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Officer's complaint a royal pain, judge says

Outward displays of loyalty to the Queen are fundamental to Canadian military discipline, a judge has ruled, rejecting the complaint of an army officer of Irish ancestry who objected to toasting "an unelected monarch of foreign origin."

Captain Aralt Mac Giolla Chainnigh has campaigned for years to be excused from regimental dinner traditions such as toasting the Queen, saluting the Union Jack or singing God Save the Queen.

However, in a 28-page ruling released yesterday, Mr. Justice Robert Barnes of the Federal Court said confusion would ensue if members of the military could opt out of various protocol requirements.

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"A chaotic and unworkable situation would arise in such an environment."

The ruling was the latest setback for Capt. Mac Giolla Chainnigh, who told the court that "he has throughout his military career consistently expressed his disaffection for the British monarchy."

In an interview yesterday, Capt. Mac Giolla Chainnigh, said that Canada, as a sovereign democracy, cannot be at the same time be beholden to a foreign queen. "It's a logical impossibility," he said.

He referred to the Queen as "Elizabeth Windsor."

In his judgment, Judge Barnes wrote that the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier, was right when he decided in August, 2006, to support a grievance board ruling that rejected the captain's claims.

"Whether Capt. Mac Giolla Chainnigh likes it or not, the fact is that the Queen is his Commander-in-Chief and Canada's Head of State," Judge Barnes wrote.

Refusing to display loyalty to the Queen, the judge added, "would not only be an expression of profound disrespect and rudeness, but it would also represent an unwillingness to adhere to hierarchical and lawful command structures that are fundamental to good discipline."

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Having represented himself in Federal Court, Capt. Mac Giolla Chainnigh said he cannot afford the professional counsel needed for an appeal. He is hoping republican groups might pick up his cause.

Capt. Mac Giolla Chainnigh, who legally changed his name from Harold Kenny to the Gaelic version, is an associate professor of physics at Royal Military College in Kingston, and a member of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.

He has long been active in promoting Irish culture in Canada. His office voicemail answers in Irish Gaelic and he is president of the North American Association for Celtic Language Teachers.

Asked whether his background might have informed his views on the monarchy, he said he didn't want to mix culture and politics.However, he added that "Ireland, like most countries that have been colonized and suffered the scourges of imperialism, understands perhaps a little bit better than other nations what the extremely negative aspects are of a government that's not responsible to the people."

When he enrolled at the age of 16 in 1975, Capt. Mac Giolla Chainnigh had been reluctant to take the required oath of allegiance to the Queen and said he proceeded only after being told that it was simply "a figurative way" of pledging his loyalty to the people of Canada.

"I recognize loyalty to the people of Canada alone. I could drink a toast to Elizabeth as a person - if I knew her," the captain told the court. "I could drink a toast to her as the head of state of the United Kingdom, in respect for visitors from that country. But I cannot in good faith toast her as the Queen of Canada."

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

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