Roach v. The Queen

A Toronto lawyer is pursuing legal action against the requirement that new Canadian citizens swear an oath to the country’s formal Head of State:

Charles Roach estimates he has at least a year and a half left to live before brain cancer kills him.

The Toronto lawyer and activist has spent nearly 50 years in courtrooms, trying to win mostly human rights cases.

He wants one more victory before he takes his last breath.

Roach, who moved to Canada in 1955 from Trinidad and Tobago, wants to become a Canadian citizen. In the 1970s, he fulfilled the requirements to do just that.

But one thing got in the way of receiving his citizenship certificate.

He refuses to pledge allegiance to the Queen, something he has to do in an oath all citizenship candidates older than 14 must take to become Canadian.

“In my belief, the Queen represents or is the most important representation of inequality and racism. I cannot take an oath to a symbol of racism,” said Roach, referring to England’s colonial past. He believes that anybody, regardless of their family lineage, should be able to serve as head of state.


On June 18, the Ontario Superior Court gave Roach and three others the green light to continue to argue that the oath to the Queen is unconstitutional.

The four plaintiffs, half who aren’t Canadian and half who say they took the citizenship oath “under duress,” must each file individual applications to the court by Sept. 21.

The decision was a victory for the Roach camp, who hope to argue the case in the next six to eight months.

Anyone else think this is kind of like moving next to an airport, and then suing to shut it down because of all the noise from the planes?

Update: Dan Gardner on Canada’s historical ties to the monarchy, and whether we’re really prepared to throw it away:

There was a period, after the Second World War, when “new” meant plastic, Formica and all things shiny and wonderful. “Old” was simply in the way. The result was a wave of destruction as old buildings were reduced to rubble and replaced without the slightest consideration for what would be lost. We have regretted that mania ever since.

Today, it’s hard to imagine that mentality, at least in our built environment. We protect heritage architecture. We know that age has inherent value.

Anyone can see that by taking a careful look at the Stanley Cup. Donated by an English nobleman to the winner of the “Dominion Hockey Challenge,” everything about it is archaic, right down to its curlicue decorations, but its very visible age doesn’t diminish its value. It is its value. Its age makes it a symbol of continuity, stitching together decades and generations. It is the history of hockey in one object.

Of course age alone does not place venerable things or institutions beyond all other considerations. Old trees are still cut, old buildings torn down. Change continues, as it must, always. The Stanley Cup has been reshaped and altered countless times. The monarchy itself is the product of a thousand years of constant revision.

But today we only make these changes after careful consideration of what would be gained and lost — with history weighing heavily on the latter side of the scales. That’s what’s missing in glib calls to junk Canada’s monarchy. There’s no appreciation that the monarchy is this nation’s oldest institution, no weight given to history, no respect for age.

2 thoughts on “Roach v. The Queen

  1. Bruce says:

    The spirit of 1837 lives on! (While we’re at it, how about a do-over on the Newfoundland Referendums of 1948?)

  2. Sasha says:

    Your headline definitely hooked me and I’m glad it did!

    ““In my belief, the Queen represents or is the most important representation of inequality and racism. I cannot take an oath to a symbol of racism.””

    Considering that Canada is supposedly a democratic country, I don’t see why anyone wanting to be Canadian should have to bow at the alter of the quintessential symbol of monarchy.

    I think the fact that Trinidad’s history is largely a story of British colonialism definitely has something to do with Roach’s bold decision.

    Thanks for posting about this.

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