By TOM GODFREY
An appeal to strike down a portion of the Citizenship Oath in a legal challenge that was launched by the late Charles Roach more than two decades ago is being taken forward by three Toronto residents.
The action was heard by three judges of a Court of Appeal for Ontario last Tuesday. It was initiated by appellants Michael McAteer, Simone Topey and Dror Bar-Natan, who questioned the constitutional validity of the Oath or Affirmation of Citizenship.
The Citizenship Act requires applicants for citizenship to swear or affirm that they will bear true allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second and her Heirs and Successors.
A number of supporters packed the Queen St. W. court as the act was challenged.
Lead counsel Peter Rosenthal said the court will issue a written decision at a later date.
“This is the continuation of the Charles Roach case with other applicants,” Rosenthal told Share. “Charles Roach really wanted to become a citizen of Canada but his conscience would not allow him to take an oath to a person that symbolized inequality.”
He is hoping the case will vindicate Roach’s “extraordinary efforts to promote equal dignity of all human beings”.
The former lawyer and civil rights activist spent his own money and decades trying to remove reference of the Queen in the Oath.
In 1992, he launched an unsuccessful Charter challenge of the Oath in the Federal Court of Canada.
Roach started a similar case in Ontario’s Superior Court in 2007. The Attorney General of Canada argued the case should not be heard because of the earlier dismissal by the Federal Court.
However, it was ruled that, as a result of changes in the Charter of Rights jurisprudence in the past 20 years, the case could go ahead.
The father and poet died in 2012, and the case is proceeding with McAteer, a retired Toronto Star journalist; Topey, who belongs to the Black Action Defense Committee and Bar-Natan, a Math Professor at the University of Toronto.
The permanent residents of Canada claim they cannot take the Oath due to reasons of “conscience or religion” and are arguing that the Oath requirement violates their rights under the Charter.
Bar-Natan, in an affidavit, said the “monarchy is a symbol of inequality”.
“Some people are born with privilege they cannot ever lose,” he said. “That privilege is stamped on them; it stays forever.”
Bar-Natan called the Oath a relic of times bygone where “peasants were peasants and slaves were slaves, indefinitely”.
“To me the Royals and their heirs are born with privilege,” he said in the document. “They belonged to aristocracy which is a closed club.”
McAteer objected to the Oath because his father fought in the Irish civil war for independence from Britain.
“Taking an oath of allegiance to a hereditary monarch who lives abroad would violate my conscience,” he once told court.
Topey, who was born in Jamaica, claimed she cannot pledge an Oath to the Queen on religious grounds as she is a Rastafarian.
“I have slave (ancestors) and slavery was headed by the British monarch,” she said last year, adding the allegiance to the Queen is a violation of her rights.