- Oath of Citizenship (Canada)
Immigration to Canada
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The Oath of Citizenship, or Citizenship Oath (in French: serment de citoyenneté), is a statement recited and signed by candidates who wish to become citizens of Canada. Administered at a ceremony presided over by assigned officers, the oath is a promise or declaration of fealty to the Canadian monarch and a promise to abide by Canada's laws and customs; upon signing the oath, citizenship is granted to the signer.
The vow's roots lie in the oath of allegiance taken in the United Kingdom, the modern form of which was implemented in 1689 by King William II and III and Queen Mary II and was inherited by and used in Canada prior to 1947. With the enactment of the Citizenship Act that year, the Canadian Oath of Citizenship was established. Proposals for modification of the oath have surfaced from time to time, including removing references to the sovereign, adding loyalty to societal principles, and/or adding specific mention to Canada. It has, however, only been modified once, in 1977.
Prior to 1947, Canadians were considered British subjects of the king in the same manner as any other inhabitant of a country under the same king's sovereignty, and anyone immigrating to Canada from a non-Commonwealth country would take only the Oath of Allegiance. When India became a republic in 1950, however, the Commonwealth thereafter contained countries that did not recognize as their own that monarch shared amongst the Commonwealth realms, though still regarding that individual as Head of the Commonwealth. With potential new Commonwealth immigrants who did not already owe allegiance to Canada's shared sovereign, the Parliament of Canada thus enacted the Canadian Citizenship Act 1946, which came into effect on 1 January of the following year. New immigrants were then required to recite the Oath of Allegiance for Purposes of Citizenship, which was an adaptation of the original Oath of Allegiance: "I swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King George the Sixth, His Heirs and Successors, according to law, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen"; Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was the first person to take this oath. Though new citizens were thereafter required by law to recite the Oath of Citizenship, on 1 April 1949, 359,000 Newfoundlanders became Canadian citizens without taking the oath, when the British crown colony joined Canadian Confederation.
By the mid-1970s, it was thought that because Canada had a shared monarch the Oath of Citizenship should clarify for new citizens that the fealty they were offering was specifically to the monarch in her capacity as the Canadian head of state, rather than, for example, the head of state of Jamaica or of the United Kingdom. Thus, as part of an amendment to the Citizenship Act in 1977, the words Queen of Canada were inserted after the Queen's name and the oath was officially named the Canadian Citizenship Oath. This new format maintained the traditional assertion of allegiance to the monarch, but also inserted the name of the country three times in a way consistent with Canada's status as a constitutional monarchy — i.e., in a monarchy the state is personified, not treated as an abstraction or a corporation.
The Oath of Citizenship is today a legally binding oral and written contract intended to ensure that new Canadian citizens promise to obey the laws and customs of their new country, fulfill their duties as citizens, and recognize the authority of the monarch as the personification of various entities and concepts. Its current form is as follows:
The equally valid French language version of the oath of citizenship is as follows:
Or, the French affirmation:
Administration of the oath
The Oath of Citizenship must be recited by all citizenship candidates in Canada in order to obtain citizenship, save for those with disabilities of speech and minors. However, all must sign the oath, with parents signing on behalf of any of their children under the age of 14. These actions are typically carried out in the context of a citizenship ceremony, approximately 2,500 of which take place each year, and are functions normally presided over by a citizenship judge, though members of the Order of Canada, the governor general, or a lieutenant governor may also preside at a ceremony. These events also include the participation of a clerk of the court and, when available, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer. The Canadian flag must be displayed, along with other national symbols, including a portrait of the reigning monarch.
The RCMP officer opens the ceremony, followed by the clerk introducing the candidates for citizenship, stating: "Your Honour, these people assembled here have qualified for Canadian citizenship and appear before you to take the Oath of Citizenship." The judge addresses the crowd with a short speech outlining the duties and responsibilities of being a Canadian citizen, after which the clerk instructs the participants to stand, raise their right hand, and recite the Oath of Citizenship as read by the judge. The judge then presents each new citizen their Certificate of Citizenship. The ceremony is concluded with the singing of the national anthem in English and French.
