What makes a Canadian?

Question: What do a 79-year-old descendent of an Irish nationalist, an Israeli-born math professor and a Jamaican-born Rastafarian have in common?

Question: What do a 79-year-old descendent of an Irish nationalist, an Israeli-born math professor and a Jamaican-born Rastafarian have in common?

Answer: They are all permanent residents of Canada who wish to become full citizens but cannot, because they can’t in good conscience swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.

Swearing allegiance to Canada’s foreign monarch is part of the oath of allegiance to Canada that would-be citizens must profess (or affirm), before getting the right to a Canadian passport and the right to vote.

Naturally-born Canadians, like myself, are not required to take the oath. But I’ve done so many times, as our entire elementary school class was compelled to do. We did not include “heirs and successors” in our pledges in those days, because Queen Elizabeth was surely going to live forever.

But we all did pledge “our love and loyalty” to the picture that hung at the front of the class. And as if we didn’t really mean it this week, we would all take the pledge again next week.

We all did this, except for a few of my classmates who were of a religious sect who were do not allowed to do such things. But they are Canadians nonetheless.

Last week, a new case was begun by the three would-be Canadians in the Ontario Court of Appeal, claiming the oath violates Canada’s right of free speech. Last September, Ontario Supreme Court Justice Edward Morgan ruled the oath is indeed “compelled speech” but in this case, it does not violate our Constitution.

Thus the appeal and the probable trip to the Supreme Court of Canada. The federal government — loyal monarchists all — have already said they will appeal any ruling that would allow an opening for strict non-monarchists to become Canadians. You have to be born here to have that.

For Conservatives, our Canada includes hereditary rule by people who frequently appear on the cover of supermarket pulp magazines. An irony if ever there was one, because the best-before date for the notion of hereditary rule passed with the end of the bubonic plagues, the invention of moveable type, and the rise if literacy.

So Queen Elizabeth may well have to live forever, if she is to see the end of this legal battle.

Our historic status as a constitutional monarchy may not be as permanent as the federal government would have us believe.

Last September, when Morgan delivered his decision, MP Peter Goldring said: “I’m weary of a lot of these stories of people who come to a country seeking a fresh start (and) a fresh life and then not really wanting to subscribe into the type of society that the country is.”

But then, Goldring wearies easily.

Really, it depends on who you ask, whether Canada still clings to medieval beliefs about the divine right of kings.

An online poll by the Toronto Star showed 54.6 per cent of respondents saying that swearing allegiance to Canada should be sufficient to gain citizenship.

A similar poll, though, on Canada.com showed a 70 per cent support for keeping the Royal oath. Comments on the report of that poll show a fairly scary aspect of Canadian society, with anonymous people saying immigrants who don’t profess loyalty to the Queen are either ignorant of what Canada is or should just “go home.”

Now would be a good time to mention that the people launching the current court appeal have called Canada “home” longer than most current Canadians have been alive.

Nor are they particularly ignorant of Canadian realities. If you want an education on the finer points of our Constitution, try launching a Supreme Court challenge.

Other commentators — immigration lawyers included — suggest objectors should just cross their fingers behind their back and say the words. After all, not a whole lot of natural-born Canadians spend much time pondering their allegiance to the Queen, beyond honouring the face on their money.

Consider: Louis Riel did just that to become a member of Parliament. He was later hanged as a traitor, but he’s now considered a great Canadian martyr.

If that’s more history than you care for, consider that all separatist MPs did the same when they took office. And they were once Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

If you’re seeking the moral high ground, I’d suggest you not look at a whole roomful of members of the shadow cabinet, whose allegiance was as thin as a $20 bill. Yet they were all Canadian citizens.

I am Canadian. But I don’t believe anyone should be allowed head-of-state status by simple right of birth. A new citizen should be allowed that same freedom to think and to speak.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

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