The History of republicanism in Canada


Contrary to popular belief, republicanism is not new to Canada. This country has historically led the former British colonies in legislating independence and democratic reform, incrementally keeping us on the path to a republic since well before Confederation. Chronologically, here are some of the more important historical events that have been significant in that evolution.

circa 1390-1450 – The Iroquois Confederacy of the Five Nations (later to include a sixth nation), was founded by Dekanawida, who was born near the Bay of Quinte in southeastern Ontario. Although archeological evidence indicates that many pre-Columbian North American peoples, particularly the Mississippian nations, had democratic forms of government, it was the Iroquois of the Great Lakes area who are best known for perfecting it. Not only was its government directly responsible to the people (and not to a chief), the confederacy's elaborate and formal Haudenosaunee constitution shows close parallels to the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government as described in the Constitution of the United States of America three centuries later.

Today, in Canada, regional First Nations chiefs, as well as the National Chief to the Assembly of First Nations, are elected by popular vote.

1755-63 – The British order the deportation of about 11,000 Acadians, the French inhabitants of what is now New Brunswick and Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy area and Prince Edward Island, for refusing to make an unconditional oath of allegiance to the British crown. Britain, which had been ceded Acadia in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, saw the mostly peaceful farmers and fishermen as a threat to its security. In an act that today is referred to as "ethnic cleansing", families are uprooted and deported to the other British colonies, France and Britain, with many ultimately migrating to Louisiana and the French West Indies. Although their rich farmland was later granted to Loyalist refugees from the American Revolution, many Acadians found their way back to the Maritimes to re-establish their people and culture throughout Eastern Canada.

The contentiousness surrounding the Oath of Allegiance survives today and is one issue that fuels the modern Canadian republican movement.

1775-83 – Fifty thousand Loyalists flee the American Revolution in the lower Thirteen Colonies and resettle in British controlled Nova Scotia (now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) and Canada (now Ontario and Quebec). As British sympathizers, many had their property and possessions expropriated by the new American government and faced persecution from their former neighbours. The hardship experienced by these early Canadian settlers as a result of their ordeal would later help mold Canada’s national psyche and assist in perpetuating the monarchy as an institution for over two centuries. 

Loyalists landing in Nova Scotia Loyalists landing in Nova Scotia

1837- 38 –  Republican uprisings known as the 1837 Rebellions occur in Upper and Lower Canada. Louis-Joseph Papineau and his Patriotes lead the rebellion against the Château Clique in Lower Canada while William Lyon Mackenzie and his Reform Movement battle the Family Compact in Upper Canada. Both uprisings are crushed by British troops assisted by Canadian militias. MacKenzie even continues his fight with private American support for some time, eventually declaring a short-lived Republic of Canada on Navy Island in the middle of the Niagara River separating Canada and USA. Papineau's Robert Nelson and  Cyrille-Hector-Octave Côté also proclaim a bilingual republic in Lower Canada.  Papineau and MacKenzie flee to the U.S. but are later pardoned and return to Canada.

 The Battle of St. Eustache, 1837, between British troops and French-Canadian Patriotes, was the largest clash during the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837.v

1838 – The revolt of 1837 prompts the Durham Report by John George Lambton, Earl of Durham. In his Report on the Affairs of British North America, in which he relies strongly on the advice of reformer Robert Baldwin, he argues that if the colonies were given as much freedom to govern themselves as the people of Britain, they would become more loyal.

1847 – As a counter to the violence in Upper and Lower Canada, Joseph Howe, a Nova Scotia newspaper publisher, pioneer in establishing press freedom and legislative reform, presents his twelve  resolutions for responsible government, the practice of having the British-appointed colonial governor take advice from those who have the confidence of (or can win a majority in) the Assembly. Prior to this, the opposite was the norm in all the British colonies. These early principles of government form the cornerstone of Canada's current parliamentary democracy.

1848 – In January, 1848, Joseph Howe's reforms are passed in the Nova Scotia Legislature and  it becomes the first British colony in the empire to achieve responsible government. The United Province of Canada follows in March, New Brunswick in May.

1849 – Responsible government is put to the test in the Province of Canada with the introduction of the Rebellion Losses Bill, an act to compensate those who lost property during the rebellions in 1837. A majority of the elected assembly favour the bill but the governor, Lord Elgin, does not. Rather than disallowing it, as is possible under the powers granted to him, he is advised by his executive, which have the confidence of the Assembly, to sign the bill.

