Friday, July 1, 2011

Up North, It's Dominion Day ... No, Wait . . . Canada Day ! So, in Case You Ever Wondered About the BNA Act...

Big weekend, this.  

All around here, it’s big doings in the works for the Fourth of July, the annual Independence Day celebration.  Parades, fireworks, flags, barbecues, and more parades. 

A couple of hundred miles north, it’s also Dominion Day.

Oh, wait…since 1987, they’ve been calling it “Canada Day”, or in Quebec, La Belle Province, “Fête du Canada.” Break out the tourtières and plates of poutine!

(Note: for me, it’s still “Dominion Day”, since that’s what it was when I was at university so many years ago…I’m kind of a traditionalist about these things.)

Everybody down here in these parts knows what the Fourth of July is all about, but Dominion Day (Canada Day) is something unto itself.

Canada, as you may have figured out, is not like the United States; it is a constitutional monarchy.  That’s right; it’s a real hereditary monarchy.  That means Canada has a real, live, medieval-type monarch, with all the attendant pomp and circumstance, as the head of state (but not as the head of the government – that’s the job of the Prime Minister.)  

This separate “hereditary head of state” thing is hard for some U.S. citizens to wrap their heads around, because in the U.S., the “head of state” and “the head of government” are one in the same person.  You get elected President – bingo, you’re the head of the government AND the head of state.

The fact that Canada is a monarchy also means that, if you become a Canadian citizen, you will swear allegiance (first) to the monarch and his/her descendants in perpetuity.   

The Oath goes like this:

I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to [Monarch’s name here], [King/Queen] of Canada, [His/Her] Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.

Note that the oath of allegiance places loyalty to the monarch before allegiance to the government (i.e. “the laws of Canada” and “duties as a Canadian citizen.”) That’s all part of the “state before government” idea.  

Imagine for a moment if new citizens in the United States swore allegiance to the President before swearing to uphold the laws of the country: I solemnly swear that I will bear faithful and true allegiance to President Franklin Pierce and his successors…

These days, the monarch (i.e., Queen of Canada) is a pleasant elderly lady who just turned 90 and is professionally known as Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her Other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, and whose somewhat-out-of-date picture is also on all the Canadian currency. 

This week, her grandson William and his somewhat new bride Kate (AKA The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge)  are touring his Grandma’s territory.  In case he needs to travel incognito, William Wales, as he is known to his military colleagues, is also the Earl of Strathearn and the Baron Carrickfergus. 

In all likelihood, at some point in time, this Canada place will be Will’s Dominion, and he will be King of Canada, regnant as “William V” (unless, of course, something untoward takes place.)

Meanwhile, the folks in Canada are unveiling his own personal flag this week, to be flown wherever he happens to be. You can see it here, on the Prime Minister’s webpage.  

It was designed by the Canadian Heraldic Authority and was, of course, approved by Her Majesty and Prince William.  You can’t just go around passing any old thing off as a Royal Standard.  Standards must have standards.

Some more about that monarchy thing - The fact that Canada is a monarchy becomes readily apparent if you break the law.  In the United States, if your transgression of New York State law is serious enough to go to trial, you will be prosecuted by a “district attorney” and your case will likely be referred to in case law as “The People of the State of New York versus [insert your name here].   

That’s the whole “popular sovereignty” bit – We The People and all that.

In Canada, for all time, your case will be referenced simply as “The Crown versus [your name here]” and your legal representative will be going toe to toe with a “Crown” prosecutor, a person who may well have the initials “Q.C.” (Queen’s Counsel) after his or her name.

Moral: when in Canada, don’t tick off the Queen.  It’s her country and she’ll get ya for that.

Canada became a “dominion” within the British Empire in 1867 with the passage of the “British North America Act”, usually called the BNA Act.  Prior to that, Canada was a concept and some colonies but not a nation.  There were individual colonies known collectively as the “Province of Canada”, made up of Canada East and Canada West, plus the maritime colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  The British North America Act turned those colonies into a single entity known as the “Dominion of Canada”, hence the celebration today of “Dominion Day”, or “Canada Day” for all you kids out there.

In 1871, another Parliamentary act added Manitoba, Rupert’s Land and the Northwest Territories to the Dominion.  Prince Edward Island, after flirting with the idea of becoming part of the United States, finally joined the Dominion of Canada in 1873.  Newfoundland, the tenth and last Canadian province, did not actually become “Canadian” until 1949, when the Crown Colony joined the rest of the Dominion to make the “Canada” that we know today.

So, when you celebrate the U.S.- style Fourth of July holiday this weekend, give a thought for your neighbors to the north and wish ‘em a Happy Canada Day.  

Of course, lots of folks in “the States” (as our Canadian friends call this part of the world) think that Canada is kind of like the United States, but colder, with somewhat better manners, generally better beer, Tim Horton’s coffee and a penchant for saying “oot and aboot.”
Canada is, of course, so much more than that. They are our cousins and neighbours and as they say in their National Anthem, “the True North, strong and free.”

Oh, and one more thing.  Canadians sometimes take a little tiny bit of offense (in a very polite, non-threatening Canadian way, of course) when folks in the United States call themselves “Americans”, as though they had some kind of exclusive trademarked lock on the name.  Our Canadians friends will politely suggest that, if you do this, you may want to look at a map first and note that they too are “Americans” – this being a large continent - , just not part of the nation that is known as “The United States of America.”

Of course, they’re mostly okay with the cousins below the 49th parallel calling themselves “Uh-mur-kins.”  

That’s a whole different kettle of cod, eh?

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