On Sunday and Monday, much of the world watched as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex gave a tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey. The media are scrambling to keep up with fact-checking and responses as more clips are shared afterwards. Emotions are running high, and people on all sides of this are shouting their thoughts from the rooftops.
However, I would argue that the American perspective is largely irrelevant in this debate – they do not fund the British Royal Family or have any formal connections with them whatsoever. What does matter however is the British reaction and the reactions of the Commonwealth nations. And as a Commonwealth nation, Canada has a complex history with the British Royal Family and the Crown.
Even looking at the last two years, the Crown has had a somewhat rocky road in Canada. In January 2021, the Governor-General of Canada – The Queen’s official representative – Julie Payette, resigned amidst claims of bullying and harassing behaviour at Rideau Hall. The discussion of whether or not Canada should even select another Governor-General has been raised multiple times.
People in Canada will often argue for keeping the monarchy because it would be too difficult to remove it. It can be done, though. The Crown is embedded in our current political structure. In Canada, you are prosecuted by the Crown. The Governor-General must sign off on a bill before it becomes law. And not only do we have a Governor-General, but we also have Lieutenant Governors-General in each province. I don’t believe that Canada couldn’t remove the monarchy entirely, but I do think that the proper consultation with provinces, territories, and Indigenous groups needs to happen before that is seriously discussed and/or mapped out.
The Sussexes themselves and the Canadian government came under fire in March 2020 over the issue of the Canadian government covering security costs for the Duke and Duchess while living here. And given that that aspect wasn’t addressed in the interview, I will address it here.
Unless a member(s) of the British Royal Family are here on official working business (i.e. a tour or diplomatic mission), the Canadian taxpayer should not be responsible for covering their security and associated costs. Canada is still only coming to terms with its colonial past, and I can only imagine where that money could have gone in terms of education and support for programmes here. No matter what the reason for the Sussexes’ time in Canada was, it wasn’t official business. And you will notice that the US public, who is up in arms about everything discussed in the interview, hasn’t offered to cover those security bills now that they call California home.
The Sussexes’ situation with the British Royal Family should not play a role in Canada’s relationship with the Crown. I believe that each Commonwealth nation examines its relationship with the Crown and with the Commonwealth very seriously, which is why we see different countries leaving and joining. I would sincerely hope that the Canadian government is constantly examining that relationship and if it is the best choice for Canada, as they do with any other political alliance.
Canada’s relationship with the British Royal Family is incredibly complex, given all of the different groups in Canada. The relationship between Canadian Indigenous peoples, for example, and the Crown is by no means cut and dry. Colonial forces committed horrific atrocities against Indigenous peoples across Canada for generations, but for many Indigenous groups, there is still a reverence for the Crown because their Indigenous treaties were signed with the Crown and not the government. At a time when Canadians are finally beginning to educate themselves on Indigenous history and the treaties that have long governed Indigenous peoples’ status and standing, we cannot ignore Indigenous perspectives.
The interview contains several serious allegations, both against named and unnamed individuals and “the Firm”/ “the institution”. Those allegations should not be taken lightly and should be investigated thoroughly. However, I believe that it is crucial that there are fact-checking and formal investigations and not merely a public court of opinion. The media and the public are now playing the game of “who is the racist?”, which until further information is given, they are all assumed to be. Some people will say that is a fair turn-around with the history and position of the Royal Family, but that is a dangerous game to play and doesn’t seem to lead to any change whatsoever.
There are still generally positive feelings towards The Queen. Given that most living Canadians have only known Elizabeth II as our head of state, it seems difficult to wrap our head around not having her. Many Canadians recognise that Canada’s relationship with the Crown is complex and unique, but whenever members of the Royal Family visit, energetic crowds are always ready to welcome them. On Sunday, 7 March, the Commonwealth Service highlighted all of the good work being done across the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth only provides more opportunities for Canadians.
Canada has a long, long road to walk in grappling with our imperial past, but this interview should not be the driving factor. We need to think long and hard about our relationship with the Crown, but it should be based on our current relationship with the Crown and where we see Canada’s future.