Globe and Mail: June 07 2013
A motion has been filed in Quebec Superior Court taking issue with Canada’s Succession to the Throne Act, which gives consent to a bill adopted in British Parliament last April changing the rules of succession to allow for the firstborn, regardless of gender, to succeed to the throne.
Geneviève Motard and Patrick Taillon, constitutional experts at Laval University in Quebec City, contend that the federal law represents a constitutional amendment and that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government failed to obtain approval of all the provinces as required under the 1982 Canadian Constitution.
By adopting the new rules of succession to the British Crown, the law “does not follow the amending procedure and no resolution has been passed by the legislative assembly of any province,” the two professors argue in their motion.
Marc Chevrier, a University of Quebec at Montreal political scientist who acts as a consultant on the case, said the fundamental issue involved not only reopening the constitutional debate but also considering the abolition of Canadian monarchy. There has always been a strong anti-monarchy movement in the province fuelled by Quebec nationalism.
“If the amending rules are to be applied should they not be used to simply abolish the monarchy rather than to modernize it,” Mr. Chevrier said. “And the most astonishing thing about this issue is that Quebec has said nothing. … If this can reopen the constitutional debate, then Quebec can use it to table its own demands.”
The Laval professors are receiving advice from astute constitutional experts: André Joli-Coeur, the Supreme Court-appointed lawyer who argued Quebec’s case in the 1998 federal government reference on Quebec secession; and André Binette, who was legal council to the Quebec government during the 1995 referendum on sovereignty. The professors may seek the advice of other experts when the case proceeds to court.
The Succession to the Throne Act was adopted in Parliament at the end of March with little debate. According to Mr. Chevrier, Quebec’s silence on Ottawa’s imposed changes to the succession rules was all the more surprising since the province was challenging the Harper government’s proposal to unilaterally reform the Senate. The federal law gave consent to the British bill that removed the priority of male heirs over female heirs, and also ended the disqualification from the line of succession arising from marrying a Roman Catholic.
The two Laval professors argue that the religious requirement constitutes “a discrimination that is contrary to the freedom of conscience and religion and the right to equality” guaranteed in the Charter. They also maintain that since the British Act was written in English only, it violated Canada’s official languages law, which was another argument for declaring it unconstitutional.
Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton, who is about to give birth to their first child, provided added impetus to the British government’s desire to change the succession rule.