Transition to King Charles III as automatic head of state of Canada

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OTTAWA — As memorable as the death of Queen Elizabeth II may be after her 70 years on the throne, it is pretty much business as usual in terms of the governance of Canada.

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The monarch remains this country’s constitutional head of state regardless of who holds the position at any given time, says Philippe Lagasse, an associate professor of international affairs at Carleton University and an expert on the role of the Crown in the system of Westminster. of the government.

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Thus, the succession of the Queen to her eldest son Charles, who will be known as King Charles III, is automatic. There is no disruption of governing bodies that sit in its name or of legislation, oaths and other legal documents issued in its name.

“This transition does not require any action on the part of Canada,” says Lagasse.

“The phrase ‘The Queen is dead, long live the King!’ applies here and in the UK”

At common law, says Lagasse, the queen and the king are “the same legal person.” This is because the Crown is what is called a “one company”.

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“This means that, in their official capacity, the legal personality of the Queen (or) King does not change when different natural persons hold the office.

“It further means that all legal documents and instruments issued in the Queen’s name or mentioning the Queen will apply and be deemed to be issued by the King.”

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This includes oaths of allegiance to the monarch, which are required in a host of cases, including becoming a Member of Parliament or a member of the Canadian Armed Forces or a Canadian citizen.

“So there’s no need to re-swear or re-sign anything,” Lagasse says.

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It has not always been so.

In the past, the death of a monarch meant that parliaments sitting in his or her name in the United Kingdom and its colonies, including those that became Canada, were automatically dissolved and elections had to be held.

The ‘dissolution by death of the Crown’, as it is known, stemmed from the ‘premise that the sovereign summons a parliament in a personal capacity and therefore a parliament must die with the king or queen who summoned it. sent for,” says James Bowden, a recognized authority on these matters, in an April 2021 post on his academic blog, Parliamentum.

The practice reflected “an older medieval status of the Crown” when parliaments sat infrequently, summoned by the monarch only when necessary, says Bowden. This was obviously “inconvenient and disruptive” in more modern times, as parliaments began to sit regularly and the role of the monarch became more ceremonial.

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Dissolution by death of the Crown was abolished in the United Kingdom in 1867, and the Parliament of the newly created Confederation of Canada followed suit in its first session the same year, according to Bowden.

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Today, the Parliament of Canada Act expressly states that “Parliament cannot determine or be dissolved by the demise of the Crown and, notwithstanding the demise, continues and may meet, summon and sit, proceed and act in the same way as if this death had not occurred.

Similarly, the oaths of allegiance to the Queen were amended to include the words “and her heirs and successors”, explicitly removing the need to re-swear the new monarch after her death.

The provinces and territories have all adopted similar provisions.

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However, in their zeal to remove references to the monarch from the law governing the National Assembly in 1982, Quebec also removed a provision which specified that the legislature would not automatically dissolve upon his death.

Historians and constitutional experts have sounded the alarm that the omission could plunge the province into an election upon the Queen’s death and potentially mean that any laws passed after her death would be repealed.

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The Government of Quebec tabled a bill in March 2021 to rectify the omission.

While government business in Canada will continue undisturbed, Mr. Lagasse says there are certain formalities that will need to be followed.

For example, the Privy Council of Canada, which includes all current and former cabinet ministers, should meet when a new monarch ascends the throne. The Governor General, the representative of the Crown in Canada, must also issue a proclamation on the new monarch.

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“It is important to note, however, that this step merely affirms what has already happened in law,” Lagasse says.

There are also a number of protocols surrounding the official 10-day mourning period. It will end with a funeral service in London, which Commonwealth prime ministers and governors-general are expected to attend.

Flags are already at half mast on official government buildings, including the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, and members of the federal cabinet displayed black ribbons Thursday afternoon to commemorate the loss.

The public will be able to sign condolence books online and in person at Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence in Ottawa.

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