Let Your Yea be Yea: The Citizenship Oath, the Charter, and the Conscientious Objector

Bryce Edwards

ABSTRACT

This article argues that the current Canadian citizenship oath, which contains an oath of allegiance to the Queen, is constitutionally infirm. Specifically, the article argues that the citizenship oath violates subsection 2(a), subsection 2(b), and section 15 of the Charter. It violates freedom of conscience and religion, if not in purpose, then in effect, because those who object to taking the oath for conscientious reasons are forced to choose between citizenship or being true to their conscience. The oath requirement violates freedom of expression by limiting the range of available options. It constitutes discrimination under section 15 because it is based in part on prejudice against outsiders and implies disloyalty. The article then argues that none of these Charter right violations are justified under section 1. Canada's citizenship policy aims to enhance the meaning of citizenship as a unifying bond for Canadians and to encourage and facilitate naturalization by permanent residents. The oath is not rationally connected to these objectives. It has the effect of excluding a sub-set of people from Canadian citizenship. The oath is, in the context of the entire citizenship application, superfluous, and the present wording is only tenuously connected with its aims. The oath is not minimally impairing. It could be made optional, or replaced with a less burdensome process. If the oath were optional, the state would be treating potential citizens, at the end of the citizenship process, equally to how it treats citizens: with respect for their personal views. The principles served would then be personal choice and liberty--values that are clearly central and unifying in Canadian life.

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Citation: (2002) 60(2) U.T. Fac. L. Rev. 39.
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