Being Catholic by birth, marriage and occasional habit (a fallen Catholic, certainly, but my binge drinking is the subject of another essay), I find yet another vocational door closed. In the past I have found I was too short to be a police officer, too poor to be an international playboy, too innumerate to be an aerospace engineer, too smart to be an elected official. Now, finally, by a decree of the 1701 British Parliament enshrined in the Canadian constitution and upheld by an Ontario Superior Court judge earlier this month, I find I am too Catholic to be King.

Former Toronto alderman Tony O’Donohue, a papist of Irish descent, had been pursuing a lawsuit that sought to impose the Canadian Charter of Rights over the 300-year-old Act of Settlement, which established the rules of succession to the British throne.

Among the items he objected to was the graciously worded provision “all and every person or persons that then were, or afterwards should be reconciled to, or shall hold communion with the see or the Church of Rome, or should profess the popish religion, or marry a papist, should be excluded, and are by that Act made for ever incapable to inherit, possess or enjoy the Crown and government of this realm, and Ireland, and the dominions thereunto belonging….”

A closer reading of the act reveals that, though professors of the Church of Peter are singled out for extra-
special exclusion, many other Canadians find their regal ambitions stifled. Among those for ever incapable of inheriting, possessing and enjoying the Crown: Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Scientologists, those born out of wedlock and Canadians. In fact, by limiting succession to the Protestant heirs of Princess Sophia, Electress and Duchess Dowager of Hanover, the Act of Settlement limits the pool of job applicants significantly.

The Canadian government, in defending the act, pointed this out by arguing that since no Canadian citizens were in line to inherit the crown, the Canadian Charter of Rights was inapplicable. (The Queen, should she ever find herself subjected to unfair discrimination based on her race, creed or sexual orientation, may regret such a position — such are the obliges of the noblesse.)

Justice Paul S. Rouleau was hearing none of it. Ruling that since the British are in charge of selecting Canada’s head of state, and since overturning the act might throw the Crown’s succession into question and therefore spark a bloody and protracted battle for the throne (which might be more amusing than the current succession controversy: will Charles be able to marry Camilla?), he simply dismissed the case on the grounds that it was outside the jurisdiction of the court.

This decision would seem to limit my upward mobility, and so initially I was inclined to complain. Then I recalled that, since 1969, we have had an unwritten arrangement (common law, in constitutional parlance) guaranteeing that our Prime Minister be Catholic. Once again, I can dream of power. But what about those neither descended from Sophia nor Catholic?

Indeed, others are already beating the drums of republicanism. Tom Freda, national director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, had sought intervenor status in the case. As Freda told The Report last November, a republic would “help Canadians define themselves better as a unique nation and people without having to define ourselves as anti-American.”

Interesting that he should bring up the US, because as the nearest-at-hand example of a functioning republic, we might find in the American presidency an instructional contrast to the Canadian constitutional monarchy.

Like the Queen, the current US president is wealthy, unelected and acquired power largely through family connections.

The Queen, perhaps conscious of how many Catholics and other unworthies were unfairly discriminated against so she could wear the crown, exercises her power largely by looking smashing on our money, bestowing honours in absentia, and throwing garden parties for British debutantes.

The American president, meanwhile, has actually signed execution orders, argues publicly that schoolchildren should pray, commands an army that has recently conquered two foreign nations and is spoiling for more fights like a drunk after last call.

Perhaps the purely symbolic, slightly ridiculous, completely absent and entirely discriminatory head of state is underestimated.

So, allow me to make the sign of the cross as I say: God save the Queen.

Originally published in Eye Weekly July 10, 2003.

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