2022 will be a year forever entangled with the British Monarchy. The Platinum Jubilee and the ongoing scandals of Prince Andrew have been overshadowed by the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8. As Canada’s sovereign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon have made official statements addressing the Queen’s passing and September 19 was declared a National Day of Mourning. Yet, these statements and acts of commemoration do not to represent the spectrum of feelings Canadians have in relation to the Royal Family.
Opinions of the British Monarchy are varied. There are still royal diehards among us, who indulge in the celebrity of the Queen and her family. Others view their lavish wealth simply immoral, as millions the Queen reigns over suffer financially. Particularly poignant is the British Monarchy as primary benefactors of the most expansive, brutal project of colonization ever undertaken. When Elizabeth took the throne in 1952, over 700 million people lived under British imperial rule. That was more than one quarter of the global population. This world domination was won using violence. Despite the justifications of civilization and raising the quality of life of peoples all over the world, the purpose of this colonization was exploitation.
The Canadian government has (at least verbally) denounced colonization and made apologies to Indigenous peoples for the pain they have suffered. Yet, none of these sentiments are reflected in the government’s statements about the Queen’s passing. Rather, they commend Elizabeth, focusing on the person rather than the crown she wore.
Recent events beg the question: can we separate the monarch from the monarchy? And if we can, should we? People who are proponents of commemorating the Queen’s passing isolate her from the broader actions of the British government and monarchy. Many articles have noted her love of family and animals, praised her for her service during the Second World War, and named her a trailblazer for women in roles of power (example).
Furthermore, Elizabeth has also been remembered as the monarch who oversaw the dismantling of the British Empire, peacefully granting 20 countries independence during her rule. She is contradictorily viewed as both colonizer and de-colonizer. But the breakdown of the British Empire was far from peaceful. Bloody wars of independence are a common feature of many ex-British Empire nations, as are histories of enslavement, oppression, and culture destruction, that the Queen and the monarchy have not formally apologized for. Many treasures and culture properties stolen during colonial rule have not been returned to their rightful owners. While Queen Elizabeth may not have personally overseen these acts of violence, she did have the ability to make amends for them. And in many cases, she did not.
Turning our attention back to Canada, I cannot help comparing today to this time last year. September 2021 was marked by the nation’s first Day for Truth and Reconciliation, following the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves at former Indian Residential Schools. The horror of colonization was made abundantly clear. Yet, this year, the conversation around Truth and Reconciliation Day is concerningly quiet. Instead, it has been made abundantly clear that Canada has not moved beyond its imperial past.
Photo by Unplash