Supriya Ghosh

Canadian sovereignty

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Canadian sovereignty

The sovereignty of Canada is a major cultural matter in Canada. Several issues currently define Canadian sovereignty: the Canadian monarchy, telecommunication, the autonomy of provinces, and Canada's Arctic border.


Canada is a Commonwealth realm, meaning that Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state. However, while several powers are the sovereign's alone, most of the royal constitutional and ceremonial duties in Canada are carried out by the Queen's representative, the Governor General, as such, the Governor General is sometimes referred to as the de facto head of state. In each of Canada's provinces the monarch is represented by a lieutenant-governor. The greater autonomy of each province and territory - Canadian federalism - is also important to Canadian sovereignty. Quebec has twice voted about seceding from Canada.

Under Canada's Telecommunications Act, telecommunication carriers must be nationally owned. The most recent issue affecting Canadian sovereignty has been caused by the melting of Arctic ice. As Arctic ice in Northern Canada has melted, several countries have struggled to come to an agreement on who owns certain areas in the oil-rich Arctic.

Canadian monarchy

Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, is the sovereign and head of state of Canada, and gives repository of executive power, judicial and legislative power; as expressed in the constitution: the Executive Government and Authority of and over Canada is hereby declared to continue and be vested in the Queen. However, sovereignty in Canada has never rested solely with the monarch due to the English Bill of Rights of 1689, later inherited by Canada, which established the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, the monarch is still the sovereign of Canada.

In Canada's federal system, the head of state is not a part of either the federal or provincial jurisdictions; the Queen reigns impartially over the country as a whole, meaning the sovereignty of each jurisdiction is passed on not by the Governor General or the Canadian parliament, but through the Crown itself. Canada is a constitutional monarchy. Thus, the Crown is "divided" into eleven legal jurisdictions, eleven "crowns" – one federal and ten provincial. The Fathers of Confederation viewed this system of constitutional monarchy as a bulwark against any potential fracturing of the Canadian federation.

In practice, the sovereign rarely personally exercises her executive, judicial or legislative powers; since the monarch does not normally reside in Canada, she appoints a governor general to represent her and exercise most of her powers. The person who fills this role is selected on the advice of the prime minister. "Advice" in this sense is a choice generally without options since it would be highly unconventional for the prime minister's advice to be overlooked; a convention that protects the monarchy. As long as the monarch is following the advice of her ministers, she is not held personally responsible for the decisions of the government. The governor general has no term limit, and is said to serve "at Her Majesty's pleasure"; however, the practice is for the governor general to be replaced after about five years in the party.

Just as the sovereign's choice of governor general is on the prime minister's advice, the vice-regal figure exercises the executive powers of state on the advice of the ministers of the Crown who make up the Cabinet. The term "the Crown" is used to represent the power of the monarch.

Though the sovereign or viceroy rarely intervene directly in political affairs, the real powers of the position of the monarch in the Canadian Constitution should not be downplayed. The monarch does retain all power, but it must be used with discretion, lest its use cause a constitutional crisis. Placement of power in the sovereign's hands provides a final check on executive power. If, for instance, she believed a proposed law threatened the freedom or security of her citizens, the Queen could decline Royal Assent. Furthermore, armed removal of her by parliament or government would be difficult, as the monarch remains Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, who swear an oath of allegiance to her. Constitutional scholars such as Senator Eugene Forsey have maintained that the sovereign (the Queen) and Governor General do retain their right to use the Royal Prerogative in exceptional constitutional crisis situations, though the Canadian public service has stated that such actions may lack democratic legitimacy amongst the Canadian populace coming from an unelected institution. Liberal governments, for their part, have long adhered to the view that the Governor General does not have the right to refuse dissolution from the prime minister.

Monarchy in the Canadian provinces

In the Canadian federation, the provinces are each a separate jurisdiction of the Canadian Crown, wherein a hereditary monarch is the sovereign and head of state of each province, forming the core of its Westminster style parliamentary democracy. As the institution from which the power of the state flows, the terms The Crown in Right of [Province], Her Majesty in Right of [Province], and The Queen in Right of [Province] may also be used to refer to the entire executive of the government in each jurisdiction. As the pinnacle of governance, the authority of the Crown in the province is symbolised through elements included in various government institutions' insignia, as well as their names, such as Court of Queen's Bench and Queen's Printer.