1867 – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec accept the terms of the British North America Act to unify and enter into confederation as the partially self-governing Dominion of Canada.

Australia and New Zealand would follow Canada's lead and ratify similar legislations later. 


1869-70 – The Red River Rebellion, led by Métis republican Louis Riel, results in the temporary formation of the Republic of Canada. Bilingual postage stamps (shown at right) labeled "République Canadienne - Canadian Republic" are even issued but never go into circulation. The Provisional Government later agrees to enter into confederation as a province under the Manitoba Act.

1870 - 1871 – The British garrison is withdrawn from Canada. Although a small number of soldiers and personnel remain until 1901, the job of national defense is now up to Canada.

1880 – Sir Alexander Galt is appointed as Canada's High Commissioner in London, the first diplomatic mission abroad. The title "High Commissioner" will later be used refer to all diplomatic missions between Commonwealth countries. An indication that there still exists a premise of a functional British Empire, Commonwealth nations still use the term over the more accepted international title of ambassador.

1887 – The first Colonial Conference takes place, which would later evolve to become the British Commonwealth.

1901 – Under Wilfrid Laurier’s Defense Minister Frederick William, the last British troops are withdrawn from Canada. At the same time, the practice of appointing a British general to command the Canadian militia is ended and Canada assumes control from Great Britain of the last naval bases of Halifax and Esquimalt.

1905 - The Militia Act and Letters Patent Constituting the Office of the Governor General designates the title of Commander-in-Chief to the Governor General, over the previous policy of filling the post with a British aristocrat.

1909 – Canada creates its own Department of External Affairs under Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier.

1914-18 – World War I - Although no debate took place, Canada's parliament is the only one in the British Empire to approve entry into the war. All others entered the war automatically without parliamentary consent. Of a country of only 8 million people, Canada sends 425,000 military personal to Europe - fuelling nationalism at home and the front.  Canada’s independence from Britain is promoted by Prime Minister Robert Borden when he insists that Canadian troops be kept in their own regiments and not be put under British command. 

Canadians at the Somme in 1916adians at the Somme 

1917 – At the Imperial War Conference of 1917, Borden is the key author of Resolution IX, affirming "the right of the Dominions to an adequate voice in foreign policy and foreign relations." According to McGill University's Desmond Morton, one of Canada's leading historians, "The emergence of Canadian sovereignty was the one great Canadian victory of the war."

1917 – Prime Minister Borden appoints industrialist Lloyd Harris to head a temporary Canadian diplomatic mission attached to the British High Commission in Washington - solely to handle Canadian issues and act on instruction from Canada . In 1918, Harris is appointed chair of Canada’s wartime mission at the same location. This position would pave the way for Canada’s first official diplomatic mission outside of the British Empire nine years later.

1919 – At the end of World War I, Canada wins its own representation at the Versailles conference and joins the League of Nations, marking its first attempt to be represented as an independent nation diplomatically separate from Britain. 

Mackenzie King at the League of Nations.


1919 – The Canadian House of Commons passes the Nickel Resolution barring Canadians from receiving royal titles, including knighthoods or seats in the British House of Lords. As a result, Sir. Robert Borden (1911-1920) is the last Canadian Prime Minister to be knighted. Although never officially ratified, since it did not advance to the Senate for approval, it established a precedent that has resulted in it being accepted as official Canadian policy.

1922 – Eager to assert its new-found status as an independent member of the international community, Canada refuses to support Britain's over-aggressive stance on Turkey, the failure of which is largely responsible for the fall of British Prime Minister Lloyd George's government.

1923 – Canada signs the Halibut Treaty (with the U.S), the first international treaty negotiated by a Canadian representative without British involvement. However, the treaty was still signed by the King as Emperor.

1926 – Governor General Lord Byng refuses the request by Prime Minister McKenzie King to dissolve parliament and call a new election, an act which was considered a flagrant abuse of his reserve power. Byng was later recalled to London as a result, with King, having won the election, following through on his vow to take steps to prevent any future governor general from refusing to dissolve parliament. Since then, no governor general has challenged the authourity of parliament.

1926 – The Colonial Conference (later to become the Commonwealth of Nations) issues the Balfour Report, which formally defines the 'Dominion' as; "autonomous communities within the British Empire", which were "equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations".

