2004 Victoria Day Address at Queenís Park, Toronto
Oath rally at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto. Introductory
address by Tom Freda, National Director of Citizens for a
Imagine a nation of docile, obedient people. Their land is fertile, their factories are humming, their markets are crowded. All is well in this land, except for the fact that several centuries of military, economic, and cultural subjugation by its colonizers and neighbours has left them with a collective sense of insecurity - which of course they counter by pointing out at every opportunity that their society is the envy of the world.
It's not all roses though. Their constitution implicitly prohibits these citizens from democratically choosing their own head of state. In fact,
none, I repeat, none of its own citizens are even eligible for the job.
Similar to many theocracies, this leader is, by the grace of God, the annointed head of a powerful religious sect and is that leader by the exclusion of all other religions.
This person possesses riches beyond the imagination or for that matter, the comprehension of the general public, and commands a cult-like status that includes displaying
his or her effigy on the countryís currency, its postage stamps and on the walls of government institutions.
or she cannot be prosecuted for a crime in that land, yet it's a
punishable offence to insult this leader on the floor of their
the citizens of that country, this leader is not obligated to
pay any income taxes.
All activities of the government are done in this leaderís name.
And when new immigrants come to that country to start a new life for them and their families, they must swear their allegiance and loyalty to this person and
... to all their reigning descendents as well!
Dissenters, or those who speak out against the unfairness, unconstitutionality and archaic nature of these aspects of their society are branded as traitors and and told to leave if they donít like it.
The country Iím refering to?
North Korea maybe?
The former USSR?
None of the above.
As some of you may have already guessed, itís Canada!
Why is this? In supposedly one of the most socially advanced nations on the planet, how could this be?
Well, itís a many-faceted issue, the monarchy as it exists in Canada. And I havenít even touched on the fact that the Queen doesnít live here, isnít a citizen of this country, doesnít represent us when she travels, is a constant reminder to our francophone population of their defeat and subjugation, and clearly says to some of the rest of us that we arenít yet trusted with the status of full nationhood.
Today, the subject at hand is the Oath of Allegiance. Why do we still have it? Why do some Canadians think we need it?
The truth is, just like the monarchy itself, for those who are aware of it, they think it should be done away with, and soon. The trouble is, most Canadians never have to take an oath to the Queen because theyíre already citizens. Unless they want to become a civil servant or a member of parliament, it never touches their consciousness.
Apathy and misinformation are the enemy here ladies and gentlemen.
For example, in 2002 Ekos did a poll that showed only 5% of us 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. Significantly, 48% also agreed with the statement, "Instead of a British monarch we should have a Canadian citizen as our head of state". 35% disagreed.
But, get this, in the same poll, 41% agree that it's "time to abolish the monarchy in Canada" while 43% disagree. What happened in the 2 minutes between those 2 questions. Obviously, a huge chunk of Canadians forgot that when you abolish the monarchy you become a republic.
I was a guest at the Liberal Leadership Convention in November where I discussed our goals with party members, organizers, MPís and cabinet ministers. One organizer said, Iím all for getting rid of the monarchy, as long as we donít become a republic.
I tried to explain to her that, ... Well, she wouldnít listen of course.
This isnít a problem unique to the monarchy issue, itís deeper than that. Last night, the latest poll results on Canadiansí views of politicians and government were released. Nearly half of Canadians couldnít name the prime minister and only 17% knew who the leader of the opposition was.
Clearly, we have a monumental task ahead of us in informing the public of the value of attaining the changes we here all want.
We do, however, have signs of progress. Changes to the Oath of Canadian Citizenship have been proposed by Citizenship & Immigration several times. There was Tory David Crombie in the early 90ís and more recently, Lucienne Robillard, who shocked monarchists by proposing removing the Oath while standing under a portrait of The Queen at Rideau Hall seconds after taking her own Ministerial Oath.
The horror of it all. It was downright treasonous!
And lately, we had Minister Denis Coderre offering Bill C-18 in October 31, 2002. Among other revisions, the Bill would have replaced 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. It did not survive second reading in parliament.
Bill C-203 was introduced October 2, 2003 by MP John Bryden who addressed CCR at a meeting in Toronto about his action. It would have amended 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 reading and also dropped from the order paper.
Despite these setbacks, CCR will continue to press for changes to the Citizenship Act, changes that will better reflect our evolving nation and changing society.
