Significant and Historic Support for Motion to Sever Ties Between Canada and British Monarchy

In the House of Commons on October 26, 2022, 44 Members of Parliament (MPs) voted in favour of a Bloc Québécois motion, introduced the previous day, to sever ties between the Canadian state and the British monarchy. Two hundred and sixty-six MPs voted against the motion.

The 31 Bloc Québécois MPs present at the vote (out of a total 32 MPs) voted in favour of the motion, and 13 other MPs did the same.

These others were:

- Charlie Angus, NDP, Timmins--James Bay, Ontario
- Niki Ashton, NDP, Churchill--Keewatinook Aski, Manitoba
- Alexandre Boulerice, NDP, Rosemont--La Petite-Patrie, Quebec
- Laurel Collins, NDP, Victoria, BC
- Don Davies, NDP, Vancouver Kingsway, BC
- Blake Desjarlais, NDP, Edmonton Griesbach, Alberta
- Leah Gazan, NDP, Winnipeg Centre, Manitoba
- Matthew Green, NDP, Hamilton Centre, Ontario
- Lori Idlout, NDP, Nunavut
- Jenny Kwan, NDP, Vancouver East, British Columbia ;
- Alain Rayes, Independent, formerly Conservative, Richmond--Arthabaska, Quebec
- Joël Lightbound, Liberal Party, Louis-Hébert, Quebec and
- Mike Morrice, Green Party, Kitchener Centre, Ontario.

Some of these MPs made interventions during the debate that announced or implied that they would vote for the Bloc motion.

The most substantive intervention was made by Niki Ashton, who clearly expressed her support for the Bloc motion. She said, in part:

"We must acknowledge the second-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which has built on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, making it clear that we must recognize the truth when it comes to Canada's ugly history of colonization. That colonization is rooted in the Crown's control, to its benefit. With the Indian Act, the reserve system, the residential school system, the pillaging of Indigenous resources and the genocide of Indigenous peoples, the devastating impacts of colonization are still evident today.

"Reconciliation means carrying on a journey of decolonization and this must include ending our ties with the British monarchy. The monarchy is a symbol of colonialism for many Indigenous peoples and for many people who have come to Canada from around the world. Many people left countries for a better life because of the conflict, impoverishment and repression waged by the British Crown. Many left from countries that had struggles for independence and where resistance was brutally quashed by Britain and those who served the British Crown, including India, Malaysia and Cyprus. The list of countries goes on."

Leah Gazan said:

"Madam Speaker, my honourable colleague brought up two words, 'freedom' and 'privilege.'

"Cassidy Caron, president of the Métis National Council, is calling on the Crown to apologize for its participation in residential schools. Paul Andrew, a residential school survivor, said the Queen was also a treaty member and had an obligation to live up to agreements that the Crown has never lived up to, such as the participation of the monarchy in slavery. Not everybody in this place we now call Canada has had that freedom and privilege we are talking about. In fact, many of us, in real time, are still fighting for freedom, still fighting for our rights, still fighting for our privilege, an erasure of genocide and colonial history that the Crown has participated in globally.

"I would ask the honourable member if he agrees with me that the Crown has participated in the violent genocide of groups of peoples across the globe."

During a debate on Aboriginal affairs during the same day, Lori Idlout said:

"For too long, First Nations, Métis and Inuit were ignored when they shared their stories about the loved ones they lost to the residential school system. All these decades of being ignored have stifled the path to healing. It is outrageous that Indigenous communities must beg and plead for funding. Delays on delivering the promises made must stop. Inuit, Métis and First Nations have been given far too many promises that have not been acted on.

"The Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations said, 'Some have said it could take up to 10 years, and the worst thing to see would be for any government to step away from that commitment. We will keep doing it, but at their pace.'

"In Budget 2022, there was one curious line item. It said the budget would provide $5.1 million to Public Safety Canada to ensure the Royal Canadian Mounted Police could support community-led responses to unmarked graves. By funding the RCMP instead of supporting Indigenous-led organizations, such as Survivors' Secretariat, the government is supporting further practices of colonialism. Why are these funds not directly funding Indigenous Peoples to heal from the shameful legacy of residential schools and colonialism?"

Liberal MP Joël Lightbound said, among other things:

"Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech. I think this is a rather interesting debate we are having in the House this morning. I share many of the sentiments of my colleagues across the way. To me, swearing an oath to the British Crown after every election is not a fond memory. It is something that I would certainly forego. I think my attachment to the British Crown is likely as strong as theirs." He later told Le Devoir that federal MPs should in future have the choice of whether or not to take the oath to the British monarch.

These speeches and the vote contributed to the opposition to threats that were made in the House of Commons, in particular by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government. He said that the leader of the Bloc should be stripped of his seat in the House because he said that the oath of allegiance to the King of England was coerced and violated the conscience of MPs and that therefore his pledge of allegiance was not sincere.

Following the vote, MPs addressed this violation of conscience.

Acadian Liberal MP for Madawaska-Restigouche in New Brunswick, Rene Arseneault, who voted against the Bloc motion, said he is uncomfortable with having had to swear allegiance to the Queen of England since his election in 2015. "My history is that it was with the help of this oath that the Acadians were deported. If you know your history, you're not comfortable with that."

He told Le Devoir that he would be willing to work on a motion or a bill that would remove the mandatory nature of the oath.

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet said the support shows that the debate on the issue is far from over. "I think it's the tip of an iceberg that is telling us that we should take the oath according to our conscience."

Meanwhile, the day after the vote, some of the Liberal MPs maintained that Blanchet should not be allowed to keep his seat.

"He shouldn't be in the House if he wasn't honest in the commitment he made," said Judy Sgro, MP for Humber River--Black Creek in Ontario.

Prime Minister Trudeau seemed to want to avoid a constitutional crisis that would break out if the Leader of the Bloc was to be expelled from the House of Commons. The day after the vote, he said: "The reality is that there are many people who swear an oath to the Queen to become citizens and then withdraw it. Mr. Blanchet has been elected by Canadians to serve in this House and he will explain himself as he sees fit regarding the oath."

New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh did not vote, nor did seven of his MPs. "The purpose of the motion is not a priority for him, just as it is not a priority for the people," his office said.

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 6 - June 2023

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