Don't want to pledge allegiance to the Queen? Seek comfort elsewhere

Editorial: Don’t like the oath? Seek comfort elsewhere

Those who think the pledging allegiance to the Queen is bothersome, or ‘repulsive,’ are forgetting something

Dror Bar-Natan (right) hands a letter to Judge Albert Wong to disavow the portion of the oath that pertains to the Queen following a citizenship ceremony in Toronto on Monday November 30, 2015. (Chris Young/CP)

Dror Bar-Natan (right) hands a letter to Judge Albert Wong to disavow the portion of the oath that pertains to the Queen following a citizenship ceremony in Toronto on Monday November 30, 2015. (Chris Young/CP)

For anyone unlucky enough to be born elsewhere, there are a few steps to becoming a Canadian citizen. First you’ll need permanent resident status. Then there are age, language, tax and residency requirements. There’s also a test on Canadian history and values. After that, and if you’re not in jail, all that’s left is to show up on time for your citizenship ceremony and repeat the following:

“I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and     that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

This final step is proving to be the biggest challenge for some prospective citizens.

In Toronto this week, Israeli-born math professor Dror Bar-Natan became a Canadian citizen by reciting the prescribed oath. Immediately afterwards he took it back, handing the judge a letter stating, “I hereby completely disavow whatever I thought the first 25 words of the Citizenship Oath conveyed when I took the oath.”

It seems a rather graceless move, but recanting in this way does no actual damage to Bar-Natan’s citizenship status. So is ingratitude now a Canadian virtue?

Bar-Natan and two other objectors made headlines last year after launching a court challenge alleging Canada’s citizenship oath violated their rights. They claimed it required them to express personal fealty to Queen Elizabeth II, something they found “repulsive.” Ontario’s Court of Appeal ruled, however, that the oath is simply recognition of the particular structure of Canada’s democracy as a constitutional monarchy in which the “Queen is the symbolic apex.” Taking the oath is a promise to obey Canada’s laws and democratic traditions, and thus a requirement of citizenship.

Canada is an expansive and diverse country. That means there will always be cranks and grousers among us who disagree with accepted meanings and/or symbolic apexes. Fortunately for them, the obligations of citizenship in no way proscribe our freedom of expression. Any Canadian, native-born or naturalized, is free to advocate republicanism, seek to change the oath or promote the separation of the country, provided it’s done in a fair and democratic manner. Such freedom, the Ontario Court of Appeal observed in its ruling, even extends to personally disavowing the oath itself. It doesn’t get any freer than that.

In their original submission last year, Bar-Natan and his fellow complainers refused the possibility of recanting the oath, claiming “disavowal would be a public display of hypocrisy.” Given his actions this week, it seems Bar-Natan has had a change of heart. Or at least he isn’t so caught up in public displays of hypocrisy that he wants to become a citizen of another country. He’s even set up a website ( to encourage others to follow his path.

It would be easier to be annoyed with Bar-Natan’s hypocrisy if he was less effusive in his praise for his new homeland. “I’m definitely proud to be a Canadian,” he told the Canadian Press after the ceremony. “It’s a wonderful country, a truly wonderful country, with one small iota that I disagree with.” That said, Canada is not an à la carte proposition in which new citizens should be encouraged to sign up for the bits they like and ignore the rest. Anyone who finds the totality of Canadian democracy repulsive is welcome to seek comfort elsewhere. Perhaps in time Bar-Natan will come to realize the bothersome oath to Queen Elizabeth the Second that irks him is actually an essential component of Canada’s remarkable tradition of freedom, tolerance and diversity.

When Britain took control of Quebec following the 1759 Conquest, Canada’s “citizens”—the 70,000 or so habitants who suddenly found themselves British subjects—were initially required to take an anti-Catholic “Test Act” oath to vote or hold public office. Concern for the rights of his French-speaking, Catholic citizenry led Quebec governor Guy Carleton to replace this offensive religious obligation in 1774 with a uniquely Canadian compromise: a secular oath pledging allegiance instead to the Crown. This early expression of Canadian constitutionalism allowed the Canadiens to participate fully in society and guaranteed their freedom of religion.

Today’s oath is a direct descendant of Carleton’s innovation. It is a deliberate effort to mould an inclusive society out of diverse parts—and the very reason Bar-Natan can become a Canadian while at the same time expressing dissent, however sanctimoniously. We should be celebrating this remarkable history of toleration, not disavowing it.


