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Ontario’s Court of Appeal upholds oath of citizenship ruling

TORONTO — Citing the “symbolic” nature of the citizenship oath, Ontario’s top court has dismissed a constitutional challenge by three permanent residents who claim swearing allegiance to the Queen is discriminatory and unjust.

The trio had argued that the provision in the Citizenship Act that requires would-be citizens to swear to be “faithful and bear true allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors,” violates the Charts of Rights and Freedoms.

Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Karen Weiler ruled Wednesday that the appellants’ claims were based “on their misconception” of the meaning of the oath to the Queen as an individual.

“The oath to the Queen of Canada is an oath to our form of government, as symbolized by the Queen as the apex of our Canadian parliamentary system of constitutional monarchy,” Weiler wrote in her decision.

“Applying a purposive and progressive approach to the wording of the oath, with regard to its history in Canada and the evolution of our country, leads to the conclusion that the oath is a symbolic commitment to be governed as a democratic constitutional monarchy unless and until democratically changed.”

If the reference to the Queen in the oath were eliminated, or made optional, wrote Weiler, such a remedy would only be a superficial cure for the complaint.

“Because the Queen remains the head of our government, any oath that commits the would-be citizen to the principles of Canada’s government is implicitly an oath to the Queen.”

With its decision Wednesday, the court upheld a ruling issued last September by the Ontario Superior Court, which dismissed the claim, saying the provision is constitutional, even if it does violate free-speech rights.

The applicants are Irish-born Michael McAteer, Dror Bar-Natan from Israel and Jamaican-born Simone Topey.

Selwyn Pieters, one of the lawyers involved in the case, said the trio were expecting a different outcome and will now seek leave to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“They believe that it’s a fundamental hindrance to their freedom of expression, their freedom of religion and their freedom of conscience,” Pieters said.

“Many people who feel that the monarchy is an anti-democratic relic of the past conscientiously object to taking such an oath and feel that it should suffice to take an oath to Canada.”

The federal government has maintained that taking an oath to the Queen has been around since Confederation as a condition of “acquiring membership in the Canadian polity.”

 
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