Controversial royal trip renews questions about monarchy’s future — including in Canada

A recent royal tour intensified a spotlight on Britain’s colonial history, renewing questions about how much longer Commonwealth countries—including Canada—will have a monarch as their head of state.

The week-long tour, which wrapped up last weekend, saw Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, visit Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas in a bid to shore up ties between Britain and those countries.

Instead, the trip drew protests and public demands for reparations for slavery, and saw unexpected news from Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness that his country intends to become fully independent.

In doing so, Jamaica would become the second Caribbean country to cut ties with Queen Elizabeth in recent years — following the lead of Barbados, which did so in 2021.

People calling for slavery reparations protest outside the entrance of the British High Commission last week during the visit of Prince William and Kate in Kingston, Jamaica. (Ricardo Makyn/AFP/Getty Images)

But more countries in the region seem to be considering the possibility.

Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, told the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper last week that he believes “each country within the Commonwealth Caribbean all aspires to become a republic.”

The question about the future of the monarchy is also on the minds of many Canadians — including those already convinced it’s time to go in a new direction.

“Jamaica and Barbados are ahead of Canada,” tweeted Kulpreet Singhreacting from Vancouver to the headline-making news out of Jamaica.

“Come on Canada. Ditch the monarchy.”

‘It can’t continue’

Selwyn Pieters, a Toronto lawyer and civil-rights activist, said he sees no reason for the monarchy to remain in Canada.

“[Canada] doesn’t need a monarchy overseeing it,” he said in a telephone interview last week.

WATCH | Royal visit sparks unhappiness in Manitoba’s Jamaican diaspora:

Royals’ visit has sparked protests in the country

The Royal Family’s visit to Jamaica this week is sparking protest in the country, and unhappiness here in Canada among members of the Jamaican diaspora in Manitoba. 2:21

A recent poll by the Vancouver-based Research Co. suggests a lot of Canadians would agree.

Slightly less than half of those surveyed said they wanted the country to have an elected head of state, according to the online poll of 1,000 adults that was taken over a three-day period in February.

Mario Canseco, the president of Research Co., said that figure — now “a whisker away from 50 per cent” — has been climbing in polls he’s conducted in recent years.

“It’s the highest we’ve ever had,” said Canseco, referring to his prior polls.

A further 18 per cent of those surveyed said they did not have a preference as to whether Canada remained a constitutional monarchy or not. Just 21 percent of those surveyed said they preferred for Canada to remain a monarchy.

CBC cannot accurately calculate a margin of error for online surveys. A probabilistic sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

A woman is seen holding up a protest sign in Nassau, Bahamas, last Friday. (Toby Melville/Getty Images)

A Canadian Heritage spokesperson told CBC News that “the Crown in Canada contributes to a sense of unity, stability, and pride among Canadians. As a constitutional monarch, the Queen is Canada’s Head of State and an essential part of Canada’s system of government.”

The spokesperson further said that “no changes to the role of the Crown in Canada are being considered.”

But Ashok Charles, the executive director of Republic Now, a group that advocates for Canada to become a republic, said he believes that day will come.

“I find it appalling that we’re holding onto the vestiges of the monarchy in the 21st century,” said Charles.

“It can’t continue.”

Pandemic may be a factor

Canseco said there have been fewer royal visits during the pandemic and he believes that’s one factor in what is being reflected in the polls.

“They always find the opportunity to say that the monarchy has been popular because there’s a lot of people lining up to shake hands with them,” he said.

“But because of COVID and the lack of travel, they haven’t been able to establish that emotional connection with the monarchy. And I think that is also partly responsible for the numbers dropping.”

There have also been fewer public appearances.

On Tuesday the Queen made her first major public appearance in five months at a memorial service for her husband, Prince Philip. She missed a Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey earlier in the month while still recovering from COVID-19.

It would have been her first in-person public engagement since her medical team advised her to rest after being hospitalized for undisclosed reasons in October.

Prince William and Kate attend an event at a Nassau primary school last Friday — the second-last day of a tour that saw the couple also visit Belize and Jamaica, before the final part of their tour in the Bahamas. (Toby Melville/Getty Images)

There are those in Canada who believe a shift away from the current system isn’t the answer.

Rob Wolvin, who lives in Toronto, said he believes a constitutional monarchy provides a stability that is one of its advantages as a system. But that’s not to say it needs to stay static.

“We need to allow our system to be tweaked,” said Wolvin, adding he believes a shift to a republic does not guarantee a stronger or better democracy.

A history not so far removed

While in Jamaica, Prince William spoke about the “profound sorrow” he felt about the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade.

The second-in-line to the throne said “slavery was abhorrent and it should never have happened,” though his remarks stopped short of an apology.

WATCH | Prince William expresses ‘profound sorrow’ for slavery, but no apology:

Prince William stops short of apology for slavery in Jamaica visit

In a speech to Jamaicans, Prince William expressed ‘profound sorrow’ for Britain’s role in the slave trade, but stopped short of offering an apology. 2:02

His words were watched closely by many people, including in Canada.

In Winnipeg, O’Neil Reece previously told CBC News he believed the royal visit to Jamaica had made people more upset.

“If there was an apology, I really think that it would definitely allow us to basically view them in a different light,” said Reece, who travels frequently to Jamaica to visit family.

“Of course, you cannot change the past but, I mean, it’s this generation that is going to be the change.”

In Toronto, Pieters said he and others were still “processing and reflecting” on what the prince had to say about the painful history of transatlantic slavery.

Singh said he viewed an apology as being “the bare minimum” of what was necessary.

“If we talk about Prince William’s ancestors, it’s not so far removed that he can simply say … this was something in our ancient history,” said Singh.

“It wasn’t — it was in the 17th and 18th centuries. And so he has benefited from the legacy of that slavery.”

‘It’s not going to be that easy’

If Canada were to pursue a split from the monarchy, it would involve changing the constitution to replace the Queen as head of state. To do that, it would have to enact section 41(a) of the Constitution Act of 1982, which requires a majority approval from “Senate and House of Commons and of the legislative assembly of each province.”

“It’s not going to be that easy, but it might be something worth exploring if we continue to see this climbing the charts,” said Canseco, who intends to keep tracking the issue in polls.

However difficult that process would be, Republic Now’s Charles said he believes it’s an “inevitable” step for Canada and he’s hopeful that the current moment can help drive the desire for change.

Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister of the Bahamas, walks with Prince William and Kate en route to a sailing race at Montagu Beach in Nassau last Friday. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

“We need to have more committed action to facilitate the change,” he said.

Singh said he doesn’t expect that kind of change to happen in the short term, in part because of the degree to which Canada is mired in its colonial traditions.

“I feel we are still behind on freeing ourselves from those shackles,” said Singh, whose ancestors from western Punjab were displaced by the British Empire.

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