her flowing monarchy as a gesture of good will, and if we offend her she might just cut us loose – gently and with misty eyes.

Like losing a gem in the Commonwealth crown ain’t no thang.

Padraic May 22, 2008 at 9:06 am

Agreed. I wage a daily battle with a group of monarchist Wikipedia editors who are bent on writing about the Canadian government as if it’s still 1867.

Tristan May 22, 2008 at 10:59 am

As usual, we make the mistake of thinking of the Queen as a natural person like any other. As such, she appears as an enfeebled dictator. But the distinction between monarchy and dictatorship has always been that the monarch is (ideally) to be chosen at random (by birth) to be the person whose natural personhood merges with the up till then yet abstract notion of sovereignty. Now, you might not believe that a natural person could incarnate the sovereignty of a people, but it’s not that different from marriage, where two people – initially separate, become as if they were one. Now, if you think marriage never ceases to be a contingent agreement between two rational willing parties, you should probably avoid marriage because you’ve missed the point of it. And no, that doesn’t mean divorce is a perversion, there is nothing essentially eternal about the becoming other of an individual will.

It’s not by accident that the Queen suceeds so well in representing Canada’s abstract sovreingty. The constitution could change, the Queen could change, we could get rid of the Queen, but we could never get rid of what the Queen represents, or, if we leave the nihilistic “representational” paradigm, what the Queen is (but is so only because we allow her to enact that role) – the sovereignty of Canada. Of course, we could get rid of that as well, as anyone who thinks countries should give up their will to the U.N. in some way believes. But it seems unlikely that this will occur.

If we got rid of the Queen, and here you suggest replacing the constitution, we replace a person with a text – a text I might add which can be mostly ignored by pretty much everyone because it applies only to certain kinds of abstract individuals, and even then, can be ignored if you’re French or a bit homophobic. But even if that were not true, the constitution is not an incarnation or a representation of something which is not contingent – it’s just a law, which can be with difficulty changed.

If you want to look for another enactment of sovereignty in Canada, and I contend there is a “real” one which stands in for the Queen’s “false” representation of sovereignty since responsible government was granted. What I speak of is not the constitution but the mechanism for altering it – by this mechanism the common will of the democratic polis (or a perverted representation of it) can alter the constitution, and thereby enable the passing in principle of any act, even horrific ones.

So, if you want, you could argue that new citizens ought not swear allegiance to the Queen, but to the mechanism for altering the constitution. But it isn’t very glamorous, something about different proportions of the population and also different numbers of provincial ministers signing on. I’d hardly want to bore new Canadians with such tedium.

Rather than change the citizenship oath, maybe we could bother to point out why we have a Queen, and not just the contingent historical story which makes every country rationally equal to every other (you want to be the equal of Burma?), but the rational story which demonstrates the neccesity of something like a Queen even if it looks more like a democratic mechanism for changing the constitution. Unfortunately, it seems that almost no home-born Canadians, even ones that study politics for years, understand the basic rationality of statehood.

No wonder the Pope is able so convincingly to call relativism the force of darkness and evil in our time.

Tristan May 22, 2008 at 11:06 am

Padraic,

It’s unlikely that many things the rogue editors say is false, Canada legally is quite similar to 1867. Do you mean they are getting basic facts wrong, like about our constitution being an act in british parliament, and about the Queen having a meaningful power of veto over all legislation?

If you go on the Houses of Parliament tour, they act as if the Senate is as important politically as the Commons. The continued passing of new right legislation through an old liberal senate proves this to not be the case.

Couldn’t you in most cases leave what the rogues put, and add qualifications, i.e. “Although technically bla bla bla… the mainstream would say this is no longer politically relevant bla bla bla…”

Sarah May 22, 2008 at 1:53 pm

Cut off their heads! Or failing that, strip them of all the titles & benefits and the vast majority of their assets. There is virtually nothing as utterly incompatible with a democratic and meritocratic society as an unelected, unaccountable monarch.
Mysteriously, the royals seem more popular in Canada than they are at home, where many people consider the Queen to be a fusty, lecturing old biddy who makes disastrous decisions (eg. their treatment of Diana & her funeral), reject Prince Charles as a cheating husband and weirdo who talks to trees, & are unimpressed by the Princes’ partying and Nazi dressup games. A minority of Brits think we’d be worse off without the royal family – I wonder if that’s true in Canada?