Editorial: Don’t like the oath? Seek comfort elsewhere

  1. Pledging allegiance to a foreign monarch in order to become a Canadian citizen is anachronistic.
    A pledge to Canada, rather than a monarch, would not lose any of the ‘history of toleration’ or inclusiveness that this article mysteriously attributes to a crowned head. And it would start to bring Canada into a 21st century in which hereditary rulers (especially foreign, overseas ones) are rightly seen as curiosities of the past.

    • It is your right to contend the pledge of allegiance is anachronistic, as is your right to suggest alternatives to the way others become Canadian citizens. But such is not the law as it stands, nor is it in the Act to permit recanting the pledge of allegiance.

      The Ontario Court of Appeal may very well contend the pledge “…is simply recognition of the particular structure of Canada’s democracy as a constitutional monarchy in which the “Queen is the symbolic apex.” But that too is merely an interpretation that has no basis in fact. Yes, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that decision, but that should not be the end of it.

      It is one thing to say one will disavow the pledge, but quite another to make the pledge, get what you seek by having done so, and then to disavow that pledge. Making the pledge with no intention of standing behind it is false representation, one of the few reasons in the Act to justify revoking granted citizenship.

      Mr. Bar-Natan can be repulsed all he likes about the requirement to stand behind his pledge, but the Act does not provide him the right to recant his pledge, once made. The pledge is mandatory for certain public offices in Canada as is becoming a member of our military, like it or not. Recanting the pledge in these circumstances, once made, is not permitted, nor should it be for Mr. Bar-Natan.

      Our government has no alternative but to revoke citizenship status, and uphold the law. This will no longer be just an hypothetical situation, but one in which it is clear the applicant had no intention to stand behind the pledge of allegiance and should therefore forfeit his newfound citizenship.

      Mr. Bar-Natan has made a mockery of what it means to become a Canadian citizen, and our government must not allow his actions to effectively assume the force of law. Such is an insult to what it means to become a Canadian citizen and effectively condoning breaking the law.

      Standing idle while one disgruntled landed immigrant draws his personal line in the sand is not upholding the law, which has stood since Confederation, and has been accepted by all of those who have heretofore chosen to become Canadian citizens.

      Either pay the political price necessary to amend the Act, or uphold the law and, if it comes to that, have the Supreme Court either affirm the ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal and the act of actually making the pledge and then recanting the pledge upon being granted citizenship. Or have them rule to have the Act amended by Parliament. Of course they could also rule that Mr. Nar-Natan must stand behind his pledge if citizenship is again granted.

  2. We still have a few traditions which have stood us in good stead through the centuries. His native land Israel semiworships their leaders, condones bizarre belief systems require all young men and women to take up arms and patrol the land. He wanted to come here and teaches our young people in a plum post at a Canadian University. i don’t particularly like his face, his words, his sweatshirt and the group he has formed to change my way of life. Will propably cost the longtime taxpayers a fortune for the disgusting court case. Shuddup.

  3. Isn’t this oath sworn under penalty of perjury? Seems to me this gentleman has obtained his citizenship fraudulently. Like THAT matters in Canada. Ha!

  4. Your statement that “perhaps in time Bar-Natan will come to realize the bothersome oath to Queen Elizabeth the Second that irks him is actually an essential component of Canada’s remarkable tradition of freedom, tolerance and diversity” is a bit confusing. It would appear to confer some sort of legitimacy and/or validity to his action and gives me the impression that Mr. Bar-Natan might be allowed to retain his citizenship regardless of his recantation. I have my doubts about that.
    An oath is an oath. It is one solid statement and not an “assemble-your-own-oath” kit. It doesn’t allow the aspirant to pick and choose words in a way likeable to him. The moment, Bar-Natan recanted his Oath of Allegiance to the Queen, he has effectively recanted his allegiance to the Dominion of Canada too. In effect, he has thrown his Citizenship Certificate into the dustbin. It is only a matter of time before he receives a confirmation letter from the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration to the effect that in accordance with his wishes, his citizenship has been rescinded.
    Respect to the oath is same all over the world. Even the mildest of substitutions for minor words like “if” and “but” and “and” are not tolerated. Pronouncement has to be 100% faithful to the prescribed script. When Mr. Barack Obama took the Oath of Office for the first term, something funny happened. On the stage, Obama who was himself a lawyer, appeared to be stumbling and hesitant. Anyway, he recovered and completed the formality of repeating after the Chief Justice Mr. Roberts who administered the Oath of Office. All was well until the cat was let out of the bag the next day when the President summoned the CJ to the Oval Office and had him to re-administer the Oath of Office. You see, it was the CJ who had blundered the first time by carelessly using one or two “equivalent-but-substitutional” words in the Oath. The reason for Mr. Obama’s original hesitation was the admissibility of this variation. He had already committed the proper version to his heart and was able to detect the variation immediately. He felt that playing fast and loose with the wording of a sacred pronunciation was illegal and therefore rendered his original Oath of Office of the previous day invalid. Diplomatically, Mr. Obama avoided making a fuss over it but summoned the CJ to his Office, and took the oath a second time in the proper format and ensured that he was able to hold the presidency legally.

