A Sikh’s Dilemma in Canada: Oath to Monarchy or Allegiance to Values?

by Antariksh Singh

Prabjot Singh Wirring, a devout Sikh, contended that swearing a mandatory oath to the reigning monarch went against his religious beliefs. Under Alberta’s provincial legislation, lawyers are required to solemnly pledge to “be faithful and bear true allegiance” to the monarch, their heirs, and successors. For Wirring, this posed a fundamental conflict, as he had already pledged his allegiance to Akal Purakh, the divine being in Sikhism. He firmly believed that pledging allegiance to another entity or sovereign would contradict the sacred vows he had made.

“For me, it’s a fundamental part of who I am as a person,” Wirring explained in an interview with CBC News. “The requirement to take that oath of allegiance would require me to renege on the vows and the oath that I’ve already made and (do) a lot of damage to who I am as a person and to my identity.”

At the time Wirring filed the lawsuit, the oath was directed toward Queen Elizabeth II. Consequently, Queen Elizabeth II was consistently referenced throughout the court proceedings, which took place in the Court of Queen’s Bench.

The crux of the case hinged on the nature of the oath itself—whether it constituted a direct allegiance to the Queen or symbolized Canada’s constitutional monarchy. In her ruling, Justice Barbara Johnston asserted, “I have found that the Oath of Allegiance is properly characterized as an oath to uphold and maintain the rule of law and the Canadian constitutional system. Any reference to the Queen in the Oath of Allegiance is as a symbol of these values, and not to the Queen as a political or religious entity.”

This landmark decision has broader implications not only for Wirring but for the broader Sikh community in Canada and for religious freedoms in general. The ruling emphasizes that the oath is not a personal allegiance to a monarch but rather a commitment to uphold the rule of law and Canada’s constitutional principles.

The Alberta law society refrained from taking a position on the matter, stating that it is a provincial issue that requires legislative change. In response to Wirring’s legal challenge, the law society had previously emphasized that any alteration to the oath must be legislated.

Additionally, Justice Barbara Johnston dismissed an application from the province of Alberta to strike down the case on the grounds that it had already been resolved. This decision ensures that the debate surrounding mandatory oaths to the monarchy will continue to be a point of contention in Canadian legal discourse.

Notably, thirty-two Alberta law professors issued an open letter last year, urging the then-justice minister to amend the legislation and make the oath optional, as is the case in other Canadian jurisdictions such as Ontario and British Columbia.

Wirring’s case has ignited a national dialogue on the balance between religious freedom and legal obligations, with many Canadians pondering the implications of mandatory oaths in a multicultural and diverse society. While the court’s decision is a significant milestone, the broader conversation about accommodating religious beliefs within the legal framework is far from over.

Antariksh Singh

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