It has been stated by Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, of the Islamic Institute of Toronto, that Muslims may take the Oath of Citizenship "as long as you are clear in your mind that you are doing so without contravening the sovereignty of Allah" and that reciting it should not be viewed as a form of shirk.
Since the last amendment to the vow in 1977, the idea of modifying it yet again has come up periodically. In 1987, the government proposed alterations to the Citizenship Act that included studying to what or whom allegiance should be given in the Oath of Citizenship: to the Crown, the country, or both, and in what order? No changes were made.
In 1994, the subject was addressed again when the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration examined changes to the Citizenship Act. Several witnesses presented divergent views on the oath: some argued that the present form should be retained, while others expressed a desire to see the name of the country given prominence, though not necessarily with the absence of mention of the sovereign. The committee recommended a new citizenship oath: I pledge full allegiance to Canada and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, and swear to faithfully obey the laws and fulfill my duties as a citizen. Sergio Marchi, then minister of Citizenship and Immigration, proposed a further step of creating a new "declaration" of citizenship, and commissioned ten Canadian writers to compose a pledge, with the explicit instruction to not refer to the monarch of Canada; the suggested declaration decided on was: I am a citizen of Canada, and I make this commitment: to uphold our laws and freedoms; to respect our people in their diversity; to work for our common well-being; and to safeguard and honour this ancient northern land.
By 1996, the minister of citizenship and immigration, then Lucienne Robillard, stated on the suggested alterations to the oath: "This is a difficult decision to make, because I realise that when you speak about changing the oath, people think you want to change all the monarchy system. We don't want a discussion like that in Canada right now." According to an Angus Reid Strategies survey for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, conducted in January 1996, 51% of respondents felt that a new oath of allegiance should remove any reference to the Queen, and 38% felt that allegiance should be pledged to both Canada and its sovereign. Only 5% favoured swearing allegiance only to the monarch; though, at the same time, only 5% of Canadians were aware the Queen was their head of state. Meanwhile, press reaction to the continued proposals for alternate oaths was muted. The Globe and Mail editorial of 12 December 1998 stated: "The language is being drained dry, killed by a thousand smiley-faced cuts," while the Ottawa Citizen was more critical on 11 December: "The new citizenship oath... leaves us cold... It would strengthen the political argument for abolishing the monarchy on the death of Queen Elizabeth; and it would test monarchist support by seeing how many Canadians even notice or holler. We noticed. Consider this a holler."
Bill C-63, the proposed Citizenship of Canada Act, was put before parliament in 1999; in it was a variant on the present Oath of Citizenship:
- From this day forward, I pledge my loyalty and allegiance to Canada and Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada. I promise to respect our country's rights and freedoms, to defend our democratic values, to faithfully observe our laws and fulfill my duties and obligations as a Canadian citizen.
In French, this would be:
- Dorénavant, je promets fidélité et allégeance au Canada et à Sa Majesté Elizabeth Deux, Reine du Canada. Je m'engage à respecter les droits et libertés de notre pays, à défendre nos valeurs démocratiques, à observer fidèlement nos lois et à remplir mes devoirs et obligations de citoyen(ne) canadien(ne).
Member of Parliament John H. Bryden put forward an amendment that would remove the sovereign from the oath altogether: In pledging allegiance to Canada, I take my place among Canadians, a people united by God whose sacred trust is to uphold these five principles: equality of opportunity, freedom of speech, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law. Bryden's proposal was defeated in a vote of 189 to 31, and Bill C-63 itself never received Royal Assent; after approval by the House of Commons and a second reading in the Senate, the bill was under consideration by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs when a federal election was called, resulting in the bill's demise on the Order Paper. Subsequent Bills C-16 (2000) and C-18 (2002) also proposed the same changes to the Oath of Citizenship; the former also died on the Order Paper due to the prorogation of parliament, while the latter never made it past second reading in the House of Commons.
