Pride in Canada's royal roots

An Ontario court decision that asserts Canada's oath of allegiance to the Queen for new citizens reinforces the fact that the Crown plays an important part of a uniquely Canadian democratic system, writes former Winnipegger David Grebstad.
The Ontario Court of Appeal has rightly upheld a lower court’s assertion that the oath of allegiance to the Queen for new Canadian citizens is right and proper, writes David Grebstad. (Chris Jackson/Getty)

Recently, two very good things have happened for those who enjoy the inclusion of British heritage in Canadian culture.

Firstly, in the summer of 2013, the Canadian Army announced its officers would revert to the use of "pips and crowns" as rank insignia, identical to those of the British Army and the Canadian Army prior to the unification of the Canadian Armed Forces in 1968. These insignia are now coming in to use.

More recently, the Ontario Court of Appeal has rightly upheld a lower court’s assertion that the oath of allegiance to the Queen for new Canadian citizens is right and proper.

There has been much said in reference to the return to the Canadian Army’s return to traditional rank. Some arguments are valid the money used to produce the new rank insignia could be used on training or equipment.

Others are less so. Some argue that this is a return to colonial times, although they forget the current rank insignia are carbon copies of British Royal Navy rank.

Moreover, it would be distasteful and insulting to insinuate that the Canadian Army officers who sported this rank insignia during the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War and initial peacekeeping operations were less than Canadian because they wore British-style ranks. The return of the traditional Canadian Army rank insignia rectifies one of the largest of the many mistakes that were foisted on the Canadian military during unification.

Tradition is critical to the Canadian military as soldiers, sailors and air personnel derive strength, pride and esprit de corps by linking themselves with their predecessors.

The truth of the matter is that the role of the Crown is terribly important to the Canadian military in maintaining this tradition. The ex officio commander-in-chief of the Canadian military is the Governor General as the sovereign's representative. The loyalty of Canadian military officers is pledged by oath to the sovereign, not the prime minister, symbolizing something greater than the temporary administration of any particular political party.

Enter the Olympic-level ingrates that are Irish-born Michael McAteer, Israeli DrorBar-Natan and Simone Topey of Jamaica. This trio of "me-first" permanent residents had the audacity to challenge the oath to the Queen as part of attaining Canadian citizenship.

Having voluntarily come to Canada to enjoy its freedoms, tolerance and general security from war, famine and disease, these individuals feel it is wholly reasonable to ask an entire nation-state, representing 35 million people, to adapt to them rather than vice versa.

As if to rub salt in the wound, not only did these folks waste the time and money of the courts by raising this ridiculous question in the first place, they doubled down on their speciousness by appealing the lower court’s decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal, where they were soundly thrashed for a second time. And now they appear poised for a hat-trick of spurious litigation with their announced intent to take the question all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Apparently it is beyond their ken that two learned judges of the Ontario court system could possibly be right about this, and they wrong. I am confident that the worthies of the SCC will see through the charade and finally put this issue to bed  unfortunately, after far too much time and resources have been dedicated to it.

Although much has been done during the last 50 years to redact the role of the Crown in Canadian history, the fact remains that the Crown plays an important part of a uniquely Canadian democratic system.

The "regiphobes" in our midst refuse to acknowledge that pride in the British traditions of our political system, and pride in Canadian nationalism, are not mutually exclusive qualities. One can be a proud independent Canadian and still appreciate the role and history of Great Britain in Canada’s past and present. We can have multiculturalism and the trappings of Canada’s royal heritage.

The British Crown serves an important constitutional role in our form of government; although unfortunately, from time to time, it rests on the head of someone who may seem less than regal. That, however, is its strength. As sovereigns eventually slip the mortal coils of life, the Crown as a symbol endures. It outlives the head that bears it.

The Crown endures as a symbol of Canada writ large — what it was, what it is, and what it will be. It is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Peace, Order and Good Government. It's why the Canadian military answers to the sovereign and not a political party. It's why the prosecution of alleged criminals is carried out in the name of the sovereign, e.g. Regina v. (enter name here).

It is bigger than any individual, but inclusive of the whole — it is what we swear allegiance to, regardless where our votes go.

David Grebstad is an amateur historian and former Winnipegger now living in Etobicoke, Ont.


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