The United Church of Canada released a nuanced statement about Queen Elizabeth II’s death on Thursday.
The longest-reigning monarch in British history and Canada’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth died on Sept. 8 at age 96.
The United Church, in a statement on its website, expressed sorrow at her death and recognized her life of “faithful” service and work for charities and other organizations.
But it also noted the monarchy’s role in colonization, specifically mentioning Canada and Bermuda.
“We know that power, privilege, and sin can and do accrue within institutions and systems,” the denomination’s statement says. “As a result, the history of the monarchy and colonization, embedded within systems of White superiority, have had harmful and ongoing impacts on many communities within Canada, including Indigenous communities and racialized communities (particularly those with ties to countries of origin that have also experienced the trauma of colonization).”
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Bermuda’s Wesleyan Methodist Church joined the United Church in 1930, but in 2022, the country is still a British overseas territory, represented by the United Kingdom in foreign affairs hundreds of years after it was colonized. Economic and social disparities persist among Black and white Bermudians.
“We honour the ways in which Queen Elizabeth has lived faithfully into this image. We mourn the ways in which she, as the embodiment of the Crown and the structural sins of a colonizing Great Britain, has often not lived into this image or likeness,” the church said in its statement.
United Church moderator Rt. Rev. Carmen Lansdowne declined to comment on the Queen’s death. Lansdowne, a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, is the first Indigenous woman to serve as the United Church’s spiritual leader.
But in a Facebook post Friday reflecting on the death of United Church elder Rev. Bernice Saulteaux, Lansdowne wrote that the Queen’s leadership and service was a source of inspiration, despite the broader context.
“A nonpartisan head of state, she was not able to be political or make policy,” Lansdowne wrote. “Whatever role kings and queens have played in colonization, she was not at liberty to make reparation without the British state.”
The constitutional monarchy system of Canada means that the monarch’s only role in the legislative process is at the end, approving laws through royal assent.
One Canadian’s reflection
Lee Perry, 72, a United Church member who lives in Toronto, saw the Queen in Canada twice — once as a child with her Brownie group in 1959, and again as a student photojournalist at Queen’s University in 1973 when the Queen and the late Prince Philip visited to mark the tercentenary of the city of Kingston, Ont.
“I grew up admiring all things royal as a little girl, and actually being in love with [Elizabeth’s late sister] Princess Margaret Rose and having a huge poster of her from the Toronto Star in her royal purple regalia on my bedroom wall,” she said.
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She said she appreciated the Queen’s relationship with the late anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
“One of the key highlights would be, of course, that she embraced Mandela, and provided a moral courage and world leadership to do that and to provide an anchor for the anti-apartheid movement,” she said.
But she said her personal process of reflection on the Queen’s passing will be complex.
“We, collectively, as those who are of [British, European] heritage… are collectively mourning a monarch who represents for many the worst of our colonial history,” she said.
Emma Prestwich is Broadview’s digital editor.
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