This week, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, will be kicking off their three-day visit to Canada with a focus on climate change and “learning from the Indigenous peoples in Canada.” Apparently they’ll begin the blatant PR stunt with a stop in St. John’s, before heading to Ottawa the next day and spending their last day in Yellowknife.
Are you still reading? If so, congratulations! My own brain would have flatlined at “Prince Charles.”
Strange how the institution that perpetuated the colonization of Indigenous land to form Canada and the exploitation of people and resources for their Dickensian industrial revolution would declare their trip to be about education on these two problems. But the intention is perhaps to evoke some sort of half-hearted atonement. The problem with that though is that even if the reasons were seen as legitimate, we don’t care.
The fascination in this country with the British Royal Family has fallen off steeply in recent years. Probably something to do with the sexual assault allegations against Prince Andrew, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah alleging racist behaviour within the family, or a long history of ignoring racism. Maybe Canadians finally realized the whole “colonize the world” thing may have been a bad thing, though this is probably wishful thinking.
In December, Angus Reid found 52 per cent of Canadians support the abolishment of this country’s constitutional monarchy at some point in the future. The survey also found, for some reason, there was still majority support for recognizing Queen Elizabeth II as head of state for as long as she reigns.
And while the jokes about her being dead have become increasingly funny, she’s still alive
and well and the reigning British monarch.
Canadians are at the point where even misplaced trust in the previously beloved Queen is waning. We’re just tolerating her out of some sort of unquestioning, deeply ingrained respect. But since admiration of even the matriarchal monarch is fading, that prompts the question: why do we care that Charles is visiting, again? Did we suddenly wake up in 1970?
Over the past two years, incredible societal changes have occurred before our eyes. Unprecedented global protest movements have taken to the streets, Western reckonings with the faults in liberal democracy have become undeniable, the creeping movements of fascism have become stronger by the day, and the harrowing antics of Jared Leto as Michael Morbius still haunt my dreams. Meanwhile, the royal family has been repeatedly embarrassing itself, and now wants to pop in for a spell like it’s the annoying uncle your parents were obliged to invite to the family reunion. For the fiftieth time, Uncle Chuck, I don’t want to look at the commendations you received for beating up striking miners in the 80s.
Are Canada and the British Royal Family attached at the hip? The answer is, unfortunately, a definitive yes.
Canada’s independence as a nation is mostly one built out of precedence. Our constitutional monarchy has a degree of autonomy, true, but “executive authority is vested formally in the Queen through the Constitution.” The only legal way that the Canadian state is enforced is through the authority of the monarchy.
As the House Of Commons explains, “Approval by the Governor General or another designated representative of the Crown is required for a bill to become law once it has been passed by both Houses in identical form.” It may just be a formality, and Canada does have a large degree of autonomy, but commonwealth nations have exploited the technicality in the past. Now, does this mean Canada is a useless entity devoid of any integrity? Yes. Not for that reason, though.
In addition, Canada was largely created through the “Doctrine of Discovery,” a Vatican law that gave Christian European settlers authority to claim land under their respective crowns. It was also used to claim that, at the most, Indigenous people did not have the right to the land, just its occupation and use.
They’ll learn all about their own history in the three days they’re here. You’ll see.
So should we abolish the monarchy? Should we decolonize? Should we give the land back? Is Canada even real? To answer these questions in order: Yes, hell yes, of course, and yes but only if you count a loose jumble of mining corporations as a country. More specifically, getting rid of the monarchy isn’t impossible. Barbados officially ditched the royals and became a republic in November. Jamaica is poised to follow suit.
Imagine being a grown-ass country and having this as part of your government. https://t.co/n518hqOaSb— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) May 10, 2022
But while monarchies are inherently undemocratic and reactionary, abolishing their role in the Canadian context isn’t so easy.
If Canada were to move towards abolishing the British monarchy, the government would need to have the prime minister and their cabinet approve a national referendum, pass that referendum, then amend the Constitution Act of 1867, and the Constitution Act of 1982, then choose its new system of government. What would it look like? Same system but the prime minister is head of state? Prime minister and a president? Install Bonhomme as ultimate dictator? Adopt the U.S. system? This is a conversation worth having, but one that would probably get drowned out by other, more pressing, conversations, like whether or not the Queen is dead.
Even if this were all to happen, treaties with Indigenous peoples on this land are signed between nations and the British Crown. While there has been debate on what effect this would have on the treaties between nations, a compelling argument was made by law student Aidan Simardone that international law would transfer responsibility from the Crown to the Canadian state. While this is a reassuring argument for abolishing the monarchy, considering the genocidal treatment of Indigenous peoples by the Canadian settler-colonial state, the decision should be made in tandem with Indigenous nations.
As it stands now, Canada is inextricably linked to the British Royal Family. But we’re finally beginning to learn what a lot of modern countries have learned for themselves: Monarchies with complete, de facto authority are not good. What Canada’s monarchy lacks in direct oppression, it makes up for in apathetic disdain.
While our options for getting out of the monarchy aren’t easily solved, they should be explored alongside Indigenous nations who signed treaties with the Crown.
I’m curious as to what, exactly, Prince Charles hopes to learn during his visit. Why does a man who sits on a jewel-encrusted gold throne while talking about a cost-of-living crisis not know about the factors behind Indigenous oppression? The only way this visit should be taken seriously is if, for the entirety of the trip, Charles would wear a hot dog suit and exclaim that he’s there to find out who did this. Otherwise, we should treat this visit for what it is: silly and not worth our time.