Anon May 22, 2008 at 4:38 pm

THE final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent, as hath been shown, to the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants, and observation of those laws of nature set down in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters.

. May 22, 2008 at 4:48 pm

A thoroughly modern royal wedding

By Daniela Relph
Royal correspondent, BBC News

“It’s the detail of a royal wedding that we seem to love.

The dress was designed by Sassi Holford in ivory duchesse satin with a lace bolero jacket and a two-metre train.

The tiara was on loan, just for the day, from Princess Anne, while the jewellery was a gift from Peter Phillips to his new bride.

Then there were the guests. There were 300 in all, 70 of whom flew over from the bride’s home country of Canada.

But, by the standards of royal weddings, this couldn’t have been a more low-key affair.

On the streets of Windsor many of those who turned up to watch the Changing of the Guard didn’t even realise that, later in the day, the first of the younger generation of royals would marry behind the Berkshire castle’s walls.

And even when they found out what was happening, many hadn’t heard of either the bride or groom.”

Sarah May 22, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Yet Hobbes claim (and indeed his premises regarding human nature as wholly selfish individualism and the impossibility of multiple people being involved in government without divisions leading inevitably to war) have been plentifully disproved over the past 200 years.

. May 22, 2008 at 5:24 pm

Scouts ditch Queen from oath

By Michelle Pountney
The Herald Sun, 29 June 2001

AUSTRALIAN cubs and scouts can now ditch the Queen from their investiture promise.

Scouts have been given the option to promise allegiance and duty to the Queen of Australia, or Australia on its own.

After decades of promising to do their duty to the Queen of Australia, the scouting hierarchy has recognised the changing relevance of the Queen to today’s children.

. May 22, 2008 at 5:24 pm

March 12, 2008
Citizenship: a British farce
An oath of allegiance to the Queen? Or to the NHS? This exercise is madness
Alice Miles

Perhaps we could have our children pledge allegiance to a national motto. So thick and fast and inchoate tumble the ideas about Britishness from the Government that the ridiculous no longer seems impossible. It is easy to poke fun – too easy, perhaps. For the very debate about what it means to be a British citizen, long a particular passion of Gordon Brown, brutally illustrates the ever-decreasing circle that new Labour has become.

. May 22, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Scout Promises

The Wolf Cub Promise

I promise to Do My Best,
To love and serve God,
To do my duty to the Queen,
To keep the Law of the Wolf Cub Pack,
And to do a good turn to somebody everyday.

The Scout Promise

On my honour,
I promise that I will do my best,
To do my Duty to God and the Queen,
To help other people at all times,
And to carry out the spirit of the Scout Law.
The Scout Law
A Scout is
Helpful and trustworthy,
Kind and cheerful,
Considerate and clean,
And wise in the use of all resources.

Tristan May 23, 2008 at 4:00 am

It’s easy to ridicule that which you don’t understand.

The point of democracy is to make sure the public interest is served, rather than specialized interests. Oh ya – like that works. People fail to take up their duty to vote, or at least to vote with an informed understanding of the issues. Thus, the elections are seized by those best at subliminal advertising, or at the whim of media giants. In either case, specialized interests dominate over general ones, and you have a system no more universal than a corrupt monarchy. And at least a corrupt monarchy, you can kill the king because he is failing to do his duty.

Democracy makes me sick.

. May 28, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Nepal declares itself a republic

In South Asia

The nation of Nepal becomes the world’s newest republic, as a constituent assembly ends 240 years of royal rule.

. December 17, 2008 at 9:20 am

“There are no wise few. Every aristocracy that has ever existed has behaved, in all essential points, exactly like a small mob.”

G. K. Chesterton

. January 19, 2009 at 11:54 am
Milan July 10, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Pages, the Toronto bookstore whose sign this photo of the day shows, is closing down following a rent-hike. Sad.

