12/29/2011 11:02 EST | Updated 02/27/2012 05:12 EST

God Sell the Queen

In our short history, Canada has become a globally respected voice and example in the world for peaceful change, tolerance, compromise, democracy, active multilateral engagement, and social justice. It therefore matters to me that our head of state is not--and can never be--a citizen of Canada.


Queen Elizabeth II has been a tower of strength and dignity for decades. Her unflinching grace has been a source of inspiration to her subjects and to observers around the world through some of the seismic events of the 20th century. The Queen's love for Canada has been unmistakable throughout her reign. On a windy day on Parliament Hill in April, 1982, she signed the Constitution Act into law in the presence of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Minister of Justice Jean Chretien. It was a seminal event in Canada's history.

The repatriation of the Constitution gave Canada the ability for the first time in our history to amend our own laws without asking for the British Parliament for acquiescence. The fact that it took us so long to achieve that basic act of national independence speaks to the complexity of Canada itself. But our Parliament and the legislatures of nine of 10 provinces finally did it, despite the political struggle it took to get there. And while we are the better for it, Quebec's absence from the Canada Act remains an open wound that must be rectified. That is one of several things that modernizing our Constitution for the 21st century should aim to achieve.

It may come as a surprise to some that weren't paying attention in their ninth grade socials class, but Canada's head of state remains a foreigner -- the Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We also share our head of state with no less than 16 other countries around the world. As it stands, a Canadian can never be head of state; that is the exclusive preserve of not someone who embodies our national character and values, but is determined by an accident of birth. As far as I am concerned, until a Canadian can be head of state, the soul of the nation will have an uneasy emptiness. We cannot become a truly independent nation until we fully claim it as ours.

Since becoming Queen in 1952, Elizabeth has been a profoundly admired figure that has done Canada proud. She has been our head of state for 60 years, almost half of our history. But she should be Canada's last monarch.

My father and grandfather served Canada valiantly in both World Wars. Grandpa, born and raised in a working class neighbourhood of London called Croydon, was wounded several times -- the last time almost fatally -- in the famous battle of Passchendaele, when he lost a good part of his leg. Of the other 10 people in that trench, he was the only one who made it out alive.

At the start of WWII, Grandpa went to the enlistment office in Montreal and tried to join again, but was turned down. I remember him telling me: "I wanted to finish off those damned Germans!" My father and grandfather inculcated in me a deep love for Canada and our history. My learning and experience over the years has only fortified my attachment to my country. I took my parents to Parliament Hill in 1992 so they could see Queen Elizabeth unveil the majestic statue of her on horseback, located between the Senate side of the Centre Block and the historic East Block of the parliament buildings.

In our short history, Canada has become a globally respected voice and example in the world for peaceful change, tolerance, compromise, democracy, active multilateral engagement, and social justice. We have much to be proud of. Our history is very much part of who we are and what we are. But it does not mean that we should hold on to the vestiges of our colonial past. Quite the contrary. While that past should be honoured and celebrated, we must forge a new, bold, and independent path. It is one that signals that we are distinctly and unabashedly Canadian.

The symbols of our identity matter. They help shape our common values and perceptions of ourselves. They define and reinforce who we are and what we stand for and personify our history and traditions. And symbols should also fortify our values and breathe life into our best aspirations for what we can be as a mature and modern nation.

It therefore matters to me that our head of state is not -- and can never be -- a citizen of Canada. It matters to me that the Canada's constitution requires that duly elected Members of Parliament and provincial legislatures require that an oath of allegiance to the Queen of England be taken before they can take their seats. It matters to me that we teach our children that our most important symbol of national sovereignty is a foreigner, and her appointed surrogate, the Governor General. It matters to me that a very large segment of our population -- mostly residing in Quebec -- cannot and will never identify with a monarchy that is an anachronism from another age.

It is no coincidence that the Royal Family bypasses Quebec whenever they are in Canada. How can it remain acceptable to us that a large number of citizens view our head of state as an historical relic at best, and illegitimate at worst? And what does it say about us that becoming Canada's head of state has nothing whatsoever to do with contribution, merit, credentials, or accomplishment, or even Canadian nationality. The only criterion is bloodline. That very notion is anathema to everything we stand for as a country and the very democratic principles those generations of Canadian men and women sacrificed so much for.

The time has come for Canada shed itself of the last vestiges of a colonial past. The time has come to give ourselves a head of state that is a true reflection of who we are and dream to become as a modern and independent nation.