Throughout the process, the Monarchist League of Canada, while not against amendment in general, voiced its strongest opposition to the proposals to remove the sovereign. From the group there was also commentary against what they saw as being Americanized and vague terminology, as well as what could be construed as the separation of the monarch from the state (contradicting the inherent notion that the monarch personifies the state) and placed second to it. Like the Ottawa Citizen, the league also questioned the legality of the elimination of the words Her Heirs and Successors according to law — the commitment new citizens make to the succession to the Canadian Crown. Addressing this, both Bills C-16 and C-18 contained a clause stating: "It should be noted that removing the words 'Her Heirs and Successors' does not imply that pledging allegiance to the... Crown ends with the death of the current Queen. Section 35 of the Interpretation Act states that, in every enactment, the phrases 'Her Majesty', 'the Queen', 'the King', or 'the Crown' mean the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories, and Head of the Commonwealth. Thus, upon her death, the reference to Queen Elizabeth will automatically be read as a reference to the succeeding monarch."
In 2006, the Fraser Institute issued a report, Canada's Inadequate Response to Terrorism: The Need for Policy Reform, suggesting that the Citizenship Act be amended so that the Oath of Citizenship included a provision wherein the new citizen offered loyalty to Canadian values, with violation of this oath punishable by deportation. The intention of the report's recommendations, penned by David Collacott, was to counter the support immigrants received from official multiculturalism to place the devotions and hostilities of their homeland before their duty to Canada. A University of Toronto law professor, however, opined that the rule of law itself was Canadian value, thus rendering the report as moot.
Lawyer Charles Roach, a permanent resident of Canada and executive board member of Citizens for a Canadian Republic (CCR) who has refused to swear the Oath of Citizenship, attempted through the courts to strike down the requirement to pledge allegiance to the monarch to obtain citizenship. With the support of his own law firm and CCR, Roach launched a number of suits against the Crown, beginning in 1994, when he argued to the federal court that being forced to take the oath was a violation of clauses 2(b), 2(d), and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This attempt was unsuccessful, with the majority of the court ruling that "[t]he fact that the oath 'personalizes' one particular constitutional provision has no constitutional relevance, since that personalization is derived from the Constitution itself... Even thus personalized, that part of the Constitution relating to the Queen is amendable, and so its amendment may be freely advocated, consistently with the oath of allegiance, either by expression, by peaceful assembly or by association." Further appeal of this decision to the Supreme Court was denied.
In 2007, Roach, along with three others, filed a class action lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, claiming that the requirement to take the Oath of Citizenship not only violated the aforementioned sections of the charter, but also clause 2(a), that relating to freedom of conscience. He stated in the media that requiring black people to swear allegiance to the Canadian sovereign to receive citizenship was akin to forcing Jews to swear an oath to a descendant of Adolf Hitler, and said in a letter to his fellow litigants: "If we win this class action, a centuries-old tradition would begin to unravel." Though the federal Crown made two attempts to have the case dismissed as frivolous and vexatious, on 20 February 2008, the Ontario Court of Appeal approved the proceeding of the case to the Ontario Superior Court. During the proceedings, the Monarchist League of Canada publicly supported the present oath and opposed Roach's actions, and media reaction was also negative, with a number of op-ed pieces denouncing Roach's challenges. Roach's case was dismissed by the Ontario Superior Court in January 2009.
At CCR protest rallies at Ontario's Queen's Park, on Victoria Day of 2004 and 2005, CCR executive board member Ashok Charles, who had taken the Oath of Citizenship in 1977, publicly recanted the portion of the oath that makes reference to the monarch and her heirs and successors. He also submitted the recantation in a notarized document to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which acknowledged receipt. In a letter published in the National Post, Charles claimed that Citizenship and Immigration had informed him in writing that his citizenship had not been affected.
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- Monarchist League of Canada: Queen or Country? Does it Matter? Understanding a Crucial Issue
- Citizens for a Canadian Republic: Canada's unconstitutional Citizenship Oath
- Osgoode Hall Law School on Roach's case
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