December 21, 2021
The year 2022 will mark 70 years that Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne, and that longevity means most Canadians don’t remember another monarch’s portrait hanging up in government buildings or pictured on our currency.
When Prince Charles becomes King, our royal symbols will have to change, too – everything from the Court of Queen’s Bench becoming the Court of King’s Bench to the Canadian oath of allegiance.
But given that Canadians’ affection for the Queen doesn’t quite extend to her son, could Canada decide to forgo the royal symbols altogether?
A number of those symbols could be changed without affecting Canada’s status as a monarchy, said Philippe Lagassé, an associate professor at Carleton University.
Currently, the Queen is on our coins and $20 bill; lawyers are named Queen’s Counsel; new citizens, members of Parliament, police officers and members of the Canadian Armed Forces swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen.
Some things will be changed automatically. Queen’s Counsel will become King’s Counsel, and in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and New Brunswick, the Court of Queen’s Bench will automatically become the Court of King’s Bench, according to Michael Jackson, president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada.
Lagassé said a number of royal symbols could become the subjects for debate once Charles is on the throne, including the monarch’s portrait on money, the citizenship oath and the hanging of the monarch’s portraits in government buildings.
Tom Freda, co-founder of anti-monarchy group Citizens for a Canadian Republic, predicts there will be “an immense amount of opposition to swearing an oath to King Charles the Third, or seeing King Charles the Third on our money.”
“The Queen’s reputation and the favour that Canadians have towards the Queen is not even remotely matched by Prince Charles,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this, that the main reason all of those symbols have been retained is because of Canadians’ affection for the Queen. Those affections aren’t there for Prince Charles.”
We know that once the Queen dies, a proclamation will be issued by the Governor General and Canadian Heritage will declare a period of mourning. Flags will be flown at half-mast, and “portraits of the Queen, as well as flags displayed indoors, may be draped with black ribbon,” according to the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada. A national memorial service will be held in Ottawa and potentially also in the provincial and territorial capitals.
The Canadian government has historically been tight-lipped about its specific plans. In 2017, the Privy Council Office refused to reveal its internal plans for what happens once the Queen dies — the Toronto Star appealed the decision but the information commissioner sided with the government.
Asked whether the government could now provide more information, a PCO spokesperson said only that the PCO “works closely with the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General and other implicated government departments to ensure that appropriate measures are in place.”
Regardless of the ceremony, Prince Charles will automatically become King of Canada (though he may choose to go by a different name than Charles.) An accession proclamation will be issued by Cabinet, the Privy Council may meet, and Canada may send a representative to the U.S. accession council, but “none of these steps has any bearing on whether or not Charles becomes King in Canada,” Lagassé said.
Queen Elizabeth the Second is a very hard act to follow
The Canadian proclamation following the death of King George 6th in 1952 stated that the then-princess “is now by the death of Our late Sovereign of happy and glorious memory become our only lawful and rightful Liege Lady Elizabeth the Second by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas.”
The proclamation declared Elizabeth “Defender of the Faith, Supreme Liege Lady in and over Canada, to whom we acknowledge all faith and constant obedience with all hearty and humble affection.”
In 2021, it’s difficult to picture Canada’s Governor General Mary Simon reading similar language. Jackson said he’s “sure that will be modernized.” He said Prince Charles is “going to want updating and changing, reflecting our multi-faith, multiracial societies in both the U.K. and Canada.”
Of course, Canadians may decide that the times have changed enough that it’s time to do away with the monarchy altogether.
A recent Angus Reid survey indicates most Canadians won’t want the monarchy to continue under a King Charles. While 55 per cent of Canadians were supportive of Canada continuing to recognize Queen Elizabeth, “by swearing oaths to her, putting her on currency and recognizing her as official head of state,” only 34 per cent of Canadians were in favour of doing the same under a King Charles.
“Canadians have far more affection, respect and acceptance of the Queen in her role than they have for her heir. Some of this is personality driven. For example, Prince William is more popular among Canadians than Charles,” Angus Reid president Shachi Kurl said.
“But sentiment toward the Queen is also driven by her longevity,” Kurl pointed out.
Jackson, whose organization is pro-Crown, said he wouldn’t be surprised if there was opposition from those who don’t necessarily want King Charles’ portrait on government building or our money.
“Queen Elizabeth the Second is a very hard act to follow…and she’s been exemplary,” he said.
Frida argued the reaction to the Queen’s death will go further than that. “I think that the writing’s on the wall that when the Queen’s reign ends, I think there’s going to be a discussion… of Canada following what Barbados has done.”
Canadians may be fine with going the same route as Barbados, which became a republic in late November. But that may be easier said than done, according to Ken Munro, a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta.
Because of the way our political system is set up, it would be more difficult for Canada to become a republic than it was for Barbados.
“They have a different constitution… under our constitution, it would be very difficult to change from a constitutional monarchy to a republic,” said Munro. “You have to have the consent of all the provinces plus the Senate and the House of Commons. I can’t see that happening.”
Frida said that those concerns were overblown. He said the courts have drawn a distinction between the office of the Queen and the individual monarch, meaning that “we don’t have to have a member of the British Royal Family be the successor.”
Plus, he argued, getting the support of the provinces and the House of Commons and Senate wouldn’t be impossible given the opinion polls that show Canadians don’t want to continue the monarchy under Charles.
“Provincial politicians are just as smart as the rest of us in recognizing that standing in the way of that kind of overwhelming popular will simply lacks common sense,” he said.