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Arts/Culture

Canadian oath refusers take their battle to court

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An unusual court case was heard recently in Ontario dealing with citizenship and immigration. Three longtime foreign residents were fighting for the right to become Canadian citizens, but without having to swear allegiance to the British Queen.With exemptions only for people who are disabled, new Canadian citizens must swear an oath to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, queen of Canada, her heirs and successors. After that, they become citizens with the right to vote, serve on juries, get a passport, run for office and pass citizenship on to their children.

But that oath doesn't sit well with some, who feel strongly about the issue. Three of them have taken their fight to Ontario's top court. They want the oath to be struck down because they say it violates their religious and conscientious beliefs.

One of them is Michael McAteer, 80, a permanent resident who came to Canada from Ireland in 1964.
 
"To ask somebody who is a Democrat to swear an allegiance to a foreign queen, essentially, is the very antithesis of democracy, in my view," McAteer says.
 
McAteer describes himself as a staunch Republican, adding that the oath would violate his conscience. The other two are from Jamaica and Israel. They say they their religion forbids them from taking an oath to any person.

The lawyer for the three says it's not fair to ask new Canadians to make an oath they don't believe in. The judges hearing the case noted that Canada is a constitutional monarch in which freedom to express dissenting views is guaranteed.

Australia did away with the pledge to the Queen 20 years ago, but this fight could be a long one. The Canadian government has already made it clear than if loses the case in Ontario, it will go to the Supreme court of Canada.