There will not be constitutional changes. That would be a complex process. The nation exists based on treaties between the Crown and hundreds of First Nations, most in place prior to the Constitution Act, 1867. In addition, the Constitution Act, 1982 introduced a constitutional amendment formula that requires a multi-layered process of parliamentary and provincial approvals. But the Trudeau initiatives will change the image of the Crown beyond the transition from monarch to monarch, mother to son, Elizabeth II to Charles III.
Buried in the massive omnibus bill introduced by the Trudeau Government to pass the federal budget, at page 328, is a provision in the new Royal Style and Titles Act, 2023 to change the title of Canada’s sovereign. Our monarch for seventy years was styled “Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.” The current monarch will be “Charles the Third, by the Grace of God King of Canada and His other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.” Deleted will be reference to the King’s responsibilities as King of the United Kingdom and Defender of the Faith.
Canada will be the only one of Charles’ realms to not recognize him as Defender of the Faith, more particularly the Christian faith.
A number of monarchists have already expressed upset over this break with tradition. As one might expect, Canadian republicans are just as upset Canada will legislatively recognize the continuation of our monarchy.
There are also Christians who have voiced upset about this action by a prime minister who has an unfortunate track record of actual or perceived anti-Christian animus, such as the imbroglio surrounding the attestation clause for 2018 Canada Summer Jobs funding and excusing as “understandable” the burning of dozens of churches following the discovery of potential graves at former residential school sites in 2021.
Some will long for a lost Christian Canada, one which I have previously noted never actually existed. Despite the preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms stating “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law” our Constitution recognizes no official state religion, Christianity or otherwise. An honest consideration of Christianity’s influence on the nation’s establishment and growth over the last century and a half plus will conclude it has had both positive and negative effect.
Whether unhappy monarchists, republicans, Christians, or members of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, it may well be prudent to be judicious in response to the actions of our prime minister, a man who often seems more party leader than national leader, transparently cultivating upset and division for the sake of political advantage; on this occasion using the stealth of burying the new royal title in a massive omnibus bill tied to a budget the NDP has committed in writing to support. Team Trudeau is almost certainly watching for overreactions to share across social media feeds.
In addition to removing reference to the King’s faith responsibilities from his title, the prime minister also commissioned the Canadian Heraldic Authority to prepare a new Coat of Arms for Canada, reportedly removing all indicia of religion, even the cross from the King’s crown as used in his official cypher. There was no consultation with or debate in Parliament.
The announcement of the new coat of arms will follow at some point after today’s coronation of Charles III, it’s not clear how long after. The coronation took place in an overtly Christian religious ceremony that acknowledges “power, including political power, comes from God”. Mr. Trudeau, along with Mrs. Trudeau, chose to attend the religious service held at Westminster Abbey.
Christopher McCreery, a historian with expertise in Canada’s relationship with the Crown, noted about the not-yet-public new coat of arms, “It means the proposed Canadian crown is totally unconnected to the King or the coronation, and it means the unity of the symbol of the Royal Crown that represents the sovereign throughout the realms will be broken.”
Is this another slight toward the Christian faith? Perhaps. More likely the prime minister sees the elimination of religious symbolism as progressive. As others have noted, progressive does not necessarily imply progress. The new history created today by Justin Trudeau is something that will be judged in the future by those who assess his legacy; like the Christian influence considered above it will be weighed in a balance of positive and negative.
Beyond prudence I make no recommendation to dissatisfied monarchists, republicans, or members of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. For Christians, however, let me offer the reminder our faith is not placed in kings, prime ministers, titles, or coats of arms. Our faith is in Jesus Christ. He is the one Mediator between human beings and God. Christ’s servant Paul implores we pray for our king and our prime minister, that we might live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity, and that they might be saved―disciples of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:1-6).
As Jesus’ dear friend and disciple Peter gave guidance, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king (1 Peter 2:16-17).” Christians in Canada, in addition to the king we are to honour the king’s prime minister, to pray for his earthly good governance and for his eternal soul.
In our democracy, Canadians have a right to speak out. As Christians, let us speak thoughtfully, being ambassadors for Christ and his gospel message (2 Corinthians 5:20). Let’s not unthinkingly give our voices to knee-jerk opinions or anger at the seeming hubris of the current government, lest our own pride be our folly.