    • ” It is only a matter of time before he receives a confirmation letter from the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration to the effect that in accordance with his wishes, his citizenship has been rescinded.”

      Uh, no.
      What is wrong with you?

      • What’s wrong with me?…. Well, I was only trying to think straight, that’s all.

        Before stating that conclusion of mine, I have clearly explained how I reached that conclusion. Try read my statement completely and try to make some sense out of it, then pick out the portion where you might think that the arguments presented by me might be fallacious, explain it in a few sentences, and I will stand corrected. Additionally, if my claim is proven to have exceeded decency limits, I might even apologize.
        Apart from that, I am not an emotional guy, so, I do not get intimidated easily.
        You would have noticed that I was not dwelling on Mr.Bar-Natan’s personal convictions or the merits thereof. I just stated what I considered are the facts and used those facts to arrive at certain conclusions. I am not recommending a course of action one way or the other. But right now, assuming that every mathematical analysis should depend on logic as its basis, I am beginning to question this gentleman’s mathematical abilities. You see, it is not wrong to try to change the format in which an oath of allegiance is taken. But it must follow a due process. That process would be not to stand at the gate and make opportunistic proclamations. You must become a full citizen, participate fully in the Canadian life (through all means including commenting on all sorts of matters in MacLean’s and insulting others for their comments), begin a democratically oriented political agitation to change matters, amass support for it and then jump into the foray with a determination to change it. (But this one trick pony wouldn’t run very far!)
        In the matter of repudiating allegiance to H.M., the Queen, it might not as easy as severing a personal relationship with H.M., the Queen. It calls for a repudiation of the current status of the Canadian Nation itself – a Constitutional orientation (or disorientation, depending on the way you would like to have it). This is an earth-shaking affair with ramifications that might reach as far as our commitments and obligations under the British North America Act. Well. it is not going to happen, but even if it were to, what was all that energy spent for? Just to change the wording in a couple of sentences in a promise that you make in 5 minutes and then forget about it thereafter for ever? Nobody ever asked you to do a couple of hours of dishwashing at Queen’s palace because swore that allegiance. No affrontation to anybody’s personal dignity here!The allegiance is quite specific in its application within the Canadian realms. Some people can’t think of better thinks to do, so their idle minds hatch fantastic and intrinsically schemes like this.
        God save the Queen, God save Her Canadian Realms and its citizens.

        • “I have clearly explained how I reached that conclusion. ”

          That’s cute, let us know when you issue your supreme court ruling. In the meantime:

          “The court also found that all citizens have the right to espouse anti-monarchist views and new Canadians could “publicly disavow what they consider to be the message conveyed by the oath.”

          Now if we could strip the citizenship of people who write unreadable essays about news stories they either haven’t read or don’t understand, I could get behind that.

          • First of all, you need to learn to distinguish between a public disavowal of something and withdrawing an oath of allegiance. Did the Supreme Court say that it is OK not to take the oath of allegiance?
            Also kindly note that a promise to exercise my charter rights to analyze and arrive at a conclusion independently, does not automatically include a promise to replace the Supreme Court.
            The rest of your blathering wouldn’t concern me

          • I’m so sorry that you can’t understand what you read.
            Fortunately, Citizenship and Immigration Canada can:
            “So far, two others have signed on, including Ashok Charles, who recanted the oath he had made in 1997 in a notarized letter sent to the immigration minister in May 2004. In response, Citizenship and Immigration Canada assured him his status as a Canadian was legally safe.”

  5. Don’t like our oath, guess what go back to the desert and your pass time of murdering Palestinian children… Canada does not need you in our salad bowl of nations.. That goes for anyone else from anyplace else who is looking to slime there way into this country than mock our Canadian values. GO HOME, STAY HOME. Canada is better off without you, you add nothing but trash to our landscape.. GO HOME.

  6. Personally, I would rather take an oath to the “Crown”, non-political, non-partisan, than to an elected head of state and/or Government.

