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Why it would be 'virtually impossible' for Canada to drop the monarchy

Canada's Constitution makes it incredibly challenging for the country to end its ties with the monarchy.

"I think it would be very difficult," Allan Hutchinson, a legal theorist and law professor at York University, told "Any change in the arrangements around the Crown would require the unanimity of all provinces and the federal government. The chances of getting that are not good."


Canada is a constitutional monarchy, which means the British sovereign is our ceremonial head of state, represented by the Governor General. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Charles III ascended the British throne and also became King of Canada.

"It really is all about formalities," Hutchinson said. "King Charles has no power in Canada."

Countries without monarchies, like the U.S. and France, are known as republics. For Canada to sever its longstanding ties to the monarchy and become a republic, it would require agreement between the House of Commons, the Senate and all 10 provinces. Known as "amendment by unanimous consent," the rule is outlined in Section 41 of the 1982 Constitution Act, which was enacted by then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau's government. Input from the territories or a referendum is not required.

"In 1982, they needed the approval of the Brits in order to get the Constitution repatriated," Hutchinson, who has written extensively about the Constitution, explained. "I think at that time, if they had made the monarchy a kind of optional feature, that might have been a problem."

Constitutional law expert David Schneiderman believes it would be "virtually impossible" to achieve unanimous consent on the issue today.

"You would have to have an overwhelming consensus in Canadian public opinion that would warrant premiers passing resolutions in their legislatures calling for abolition of the Monarchy," Schneiderman, a professor of law and political science at the University of Toronto, told "I don't see that happening anytime soon."

Most other constitutional changes require agreement from two-thirds of the provinces, if they represent at least 50 per cent of the country's population. Previous major attempts to amend the Constitution have failed, like the Meech Lake Accord in 1987 and the Charlottetown Accord in 1992.

"We know from our own history that changing the Constitution is a bit of a fool's errand," Hutchinson said. "Once you start opening it up, people will say, 'Well, if we're going to change the Constitution, what about this? What about that?' I think it would lead us down a path that is fraught with a lot of challenges."


King Charles III now serves as head of state of 15 Commonwealth realms, which include the United Kingdom and former British colonies like Australia, Belize, Canada, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Several—particularly those in the Caribbean—are revaluating their ties.

In November 2021, Barbados became a republic and removed the Queen as head of state, the first country to do so in nearly 30 years. Its constitution simply required a decision by parliament.

Jamaica is also exploring the possibility of becoming a republic, although experts say the process will take years and require a referendum. The government of Antigua and Barbuda has meanwhile announced plans to hold a referendum on the Monarchy within the next three years, and the prime minister of the Bahamas has signalled an openness to a referendum too.

Such a referendum failed to end the Monarchy in Australia in 1999. Known for his republican leanings, Australia's prime minister recently said that a referendum is not a priority during his government's first term.


While Queen Elizabeth's death has led to an outpouring of admiration for the monarch herself, recent scandals in the House of Windsor, like Prince Andrew's relationship with disgraced financer and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and accusations of racism from Meghan Markle, have tarnished the institution's reputation for some.

For many Indigenous people in Canada and those who suffered through harsh colonial rule in republics like Kenya and Cyprus, the monarchy's legacy can also be painful and complicated.

A poll from the Angus Reid Institute in April 2022 found that 51 per cent of Canadian respondents were in favour of abolishing the monarchy in coming generations, compared with 26 per cent who were in favour of keeping it and 24 per cent were unsure. Approximately half of respondents believed the Royal Family represents outdated values and is "no longer relevant at all." The poll also found that 65 per cent of respondents opposed recognizing Charles as Canada's King and head of state.

Similar surveys from 2021 and 2020 show Canadians are increasingly questioning our ties to the British throne. According to a report from the Monarchist League of Canada, these ties cost Canada $58.7 million in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Despite the constitutional challenges, Schneiderman believes Canadians could "imagine an alternative."

"I think we should have been considering our ties to the monarchy even before the death of Queen Elizabeth," Schneiderman said. "It's a moment to reflect on who we have had as a head of state, and whether we want to continue on with a head of state that is hereditary, from a particular family that breeds leaders to serve in this role; or whether in a modern, democratic and multicultural society, we might want a head of state that's a little bit more representative of the people that the head of state serves."

Hutchinson, who grew up and studied in the U.K., agrees.

"The idea that we have some hereditary head of state is rather pitiful in 2022 in a so-called democracy," he said. "I don't know what we lose by calling the Governor General something else, and then cutting ties with the monarchy."

Peter McNally is a retired McGill University information studies professor and a self-proclaimed "palace watcher."

McNally also believes amending the Constitution would be "extremely difficult," but when it comes to the monarchy, he doesn't want to see Canada try.

"The reason Canada exists historically because of 18th century loyalty to the monarchy," he told "Today, the monarchy is the living embodiment of Canada's parliamentary tradition. It's also a bulwark against American cultural imperialism."

With files from the Associated Press



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