Barbados just got rid of the Queen – should Canada follow suit? – .

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Barbados just got rid of the Queen – should Canada follow suit? – .


When then Barbados Governor General Sandra Mason said a few words on a low stage in National Heroes’ Square in the early morning hours of November 30, she did more than change the country.
When she was sworn in as President, she was no longer a representative of Queen Elizabeth, but herself the Head of State. It turned Barbados from a constitutional monarchy to a republic – and reopened an old debate.

Barbados is the first country to remove the Queen from sovereignty since Mauritius did the same 30 years ago. Today, Canada is one of the last 15 countries – out of 32 in total since Elizabeth began her reign – to continue to hold her in their highest office.

And as Mason uttered the few words committing to his new role and putting a native-born person at the head of state for the first time, it raised a relevant question: if Barbados can do it, why not. Canada ?

Dancers celebrate the Barbados Independence Day ceremony on November 30 in National Heroes’ Square. Soon after, the country became a republic when Governor General Sandra Mason was sworn in as president. (Jackson Weaver/CBC)

Barbados’ transition from a constitutional monarchy to a republic was aided by a landslide electoral victory in 2018. Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s Barbados Labor Party won all 30 seats in Parliament – paving the way for a vote, for which Mottley only needed two-thirds. majority in both Houses of Parliament.

And while some citizens were upset that there had not been a public vote on the issue, they were able to implement the change in just over a year.

Philippe Lagassé, constitutional expert and associate professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, explained that it would be much more difficult to do the same in Canada. For the country to amend the Constitution and replace the Queen as head of state, it would need to enact Section 41 (a) of the Constitution Act, 1982. This law requires the majority approval of the “Senate and of the House of Commons and of the legislative branch. the assembly of each province ”- meaning that the ten provinces would have to agree (but not the territories).

And while a referendum is not legally required, he said it was incredibly unlikely that any – let alone all – would go ahead without one.

The Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, delivers a speech at Golden Square Freedom Park in Bridgetown, Barbados. Mottley’s government won all 30 parliamentary seats in the country’s last election. (Jackson Weaver/CBC)

Even then, this is far from the only obstacle. First, since the ruling party in Canada falls far short of the majority Mottley enjoyed, it would be next to impossible to change Canada’s system of government, even if a vote were passed.

“As we have seen when it comes to efforts to amend the Constitution in the past,” Lagassé said, “individual members have mechanisms at their disposal to delay or potentially derail that effort, even if a majority of members might be in favor. »

But even getting to that point would prove unlikely. While a recent Angus Reid Institute poll found that 52 percent of Canadians said the country should not remain a constitutional monarchy indefinitely, Canada continues to enjoy a unique relationship with the Crown.

Carolyn Harris, Toronto historian and author specializing in the history of the monarchy, explained that Canada is the country that has received the most royal visits of any of the Commonwealth realms – the Queen has visited Canada more than any other countries outside the UK.

And while many Canadians do not wish the monarchy to last indefinitely, there is still a favorable opinion of Queen Elizabeth herself.

There have been fewer visits lately as Elizabeth, who is 95, has seen her health decline – but after “increasing and decreasing interest” between the 1960s and 1990s, Harris said interest for the queen and the monarchy in general had in fact increased after her visit. for his Golden Jubilee in 2002, then celebrated Canada Day on Parliament Hill in 2010.

British Prince Charles, heir to the throne, receives the Barbados Freedom Prize from President Sandra Mason in a ceremony marking the country’s transformation into a republic on November 30, 2021. (Jackson Weaver/CBC)

Canadians’ interest and loyalty to the royal family could fade when her son, Prince Charles, ascends to the throne after his death, she said, but even then it is unlikely that it triggers an overhaul of our system of government. Instead, if there was a strong Republican sentiment in the country – which Harris or Lagassé say does not exist – there would likely be fewer royal visits and a less important role for the monarchy to play, instead a referral.

“There are so many other issues that matter to Canadians right now, that it seems unlikely that the future of the monarchy will be at the center of a politician’s campaign platform,” said Harris.

Another complicating factor, noted Harris, is the status of the various treaties the Crown has made with Indigenous peoples.

A dancer performs at Golden Square Freedom Park in Barbados during a ceremony honoring the country’s “national heroes” on November 30. (Jackson Weaver/CBC)

But Gordon Christie, an expert in Indigenous law at the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said the fear is overblown.

As early as 1701, the British Crown entered into treaties with Indigenous groups in what is now Canada, intended to define the respective rights of people of European descent and Indigenous peoples to land.

Although many of these treaties were signed before Canada became a country, the British Crown’s positioning as “responsible” for Canada is so symbolic that it actually makes no sense, said Christie. . If Canada were to become a republic tomorrow, he said, these treaties would likely be honored in the same way as before – when one government supplants another, it inherits the treaties and agreements made by its predecessor.

What should happen if Canada becomes a republic, Christie said, is to consult with Indigenous peoples to ensure the government respects treaties as they are drafted – something Canadian courts have found that Canada had not done repeatedly.

“The courts have said that treaties are very important documents, but the government itself has tried to play down its treaty obligations,” Christie said. “What we want to do if we step into the shoes of the British Crown is now to seize the opportunity to come back to the Treaties and implement them appropriately. “

But what is probably the most preventing Canada from becoming a republic is apathy. Mia Mottley succeeded in turning Barbados into a republic by avoiding a referendum, despite her party passing a bill in 2005 stating that a referendum would take place – and Mottley herself said she was was committed to giving “Barbadians the opportunity to make this judgment individually, as we have promised.” “

It was probably a wise decision. Of the three most recent referendums on whether to retain a monarchical system, in Australia, Tuvalu and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, all have seen a majority vote to keep their current system.

Barbados President Sandra Mason, center, with Prime Minister Mia Mottley, far left, and singer Rihanna, far right, at a ceremony at Golden Square Freedom Park in Bridgetown, on November 30. Mason was sworn in as president earlier today, making the country’s transition to a republic. (Jackson Weaver/CBC)

And while many Canadians do not want their constitutional monarchy to last indefinitely, few are motivated to see it change in the short term.

Dion and Vimla Beg, a Canadian couple living in Barbados, fall into this camp. While both have spent a great deal of time in Australia and Canada, neither have a strong take on the monarchy – nor have they generated much interest from their peers. peers.

For both, their parents and grandparents felt a strong bond with the monarchy. And even if they don’t feel the same connection, changing things for Canada is not worth it.

Dion Beg, left, sits next to his wife, Vimla, and their children at their home in Barbados. Dion and Vimla both said that – while the monarchy is not important to them – getting rid of it in Canada is more effort than value. (Jackson Weaver/CBC)

While the Barbados change was rooted in a repudiation of slavery that England has imposed on the island for centuries, Canada’s change would look more like a routine update – and it really isn’t worth it. effort required.

“It’s not something that is necessarily important. It’s just something that’s there, ”Vimla said.

“I just don’t understand the importance of these figureheads… from the point of view of English taxpayers,” Dion continued. ” [But] I think there are bigger issues to be solved, right? “

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