Citizenship oath to Queen nearly nixed 20 years ago

New citizens would be swearing an oath to
Canada rather than to the Queen had
former prime minister Jean Chretien not
gotten cold feet at the last minute, his
former citizenship minister said Friday.
As three permanent residents and the
federal government argued the issue in
court, Sergio Marchi said he had been
poised to scrap the pledge of allegiance to
the Queen two decades ago.
"I was very much of the belief that while
we're a constitutional monarchy, we
should be swearing an oath of allegiance
to Canada," Marchi told The Canadian
Press from Geneva.
"We were very close to doing this."
Under citizenship laws, would-be
Canadians must pledge to be "faithful and
bear true allegiance to Queen Elizabeth
the Second, Queen of Canada, her heirs
and successors."
Marchi, who served as citizenship and
immigration minister under Chretien from
1993 to 1995, recalled watching people's
eyes "glaze over" as they recited the oath,
often pledging allegiance to her "hairs"
instead of heirs.
More importantly, he said, changing to a
pledge of allegiance to Canada — Australia
had taken similar measures — would be a
forward step in the country's growth
begun a decade previously with the
patriation of the constitution.
Marchi took his views to the then-prime
minister.
"I believe fundamentally this oath is
outdated, but more than that, the
amending of the oath would be another
step towards Canada's full maturity and
independence," Marchi said he told
Chretien.
"He seemed to like it and buy it."
With Chretien's blessing, Marchi said he
assembled a group of writers and poets in
Vancouver who produced oaths to
Canada he described as beautiful, simple,
powerful and modern.
Marchi said he prepared a document for
a cabinet committee reflecting the
changes and believed the oath to Her
Majesty would soon become a relic of
Canadian history.
Until the phone rang.
"Do you think the timing is good?" Marchi
said Chretien was asking.
Faced with the looming Quebec
referendum that had thrown separatists
and federalists into a pitched battle that
threatened to tear the country apart,
Chretien was having serious second
thoughts.
"I'm not sure I want to take on the
separatists and the monarchists at the
same time," Marchi said Chretien told
him.
In response, Marchi said having a
Canadian oath would benefit federalist
forces in Quebec, even if many Canadians
didn't like the idea.
Besides, he said, polls showed most
Canadians favoured the change.
Still, the Liberal PM asked his minister to
"park" the measure and Marchi did,
knowing it might never resurface.
"He's the boss, so we deferred, and we
never returned to it."
Chretien could not be immediately
reached for comment.
In Ontario Superior Court Friday, three
permanent residents argued the pledge to
the Queen is discriminatory and violates
their constitutional rights.
They oppose the oath on religious or
conscientious grounds, saying they would
be happy to pledge allegiance to Canada.
The government argues the oath has been
around since Confederation and is an
important symbol of the country's
heritage.
At one point, Justice Edward Morgan
called the oath merely a symbol, and said
taking it wouldn't stop people from
dissenting after they become citizens.
"If you swear an oath to the monarch, it
doesn't stop you from speaking against
the monarch in the next moment," said
Morgan, who reserved his decision.
Conservative MP Peter Goldring was
adamant the current oath should stay.
"I'm weary of a lot of these stories of
people who come to a country seeking a
fresh start (and) a fresh life and then not
really wanting to subscribe into the type
of society that the country is," Goldring
said from Ottawa.
"If you don't agree with it, return."
Marchi said he still regrets the change was
never made.
"History and traditions need to be
respected but futures also need to be
built."