What would it mean for Harry and Meghan to come to Canada?

If Prince Harry and Meghan Markle end up spending part of their time in Canada, it could pose various legal, constitutional and immigration questions.

Legal, constitutional, immigration and security questions hang over the possible relocation

Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, appear with their newborn son in St. George's Hall at Windsor Castle on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. (Dominic Lipinski/The Canadian Press)

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have yet to say exactly which part of North America they intend to spend their time in, but they've given strong indications that it will be in Canada.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle spent six weeks on Vancouver Island over Christmas and followed that up with a visit to Canada House in London earlier this week to thank Canada for "the warm Canadian hospitality and support they received during their recent stay."

The next day, they announced plans to "step back" as senior members of the Royal Family and divide their time between the United Kingdom and North America.

And now, Markle has returned to Canada. It turns out their son Archie never left, but stayed here with a nanny while they went back to London to launch their new venture.

It all caused a storm of protest in the British media, with some pundits accusing the couple of ingratitude and selfishness.

News that the couple already had trademarked the brand name SussexRoyal with the U.K. Intellectual Property Office — and the right to use it on a range of products, including hoodies, pyjamas and socks — encouraged speculation that they are planning to cash in on their royal name as they start their new "financially independent" life.

But what would it mean for Canada if they were to move here? Could there be perils or pitfalls in this situation for the Trudeau government?

And could Harry expect to enjoy special rights or privileges in this country as a member of the Royal Family?

No constitutional role

If Harry's wish is to live life as a commoner (and his new website certainly doesn't give that impression), then on paper at least he might get his wish in Canada, said Philippe Lagasse, Barton Chair of International Affairs at Carleton University's Norman Paterson School and an expert on the Westminster system.

"In Australia and New Zealand you would still have, on a legal footing, some status for Harry as being in the line of succession to the Australian and New Zealand crowns," said Lagasse.

But not here.

"Canada's a bit of an outlier among the four core Westminster states," he said. "We're the only ones among the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand who say we don't have a law of royal succession."

That's the result of changes made by the Harper government in 2013. Until then, Canada had its own laws of succession. But when the British modernized their law, Canada didn't follow suit because of the perennial aversion to reopening the Constitution.

"We simply say that whoever holds the office of British monarch is automatically, ex officio, our monarch," said Lagasse. "And what that means is that anyone who is not the British monarch doesn't have any clear legal status in Canada anymore."

Lagasse said that even though Harry's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, does have status in Canada, he would not be able to claim citizenship through her.

"That's just not the case. The Queen isn't a citizen of Canada. She's not a citizen of the U.K., either. She's not a citizen of any country because she's the embodiment of the state.

"And because of that, Harry would likely have to go through standard [immigration] procedures."

Visas and paperwork

Given that Harry has no special legal status in Canada, would he have to apply for a visa to live or work here like an ordinary U.K. citizen?

Dory Jade, head of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants, said the Sussexes have the wealth to simply leave Canada every six months — in which case they would need no visas at all.

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He added that Meghan Markle lived and worked in Canada for many years (she was in Toronto while she was an actor on the TV series Suits) and may already have a work permit, permanent residency or even citizenship.

If they do want to settle here more formally, they would have a number of options, said Jade.

The largest number of immigrants come to Canada through the Express Entry (skilled worker) program.

Express Entry requires immigrants to show they have the skills, education and languages that Canada needs, assigning points for various qualifications and characteristics.

The system favours those with higher levels of education. That would appear to work against Harry, who doesn't have a university degree.

  • For more coverage of Harry and Meghan, subscribe to the Royal Fascinator, our biweekly newsletter dedicated to news and analysis of the goings-on at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and beyond — out every other Friday.

Money opens doors

But Jade said that people with Harry's kind of wealth would be unlikely to enter Canada through Express Entry because they have the money to access other options.

Jade said that if the couple is willing to invest some of its fortune (estimated in the tens of millions of dollars) in Canada, they could probably qualify for one of the business/investor class visas.

