One permanent resident says allegiance to royals is “repulsive” and anti-democratic.
Three permanent residents of Canada – from left: Dror Bar-Natan, Simone Topey and Michael McAteer – gathered outside court Thursday as their legal fight over swearing an oath to the Queen began.
Immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann says most of his clients will do just about anything to become a Canadian citizen.
“If they had to dance around in a moose hat, they’d do it,” said Mamann, a former immigration officer for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
However, on Friday, three permanent residents of Canada challenged a portion of the Citizenship Act that requires them to swear allegiance to the Queen in order to become Canadian citizens. All three refuse to take the oath, which states: “I affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors.”
Peter Rosenthal, their lawyer, argued Friday in the Superior Court of Justice that the requirement violates his clients’ charter rights, of free expression and religion, and discriminates against individuals of other national origins. People born in Canada or abroad to Canadian parents are automatically citizens and don’t have to take any such oath.
The applicants, who cannot vote or obtain a passport as permanent residents, believe pledging allegiance to Canada itself should be sufficient and are trying to strike down the current oath as unconstitutional. Mamann, who is not involved in the challenge, told the Star in a telephone interview that none of his clients have ever raised concerns over the mostly “ceremonial” requirement.
“Most people will say anything, whether they must follow through with it or not,” he said, adding whether or not to abolish the current oath is a question that “goes to the very heart of the type of government” established in Canada.
The governor general is the Queen’s representative — without swearing allegiance to the Queen, hopeful citizens would not be committing to the structure of the government, said Mamann.
“But I think Canada is mature enough now that an oath to Canada itself should be sufficient,” said Mamann, noting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms could replace the Queen as the ultimate authority. “I would think most Canadians think that’s sufficient, too.”
That’s what the three applicants are hoping for, but the court challenge dates back to 1991 and has already failed at multiple levels of court.
Civil rights lawyer Charles Roach first launched the challenge and lost. He appealed, but died last fall and the case is continuing with Dror Bar-Natan and two other applicants: retired journalist Michael McAteer and Rastafarian Simone Topey.
Bar-Natan, a University of Toronto math professor, believes all people are equal, that being born into royalty is a farce and swearing allegiance to a Queen of Canada to gain Canadian citizenship is “repulsive.”
“To me it symbolizes that some people are born with privileges,” Bar-Natan said Friday outside court. “This is not something that is supposed to happen in a democracy.”
For its part, the federal government argues that taking an oath to the Queen has been around since Confederation as a condition of “acquiring membership in the Canadian polity.”
The government also insists the three are in Canada voluntarily, and their political and religious views enjoy constitutional protections.
Rosenthal said no one should be forced to take an oath to a monarchy they do not believe in and making them do so violates their freedom of expression, a point debated by Justice Morgan.
“You swear an oath to the monarch, but it doesn’t stop you from speaking out against it the next minute,” Justice Morgan mused.
“Are we really going to tell Canadians you can make that commitment and not mean it at all?” Rosenthal retorted.
Justice Morgan reserved his decision on the case.
With files from The Canadian Press