01/31/2013 09:38 EST | Updated 04/02/2013 05:12 EDT

Canada To Change Royal Rules To Make Female Heirs Equal

OTTAWA - The Harper government is bringing in legislation that will change the rules of royal succession to end centuries of discrimination against female heirs to the throne.

"As our society changes, so too must our institutions," Heritage Minister James Moore said Thursday as he outlined what he called "common-sense" changes.

"This legislation will mean that the Crown will remain an institution that is adapted to current values."

The bill follows an agreement among Commonwealth countries where the Queen is head of state to change the outdated tradition that favoured male heirs over their older sisters.

Each country promised to legislate changes to give females equal status and end a 300-year-old rule that bans the monarch from marriage to a Roman Catholic.

In 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to Commonwealth leaders telling them he planned to make these changes and asking for their agreement.

He introduced the required legislation in the British Parliament in December.

The issue took on more urgency with the news that Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are expecting their first child.

The legislation means that the child, girl or boy, will be next in line for the throne after William. It also removes a prohibition that banned an heir from marrying a Roman Catholic.

"These changes mean that if the first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is a girl, she will be able to accede to the throne and will be in a position to marry someone of another faith," Moore said.

The changes could raise constitutional questions, however.

Moore said the bill must pass Parliament, but isn't a constitutional amendment and doesn't require provincial assent.

"This change does not require any modification to the Canadian Constitution, given that the rules of succession are part of U.K. legislation," he said.

But Philippe Lagasse, an assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said the government should have at least consulted the provinces. In Australia, the prime minister discussed the matter with that country's state leaders, Lagasse said.

"I fully understand why the government didn't do it; it's time-consuming, it's controversial," but provincial assent, whether explicit or implied, is the way to go, he said.

Moore said the government hasn't had any objections from the provinces.

"Our government signalled back in 2011 that we were planning to make these changes ... we've heard no opposition."

Lagasse also found fault with Moore's argument that the succession is a matter of British law and Canada is merely assenting to the changes.

"The bill could have been crafted in such a way to amend the Canadian line of succession in an explicit manner as opposed to simply assenting to the British law," he said.

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