04 July 2012

Roach vs. the Queen

"I affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen."

Just kidding. Of course I don't. This is, of course, the Canadian Oath of Citizenship, which I have never taken and the first part of which, the bit about being faithful to and bearing allegiance to dear Elizabeth, I could not affirm in good conscience.The latter part presents no problem.

I was prompted to ponder this when reading about the case of Charles Roach. Roach has been resident in this country for 57 years and has wanted to become a citizen but has never been able to get past pledging allegiance to the Crown, claiming it offends his freedom of conscience. He calls it an "oath to a symbol of racism,” referring to England’s colonial past. He has never had success getting it struck down in the courts but now, expecting to die from cancer within the next 18 months and wanting to become a Canadian before he goes, is making one last attempt. The Ontario Superior Court has given Mr. Roach and three others permission to argue that the oath to the Queen is unconstitutional. If they win, the federal government will have to rewrite the oath.

There is another way of dodging the pledge. Ashok Charles, who had taken the Oath of Citizenship in 1977, publicly recanted the portion of the oath that makes reference to the monarch and informed Citizenship and Immigration Canada about his recantation in a notarized document. He later claimed that Citizenship and Immigration had informed him in writing that his citizenship had not been affected. Unfortunately, if Mr. Roach's court case fails, he may not have time to take this approach.

While we celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee—or while some of us do, I beg to be excused—we might ask ourselves why we, the citizens of a democratic nation, are still swearing allegiance to a foreign, unelected head of state who got her job not by merit but by birthright. I recognize she has little real power, so perhaps it doesn't matter all that much. And not being an Asian or African, I may lack Mr. Roach's critical perspective, but even I find that accepting the British Queen as our head of state seems a bit immature. It seems rather like clinging to mommy's skirts when you're supposed to be all grown up. Mr. Roach does have a point.

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