Queen of Canada
by Claudia Willetts
Canada is a shared monarchy with the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries, and so some common rules have come into being with respect to the royal style and titles of the Sovereign. The preamble of the Statute of Westminster in 1931 affirmed that “any alteration in the law touching the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the assent as well of the Parliaments of all the Dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom”, as recorded in JR Mallory’s The Structure of Canadian Government (1971). The most significant occasion marked by a change to the Royal Style and Titles was the Coronation of the Queen in 1953. The prime ministers of the Commonwealth gathered in December 1952, and discussed altering the style and titles prior to the Coronation to reflect India and Ireland’s having become republics, as well as the desire of the Dominions to be included by name.
The Queen’s Style and Titles for Canada became “Elizabeth II, 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”. An act providing the assent of the Parliament of Canada to the Queen’s issuing a proclamation to that effect was enacted on 11th February 1953, and the new Royal Style and Titles was proclaimed by Her Majesty on 28th May 1953. This allowed the Queen to exercise her royal prerogative in respect of her style and titles, while first allowing her Canadian Parliament to speak on the question.
The Canadian Prime Minister, Mr Louis St Laurent, speaking to the House of Commons, as recorded in Canada at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (1953), said of this occasion, “there was a general desire to have the Royal Style and Title accord with the constitutional position of the various members of the Commonwealth, and to have it as uniform as possible. It seems to me that it is in accord with the historical development of our constitutional relations. Her Majesty is now the Queen of Canada. It is the recognition of the traditional development of our institutions that our Parliament is headed by the Sovereign, and that it is the Sovereign who is recognized as the Sovereign of the United Kingdom who is our Sovereign.”
Arthur Bousfield and Garry Toffoli related in Fifty Years the Queen (2002), that two future Prime Ministers spoke on the bill to assent to the change of the Queen’s Royal Style and Titles. Lester Pearson pointed out that an earlier Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier had tried to have “King of Canada” put into the royal title at the time of the Coronation of King Edward VII. Mr Pearson continued by supporting the title “Queen of Canada” for Elizabeth II. Speaking for the opposition, John Diefenbaker traced the development of royal titles from the reign of King Egbert early in the ninth century, who called himself “King of the English”. This became “Queen of Great Britain” under Queen Anne, and “of the British Dominions beyond the Seas” was added to the titles for King Edward VII. This addition was continued for King George V, King Edward VIII, and King George VI. Mr Diefenbaker then suggested that the “mystical influence of the Crown” bound together the various races and religions of the Commonwealth in all parts of the world.
JW Pickersgill writes in My Years with Louis St Laurent (1975), that the best evidence that Mr St Laurent had succeeded in his effort to make the new Royal Style and Titles, with its recognition of Canada’s national status and equality with Britain acceptable, was the concurrence of John Diefenbaker, and the singing of “God Save the Queen” by the unified House of Commons on the passing of the proposed act.
In his speeches, former Governor-General Vincent Massey spoke on the subjects of the Queen of Canada and the shared monarchy, as recorded in Confederation on the March (1965). He said in 1961,”Great Britain is separated from us by an ocean. The Crown is not separated from us at all, because the Crown belongs to us, as it does to the people of England, or Australia, or Nigeria.” In another speech, Mr Massey reminded his audience that the Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden had pointed out earlier, “The compact which the King makes with his people when he ascends the Throne is a compact which he makes with us, as well as with the people of the mother country.” Mr Massey commented further that the doctrine of the divisibility of the Crown is the type of mental gymnastic that delights only constitutional lawyers. All that matters to us is that the Queen is, in fact, the Queen of Canada.