2.18.2007

thoughts on the monarchy, loyalty oaths and citizenship

Many months ago, I received an email from a new Canadian reader, who wrote:
I'd love to read about your position on the monarchy as our head of state and (more "interestedly") your opinion about making an oath to the queen when you become a Canadian citizen!
I told her I'd save the topic for a mentally rainy day, and that day has finally arrived.

I don't have many feelings about the Queen or her representative, the Governor General, as the head of state. In modern Canada, the role is so symbolic, and seems so perfunctory, that it doesn't stir up many feelings for me.

In theory, separating the head of state from the head of government is a useful tool, allowing the entire populace to look to one country, beyond any ethnic, religious, partisan or other divisions. Does it serve that function in practice? I don't know. It certainly doesn't bring together the French/English divide, and I imagine at times it's exacerbated that rift, since the GG represents the British monarchy. (Does Michaƫlle Jean's Haitian and French roots ameliorate that?) On the other hand, Canada is a less divisive society than the US. Is this partially why? Perhaps, although the answers have to be more complex than that.

But the second part of the reader's question - that's another story.

I grew up in a political household, or at least one where I discussed the issues of the day with both parents, all the time. Both my parents were - and my surviving parent still is, I am very pleased to say - very progressive. But they were also patriotic, and saw no contradiction in that. They were both children of immigrants who came to the US to escape poverty and persecution; they both believed the US is a great country, flaws and all. They always told me that wanting the country to live up to its ideals was the highest form of patriotism.

My own disowning of patriotism came much later. Even my mother remembers her former patriotism wistfully.

One piece of the American iconography that I always bought into was the story of the colonists breaking with England, the struggle for freedom and self-representation. Never mind that the story is more complicated than that, and rooted in as much in economics as anything else. We never forgot that the self-representation was only for one class of people, but, we told ourselves, it was a start. The documents were written, there would be no king, and now the work of creating a true democracy could begin.

This is the story I grew up with, and one that is embedded deeply in my consciousness. I remember spending one Fourth of July in Williamsburg, Virginia. This was before the days of theme parks, so it was really all about history. We stared upwards as the Union Jack was lowered and the original US flag was raised - cannons roaring, fireworks exploding. I was perhaps 8 years old, and it was very stirring.

As you can imagine, loyalty to a monarchy is not part of my vernacular.

Obviously Canada built a successful democracy without violently overthrowing the monarchy, choosing instead to adjust its role a little at a time. But to me the very idea of a monarchy is an anachronism, and the antithesis of a democratic state. I realize that Canada has both. I'm speaking from an emotional or psychological perspective.

Then there's the issue of loyalty oaths, in general.

As we've discussed here, only new citizens are asked to make such a declaration. People who are Canadian citizens by accident of birth are not asked to declare their loyalty, and their loyalty is not questioned. This hurdle is reserved for those who actively and consciously choose Canada as a country. I understand the idea behind it, but it seems a little ass-backwards to me.

A loyalty oath for new citizens reminds me of what adoptive parents go through. They pass through a long series of hurdles - financial, psychological, emotional - to prove that they are suited for parenthood. The fact that they have gone to such lengths to become parents might provide a clue to their suitability, whereas anyone - bully, abuser, molester, moron - can become a parent through biological means.

So the whole thing seems a little off to me.

I want to become a Canadian citizen, and I intend to apply as soon as I'm eligible. I'm certainly not going to miss the opportunity because of a symbolic loyalty oath to a symbolic Queen.

It just rubs me the wrong way.

* * * *

In preparing this post, I learned about Canada's newest citizens, the history of the current loyalty oath and the Canadian Citizenship Act. Imagine uniform Canadian citizenship dates back to only 1947!

On the oath itself, I found this very informative site from the Monarchist League of Canada.

On the nuts and bolts of becoming a Canadian citizen, the moving-to-Canada crew will want to read Idealistic Pragmatist's excellent post on the subject (written two weeks before Allan and I moved to Canada!).

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. One request, if I may: let's hold off on discussions of whether or not Allan and I will retain our US citizenship when the time comes. (Thanks in advance.)

* * * *

Canada's oath of citizenship:
I swear (or 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."

Here are some oaths of citizenship from other countries.

16 comments:

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Eh, I don't know, it didn't bother me. It was already a stretch for me to swear allegiance to a country--even one I like as much as Canada--so the Queen thing was really beside the point for me.

I think the part of the ceremony I loved the most is that you're supposed to bring your own holy book with you to swear your oath on--and they don't try to dictate what qualifies as a holy book. So I swore my oath on my copy of Will and Ian Ferguson's How to Be Canadian. No lie. And I also wore my elect Linda Duncan t-shirt. *grin*

L-girl said...