"It's very common for wealthy people to come to Canada, open a business under a work permit and then convert it to [permanent residency]," Jade told CBC News, adding the paperwork wouldn't take too long to complete.

"We're talking maybe less than 12 months, and they could start operating even before getting the work permit, I would say."

Vancouver immigration lawyer Zool Suleman said that if the Sussexes don't feel like going through the paperwork, they might be able to parlay their royal connections into a shortcut.

"There's an awful lot of discretion in our immigration system," he said. "Whether he has the points or not, the minister of immigration has the discretion to permit him to live here."

When it comes to the rich and well-connected, said Suleman, "these things tend to get dealt with very quietly and diplomatically."

But Lagasse said any intervention would be politically risky in a country where people are very sensitive to immigration queue-jumping.

"On what grounds would we grant this independently wealthy person citizenship or an expedited process when there's millions of people trying to have this done who have to go through their MP, or who are trying to bring over their spouses or whatever it happens to be?" he asked.

"This individual, who already has citizenship in another country, and who could easily go through the proper channels … on what grounds would we justify a ministerial or parliamentary intervention?"

Potential pitfalls?

A poll published by the National Post suggests that many Canadians might support having Harry as governor general.

But Canadian public opinion about royalty sometimes sours when the bills start coming in.

Historically, there's been less willingness on this side of the Atlantic to foot expenses for a family that is already extremely wealthy.

The Sussexes have let it be known that they expect U.K .taxpayers to continue to pick up the tab for a security detail that reportedly costs an estimated $1.1 million a year.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge acknowledge the crowd as they take part in Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa July 1, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

When Royal Family members come to Canada on official business, Canadian taxpayers cover the costs. A nine-day visit in 2011 by Prince William and Kate cost an average of $133,000 per day. A four-day visit in 2014 by Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles cost $162,000 per day.

However, if Harry is not on official business, he doesn't appear to meet the definition of an Internationally Protected Person, which would require the government to provide him with protection. That definition (as found in the Criminal Code) includes:

  • A head of state, including any member of a collegial body that performs the functions of a head of state under the constitution of the state concerned; a head of a government or a minister of foreign affairs, whenever that person is in a state other than the state in which he holds that position or office.
  • A member of the family of a person described who accompanies that person in a state other than the state in which that person holds that position or office.

So Harry might be expected to provide his own security. That could pose additional difficulties, since private security guards and bodyguards in Canada are generally not permitted under federal law to carry sidearms.

No nobility here, please

If Harry wishes to live in Canada and keep his title, he might face another problem: the Nickle Resolution of 1919.

That resolution of Parliament, reaffirmed by the governments of Lester Pearson, W.L. Mackenzie King and Brian Mulroney, effectively bans foreign titles of nobility for Canadian citizens and anyone "domiciled or living in Canada."

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It was used by Jean Chrétien when he was prime minister to deny a peerage to Conrad Black, who renounced his Canadian passport to get around it.

It's not as clear how that applies to people who already have titles when they come here. But newspaper magnate Kenneth Thomson, who was once Canada's richest man and who inherited the title Baron Thomson of Fleet, chose to follow it.

"In London, I'm Lord Thomson. In Toronto, I'm Ken," he told the Globe and Mail in 2006. "I have two sets of Christmas cards and two sets of stationery."

As for the notion of making Harry governor general, Lagasse points out that it would represent a step backwards in terms of Canada's sovereignty.

"Since the mid-20th century, we've stopped appointing British aristocrats as governor general. It's now customary to appoint Canadians who are renowned. There's no legal impediment to it, he could be named, but the justification for doing it would be sorely lacking."

Lagasse said "the other big impediment is that this is an appointment made by the Queen."

"If he's not particularly in her good graces at the moment, then she may not be interested in appointing him governor general of Canada."


Evan Dyer

Senior Reporter

Evan Dyer has been a journalist with CBC for 25 years, after an early career as a freelancer in Argentina. He works in the Parliamentary Bureau and can be reached at


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