    • While I understand the requirement for an immigrant to utter the oath before being granted Canadian citizenship, I have never understood why a Canadian-born citizen is not compelled to utter the very same oath at some time in his formative or early adult years. We demand a lot of our new citizens, yet we have not demanded the same of our birth citizens. Why is that ? (I am an immigrant. I have made the oath at age 16. I am a citizen. I have served my country in the Forces for almost 32 years. I know the meaning of a legal oath.)

  7. “Anyone who finds the totality of Canadian democracy repulsive is welcome to seek comfort elsewhere.”

    So I presume the author would say the same to women seeking the vote in the 20s? Apparently change is impossible and anyone who thinks otherwise should go elsewhere. What a non-argument, and cloaked in thinly-veiled bigotry no less!

  8. As I was born here, I didn’t have to pledge allegiance to the monarchy but if I was asked to, I would also refuse to do such a thing.

    And honestly, this country hasn’t done any good to me. As a victim of a car accident left with disabilities, I didn’t have access to any income (not even welfare) for the last two years and a half, and I get absolutely no help or protection from the federal or Quebec provincial government or the Quebec public auto insurance which is the first instance that should have helped me. I also lost my job because I wasn’t able to return to work (also in the public sector). The only people who are supporting me are my parents and friends who are also mostly feeling threatened by our elite. Governments have done nothing for me (and I asked for help at both provincial and federal levels…).

    I don’t think having a hierarchical society like ours helps me or most of the population… Those at the top care about their own interest and about getting more from those under them and they do succeed in getting more and more from those in the middle and low or no income class.

    And what’s more elitist or hierarchical than a monarchy?

    I have to congratulate people like Dror Bar-Natan who care doing what they think is right for our country and who care pushing for some changes which require a lot of efforts considering the opposition they face from the elite and the limited personal benefits they get from those changes.

    In our mostly individualist/survivalist society, it’s nice to see that some people still fight to improve the lives of most Canadians, not only their own… I can’t blame those who barely survive as they can’t fight much for changes but too many of those who fare better are often individualist and try not to care too much about others unless they benefit from it. I consider myself as barely surviving so writing this text to support those who fight for the people is about the most I can afford to do…

    This is a small step in the right direction, but we still get to get rid of monarchy as so many other countries have done.

    I’m fine with supporting people who have great ideas and who care about the well being of everyone living in this country to become leaders as long as they keep having good ideas and let the place to others who might get more public support and better ideas.
    I just can’t agree with the concept of having people who are born with a privileged status. A privileged status should be gained by those who care more about the well being of others than by their own and lost if they change their minds about it.

    Of course, our world is also ruled by an economic oligarchy that makes our “democracy” represent only a part of the top 1% and that also has to be addressed… Hopefully, changes will also come from other people like Bernie Sanders who’s doing a really nice job waking up people in the current US presidential campaign.

    BTW, forgive me for my poor writing, I’m a French-speaking Canadian with limited English-writing skills (I can thank my provincial government for that!),

  9. The author of the article is quite willing and able to lecture new Canadians on the importance of the oath. But when francophone Canadians have something to say, he just runs away. Why is that?

  10. Canada is already a parliamentary republic in everything but name. The monarchy isn’t what distinguishes us from the United States. Perhaps the most profound distinction is how we will one day end this anachronism and fully embrace the values we laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Americans took up arms against their neighbours and the crown, whereas a future Canadian government will simply advise the monarch that we’ve outgrown the institution. We will part ways peacefully and continue to value all that we will continue to share with Britain, including membership in the Commonwealth and our parliamentary system of government.

    On that day virtually nothing will change, except that the monarch will disappear from our coins. We can even keep the Crown. The Governor General will reign by the consent of the governed, not by the so-called “grace of God.” That’s already the case. God doesn’t give the Governor General or the Queen their authority. We do. Indeed, every Canadian citizen holds a higher office than either of them: that of elector. As a Canadian elector, I select a representative who participates in identifying the will of the people. Our government tells the Queen what to do, not the other way around.

    I object to the oath primarily because it distorts our relationship to those who serve us, like the Monarch. She is not my liege lady. I owe her no obedience under our law. She is my liege servant, and no one should be born into servitude. The monarchy is a symbol reminiscent of the Confederate battle flag, of hereditary privilege, ours over the House of Windsor. Someday, our head of state will be one of us, a citizen-elector. When that happens we will have fully embraced our values as a nation, and we will no longer be seen around the world as a pathetic colonial anachronism next to the United States. We will be able to look the Americans in the eyes and say, “We had the patience to do what you did, peacefully, without breaking the law, firing a shot or driving our neighbours into exile.” That’s who we will be. Not the medieval throw-backs, but the law-abiding, patient, peaceful and neighbourly half of North America.