1926 – Canada no longer relies on Britain for diplomatic representation abroad. The diplomatic mission in Washington is upgraded to legation status with the appointment of Vincent Massey as the first Canadian minister in 1927. At the time, this position was considered one notch below that of ambassador. (The distinction between ‘legation’ and ‘embassy’ would be eliminated in 1947). Following this appointment, the office in Paris was raised to legation status in 1928 and a legation was opened Tokyo in 1929.

1931 – Canada attains "legislative" independence from Britain with the enactment by the British parliament of the Statute of Westminster. The act legally recognizes the terms recommended in the 1926 Balfour Report. At Canada's request, the British parliament retains the exclusive right to amend the British North America Act, Canada's constitution. Canada immediately implements the Statute of Westminster. Australia and New Zealand pass the legislation in the 1940's.

1939 – Canada's parliament debates entry into World War II for one week before finally approving a declaration of war on Germany. This contrasts with World War I when parliament approved entry into the war without debate. 

1944 Saskatchewan's social democratic CCF (Cooperative Commonwealth Federation) government greatly diminishes the role of the lieutenant governor by closing Government House and auctioning off the contents. A three-bedroom apartment is then provided as the official residence. Refurbished in 1981, Government House is today a museum.

1947 – The Commonwealth of Nations is forced to revise the phrase requiring members to have "a common allegiance to the Crown" when India becomes its first republic. Today, over half of the members of the Commonwealth are republics.

1947 – Canada’s first diplomatic mission abroad outside of Britain, the Washington legation, becomes its first embassy when both Canada and the U.S.A agree to remove the traditional distinction between the two posts. Canada’s first ambassador to the U.S. becomes Leighton McCarthy.

1947 – Inspired by a visit to the Dieppe military cemetery and his subsequent concern over the status of those interred, Liberal Cabinet Minister Paul Martin Sr. enacts the Canadian Citizenship Act. No longer simply "British subjects domiciled or ordinarily resident in Canada," Canadians are now ‘citizens' with Prime Minister Mackenzie King receiving the first citizenship certificate on January 3, 1947. With the enactment of this legislation, Canada becomes the first Commonwealth country to create its own class of citizenship separate from that of Great Britain. Australia and New Zealand follow the same year.

The legislation was not without flaws, however. Canada's first inhabitants, Status Indians and Inuit, were omitted from the Act altogether, and had to wait for an amendment in 1956 to be able to call themselves citizens of Canada.

1947 – King George VI issues the Letters Patent, which permanently delegates the monarch's effective powers to the Governor General. Even the presence of the Sovereign in the country does not supercede the authority of the Governor General. It is this legislation more than any other that has resulted in the widely-held theory that Canada can be correctly described as a "crowned republic."  

1949 – The Supreme Court of Canada is formed, replacing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. Some Commonwealth countries are still subservient to the highest court in the UK. New Zealand only abolished appeals to the Privy Council in 2003.

1952 – Vincent Massey is appointed Canada's first Governor General born in Canada, setting the trend for all future appointees to be Canadian citizens.

1956 – The seeds of Canada's evolution toward a distinct national flag are planted in the events of the Suez Crisis, of which then Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester Pearson played a Nobel Prize winning part. Despite negotiating a ceasefire, Canada's objective role in providing peacekeeping troops is questioned by Egypt's President Nasser, who suspects Canada's British-looking flag connotes a bias toward Britain: one of participants in the war. As Prime Minister during the Flag Debate, Pearson cites this example as a huge motivation for replacing the old Red Ensign.

1960 - First Nations people receive the right to vote in federal elections. By comparison, Native Americans in the United States were granted that right in the 1920s.

1964 – Samedi de la matraque (Truncheon Saturday). The Queen's visit to Québec City incites anti-monarchist demonstrations and riots by protesters who see the Queen as a symbol of British colonialism. The police are condemned for using excessive force. To this day, there have been few visits to that province by members of the British royal family; and when they do occur, they are brief.

1964 Québec's constitution committee examines the possibility of adopting a presidential regime, modeled on the 1937 Constitution of Ireland. The Canadian State of Québec could have at its head an elected president who would be the head of State in fields pertaining to Québec’s internal sovereignty, while the sovereign of the United Kingdom would continue to be the head of the Canadian State.

