Republic vs. Monarchy
The values of equality, democracy, cultural pluralism and national sovereignty are integral to the Canadian identity. The first three are recognized and defended by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, extolled by our politicians and place prominently in surveys which ask Canadians what they most appreciate about their country; the fourth is so fundamental we take it for granted.
What is not generally acknowledged, however, is the extent to which the expression of these values is compromised by monarchy, which also features prominently in Canada’s political and social reality.
A commitment to equality before the law is enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, reflecting our conviction that all humans are deserving of equal status, rights and opportunity.
Our tolerance of monarchy, however, entails an acceptance of pronounced inequality.
The royal family is officially assigned markedly elevated status and granted extraordinary powers, privileges and rights. Only a member of this family is deemed worthy of our highest executive post, head of state. In maintaining a key role for monarchy in Canada’s political structure our government essentially recognizes and imposes a caste system which places the British royal family on a higher tier than Canadian citizens.
Furthermore, the Canadian government’s requirement that elected representatives, judges, military personnel and new citizens swear an oath of fealty to the monarch and her family, represents a gross violation of the premise of equal status.
Conversely, in the democratic-republican model the position of head of state is assigned to the most qualified candidate as determined by a democratic selection process. State resources and recognition may not be arbitrarily assigned to favour particular individuals, families or classes.
Section 1 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes Canadian society as “free and democratic”, reflecting our conviction that democracy is, by far, the best and the fairest form of government.
But though we maintain democratic procedures to ensure representative government, the monarchical premises and provisions in our constitution disqualify a claim to full-fledged democracy.
First of all, democracy and equality are intrinsically linked. Al Gore pointed out that, “Democracy begins with the premise that all are created equal,” and, as discussed previously, in a monarchy that premise cannot be honoured.
Secondly, democracy requires popular sovereignty- the investiture of a state’s fundamental authority with its citizenry — while monarchy denies popular sovereignty, assigning this fundamental authority to the royal family.
Canada cannot, therefore, identify as a monarchy and claim to have whole-heartedly embraced democracy.
We are proud to be a nation in which many cultures, ethnicities, religions and political perspectives coexist.
Official deference to the British royal family, however, means that our government is not impartial in representing and serving its diverse citizenry. This deference grants prominence to the British element of our ethnic mosaic and official sanction to the Anglican Church, to which our head of state is bound and which she has sworn to serve. It also expresses approval of the monarchical ideology — which is not held by the majority of Canadians.
The sworn allegiance to the British royal family which we require of new Canadians- as well as of our elected representatives, judges and military personnel — is a violation of the spirit and principle of multiculturalism.
It must also be noted that, in a world racked with sectarian conflict, the continued success and security of our multicultural society would be far better served by a requirement for an expression of concordance with our core values- democracy, equality, respect for civil rights and cultural pluralism- than by an oath of fealty to a European royal family.
Canada’s sovereignty is unquestioned.
Yet our standing as an independent nation is compromised by our reliance on another nation to assign our head of state. No other member of the G8 tolerates such an arrangement.
During the early phase of the Trudeau government’s initiative to patriate the Canadian constitution the Prime Minister explained to the provincial premiers that the Government of Canada “… is not prepared to contemplate the continuation of the anomalous situation in which the British Parliament retains the power to legislate with respect to essential parts of the constitution of Canada.”
We are sorely in need of a leader who has as much regard for Canadian sovereignty and dignity as Trudeau did and who will confidently assert, “The Government of Canada is not prepared to contemplate the continuation of the anomalous situation in which our head of state is determined by Britain.”
As Canadians, we have embraced the ideals of equality, democracy and cultural pluralism and are confident of our sovereignty. However, the full expression of these values is seriously marred by the prominent role we give monarchy in our politics and government.