Changing the Line of Succession to the Crown

By Nicholson, Rob | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Changing the Line of Succession to the Crown


Nicholson, Rob, Canadian Parliamentary Review


On October 28, 2011, representatives of the Commonwealth countries for which Her Majesty the Queen is the sovereign head of state, including Canada, agreed to support changes to the rules on royal succession. Prime Minister Stephen Harper signalled Canada's support to end the practice of placing younger brothers before their elder sisters in the line of succession. Second, he signalled support to end the prohibition against heirs marrying Roman Catholics. In December 2012, the government of the United Kingdom introduced legislation to amend the laws governing succession along these lines. The bill has been passed by the United Kingdom House of Commons and the House of Lords. This article outlines the provisions of Canadian Bill C-53 intended to indicate Canada's agreement with the principles in the United Kingdom legislation.

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The purpose of Bill C-53 is to provide the Parliament of Canada's assent to the changes to the law governing the succession to the throne that are proposed in the United Kingdom bill. The laws governing succession are United Kingdom laws. It is wholly within the legislative authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to alter the body of United Kingdom laws relating to royal succession, including the English Bill of Rights of 1688 and the Act of Settlement of 1700.

Canada is a constitutional monarchy, and it is a fundamental rule of our constitutional law that the Queen of Canada is the Queen of the United Kingdom, or, to put it another way, whoever, at any given period is the Queen or King of the United Kingdom is, at the same time, the Queen or King of Canada. That rule is embodied in the preamble to the Constitution Act of 1867 and in the provisions of that act. The preamble states that Canada will be "united into one dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom, with a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom."

Section 9 of the Constitution Act of 1867 vests executive government and authority of and over Canada in the Queen. However, as the sovereign of the United Kingdom is also the sovereign of Canada, it is recognized as a matter of constitutional convention that the Parliament of Canada should assent to any changes to the laws of Succession to the Throne or the Royal Style and Titles of Her Majesty. This convention is set out in the preamble to the Statute of Westminster, 1931, which is a part of the Constitution of Canada, and it is repeated in the preamble to Bill C-53.

In this regard, our Canadian bill follows the precedent set by the Parliament of Canada in 1937, when, by the first Succession to the Throne Act, our Parliament assented to the alteration in the law of succession to the throne brought about by His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act, a statute of the United Kingdom Parliament, which gave legal effect to King Edward VIII's intention to abdicate the throne. …

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