It was already a stretch for me to swear allegiance to a country--even one I like as much as Canada

I definitely agree that any loyalty oath seems wrong to me. I guess I didn't make that clear.

I think the part of the ceremony I loved the most is that you're supposed to bring your own holy book with you to swear your oath on--and they don't try to dictate what qualifies as a holy book.

Way cool. A few spring to mind: Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, Thomas Paine's Common Sense - or perhaps The Communist Manifesto.

West End Bound said...

L-Girl,

Thanks for putting all this info in one easy-to-find post! I'll put it in our expanding: "Things to Know About Canada" file . . .

IP,

LOVED your "holy book" . . . It's one of our favourites, too.

redsock said...

they don't try to dictate what qualifies as a holy book

Cool.

Infinite Jest? The Joy of Sox?

L-girl said...

If you bring Infinite Jest, I'll have to bring The Grapes Of Wrath.

Scott M. said...

Any oaths of public office sworn in Canada are sworn to the crown, be it a politician's office, a policeman or (in my case) a customs officer. The interesting thing about the oath I took is that it is for life, not just the duration of the job.

The crown is also fundamentally a representative of the government in that the Crown places charges under the Criminal Code and the Crown can be sued in civil court.

So, in my mind oaths to the Queen or Crown are oaths to the government, not a particular Brand of government (Liberal, Conservative, etc) but to the overall everlasting institution in it's entirety.

L-girl said...

The crown is also fundamentally a representative of the government in that the Crown places charges under the Criminal Code and the Crown can be sued in civil court.

Yes, I see that in my day-job at a law firm: so-and-so v Crown. In the US, it's so-and-so v the State of New York, eg.

So, in my mind oaths to the Queen or Crown are oaths to the government, not a particular Brand of government (Liberal, Conservative, etc) but to the overall everlasting institution in it's entirety.

That's exactly what I meant above, "separating the head of state from the head of government is a useful tool, allowing the entire populace to look to one country, beyond any ethnic, religious, partisan or other divisions".

In the US, one would swear to uphold the Constitution, rather than an administration. For an American - or at least for this American - that would be a lot more comfortable than "the Crown".

Scott M. said...

The concept of pledging ones loyalty to a particular piece of paper or cloth (such as the pledge of allegiance to a flag) seems foreign if not a bit silly to me.

I recognize in the case of the US it goes on to pledging allegiance to the republic for which the flag stands... but still, you pledge allegiance to a flag.

L-girl said...

I recognize in the case of the US it goes on to pledging allegiance to the republic for which the flag stands... but still, you pledge allegiance to a flag.

I'm not sure what you mean by "you pledge allegiance", but the pledge to the flag is just a modern convention. It's not compulsory, it has no binding force, and most people don't see it after grade school. It's not used in court or in any official capacity.

The "piece of paper" (the Constitution) at least stands for something, much more so than flag or queen. Swearing to uphold the Constitution - not swearing on the Constitution - would be the equivalent of swearing to uphold the Charter.

L-girl said...

The oath of citizenship for the US:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

Again, only new citizens are required to make this oath. Those of us who are American by accident of birth never said this.

impudent strumpet said...

Do you have to have a book?

James said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "you pledge allegiance", but the pledge to the flag is just a modern convention. It's not compulsory, it has no binding force, and most people don't see it after grade school.

Of course, if you're a Canadian citizen in the US for a year while your father's on sabbatical, you are apparently expected to say it anyway... At least I was when I was in Grade 5 in Newton, MA. I substituted "Queen" for "flag" and "Dominion of Canada" for "United States of America", rebel that I was.

L-girl said...

"Not compulsory" is not to say that certain public schools don't make kids say it, and isolate and harass kids who don't or won't.

I meant that the Pledge of Allegiance is not the equivalent of an Oath of Citizenship, or a swearing-in in court, or anything that has symbolic but binding force. It's a weird thing - but it's just a thing. :)

L-girl said...

if you're a Canadian citizen in the US for a year while your father's on sabbatical, you are apparently expected to say it anyway

Conformity is paramount. :)

MJ said...

Of course, anyone who joins the public service--be they Canadian-born or immigrant--must also sign a declaration of loyalty to the Crown. Between each year of university I worked through a federal programme on a temporary basis inside a government agency. I've had to sign at least three affirmations of my loyalty to Her Majesty.

Do you have any idea if in the US public servants also sign a declaration of loyalty to the US government? Even in the support services staff?

L-girl said...

Interesting question. I've never worked for the government in any capacity. Perhaps a reader will know.