King and Country

A majority of Canadians oppose the monarchy. However, it’s unlikely the country will become a republic any time soon.

By Luke Sutton | Featured image via iStock

Less than two weeks prior to the coronation of King Charles, a poll by the Angus Reid Institute, released in late April 2023, found that 60 percent of respondents opposed recognizing Charles as king. Only twenty-eight percent had a favourable view of him, while just under half a favourable view of Charles, while nearly half (48 per cent) did not.

These numbers reflected another poll, released on September 15, 2022, seven days after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Global News reported “the vast majority” of Canadians “have not been personally impacted by [the Queen’s] passing and feel no attachment to the monarchy.” An Ipsos Reid report found that 57 percent of respondents felt “Canada is not truly an independent nation if it continues to support the monarchy.”

For seven decades, the Queen had been a pillar in Canada, a symbol of stability and regality. She was the only monarch most Canadians ever knew—the face gracing our banknotes. An unwavering constant in Canadian life.

Following her death, countless bells were wrung, countless memorials published, and in Canada, an old question came to the fore: should we leave the monarchy?

On September 18, the day before Queen Elizabeth was buried, all musings on the monarchy were rendered moot, however, when Prime Minster Justin Trudeau said leaving is “simply a nonstarter.” Canada, he said, has bigger problems.

On March 16, Trudeau announced a special ceremony in Ottawa to commemorate the coronation of King Charles III on May 6. At 74, the new king’s coronation marked the longest-awaited crowning ceremony in England’s history.

“It’s entrenched tradition,” says Ashok Charles, 67, founder of the Canadian group, Republic Now. Many Canadians, Charles says, have difficulty conceiving of Canada without a monarchy—including our elected representatives.

Canada would hardly be the first nation to take the plunge. Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, and the Bahamas intend to leave within the decade, while Barbados became a republic in 2021.

True, those countries’ colonial relationships with Britain were of a different strain, but the fact remains—they made a choice.

Tom Freda, national director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, claims most Liberal and New Democrat politicians are pro-republic.

The problem, Freda says, is the federal Liberals are afraid of trying anything as politically risky as republicanism.

Still, there are politicians in Canada who question the monarchy.

Foremost is Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party. In a 2021 interview with the CBC, Singh said he doesn’t see “the benefit of the monarchy in Canadians’ lives.” 

Trudeau’s pragmatist argument, however, remains prevalent. Becoming a republic would barely alter the day-to-day lives of Canadians. What it could do is change how other nations see Canada, and how Canadians see ourselves.

“A country respected around the world,” says Freda, “yet we haven’t got the gumption to break our last colonial link to the United Kingdom? What does that say about us?”

For monarchists, leaving the Crown would weaken our national identity—our constitutional monarchy, which the Monarchist League of Canada calls “a source of pride for all Canadians,” poll results notwithstanding.

For republicans, it would create an identity worthy of pride.

“Egalitarianism and democracy are both core Canadian values, affirmed in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” says Ashok Charles, “and our office of head of state, not only does it not express or embody these values: it counters them.”

A Strong Republican Voice

Tom Freda, national director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, is one of the most prominent voices calling for Canada to discard the monarchy.

Born in 1956, Freda grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. An eighth-generation Canadian, his forebears were, ironically, Empire Loyalists. One of his ancestors even fought in the American Revolution—wearing a red coat.

After moving to Toronto in 1977, Freda studied photography, first at Sheridan College and then at Ryerson University.

Specializing in land-and-cityscapes, Freda has run his own company, Tom Freda Photography, since 1982. Many of the photographs on the Citizens for a Canadian Republic website started in Freda’s camera lens.

With his salt-grey beard, soft, steel-blue eyes and swept-back hair, Freda looks like an academic, but his manner of speech betrays his twenty-plus years dealing with the media—his tone casual, his every sentence turned to forwarding his cause.

While he’s held republican sentiments as long as he can recall, Freda didn’t get involved with the movement until the mid-90s. His inspiration? John Manley.

Manley, a Liberal MP and cabinet member under Jean Chrétien from 1995 to 2003 (deputy prime minister from 2002 to 2003), is an outspoken republican.

