Toronto Star Public Editor: The facts on the de facto head of state
Quick Victoria Day quiz: Who is Canada’s head of state? You are not alone if you don’t know.
By Kathy English for the Toronto Star
On this first Canadian “summer” holiday weekend, when we honour of the birthday of Queen Victoria and recognize the birth date of our current Queen, can we please make one fact constitutionally clear?
The Queen is Canada’s official head of state.
You can be spared a royal lashing if you are constitutionally confused and believe the governor general is Canada’s head of state. In recent years, this is one of the most common errors in the Star. In the past three years alone, the Star has stated as fact three times that the GG is our head of state, each time sparking reader complaints resulting in corrections stating that the Queen is head of state and the GG is the Queen’s representative in Canada.
But, all of the journalists who were apparently confused here should also be let off easy. After all, in 2009, then-governor general Michaëlle Jean sparked controversy when she referred to herself twice as Canada’s head of state in a speech before the United Nations cultural agency in Paris.
At that time, Jean’s spokesman told media, “As the representative of the Crown in Canada, the Governor General carries out the duties of the head of state and therefore is de facto head of state…But the Governor General knows very well that the head of the state is the Queen.”
A quick and simplistic civics lesson ahead of your “May two-four” celebrations: Canada is a constitutional monarchy, where the duties of head of state and head of government (the prime minister) are separate and distinct. According to the 1867 British North America Act creating Canada, the monarch is Canada’s head of state and the GG is the monarch’s representative in Canada.
In 1947 King George VI issued “letters patent” that delegated the sovereign’s duties in Canada to the GG. While some constitutional experts believe that provides leeway for our GG to be referred to as head of state, the sovereign remains our official head of state.
Continue reading this story on the Toronto Star website, where it was first published.