. July 10, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Pages bookstore going down
Pages’ demise shows there’s no downturn when it comes to rents on Queen West strip
By Paul Terefenko

If you were planning to buy all your art textbooks at Pages in September, you might want to push your purchase plans forward a few weeks.

As of August 31, the iconic Queen West bookstore with the edgiest windows in town will have written its final chapter.

Just a few days after the Scream Festival hosted its gravestone tour of the city’s lost independent bookstores, Pages owner Marc Glassman tells NOW his own doors are closing.

Tristan November 18, 2010 at 3:17 pm

We’re pretty lucky to live in a state where the citizenship oath demands our loyalty to a symbolic body which at least purports to serve Canadian citizens and their interests.

“Israeli citizenship oath sparks claims of racism

Israeli Arabs compare swearing loyalty to the Jewish state to blacks swearing loyalty to apartheid, writes Mark Weiss in Jerusalem

THIS WEEK’s decision by the Israeli cabinet approving an amendment to the country’s Citizenship Act unleashed a bitter debate over whether the government was advocating racist legislation that will further undermine the fragile balance between Israel’s Jewish majority and the country’s Arabs, who make up about 20 per cent of the population.

Under the terms of the new amendment, which still has to be voted into law by the Knesset parliament, non-Jews applying for Israeli citizenship will have to pledge the following oath of loyalty: “I swear that I will be a loyal citizen to the state of Israel, as a Jewish and democratic state, and will uphold its laws.”

Jews, who can apply for citizenship automatically, are exempt from the new loyalty oath, but ministers, in response to criticism that the move is racist and discriminatory, are considering applying the amendment to would-be Jewish immigrants as well.

Most affected by the amendment will be Palestinians wishing to marry Israeli Arabs, and foreign workers.

The amendment fulfilled a coalition promise by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, the second-largest party in the coalition. Its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, now Israel’s foreign minister, based his election campaign on the slogan “No Citizenship Without Loyalty”.

The slogan, and the party’s success, reflected a widespread belief among Israel’s Jewish majority that Israeli Arabs represent a fifth column, more loyal to the Palestinian cause than their country of birth. Israeli Arabs vote overwhelmingly for radical non-Zionist parties, and Israeli-Arab politicians act as vociferous advocates of the Palestinian cause. One former Knesset member, Azmi Bishara, fled Israel after being accused of treason and providing information to Hizbullah.

An Israeli-Arab woman member of the current Knesset, Haneen Zoabi, was bitterly condemned by Jewish parliamentarians for sailing aboard the Mavi Marmara, part of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla intercepted by Israeli commandos in May, resulting in the death of nine activists.

Dr Adel Manna, an Israeli-Arab historian who lives in Jerusalem, told The Irish Times that it was only natural that the country’s Arabs would oppose the legislation.

“As a Palestinian resident of Israel, I am against the idea that Israel can be a state for all the world’s Jews, for Jews from America and Britain, but excludes me, a native of this country,” she said.

Dr Manna, a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, believes the government introduced the legislation at this juncture because Israeli negotiators are demanding that the Palestinian leadership recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Now, they are making similar demands from Israeli Arabs.

“It’s absurd. The message is that even though the state is not loyal to you and makes you a second-class citizen, you must swear allegiance,” Dr Manna said. “It’s like asking blacks in South Africa to swear allegiance to the apartheid regime.”

But Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, from the Yisrael Beiteinu party, said the demand to recognise Israel as a Jewish state was perfectly legitimate. He noted that Israel’s declaration of independence used the same phrase five times.

Mr Ayalon suggested that the fierce opposition to the amendment was part of the current international campaign to delegitimise Israel.

“When we ask prospective citizens to emphasise Israel’s status as both a Jewish and democratic state, we call on them to embrace the true meaning and substance of the state of Israel, without compromising their civil rights,” he said. “Without these terms, Israel’s unique significance is rendered meaningless.”

Those who refused to acknowledge Israel’s national character want to strip it of any defining features, he argued, and turn Israel into a “Hebrew-speaking republic”.”

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2010/1016/1224281250364.html

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