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Would Cutting Ties with the Monarchy Advance Reconciliation?

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


The death of Queen Elizabeth II sparked many conversations across Canada. So far this week, we have discussed calls to renounce the doctrine of discovery, the long overdue apology from the Monarchy, and different Indigenous perspectives on the Queen’s death.


Over the past several decades, a question that has been asked time and time again, is whether Canada should sever ties with the Monarchy and become a republic. This topic has come up again in the wake of the Queen’s passing. How could severing ties with the Monarchy impact Indigenous peoples in Canada? Would ending the constitutional monarchy support reconciliation?

Photo Credit: Irma Kniivila for The Walrus, https://thewalrus.ca/ask-an-expert-what-would-it-take-to-leave-the-monarchy/

In April 2022, 51 percent of Canadians polled indicated that they did not think that Canada should continue as a constitutional monarchy, up from 38 percent in April 2016. [1] Furthermore, 55 percent of Canadians were supportive of Canada maintaining ties with the monarchy while Queen Elizabeth continued to reign, but only 34 percent were supportive should King Charles take the reign. [2]


Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, suggested that growing awareness of the tragedies of colonialism may contribute to the declining popularity of the constitutional monarch system in Canada. [3] As the lasting impacts of colonisation and colonialism are felt in Canada, cutting ties may seem like a way to further reconciliation. Instead, it could cause reconciliation efforts to go backward.


There are several reasons why there could be Indigenous opposition to ending the constitutional monarchy, including uncertainty about Treaty rights, and whether an independent Canada would still be required to act in the honour of the Crown in Aboriginal legal issues.


Leaving the Commonwealth would require amending the Canadian Constitution, including a national referendum, followed by unanimous consent by the Senate, House of Commons, and the legislative assembly of each province. [4] Since treaties were signed between Indigenous nations and the Crown, First Nations could claim the right to consent to the amendment independently of the federal and provincial governments. [5]


For many Indigenous people, treaties are more than contracts- they were “spiritual agreements” both signed and affirmed through ceremony, that represented “a statement of trust that both nations could live peacefully side by side”. [6] Indigenous nations have little trust that the provincial or federal governments of Canada would negotiate treaties in a way “that would hold Indigenous nations as peers”. [7]


Indigenous relations with the Crown continue to be important, and removal cannot happen without consent of the First Nations. Doug Cuthand, member of Little Pine First Nation, doubts that consent would ever be given, based on Canada’s track record with Indigenous people. [8] If Canada were to begin seriously considering exiting the Commonwealth, Indigenous dissent could be expected.


However, the view that treaties would have to be renegotiated is problematic, because it diminishes Indigenous sovereignty in Canada. [9] Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 affirms Indigenous governments as a third governing body in Canada: an equal partner with the federal and provincial governments. [10] Regardless of whether treaties would be renegotiated, input of First Nations would be central to the discussion.


The distinction between Canada and the Crown is important in a legal context. Many Indigenous legal issues have been settled with reference to the “Honour of the Crown”. The Crown’s honour requires the courts to always assume that the sovereign intended to fulfill its promises to Indigenous people. [11] This term provides a degree of protection when a governmental or near-governmental action may infringe on Aboriginal rights. [12]


Ending the constitutional monarchy could push reconciliation efforts back. Many Indigenous peoples are invested in the relationship as it currently is. [13] Although the Monarchy does not play a role in the day-to-day life of Canadians and Indigenous people, the history of the relationship remains important to many Indigenous, First Nation, Métis, and Inuit people. The Crown can further reconciliation by fulfilling Call to Action 45, re-affirming Indigenous sovereignty, and strengthening the basis of Canada-Indigenous nation-to-nation relations.


Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG




[1] “The Queen at 96: Canadians support growing monarchy abolition movement, would pursue after Elizabeth II dies”, Angus Reid Institute, (April 21, 2022), online: <https://angusreid.org/canada-constitutional-monarchy-queen-elizabeth/>.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Majority of Canadians in favour of abolishing constitutional monarchy, new survey finds”, The Globe and Mail, (April 21, 2022), online: <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-majority-of-canadians-in-favour-of-abolishing-constitutional-monarchy/>.

[4] The Constitution Act, 1982, Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11, s 41.

[5] Seth Myers, “The future of the monarchy under King Charles III”, UCalgary News, (September 20, 2022), online: <https://www.ucalgary.ca/news/future-monarchy-under-king-charles-iii>.

[6] Leyland Cecco and Betty Ann Adam, "Canada's ties to crown are loosening but cutting them could be tall order", The Guadrian, (September 15, 2022), online: <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/15/canada-monarchy-king-queen-indigenous-constitution>.

[7] Supra.

[8] Doug Cuthand, “Cuthand: First Nations will never back abandoning the Queen, monarchy”, The Star Phoenix, (June 3, 2022), online: <https://thestarphoenix.com/opinion/columnists/cuthand-first-nations-will-never-back-abandoning-the-queen-monarchy>.

[9] Aidan Simardone, “Abolishing the monarchy would not end Canada’s treaties with Indigenous peoples”, Rabble, (March 17, 2021), online: <https://rabble.ca/indigenous/abolishing-monarchy-would-not-end-canadas-treaties-indigenous-peoples/>.

[10] Canada. Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Vol 1: Looking Forward Looking Back. (Ottawa: Canada Communication Group, 1996) at p. 12. Online: <https://data2.archives.ca/e/e448/e011188230-01.pdf>.

[11] Grassy Narrows First Nation v. Ontario (Natural Resources), 2014 SCC 48 at para 51.

[12] See:

R. v. Badger, 1996 1 SCR 771 at para 41, [1996] CarswellAlta 587. R. v. Marshall, [1999] 3 SCR 456 at para 4, 177 DLR (4th) 513. Grassy Narrows First Nation v. Ontario (Natural Resources), 2014 SCC 48 at para 50.

[13] “Barbados is severing ties with the Queen. Should Canada follow suit?”, CBC Radio, (March 7, 2021), online: <https://www.cbc.ca/radio/checkup/what-s-the-future-of-the-monarchy-in-canada-1.5938373/barbados-is-severing-ties-with-the-queen-should-canada-follow-suit-1.5940312>.



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