1965 – Against vicious opposition by Conservative leader John Diefenbaker, Canada adopts the Maple Leaf as its new official national flag. The old Red Ensign, a variation of the flag of the British merchant marine, is retired. When the bill is passed in parliament, the majority celebrate by singing O Canada, while Diefenbaker leads his followers with "God Save the Queen." Upon his death in 1979, Diefenbaker's wishes that the Maple Leaf flag not be draped on his coffin are implemented. 

1965 On a visit to London, Prime Minister Lester Pearson makes known his  intention to eventually terminate the monarchy. In the book, 'Right Honourable Men', author Michael Bliss speculates that this declaration was never acted upon due to Pearson’s failure to gain a majority of seats in the House of Commons when his government sought re-election in 1965. to gain a majority of seats in the House of Commons when his government 

1968 – The Department of National Defence merges land, sea and air forces into the Canadian Armed forces and the 'Royal' warrant disappears from use.

1968 – The Québec government of Daniel Johnson calls for making Canada a federal union and a republic and that the Constitution of Canada, whether monarchical or republican, should allow Québec to become a republic and a State within Canada instead of a province. The concept was not pursued.

1970 – The Queen's portrait is gradually replaced by Canadian Prime Ministers on paper bank notes. As of this date, only coinage and the twenty dollar bill feature the reigning sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II.

1973 – The United Kingdom becomes a member of the European Economic Community, now the European Union, leading to a reduction in economic ties between Canada and the UK.

1977 – Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau performs his famous pirouette behind the Queen at Buckingham Palace. The now famous photo by photographer Doug Ball appears everywhere in Canada's press.

The Queen later remarks that she was worried the monarchy "had little meaning for him."

1977 For the first time, the Governor General is permitted to sign Letters of Credence and Commission for Canadian diplomats on The Queen’s behalf.

1977 – The responsibility to sign Declarations of War or other international documents is transferred from the Queen to the Governor General.

1977 – The Canadian Citizenship Act is revised. Prior to this, British subjects (or former residents of the Commonwealth) were given preferential treatment for attaining Canadian citizenship. The revision removes that provision and also declares that Canadian citizens may no longer be British subjects as well. 

1977 – A national poll reveals that 42 percent of Canadians believe the Prime Minister is the head of state while 37 percent correctly named the Queen as the formal executive.

1978 Trudeau bucks protocol by vacationing in Morocco during the Queen's visit to Canada.

1978 Bill C-60 is proposed to strengthen the role of the governor general and transfer powers exercised by the Queen. It dies quietly amid controversy about the implications to the monarchy's role. Trudeau remarks, "If I were an anti-monarchist, I should leave the post alone and let it become obsolescent, let the governor-general do nothing but attend Boy Scout rallies".

1978 - The Federal government declines funding an official celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Queen's coronation.

1978 - To no one's surprise, the new PQ government in Québec begins downsizing the lieutenant governor's office, cutting the budget by 37%, firing 10 staff members and selling one limousine. Premier René Lévesque admits to having "great respect' for the Queen but sees only "folkloric" value for the monarchy in both Québec and Canada. 

1980 – Although sung for generations, 'O Canada', officially replaces God Save the Queen as the national anthem.

1980 – Leading up to negotiations to repatriate the constitution, British High Commissioner Sir John Ford retires suddenly when it's uncovered that he is trying to enlist such pro-monarchist politicians as New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfield and William Davis of Ontario in organizing a coup to stop Trudeau and his republicanist reforms. The initiative is successful in one respect: Hatfield and Davis end up being the authors of the revision of the constitution amending formula from 7 out of 10 provinces representing 50% of the population to the now unanimous consent of all provinces.

1982 – The Canada Act, passed by the British Parliament, ends any further British legislative authority over Canada. It includes the Constitution Act of 1982, enacting the republican-inspired Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The British parliament no longer has a role in amending the Canadian constitution. 

1982 – Dominion Day is renamed Canada Day.

1987 – British Columbia native Ed Press, falls victim to the provincial government's employment policy of requiring an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen. His refusal to abide by the order to recite it costs him his job but gains the BC government a royal pain. He makes a cause out of protesting at royal visits and attracting media attention to the absurdity of the monarchy. 

