Commonwealth countries could learn from Canada's reconciliation efforts, Prince Charles says

Prince Charles singled out Canada's efforts at reconciliation with the Indigenous community as an example for other Commonwealth nations that are also struggling to come to terms with their past.

Prince also says it's up to each member country to decide future ties with monarchy

Prince Charles expresses sorrow over slavery at Commonwealth leaders

3 months ago
Duration 1:36
Saying we must 'acknowledge the wrongs which have shaped our past,' Prince Charles expressed his sorrow over the suffering caused by slavery in a speech to Commonwealth leaders in Rwanda.

Canada's ongoing, often painful, attempts at national reconciliation involving Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities was held up as an example for other Commonwealth countries to consider as many of the 54 nations come to terms with their own pasts.

The words of praise came from Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne who recently toured Canada and said he came away deeply touched by those engaged in the process of reconciliation.

He spoke Friday to the opening session of the first Commonwealth leaders' meeting in four years, being held in Rwanda, a country still struggling to come to terms with the horrific genocide of minority Tutsis in the spring and summer of 1994 — an ethnically inspired bloodletting that claimed 800,000 lives.

In his speech, Prince Charles reflected on both the Commonwealth's future and its past, urging nations to consider what has been unfolding in Canada.

Acknowledging wrongs of the past

"To unlock the power of our common future, we must also acknowledge the wrongs that have shaped our past," said the Prince of Wales. "Many of those wrongs belong to an earlier age with different, and in some ways, lesser values."

Charles and his wife Camilla spent three days in Canada last month, a tour to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee, and he said the national conversation underway in the country was an attempt to "reflect honestly and openly on one of the darkest aspects of history."

It is something other nations should note, he said.

"As challenging as that conversation can be, people across Canada are approaching it with courage and unwavering commitment, determined to lay a foundation of respect and understanding upon which a better future can be built," Charles said. 

"It seems to me that there are lessons in this for our Commonwealth family."

The remarks are significant, especially since some Commonwealth countries — notably Jamaica and Australia — are weighing cutting their own ties with the monarchy and becoming republics — something Charles says is up to them.

"I want to say clearly, as I have said before, that each member's constitutional arrangement, as republic or monarchy, is purely a matter for each member country to decide," the prince said.

"The benefit of long life brings me the experience that arrangements such as these can change calmly and without rancor."

WATCH | Prince Charles says it's OK to cut ties with the monarchy:

Prince Charles says it’s OK to cut ties with the monarchy

3 months ago
Duration 1:55
As leaders gather for the Commonwealth Summit in Rwanda, Prince Charles tells them it is OK to cut ties with the monarchy. Barbados removed the Queen as head of state last year and six other Caribbean nations have said they will do the same.

When he spoke in Barbados following that country's formal end to its relationship with the monarchy, Charles said "the close and trusted partnership between Commonwealth members, our common values and shared goals" should never be forgotten.

'While we strive together for peace, prosperity and democracy, I want to acknowledge that the roots of our contemporary association ran deep into the most painful period of our history," Charles said. "I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many."

Whether the message will resonate remains to be seen as several former British colonies — and separately the host nation — struggle with human rights and criticism from advocates.

And there were notable absences

The leaders of South Africa, Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand are not in Kigali for the meeting. Neither is India's Narendra Modi — leader of the most populous Commonwealth nation — raising questions about the relevance of the organization for those countries.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.