06/01/2012 11:21 EDT | Updated 08/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Canadian Citizenship -- What's the Queen Got to Do With It?


To many individuals and families around the world, Canada is rightfully regarded as a resettlement destination that offers immigrants and new Canadians a range of freedom, choice and opportunity that only a relatively small portion of the world's population is privileged enough to take for granted.

In becoming new Canadians, these individuals often leave behind states and societies headed by undemocratic leaders and institutions whose "legitimate" grip on power rests on little more than sentimentalist appeals to tribalism that is veiled behind "tradition." Not to mention a public's nonchalance that latently defends its state's anachronistic practices with an attitude that boils down to, "well, this is just how we do things here." In many cases, expressing or even being perceived to hold positions contrary to this peculiar manner of running society can be met with various degrees of state-sanctioned repression.

Often, it is precisely these problematic practices and this primitive attitude which individuals aim to escape in exchange for the Canadian promise of full membership in a civic community that is democratic, and promotes the sanctity of basic human rights and freedoms.

Why then, is there a legal obligation for individuals to take a solemn oath of allegiance to faithfully serve the Queen, her heirs and successors in order to gain full access to the democratic protections of Canadian citizenship?

Lawyer and activist, Charles Roach, has been attempting for the past three decades to bring the courts to answer this question. In his tireless campaign, Roach, born a British subject in Trinidad, has contended that the British monarchy is racist and wrong because it is a system of hereditary privilege which undermines the Canadian way of promoting and protecting institutions that guarantee and facilitate equal-opportunity and diversity.

Relying on Charter-guaranteed freedoms of conscience, speech and association, as well as the right to equality and the enshrined principle of multiculturalism, Roach has been pleading his case since 1988. He argues that it is unconstitutional for aspiring Canadians to be denied the choice to swear an oath of allegiance that does not include the Queen and her heirs. Ardently sticking to his personal convictions, Roach has even gone so far as deciding to remain a permanent resident of Canada since 1964 despite being approved for Canadian citizenship -- an entitlement he continues to refuse to claim due to the required oath to the monarchy.

While it's easier to dismiss calls for the abolition of the monarchy in Canada, I can't help but wonder, are there any reasonable arguments for denying potentially new Canadians the right to swear an oath of allegiance that does not mention faithful service of the Queen, her heirs and successors?

Of course, there are those who will immediate cite "tradition" in defence of maintaining the status quo regarding this solemn oath. But aren't the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights a part of the Canadian tradition as well? And really, are mere historical ties and warm feelings and memories of the Queen all we have for legitimating limitations on individuals' fundamental rights, freedoms and ability to become Canadian citizens?

There are, of course, many ways to answer these questions. However, I don't imagine that any of these answers would serve to rebuff a leering suspicion I have that retaining this oath as it only allows for the persistent festering of a national inferiority complex that has been allowed to chronically infect Canadian identity and society.

Of course, Canada is not the only country that lazily chooses to re-appropriate symbols of its historic subjugation and redeploy them as a means of instilling a sense of national unity and strength (see, for example, every other Commonwealth county and the Francophonie). In fact, when you think about it, it kind of makes sense. If it helps, you might think about it in the same way that black people sometimes refer to each other using the N-word as a term of endearment. Perfectly understandable, right?

Anyway, suffice it to say, I'd like to think that Canadian culture is resilient, creative and dynamic enough to withstand the effects of potentially new Canadians being given the option to swear an oath to serve the state and society that is offering them a better life and opportunity for full democratic citizenship, and do so without having to reference an institution and individuals that only seem relevant when searching for gossip, stale nostalgia, good pictures and contrived jubilation qua Canadian national pride.