1987 – Under the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, Citizenship and Immigration Minister David Crombie releases a position paper titled “Citizenship 87: Proud to be Canadian” as national unity initiative. One major issue was the nature of the citizenship oath; with the government indicating it was prepared to consider whether the citizenship oath should be amended to either give allegiance to Canada precedence over allegiance to the Queen, or to completely eliminate any reference to the monarchy. The reforms were never legislated, however, possibly due to preoccupation with the Charlottetown Accord constitutional debate.

1990 - Signaling the changing attachment to Britain, which had grown more interested in its relationship with the European Economic Community than the Commonwealth, Canada is accepted into the Organization of American States. The OAS was originally founded as league of American republics.

1991 - Ontario's NDP government under Premier Bob Rae removes the obligation for new police constables to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

1993 –- Inspired by his legal battle to attain Canadian Citizenship without having to recite the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen, Toronto lawyer Charles Roach forms the group Alliance for a Canadian Republic. Their activities peak in 1996 with Toronto demonstrations and media events during the royal visit and Canada Day.

1996 – The Toronto Star publishes an editorial calling for the establishment of a national commission to look into the feasibility of a republican form of government.

1996 – The Quebec legislature passes a resolution requesting that the office of lieutenant governor of Quebec (the queen's representative in Quebec) be either abolished or chosen by Quebecers. Lieutenant governors are currently appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister of Canada.

1997 – Showing the lowest support for the monarchy ever recorded in a poll in Canada, Pollara releases results that indicate only 18 per cent oppose replacing Queen Elizabeth with a Canadian head of state when she dies. Significantly, this is attained without the aid of any organized republican movement or lobbying group.

1997 – The now defunct Party for Commonwealth Republic runs candidates in the general election but fails to draw enough republican supporters away from the other parties to win any seats. 

1997 – Federal Industry Minister John Manley calls for the abolition of the Canadian monarchy.

1998 – The Canadian government discusses the possibility of abolishing the monarchy as part of Canada’s millennium celebrations but backs down after opposition-led objections.

1998 - Citizenship and Immigration Minister Lucienne Robillard tables Bill C-63, The Citizenship of Canada Act. Amendments to the Oath of Allegiance are proposed, one of which retains reference to the Queen, but also includes "a pledge of loyalty and allegiance to Canada, in accordance with the wishes expressed by the vast majority of Canadians."

Calling the updated Oath "a modernized version that better reflects the values of Canadians," Robillard cited an Angus Reid poll and other polling data suggesting that Canadians "have confirmed the need for an oath that reflects contemporary values and clearly expresses loyalty toward Canada." 

1999 – The book, The Republican Option in Canada, Past and Present by University of Saskatchewan political scientist David E. Smith is published and, although balanced and unbiased, quickly becomes the bible of the budding republican movement in Canada.

1999The New Democratic Party of Canada releases the 'Report of the Social Democratic Forum on the Future of Canada' which states that "Canada should begin to explore the possibility of Canadianizing the head of state". By doing so, it becomes the first major Canadian political party to officially endorse discussing Canada becoming a republic.

1999 – The Citizenship Act is revised. The oath of citizenship is broadened so that new citizens will swear allegiance to Canada as well as the Queen. Since it's still mandatory to swear allegiance to the Queen, many would-be Canadians who take offence to this clause refuse to take the oath and become citizens.

1999 – Prime Minister Jean Chrétien cites the 1919 Nickel Resolution (see above) as reason for blocking the Queen's appointment of Canadian newspaper baron Conrad Black to the British House of Lords. Black mounts an unsuccessful lawsuit against Chrétien claiming a personal vendetta was the reason for the decision. He later renounces his Canadian citizenship to circumvent the ruling, taking his seat as Lord Black of Crossharbour.

1999 - In an indication of the evolving role of the governor general, and how republican it has become, Governor General Romeo LeBlanc begins a speech by stating: "It is for me a signal honour to be the first Canadian head of state invited to the Kingdom of Morocco .." The use of "head of state" to describe his role, escapes scrutiny.

1999 – The Internet fulfills its growing reputation as an incubator for pro-democracy movements when Canadian republican groups begin to appear online. Discussion group Republi-Canada and website Republic of Canada Online (later renamed Monarchy-Free Canada) would later merge their support base with Citizens for a Canadian Republic.

2000 – The book, Is Canada Trapped in a Time Warp - Political Symbols in the Age of the Internet, by political scientist Randall White is published. The publication examines the monarchy and whether a republican system of government in Canada is long overdue.

