Time for Canada to move on from the monarchy
Kildare Dobbs was an Irish-Canadian poet, essayist and journalist who, during his nearly 90 years, produced dozens of books, including Smiles & Chukkers (1994) a rollicking memoir that perfectly captured his dry-as-a-martini sense of humour.
It includes a prescient story about Prince Andrew, the now infamous Duke of York, the good buddy of now-dead pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and his aide de camp, British socialite Ghislaine (call me Madam) Maxwell.
Dobbs’ telling anecdote falls back to 1977 when at age 17, the dauphin prince, once removed (then second in line to the throne) was packed off to the colonies to attend Lakefield School in Peterborough. While on a summer camping trip with schoolmates to Algonquin Park, nasty Canadian weather forced the teens to shelter in place at an old Geological Survey of Canada bunkhouse. The rustic interior and spartan offerings promised an uncomfortable overnight stay, which raised the ire of the privileged prince. With his royal nose badly out of joint and his stiff upper lip sullenly downturned, he pulled aside his RCMP bodyguard and said, with all the outrage he could muster, “this building seems like an awful waste of taxpayers’ money.”
The young officer, armed with a rapier wit, turned to this arrogant upstart and replied, “Sir, around here, you are considered the biggest waste of taxpayers’ money.”
O Can-a-da! The perfect royal smack down!
Dobbs had worked closely with Brian Moore and Mordecai Richler as an editor at the illustrious publishing house, Macmillan, and was himself a noted stylist who suffered no fools.
Irish-Canadian writer Kildare Dobbs
The wide sweep of his legacy under the monarchy and its colonial conquests created an opposite view of privilege and its unearned advantages. Andrew was the hollow recipient of benefits Dobbs saw usurped from others throughout his life.
He was an eyewitness to what the British empire, under the monarchy’s authority, and the family that served as its guidelight had done on three separate continents.
Dobbs was born in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, India, during the end game of the Raj. His father was an acting commissioner in the crown jewel of the British empire.
Meerut was the most significant symbol of the Indian struggle against the British, after its unilateral declaration as the sovereign power granted through the monarchy. They had arrived as traders in 1608 and after realizing the riches to be had, the British began a well-designed strategy to win the confidence of rival Indian rulers by promising assistance against their enemies. Religious differences and historic animosities were ruthlessly exploited by the British Raj, which stripped away resources such as coal, iron-ore, other minerals and precious gems such as diamonds and rubies, lumber, textiles, and food crops that were shipped away to fuel the imperial power’s rapid expansion across the globe.
Historians have commented on the British use of identity and psychological weakness around the preservation of culture and religion to undermine indigenous groups dominated by the empire, preoccupied by the promise of western assistance to further their own local interests. Meanwhile, whatever was of value to the colonial power was ripped out of these places to build out its vast dominion.
The British liked to use the term “Commonwealth” to describe how they benefited the colonies. It was a sham. Men like Dobbs knew it was the English belief in their privilege over all others, including the Irish, that drove this racist pathology.
After more than two centuries of informal rule, Meerut was where the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 erupted, when Indian soldiers rose up against the British East India Company, shot their own British officers then marched to Delhi.
A year later, in a display of cruel imperialism to quell the spreading insurrection, Queen Victoria installed herself as the head of state through what was called the “Crown Rule of India” and almost a century of formal British rule began. In 1876 she named herself “Empress of India”.
Indians had realized decades earlier the monarchy’s promise of societal benefits and a place of prominence under the crown, were nothing more than empty words used strategically by the House of Windsor and the previous seats of the royal family to exploit their country, and the minds of its citizens.
India’s rich resources were plundered, educated families were uprooted to do the empire’s bidding in far flung colonies around the world, others were shipped off as indentured labourers to build out the empire’s reach (2 million were shipped to 19 colonies in the century prior to the end of World War 1 – the British, derogatively, called them ‘coolies’), 4-million men were conscripted into the British army to fight its colonial battles, and eventually two World Wars (their participation in both was erased by the British) and historic internal divisions were deepened simply so the English masters could maintain their grip on power.
Sikh soldiers who fought for the British in WWI. Their service and valour were erased from British history.
Before it all unravelled, by the time the British were widely reviled for three centuries of twisted scheming that crippled Indian interests, Dobbs and his family retreated back to Ireland as the near-century-long rule came to an inglorious end.
After serving in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, Dobbs shifted to one of the African remnants of the empire, settling in Tanganyika before it gained its independence from the colonial grip, eventually emerging from its painful transition as Tanzania.
The British, under the rule of the monarchy, had been involved in the African slave trade since 1562 and Zanzibar, an island 25-kilometres off the Tanganyika coast, was the centre of the booming business. Ships from America and across Europe navigated the Indian Ocean up and down the continent’s eastern side to the island’s busy port where 50,000 men and women were traded at the slave markets each year before being loaded up for a lifetime of unspeakable opression by white slave owners, if they survived the ocean voyage. It’s estimated that 80,000 slaves destined for Zanzibar’s human auctions each year did not survive the treacherous journey.
Once again, by the time Dobbs arrived, the empire was already crumbling. He again witnessed its brutal legacy. Where colonists went on about the civilizing of these backwaters by the European masters, Dobbs saw things differently.
The plundering of India that kept the monarchy and British aristocrats flush for centuries was the obvious legacy. Africa, as he witnessed, was robbed of resources, the ivory trade furnished the tastes of white Europeans at the expense of entire populations of the continent’s most majestic creatures, diamonds, copper and gold were mined in gaping pits that left landscapes devastated and ecosystems polluted beyond recognition. And then there was the oil.
Dobbs was eventually framed by his British bosses for killing an elephant and stealing its ivory and he was jailed for months before the trumped-up charges against him were quashed. He had seen enough.
When he arrived in Canada, for the last leg of his journey, his fourth and final continent, he was ready to help change the narrative.
There’s no word on whether the Mountie in the bunkhouse lost his security job, but it’s clear that both then and now, he spoke for many Canadians.
So did Dobbs.
He landed here in 1952 and eventually found his foothold in the country’s stodgy literary circle, dominated by Britons masquerading as Canucks, who didn’t even believe there was such a thing as Canadian nationalism. But men like Richler became touchstones and Canada, as was apparent in the writing Dobbs published throughout a long and celebrated career, grew into a sort of mythopoetic idea. If Britain and the monarchy had torn the places he had known apart, this was a land too vast and deep and bold (not arrogant like the Americans) to give up its identity. Our First Nations were barely hanging on, but so much more could be done. He gained the notice of Pierre Trudeau.
Running to Paradise (1962), his first book, won the Governor General’s Award. The autobiographical account of his travels featured his deployment of humour to mock much of what he witnessed the English do through the course of modern history. He was, of course, Irish.
By the ‘70s he had been summoned by the Trudeau administration to help shape policy and public speeches to sell the Multiculturalism Act.
Trudeau had backpacked through much of the colonial world after the war, prior to his entry into Canadian politics. He came back from his time in India, where he famously donned a turban, and other parts of the world with a deep hesitation around the British and French narratives shaping his rapidly modernizing country.
Pierre Trudeau in India shortly after it gained its independence from the British
His two central legacies, the official creation of a national policy based on respect for racial and cultural equality, and the Canadian Constitution, including our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, represent Trudeau’s bold stand against the British monarchy and its own legacy.
Trudeau’s close friend, David Johnston, who became governor general, honoured Dobbs with his induction into the Order of Canada shortly before his death.
Dobbs, like the prime minister, represented the seismic shift away from Upper Canada, its British attitudes and prejudices about what it means to be Canadian.
It’s a trend that has slowly pushed the country away from its insecure obeyance to a withering throne.
The latest polls show most of us are underwhelmed by the House of Windsor, not just in response to the latest contretemps between Buckingham Palace and those rough royal revolutionaries, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but by the rot within the monarchy itself.
By 2016, opposition in Canada, especially in Quebec, was mounting. Fewer than half (42 percent) said yes, when asked if Canada should remain a constitutional monarchy, and two-thirds of Quebecers wanted them to disappear. But last month, an Ipsos poll said 60 percent wanted it down toot sweet. A majority of Canadians (51 percent) said they would even prefer a republic system of government, like the U.S. model – even in the wake of Donald Trump who tried his best to destroy the 244-year-old legacy.
The popular Netflix series ‘The Crown’ which blurs the line between art and reality, even drew the interest of Abacus Data late last year. Its CEO David Coletto is evidently a big fan and surveyed 1,500 of us. This is what he found out: the more we watched it, the more we wanted the crown gone (52 percent). This was before Oprah interviewed Harry and Meghan.
There’s always been a love-hate with the crown in Canada. Citizens for a Canadian Republic advocate for a democratically-selected Canadian citizen to be our head of state, while The Monarchist League of Canada (headquartered in Oakville), and The Royal Society of Canada (Ottawa), remain drawn to its heraldic elegance, and probably wish God Save the Queen still held dominance over O Canada as our national anthem.
The direct descendants of the British, who still make up the largest single category in the country (about 11.2 million of us, as of the 2016 Census) are losing ground; only 6.3 million out of that figure are of English descent, the rest are mostly Irish and Scottish-Canadian.
Many who trace their roots to other parts of the former empire might also support the monarchy, but the insecurity of older generations from places like India (many of whom passed through the UK) is giving way to the confidence of their children, who don’t need ostentatious British customs and the royal family which continues to conspicuously use them for its advantage, to give them a sense of esteem.
And who wants displays of grotesque wealth mired in centuries of exploitation and servitude, anyway?
Governance experts agree it would be “enormously difficult” to rid ourselves of the monarchy because it fills constitutional and ceremonial holes.
That might change if Maxwell is brought into a New York City courtroom soon to face sex trafficking charges. After Epstein took his own life in a New York City holding cell in 2019 after seemingly getting his comeuppance for years of sexually assaulting young girls, Maxwell hid out in the New Hampshire bush before being arrested, and sent to the slammer. She now awaits possible conviction for years of aiding and abetting her boss’s thirst for underage female flesh. She faces six criminal charges, four related to transporting minors for illegal sexual acts, and two for perjury in depositions about her role in Epstein’s abuses.
The fall-out from the Maxwell trial could be harsh, especially if the Queen’s second oldest son (evidently her favourite) is outed for his sexual exploitation of a young American girl named Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who was 17 at the time. This Lolita was served up as a favour to an old friend by the generous Epstein, who traded in pounds of young female flesh as a way to pay off his debts. This quid pro quo might be because the prince allegedly invited Epstein and Maxwell and others like alleged Hollywood sex deviant Kevin Spacey to frolic in royal palaces, even Buckingham.
Andrew, his accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre and Ghislaine Maxwell
In 2006, the prince had the gall to invite Epstein to the 18th birthday party of his daughter Beatrice because, as the Duke claimed, he didn’t know that an arrest warrant had been issued for his friend earlier that year for sexual assault of a minor. In retrospect, who would put Epstein in a den of young girls celebrating a birthday? Despite access to government intelligence, it appears the critical news that his friend was a sex predator slipped him by, and besides, said the Duke, Epstein never mentioned it to him.
The Duke, according to the Duke, is just an unsuspecting fly caught in a web of condemnation, and how unfair it would be if he were made the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation. He must be ruining the manicure on his fingernails as the drum beats down to Maxwell’s looming confrontation with the NYC courts. Meanwhile, he is busy giving the FBI the royal runaround on whether he will or won’t sit down to be interviewed.
If the guillotine now hangs over the fixer’s head, Andrew is queuing up behind. He did himself no favours by agreeing to a 2019 sit-down chat with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis. Apparently, his purpose was to reveal he was never a “close friend” of the matchmaking firm of Epstein-Maxwell. And no, no, he couldn’t recall meeting Virginia Roberts (now Giuffre) in London, despite there being a famous picture of her and him with his hand lovingly locked around her midriff. The prince told his interviewer, “You can’t prove whether or not that photograph is faked or not.”
A collective “WTF” swept across ‘Ol Blighty.
The interview was a ratings hit, but a PR disaster. Millions recoiled as arrogant Andy’s blue blood boiled as he dismissed the story angle that he had done horrors to a child. Near the end of the interview, he stepped in even more trouble.
Maitlis again drilled down on his “friendship” with Epstein, and the Duke responded like a thing of wood. I broke it off, he said. “I admit fully that my judgment was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable,” he stuttered, as viewers collectively asked themselves, why would he act honourably toward Epstein, the modern-day version of Humbert Humbert.
Then came the killer comment.
Yes, he admitted, Epstein “conducted himself in a manner unbecoming.”
Maitlis’s hair caught fire, and she shot back: “He was a sex offender!”
“Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m being polite,” replied the man who will never be king.
This is the way the royals have behaved for centuries. Detached and indifferent to the lives of the ruined, as long as they and their friends get to dress up for another fancy ball. Oh, and the ivory accents and keys on the Victorian pianos, guess where those came from.
If the past is prologue, this was a grown-up version of the 17-year-old Kildare Dobbs reported on in that bunkhouse in Algonquin Park – pompous, and without a smidgen of self-awareness. A direct by-product of a history of imperious rule.
The interview was cringe-worthy, but blessedly over, and Buckingham Palace immediately removed him from further royal duties. It’s unclear if that means he had to hand over his high six-figure salary, or a plush expense account, but the answer is probably a big, no.
So, here’s the question: If Maxwell reveals in court a long list of male miscreants, including the Duke, what will Canadians do?
No doubt, most will ask: Why are we still tied to this archaic institution, and why have the Queen’s spawn behaved so badly?
The Duke of York has now tumbled to eighth in line for the throne, which gives him all the power of the third-string Zamboni driver at Leaf games. What’s clear is that the Duke’s tumble down the royal staircase, reaches back decades.
Anyone who read a 2011 Vanity Fair article entitled, The Trouble with Andrew, was shocked by his dissolute lifestyle, his links to some unsavory foreign potentates, especially in the Middle East and, of course, his buddy-buddy relationship with Epstein. Andrew was apparently told by a friend to disassociate himself with the then-convicted pedophile, but he reportedly said, “You’re such a puritan. Leave me alone. Jeffrey’s my friend. Being loyal to your friends is a virtue. And I’m going to be loyal to him.”
It gets worse. In last year’s Netflix four-part documentary called Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, director Lisa Bryant talked to Steve Skully, a former Epstein employee who hung at the secluded Caribbean getaway, Little Saint James Island (now known as Pedophile Island). He saw the Queen’s son touching a topless woman at the compound's pool – later identified as Roberts-Giuffre. She told Bryant the Duke coerced her into having sex with him three times and in three different locales, including Epstein’s palatial digs in New York City. This is where the infamous hand-on-the-midriff picture was taken.
No wonder Barbados has decided to press ahead with plans to remove the Queen as its head of state, firing up speculation that other Caribbean members of the Commonwealth of nations will follow suit. Apparently, Australia is not amused by the Harry-Meghan interview and is debating about the need to become a republic. Imagine the fallout if Maxwell goes full confessional and exposes the once dashing Duke as a pedophile.
Now we turn to the Duke’s close ties to Mississauga. In 1987, he was fingered by Mum to represent the crown at the official ground-breaking of the new $60-million City Hall. This promised to be a royal love-in.
The hype of pageantry rippled through this colonial outpost. The June sky was as royal blue as Plantagenet curtains. Dignitaries were scrubbed and trimmed, and dressed in all their finery. Over 70,000 Royal watchers were thrilled to get close to real royalty, and the Duke’s new wife, Sarah Ferguson was all the rage. Square One even held a Fergie look-alike contest. Sure, there were reports suggesting the Duke was hardly pumped about doing this royal duty, and bristled at the time it might take to get ‘er done.
No matter, the event was wondrous, and still reverberates in the hearts and minds of thousands. Mississauga News reporter John Stewart quoted former mayor Hazel McCallion, who called it the “culmination of a dream”. As fairy tales go, this was Disney-like.
After the royals had exited, the Duke of York Boulevard sign framed by City Hall as a backdrop looked important, a permanent remembrance of this august occasion.
Over the years, signs are still there to anyone driving, walking, or living in the city centre, of that day – although probably 99 percent don’t know what they represent.
To those who think the Duke is immoral, and his title shouldn’t be immortalized on city signage, they look at it as a stain on Mississauga.
Looking through the telescope, Duke of York Boulevard is particularly offensive to many women, and it’s interesting to note that the city’s mayor and six of its 11 councillors are female. They might soon be making some changes. Hopefully, their male colleagues would fall in line.
Like it or not, we live in an age of re-reckoning, facing down our past.
A Truth & Reconciliation commission sought to right the wrongs of a residential school system that once ruined the lives of generations of our First Nations. The systemic strategy of cultural genocide was, of course, engineered first by the British, and its good men representing the monarchy here in one of its favourite colonial lifelines. Our rich resources and furs were needed to prop up the throne’s latest endeavors. A few natives were nothing more than an uncivilized inconvenience.
Centuries later, men like Conrad Black still represent the insecure attachment to their Queen Mum, and all she stands for. Black rarely lets an opportunity pass without reminding what we would be without our British legacy, a backward land flooded by red savages. That’s what he thinks of Canada.
The commission was struck long past the time all those evil racist men who were responsible for this abhorrent era should have been publicly disgraced.
The MeToo movement has also actively sought out serial misogynists, like Hollywood bigwig Harvey Weinstein, now doing 25 years in prison for his well-documented predation of an entire generation of women actors.
The global soul is trying to cleanse itself.
Confederates and colonial chancellors, administrators and warmongers, have had their work edited, sullied, and their statues defiled. Our first prime minister, who carried out the British genocide against our First Nations, to keep the spoils flowing back to London, is finally being erased so our children and grandchildren won’t have to honour him they way we had to.
While some think this an overreach, or cancel culture in extremis, others welcome the accountability.
And yet… Duke of York Boulevard remains intact, a city landmark. Would that change if names like Epstein, Weinstein, or even Canadian predator Peter Nygard were attached to it?
It gets tricky when using today’s yardstick to measure past misdeeds, then bringing in the censure’s erasure. There seems no consensus on how or if it should be done. Maybe we should put away the time machine when measuring morality? In our bifurcated world, have we lost all perspective?
What wasn’t known at the time of Prince Andrew’s bunkhouse stop-over in Algonquin Park, was how the young prince would age into a duke. We know he participated in the Falklands skirmish, married, fathered two daughters, divorced, then set Fleet Street ablaze in his after-marriage life. The tabloids and broadsheets churned out stories galore about his active libido. He had a penchant for young consorts.
But nothing could prepare the scandal sheets for his friendship with Epstein-Maxwell. Whispers turned to shout-outs, and his 2019 BBC interview promised to rid him of criminality’s shadow. Instead, the press doubled and tripled down, and viewers responded with shock, horror and gasps as he came across as arrogant, boobish, and an ugly caricature of indifferent royal exploitation at its worst.
The interview was damning. Now, Oprah’s skillful provocation has added the scourge of racism on top of the depraved behaviour Andrew is accused of.
But isn’t this what the royals have done to much of the world for centuries?
It was a poetic sight in a way, two powerful women, descendants of slaves, using the system to disempower an institution that has done unfathomable damage to so many.
The courts might finish the job.
Maxwell remains behind bars awaiting trial and possible conviction for years of aiding and abetting. She faces a total of six criminal charges, including four related to transporting minors for illegal sexual acts, and two for perjury in earlier depositions about her role in Epstein’s abuses.
The Duke of York seems stranded on another island, alone, unloved, and reviled by all except family and friends. His royal hijinks seem pitiful to a greying man, age 61. He stares at a personal day of reckoning.
The naming of Duke of York Boulevard got the royal seal of approval in 1987 and remains a small but significant roadway in Mississauga’s busy downtown core. The cancel culture movement seems yet to have caught up with this case file, but the same can’t be said of others, most long dead. Cecil Rhodes was, by any measure, a British colossus who once had an entire African nation named after him. Yet his massive ego and his unquenchable thirst for imperialistic subjugation was finally put down as part of the African independence movement of the 20th century. His name was soon expunged from world maps. The world-famous scholarship remains, but hopefully further cancellations will erase his entire legacy.
William Osler, whose name is attached to the hospital system that serves Brampton and North Etobicoke, is also under scrutiny, and the Medical Students Society of McGill University recommend Canadians stop using Osler eponyms. It’s time to rename locations named after him. They charge that he was a racist and sexist. The health system’s overseers have told The Pointer they are open to conversations about the name on their buildings.
It only takes a Google search to find the racist screeds of John A Macdonald. His speech in the House of Commons in the late 19th century was particularly offensive to Canada’s First People. He called them “savages” and said these parents were unworthy of raising their own. Said he: “The Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”
Any wonder why his statue is being defaced? He is a symbol of the prevailing attitude associated with the royal family and its legacy.
So far, the Duke of York is guilty of nothing but association with the creepy Epstein. But by any measure, isn’t that enough to disqualify him from having his name attached to public buildings, schools, or a street sign?
Yes, the naming of this small boulevard in Mississauga was done in good faith, and yes, it captured an historic moment. But the moment, and the honorarium hasn’t aged well.
Shakespeare was often inspired to write about the royals, and in those plays he talked about the evil that men do – either through their own acts, or in close association with others. One of his most vile creations was Richard III, the former (wait for it) Duke of York. “I clothe my naked villainy with odd old ends stolen out of Holy Writ, and seem a saint when most I play the devil,” the great bard wrote.
His king was physically ugly, a hunchback, but Will knew villainy came in all guises. Was Randy Andy just as ugly – metaphorically speaking?
And if Prince Harry is accurate, and a member of the family did raise a grotesquely racist concern about the skin-colour of an unborn child, how should British and Canadian society contemplate the continued tolerance of a monarchy that refuses to abandon its destructive ways?
The world is quickly losing its patience with a legacy that represents so much pain for billions.
Many view the royal family as wanton, wasteful, outright evil, and totally irrelevant. They need to hang up their ermine robes.
Meghan and Harry have abandoned what the royal family stands for
In William Kilbourn’s breezy book, The Making of the Nation, he pointed out that the House of Commons in Westminster was three-quarters empty when it passed the British North America Act, which created Canada in its likeness. The House filled up later to debate a dog tax bill. The Brits usually viewed the colonies as a dog would a fire hydrant.
Oprah’s interview has revealed an inconvenient truth: little has changed.
Prince Andrew’s royal snub issued in that Algonquin Park bunkhouse, showed early on his oafishness, arrogance, and contempt for the real soul of our civilization. It grew by gradations over the years. Yes, he aged badly.
If the allegations in the Netflix documentary are confirmed in a New York City courtroom, his fate will be sealed, but so too might the monarchy, both here and around the world.
By that time, removing the Duke’s title from a street sign in downtown Mississauga will be the least of his worries.
Meghan Markle will likely find some solace, knowing her former captors won’t ever prey on anyone else again.
And Kildare Dobbs might look down and smile a wry Irish smile.
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