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July 21, 2009


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I actually think that the "Dominion" is a fairly good name, though perhaps not entirely accurate. Perhaps "Federation."

Do you have any idea how much tumult that would create in Canadian politics? Picking a new flag was bad enough ...

Since I'm an American, my opinion doesn't and shouldn't count ... but I have to say that both the Red Ensign and the term "Dominion" were totally cool, worthy symbols of a country whose Governor-General eats the raw hearts of freshly-killed seals.

I'm with Peter. It's really disappointing that y'all decided to give 'em both up. I mean, I understand why and all, but still.

Serious question: was the Quebec issue the reason Canada decided to create its own citizenship in 1946? It turns out that the decision had huge repercussions in Britain, and could very well be the moment when the British Commonwealth's path to becoming a big nothing became irreversible. But while the British reaction to the decision is amply documented, I can't seem to find a decent explanation of the Canadian politics behind the decision. Help?

As far as I know, a Canadian nationality under the Empire was created in 1922 in order to allow Canada to participate in the League of Nations as an independent actor, and 1946's law was motivated by a desire to establish Canada's nationhood, perhaps also to rationalize citizenship laws. Québec wasn't an issue in either case. I think.

Do you have sources on the 1922 act?

I still don't understand "a desire to establish Canada's nationhood." That sort of seems to beg the question: the Canadian government established a separate citizen status because it wanted to establish a separate citizen status? It wasn't like there was any doubt that a state could have Westphalian sovereignty without a separate citizenship --- in fact, Canada created quite a bit of tumult by inventing that idea in '46.

Something else was going on, but it isn't easy to find in a quick internet perusal of the literature.

Say, Randy, why was "Dominion" dropped? Sure, it sounds fusty now, but did it sound fusty when it disappeared?

Canada could always follow San Marino's lead and call itself The Most Serene Republic of Canada.

Wikipedia is it; it didn't come up much.

As I understand it, the 1922 act was a byproduct of Canada's entry onto the world stage as an autonomous entity. Before the First World War, the idea of creating a Canadian navy was controversial, while Canada was willing to let Britain handle its foreign affairs, as in the Alaska Boundary Dispute. Before the creation of a formal ministry, Canada's international diplomatic representation was informal, limited to sending delegating. Interestingly, Canada was beaten by Quebec, which sent a delegate to Paris in 1882.

Wikipedia has a good overview


After the First World War, the Canadian government insisted on having a seat at the table in Versailles, necessitating the emergence of a distinct Canadian nationality. The standard school histories then emphasize the professionalization and formalization of Canadian identity, the dispatch of embassies abroad and the tightrope of affirming a Canadian identity in the Commonwealth. At the end of the Second World War, well, I can only assume that the Canadian experience after the First World War was repeated.

(Does this make any sense?)

As for Dominion, there wasn't any decision against the name. It just slipped out of use over the 1960s, perhaps as a reaction to fustiness, perhaps to please Quebec, perhaps because it didn't seem to fit Canada's brave new nationhood. Some people like Michael Valpy call for it to be brought back, but, well, that's not going to happen.

A pity, that. Andrew R. joked that if Russia and Canada allied, we could have a Federation-Dominion alliance.

The Alaska Boundary dispute, actually, plays an important role inasmuch as the British desire to manage relations with the United States and give up the disputed territory conflicted with Canada's desire to retain as much territory as possible. I'd argue that Canada's development as a country with an international presence and its own distinct citizenship was preconditioned by various shocks--the dispute, the world wars, et cetera--associated with Britain which caused Canada to think of its own interests. Certainly that was the case with the Alaska dispute.

Peter: Canada may or may not be serene, but it certainly isn't a republic. Although what with that chingona gov-gen they have up there, they might want to become a republic.

Randy: That is very helpful. I'm still unsure of the legality of representation at Versailles; was an explicit nationality necessary? The timing of the act seems off. Nonetheless, it is helpful, although I'm still unsure of the motivation behind the citizenship act.

A solid argument can be made that without the Canadian action, Britain would have a harder time limiting Commonwealth immigration. The 1946 Canadian act led to the British Nationality Act of 1948, which created citizenship in the "United Kingdom and Colonies." At that point, Britain basically repatriated its citizenship law, and no longer had to worry about its ramifications with the Dominions.

Had Canada, for whatever reason, been reluctant rather than eager to sever the symbolic tie of imperial citizenship, then British governments would have had a harder time passing the Commonwealth Immigration Act, and some of the Caribbean countries would have been more reluctant to accept de jure independence.

In Africa and Asia, the U.K. could have gotten around the legal issue simply by asking the various countries to emulate India and effectively give up their status as a full subject. This would have been harder in the Commonwealth Caribbean, and would have also involved negotiations with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Unlike the author of Whitewashing Britain, I suspect it would have happened anyway, but not before a few hundred thousand additional Caribbean immigrants arrived in Britain.

Which would, of course, have greatly improved the U.K. Not that I'm biased, or anything.

As an aside, Commonwealth citizenship still has some odd effects in Britain. For example, if my wife and I managed to get the right to live there, she would immediately be able to vote, join the military, and run for public office. (As would you, Randy!) On the other hand, I would need to naturalized. And even after naturalization, I would never be allowed to join the Territorial Army or serve in sensitive government positions.

AFAIK, British citizens have no reciprocal advantages in Canada, although they do in Trinidad.

My guess is that Canadian nationality came about as a relatively late consequence of Canada's acquisition of an international persona.

(Interestingly, Québec has had a very active foreign policy since the 1960s.


Recently, some Québécois have begun to talk about a Québec citizenship, likely on the model of Bavarian citizenship that doesn't discriminate against other Germans. Is history repeating itself?)

There has been some suggestion that this citizenship act helped trigger South Africa's troubles, discouraging British migrants and ensuring that the National Party won by the small margin that it did.

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