2000 – The government of Ontario, decides not to force school students to make a pledge of allegiance to the Queen. The provincial government backs down after opposition from young people, teachers and republicans. Under a new code of conduct students will have to stand for the Canadian national anthem.

2001 – John Manley, now Foreign Affairs Minister, again calls for a republic by saying, " the monarchy is out of date and Canadians would do better with an elected head of state instead".

He’s joined by Industry Minister Brian Tobin and Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal with statements of support.

2001Nova Scotia Opposition Leader Darrell Dexter thwarts the ruling Progressive Conservative Party's attempts to reinstate the singing of 'God save the Queen' on the opening of the Provincial Legislature. Legislators with Acadian ancestors who were persecuted by British colonialists also say they would refuse to participate when called to do so. The Conservatives later retreat from the controversy and rescind the proposal.

2001 – Since revising its requirement that members have "a common allegiance to the Crown" in 1947, thirty-three of the Commonwealth of Nations’ fifty-four members are now republics.

2001 – The Nickel Resolution is news again when entrepreneur Terry Matthews and George Bain, head of Queen's University in Belfast, both Canadian citizens but British residents, are awarded knighthoods by the Queen. The Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley send diplomatic protests to London citing interference in Canadian affairs.

2001 – Pierre Vincent, a federal civil servant, saves his job and makes headlines by winning a two year battle to refuse the Oath of Allegiance to the Queen.

2001 – The Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, calls for an end to the monarchy in an editorial.

2002 Citizens for a Canadian Republic is formed, a national, non-partisan and non-profit organization advocating modifying the Constitution to replace the Queen with a Canadian as head of state. Tom Freda, the founder of the website Monarchy-Free Canada, and Oath of Allegiance to the Queen reform activist Pierre Vincent, become directors of the new not-for-profit organization. The resulting media attention garners CCR more press coverage for Canadian republicanism than in all the previous 165 years since the 1837 Rebellions. According to the National Post, CCR's formation "represents the first attempt to pull together anti-monarchist sentiment in Canada" while the Ottawa Citizen declares it "the most ambitious campaign yet to sever Canada's formal ties to the monarchy."

2002 – The separatist government of Québec announces that it's considering
democratic reforms that would give the province a republic-style government within Canada as a prelude to independence. Québec's support for ending the monarchy is at its highest in Canada at roughly 70 per cent.

2002 – A Leger Marketing poll reveals that 56 per cent of Canadians want the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the Canadian dollar replaced by people who have influenced Canadian history. Thirty-nine percent say no change is necessary.

2002Ipsos-Reid/Globe and Mail/CTV poll results in February determine that two-thirds (65%) believe the royals are merely celebrities and should not have any formal role in Canada.

2002 – In a May Ekos public opinion poll commissioned by CBC/SRC, Toronto Star and LaPress, 48% agree with the statement, "Instead of a British monarch we should have a Canadian citizen as our head of state." Thirty-five percent disagree. Shockingly, the poll revealed that only 5% were even aware that the Queen was in fact Canada's head of state, with 69% thinking it was the Prime Minister and 9% believing it was the Governor General.

2002 –  Monarchists cry foul when the controversial and precedent-setting decision is made to have the Speech from the Throne of Canada's second session of the thirty-seventh parliament given by the Governor General and not the Queen, whose visit coincides with the ceremony.

2002Citizens for a Canadian Republic seeks to help challenge the legitimacy of the monarchy in Canada by filing an application to intervene in former Toronto councillor Tony O'Donohue's legal case to contest the Act of Settlement. The British legislation, enacted in 1701 to restrict the British throne to Protestants, was inherited by Canada in 1867 and specifically singles out Roman Catholics from eligibility in the Royal line of succession. Section 15(1) of The Charter of Rights and Freedoms expressly forbids discrimination on the basis of "race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability". 

2002 - Citizenship and Immigration Minister Denis Coderre tables Bill C-18 in October 31, 2002. Among other revisions, the Bill seeks to replace “I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors” with the same phrase, with Her Heirs and Successors deleted. On November 8, 2002 it went through second reading but was later dropped from the order paper.

2003 - Bill C-203 is introduced October 2, 2003 by MP John Bryden. It attempts to amend the act of citizenship to better define the responsibilities of Canadian citizenship and delete reference to Queen Elizabeth II and her heirs and successors. On December 2, 2002 it went through second readingbut was later dropped from the order paper.

