Questioning Canadian sovereignty

How one organization vies to sever the nation’s ties to our hereditary monarch

Down with the Queen? Citizens for a Canadian Republic believes Canada should separate from the British monarchy and have its own head of state. Kaitlyn Emslie Farrell

Canadian public opinion in recent decades has come to question the nation’s status as a constitutional monarchy with an unelected, hereditary head of state.

This reality, one firmly rooted in Canada’s colonial past, has led some to wonder, what is next? Will the nation continue to maintain its ties to the British monarchy, or adopt the principles of a republic and enact sweeping Constitutional reform?

Citizens for a Canadian Republic is a non-profit organization based in Toronto committed to enhancing this aforementioned public opinion, while giving voice to an alternative perspective that may shape the future of Canadian politics.

“Traditionally, it’s always been Canada that has led the Commonwealth in areas of asserting national independence, and I strongly feel that (we) deserved to be as active in head of state reform,” said director Tom Freda.

As the representative organization in Canada’s republican movement, Freda said Citizens for a Canadian Republic is committed to raising awareness and promoting discussion of the advantages of amending the Constitution, and instating a Canadian head of state independent of the British monarchy.

“Today, indicating a common cause and purpose, CCR is also a partner in a Commonwealth-wide network called Common Cause, linking the republican movements of Britain, Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

The movement, however, is not simply contingent upon ideological support.

According to Freda, the monarchy limits Canada’s democratic institutions.

It’s always been Canada that has led the Commonwealth in areas of asserting national independence.

Tom Freda, director, Citizens for a Canadian Republic

“In a parliamentary republic, we could have a true constitutional referee, ... not an offshore, figurehead monarch, thus keeping the political whims of the head of government in check.”

While Freda acknowledges that Canada may be “10, maybe even 20 years” away from any urgency in regards to constitutional reform, “the best time for (the) debate is now, so that all options and republican models can get the scrutiny they deserve.”

While the impetus for this social movement is seemingly in place, there are other considerations and counterpoints, too.

To University of Winnipeg politics professor Joan Grace, “there is no (current) national appetite for this kind of dramatic and substantial institutional change in Canada.”

“We are of course in troubled time economically, the debate about Canada transforming from a constitutional monarchy to a republic just isn’t on the minds of most Canadians or public officials,” she said.

That being said, the discussion of abolishing the monarchy could serve as the vehicle for aligning Canadians closer to the institutions of democratic practice, Grace said.

“It could also increase political knowledge amongst Canadians, and even engender a stronger sense of civic literacy and civic duty.”

Freda and Grace agree that a healthy consequence of a formal amending process, if it should occur in the near future, would be to re-evaluate - or rather, interrogate - the role of the Monarchy and the evidently figurehead positions of the Lieutenant Governor and Governor General.

“Most often we think about a republic as a system of government by all of the people, but which operates as a representative democracy,” Grace said.

“Citizens elect, through competitive and fair elections, individuals to represent them in a legislative assembly,” Grace said.

Published in Volume 66, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 23, 2011)

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