Closely related to the issue of the Citizenship Oath is that of the Oath to the Queen thatís required of federal civil servants. Our associate director and co-founder, Pierre Vincent, was at least partly responsible for recent revisions to this Act he took the Federal Govít to court to save his civil service job after it was discovered that heíd not taken the Oath. He won the case and kept his job, and got national headlines in the process. Consequently, after December 2005, federal civil servants will not be required to take an Oath to the Queen.
Objection to the Oath runs deep within CCRís soul. Another pioneer of the modern Canadian republican movement, who also happens to be a member of CCRís executive committee, is Ed Press of British Columbia. I could go on at great length about Edís exploits and misadventures in his battle against what he believes is an unjust institution - our constitutional monarchy. The Centre for Citizenship, a British republican organization, has written eloquently about Edís ordeal, and with thanks to them, I'd like to read you their moving account of a true Canadian Hero:
British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada, is over 4000 miles from Buckingham Palace and Balmoral Castle. But in 1987 Ed Press was sacked from his job with the provincial government there because he refused to swear allegiance to the British monarchy.
This is Ed's story.
You will find no palaces or castles in British Columbia. And no queens or princes, except when the British "royals" decide to take a break in one of their former colonies. You will find a lot of fairly ordinary and decent people. In 1987 Ed Press was one of those ordinary folk but one who was to prove himself quite extraordinary and with more character than a castle full of princes. Third-generation Canadian Ed lived with his wife Bessie, who is Greek, in Chetwynd in the Pine Valley of north east British Columbia. He drove a truck and operated heavy equipment for the provincial government's highways ministry. Ed had done the job for six years and was regarded as a good worker. In 1985, however, the bureaucrats in the provincial government got around to a formality that they had neglected. As a result Ed was dumped from a job with decent pay into scratching a living doing what odd jobs he could find around town.
The problem was that British Columbia has a Public Service Act. And although British Columbia is a province of an independent country in which the people elect their own government, that Act requires that public servants swear allegiance to the British monarch. In 1985 Ed Press was asked by his boss to swear that:
I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors.
Ed replaced the reference to the British "Queen" with "my country."
For declaring that his loyalty was to his country and not to a family of foreign ne'er-do-wells he was threatened with the sack.
Ed Press was not intimidated. He took his story to the local press and embarrassed the government of British Columbia sufficiently that in 1987 they offered him the option of signing his allegiance to "the Crown" instead of to the "Queen" of England. That was not good enough for this republican, however. He told his tormentors that the "Crown" was a symbol of the British monarchy and so he could not sign. That's when they sacked Ed.
Ed has never stopped campaigning against this injustice. And not just against the personal injustice but against the place of monarchy in Canada. Because it is not just British Columbia but the government of all Canada that shows this crazy deference to the Windsor family. For example Canadian coins display the head of the British monarch.
At times Ed Press has been seen holding a sign that reads "Monarchy is not Democracy." Sounds obvious maybe. But like their counterparts in Britain, the authorities in Canada are pretty confused when it comes to monarchy and democracy. That was particularly so with the
police. In 1982 Sgt R E Cunningham, in charge of the Chetwynd detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, had written to Ed to commend him for his action in preventing the escape of a suspected murderer. Ed was something of a local hero. In 1987 however the RCMP deployed three police patrol cars to keep watch on him. All because they anticipated that he might use his democratic right to protest when British "royals" came calling at Vancouver, hundreds of miles away. A local newspaper quoted police commissioner Robert Simmonds as saying that Canadians who expressed "intemperate views" about visiting VIPs must expect that sort of treatment.
If they thought that that would shut up Ed Press they were wrong, however. In 1988 Ed took a portrait of the British "Queen" from the local post office and put it in a more fitting place - the Chetwynd dump. And in 1998 he was detained by the police for three days after refusing to stop for a seat belt check by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Ed does not recognise "royal" police.
Most of us would probably have looked for excuses for not standing up for our republican beliefs if we faced losing our jobs or being arrested. Not Ed Press, nor his wife Bessie who is not allowed to become a citizen of Canada if she will not swear her allegiance to the British queen! Ed Press just says that "I don't believe in the monarchy. I'm a democrat and I think people should be considered equal in society and under the law." He will not accept the second class status of "commoner," nor that his children are not as good as those of the "royal" family. And whatever the RCMP may think of such "intemperate views" it is admirable when somebody of character stands by them come what may. Ed says that despite the loss of his job and the intimidation his actions have been worth while. He told the Centre for Citizenship that all he had been trying to do was be himself, a Canadian and as good as anyone
May I now introduce Ashok Charles.