2003 - Calling the current system "cumbersome and outdated," Lucienne Robillard, President of the Treasury Board of Canada introduces The Public Service Modernization Act in parliament to modernize human resources management in the federal public service. Despite objections of monarchists, as of December 31, 2005, federal civil servants will no longer be required to swear an oath to the Queen. Credit for the reform goes to CCR co-founder, Pierre Vincent, whose precedent-setting win to exclude him from the requirement to take the oath, is cited in subsequent legal challenges to the requirement.

2004 - Citizens for a Canadian Republic calls for a special parliamentary committee to examine revamping the role and selection process of the office of the Governor General as a prelude to becoming a republic. In a March 18 press release, it suggests that since these changes do not require constitutional amendment, parliament could codify and democratize the office, leaving one remaining question for Canadians to decide in a national referendum; whether or not to continue with a British monarch or have an elected Canadian assume that role.

2004 - On April 2, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates issues this recommendation: That the Parliament of Canada 1) take the necessary measures to conduct a review and initiate a debate on the mandate, constitutional role, responsibilities, and future evolution of the Office of the Governor General of Canada (the Head of State) in which all Canadians be included, and 2) conduct a review of the process for selecting and appointing the Governor General (Head of State) of Canada. CCR happily notes a strong similarity to its March 18 proposal.

Also of note: the document, approved by all members of the multi-party committee, clearly refers to the Governor General as "The Head of State."  

2004 - A break with protocol precedent is noted at the VE Day celebrations in France when both the Queen and the Governor General appear together, for the first time representing the United Kingdom and Canada as separate heads of state.

2004 - International Canadian travelers begin to note the replacement of the Queen's portrait at embassies and consulates with that of the Governor General.

2005 - The 2005-06 annual report of the Governor General is released. The government publication refers to the office in a very republican way by describing "The Governor General’s responsibilities as Head of State" and that the governor general "Represent Canada abroad" during state visits.

2005 - Reference to the Queen is removed from Letters of Credence and Recall, diplomatic letters sent by one head of state to another, instead having them issued in the name of the Governor General. In doing so, Canada becomes the only country that does not send its Letters of Credence and Recall on behalf of its official head of state.

2007 - A class action lawsuit filed by Toronto lawyer Charles Roach, to exempt new citizens from reciting a citizenship oath containing the words "be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her heirs and successors," clears a major step in the legal process. Roach argues the government should not force people to swear to do things they don't believe in to gain citizenship. Justice J. Belobaba of the Ontario Superior Court agrees there was a "plausible argument that this requirement violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," and that the action "is neither frivolous nor vexatious."

The action ultimately does not succeed but the publicity surrounding the case draws media and public attention to the outdated Citizenship Act and hardens the resolve of Roach to attempt a similar action again.

2007 - Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson is appointed colonel-in-chief of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. In doing so, she becomes the first Canadian, and first non-royal, to hold the position of colonel-in-chief of a Canadian regiment.

2007 - Citing an increased emphasis on Canada and less on the royal family, newly appointed Governor General Michaëlle Jean replaces royal portraits at Rideau Hall with contemporary Canadian art. According to a spokesperson for the design firm, the portraits were no longer relevant and "did not fit any more with the current role of the Governor General."

2008 - Prime Minister Harper uses supposedly impartial Royal Prerogative for what many believe is partisan purposes, by convincing the governor general to suspend (prorogue) parliament. Proroguing has many legitimate constitutional applications, but when it appeared that Harper was using the tactic to avoid losing power due to an impending vote of non-confidence, both Canadian and international attention focuses on Canada's outdated attachment to the monarchy. In the US, MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow quips: "In the 21st century, in Canada, the way to fight for your political life, is apparently to demand that the Queen banish your enemies! Oh, Canada! C'mon!"

Governor General Michaëlle Jean's delay in approval and subsequent conditions are viewed as a slight strengthening of the role of the governor general, over the previous convention of "rubber-stamping" the prime minister's request.

2010 - Governor General Michaëlle Jean lands in hot water for referring to herself as Canada's head of state which, when describing her constitutional duties, is correct. Despite numerous instances of other GGs, and even government documents making the same claim, the Prime Minister issues a "correction."

Revised April 23, 2011

Images courtesy of The Canadian Heritage Gallery.


Citizens for a Canadian Republic