Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Divided Loyalties

The appointment of Michaelle Jean as our next governor general has unintentionally reinstated a tradition of the sort the Liberals usually disdain: having a foreign citizen hold the office.

Canadians will not only have a new governor general when Michaelle Jean moves into Rideau Hall -- they'll also have a new French governor.

That's one possible conclusion Canadians may reach after a spokesperson for Canada's future representative of the British monarchy confirmed that Ms. Jean holds dual citizenship, and is a French citizen through her marriage to filmmaker Jean-Daniel Lafond.

"I will represent the Crown in Canada and I believe in that institution -- the oldest in our history.

"From Samuel de Champlain to Michaelle Jean, we went a long way," said Ms. Jean last week when asked for her thoughts on the monarchy.

Champlain, who is considered the founder of Quebec, was Canada's first French governor. In a curious way, Ms. Jean's dual citizenship will make her the country's latest French governor when she takes up her post in September.

The Prime Minister's Office says the dual citizenship held by Ms. Jean was not an issue in her selection as governor general, pointing out she and her husband are Canadian citizens "by choice" and they brought their adopted six-year-old daughter, Marie-Eden, to Canada from Haiti to become a citizen.

Ms. Jean, who fled from Haiti to Canada in 1968 with her family, became a French citizen when she married Mr. Lafond, who holds dual citizenship, in a civil ceremony in 1990. Mr. Lafond, who left France for Canada in 1974, became a Canadian citizen in 1981.

Doesn't anyone see the incongruity of having the vice-regal representative of the British Crown in Canada holding French citizenship? The head of state, as the personal symbol of Canadian sovereignty, cannot even appear to have divided allegiance.

Suppose that Canada and France were involved in a trade dispute and Parliament passed legislation to impose punitive tariffs or ban imports of certain French goods. The government of France could use Ms. Jean's citizenship as a way to pressure her into refusing royal assent of the legislation, thus touching off a constitutional crisis.

To take a more extreme example: the governor general is commander-in-chief of Canada's armed forces. If Canada and France were at war, the symbolic head of our armed forces would be an enemy alien.

If the government of the day cared to observe at least a minimal attention to constitutional niceties, surely it could have consulted with the French government to see whether Ms. Jean could legally renounce her French citizenship before assuming office.

Perhaps such trifles do not concern Ms. Jean, who spoke of her appointment as having great meaning to all humanity. But she is not a representative of humanity, but of the Crown, and she'd better remember that.

Source: Ottawa Citizen

No comments: