Queen's death leaves questions about vacated military patronage posts

·3 min read

OTTAWA — Queen Elizabeth's death has left more than a dozen Canadian Armed Forces units without a patron, and prompted one expert to question how such appointments will be filled going forward.

The Department of National Defence says in addition to serving as the Canadian military's longest-serving commander-in-chief, the Queen held honorary positions with 18 individual military units.

Those included having served as captain-general of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, air commodore-in-chief of the Air Reserve, and colonel-in-chief for the military’s engineer and legal branches and 14 regiments.

Yet while the title of commander-in-chief of the military automatically passed to King Charles following her death last week, officials say those patronage positions do not and are now vacant.

That opens the door to a debate within the Canadian Armed Forces, says Carleton University professor Philippe Lagassé, one of Canada’s foremost experts on the interplay between the military, Parliament and the Crown.

“Where do they go? Who do they go to? Is there going to be less of a tendency to grant them to members of the Royal Family?” said Lagassé. “There's questions around whether or not it's still good practice to do that.”

Many military units are closely associated with other members of the Royal Family, including the King. Before acceding to the throne, then-prince Charles was named lieutenant-general of the Canadian Army and colonel-in-chief of seven regiments.

Those appointments are attached to the person and become vacant upon their death.

Patrons are “seen to be the guardian of regimental traditions and history, promoting the regiment’s identity and ethos and being an adviser to the commanding officer on virtually all issues excluding operations,” according to the Defence Department.

While that also applies to honorary colonels, royal appointments are made by the monarch and usually involve Royal Family members. Honorary colonels, who are lower in rank, are recommended by units and involve prominent Canadians or veterans.

There has been one exception to the tradition of having members of the Royal Family serve as colonels-in-chief, when former governor general Adrienne Clarkson took over such a position with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in 2007.

The tradition has been more recently scrutinized when the Queen's youngest son, Prince Andrew, relinquished his honorary commands in three Canadian military units due to a scandal related to his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Units benefit from having patrons of influence because it raises their profile and morale and encourages public support, said Lagassé, “but is that still the Royal Family? Maybe not.”

The queen’s death has created other ripples for the military beyond the vacated patronage posts, particularly changes to terminology. Those include referring to naval vessels as “His Majesty’s Canadian Ship,” rather than “Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship.”

The Defence Department says most of those changes are automatic due to legislation, and will be formally updated in publications and other places over time. Others such as commissioning scrolls to officers are also being updated.

One thing that will take more time is updating military awards and decorations, which will continue to bear the late queen’s image and coat of arms until King Charles has signed off on his own effigy and royal cypher.

A senior military officer speaking on background said the same thing happened when awards bearing King George’s image continued to be handed out for about two years after his death and Queen Elizabeth’s accession in 1952.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2022.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press