Telecommunications play an essential role in the maintenance of Canada’s identity and sovereignty.

Canadian Telecommunications Act

The Canadian Government has created a law to govern the use of telecommunications. Canada's Telecommunications Act and its policy, which received royal assent on June 23, 1993, prevails over the provisions of any special Act. Some of its objectives are :

"(a) to facilitate the orderly development throughout Canada of a telecommunications system that serves to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the social and economic fabric of Canada and its regions;... (e) to promote the use of Canadian transmission facilities for telecommunications within Canada and between Canada and points outside Canada;... (h) to respond to the economic and social requirements of users of telecommunications services; and (i) to contribute to the protection of the privacy of persons."

Canadian Broadcasting Act

Furthermore, Canada's Telecommunications Act references the Broadcasting Act which prescribes that broadcasting has an important role in Canadian sovereignty. In fact, the Canadian broadcasting system is legislated to be owned and controlled by Canadians. In this case, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), inaugurated November 2, 1936, has had the role of representing Canadians. CBC was established by the Broadcasting Act which received royal assent on June 23, 1936 (Statutes of Canada, 1 Edward VIII, Chap. 24) following "a Royal Commission that was concerned about the growing American influence in radio." Radios, television and the CBC have significantly helped reunite Canadians and build its sovereignty.

Quebec sovereignty movement

The Quebec sovereignty movement (French: Mouvement souverainiste du Québec) is a political movement aimed at attaining independent statehood (sovereignty) for the Canadian province of Quebec.

In practice, "separatism", "independence" and "sovereignty" are all used to describe the goal of having the province of Quebec leave Canada to become a country on its own, with future possibilities of various collaborations with Canada. However, sovereignty is the term most commonly employed.

The most apparent reason for separatism is Quebec having a Francophone or predominantly (80%) French-speaking (French-Canadian or Québécois) majority, as compared to the rest of Canada which consists of eight overwhelmingly (greater than 90%) English-speaking provinces and New Brunswick which is officially bilingual and about one-third French-speaking. The territory of Nunavut speaks mostly Inuktitut. The origins and evolution of the movement are actually fairly complex and extend beyond simply language issues. Some scholars may point to historical events as framing the cause for ongoing support for sovereignty in Quebec, while more contemporary pundits and political actors may point to the aftermath of more recent developments like the Meech Lake Accord or the Charlottetown Accord.

Quebec referendum, 1995

The 1995 Quebec referendum was the second referendum to ask voters in the Canadian province of Quebec whether Quebec should secede from Canada and become an independent state, through the question:

  • Do you agree that Québec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Québec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?.
  • The 1995 referendum differed from the first referendum on Quebec's sovereignty in that the 1980 question proposed to negotiate "sovereignty-association" with the Canadian government, while the 1995 question proposed "sovereignty", along with an optional partnership offer to the rest of Canada.

    The referendum took place in Quebec on October 30, 1995, and the motion to decide whether Quebec should secede from Canada was defeated by a very narrow margin of 50.58% "No" to 49.42% "Yes".

    Arctic border

    Under international law, no country currently owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it. The five surrounding Arctic states, Russia, the United States (via Alaska), Canada, Norway and Denmark (via Greenland), are limited to a 200 nautical miles (370 km; 230 mi) economic zone around their coasts.

    Upon ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country has a ten-year period to make claims to extend its 200 nautical mile zone. Due to this, Norway (ratified the convention in 1996), Russia (ratified in 1997), Canada (ratified in 2003) and Denmark (ratified in 2004) launched projects to base claims that certain Arctic sectors should belong to their territories. The United States has signed, but not yet ratified this treaty, although George W. Bush asked the United States Senate to ratify it on May 15, 2007 and on October 31, 2007, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 17-4 to send the ratification vote to the full US Senate.

    The status of the Arctic sea region is in dispute. While Canada, Denmark, Russia and Norway all regard parts of the Arctic seas as "national waters" or "internal waters", the United States and most European Union countries officially regard the whole region as international waters (see Northwest Passage).


    Canadian sovereignty Wikipedia

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