To get an idea of his attitude, in 2002 Manley said to reporters: “I don’t think it’s necessary for Canada to continue with the monarchy”—while serving as official government escort to the Queen.

This statement didn’t win Manley much love.

As reported by The Globe and Mail, then-dominion chairman John Aimers of the Monarchist League called Manley’s words an “unpardonable breach,” while Conservative MP Elsie Wayne decried them as “an insult to the whole of Canada.”

It was this monarchist stranglehold on the media that partly inspired the founding of Citizens for a Canadian Republic.

According to Freda, whenever republicanism gained traction, the Monarchist League would tour the networks to quash such talk in the crib. The monarchist perspective dominated the conversation, so republicanism needed an organization of its own. (Attempts to interview Robert Finch, current Monarchist League dominion chairman, were unsuccessful.) 

Republicanism has existed in Canada since before federation, going back to the Upper and Lower Canada Rebellions of 1837 and 1838, but by the 1990s, the movement existed mainly in online chatrooms.

Freda, alongside co-founder Pierre Vincent, sought to change this state of affairs. In April 2002, they announced the formation of Citizens for a Canadian Republic (CCR).

Since its founding, CCR has worked to bring the nation on-board with replacing the monarch as head of state with “a resident, democratically-selected Canadian.”

In pursuit of this goal, the organization does media appearances and press releases, and posts regularly to social media to educate Canadians on the republican option.

“Back then it was taboo. You don’t touch this topic. Don’t rock the boat,” says Vincent, who believes Freda’s presence in the media gave Canadians the green light to talk openly about leaving the monarchy.

The Queen and Tom

On October 9, 2002, Tom Freda was within arm’s reach of the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip were on their Golden Jubilee tour, stopping in at the Festival of Ontario exhibit in what was then the National Trade Centre at Exhibition Place, Toronto.

Where the Queen went, a crowd followed. A hundred strong had gathered by the Centre’s entrance, awaiting a regal appearance.

Freda was on the scene with a half-dozen of his republican colleagues, handing out flyers promoting the anti-monarchist position.

Suddenly, the crowd rocked to life: it was the Queen and Prince Phillip, and they’d just stepped out of the National Trade Centre onto the waiting red carpet.

“I stopped handing out my flyers,” says Freda, “and I’m standing there going, ‘there comes the Queen.’”

Utterly apathetic to the royal presence, Freda nonetheless found himself standing by the barricade. At his side, a middle-aged woman waving flowers, called out “Your majesty! Your majesty!”

And there she was—the Queen, decked out in a hot pink high-collar overcoat with matching skirt, come to speak with the flower-waver.

The camera flashes started up like an emergence of cicadas, and suddenly Freda realized “Whoa, I’m about to be photographed standing next to the Queen.”

His first instinct was to duck out of the way.

Freda doesn’t hate cameras; after all, he’s a photographer. The cameras weren’t the problem—it was the company. A photo with the Queen could have marred his reputation.

In retrospect, Freda says, he should have handed her a flyer.

A Royal Pain

“Ultimately, I believe that Canadians’ attachment to the monarchy has been built on the fact that Elizabeth was loved and admired,” says Jamie Bradley, 61, eastern director for CCR.

“We are against the institution, not the person,” says Bradley, who describes the late Queen as a strong, dedicated woman, of grace, humour, and intelligence.

Queen Elizabeth’s passing won’t make us a republic overnight, but the story has shifted. King Charles inherited his mother’s regal rank, not her reputation. For republicans, the proverbial iron seems red-hot.

Still, leaving the monarchy is, it seems, a slippery venture for Canadians.

“A royal pain” said Global News in March 2021. “Insurmountably complicated” concurred the National Post in July of that year.

Ad nauseum, the message echoes: it wouldn’t be easy.

Ian Greene, professor emeritus of public policy and administration at York University, holds a similar view. Like many Canadians, Greene questions if any motion to modify the monarchy could make it to fruition.

“In the foreseeable future, I don’t see any change as possible,” he says.

Thanks to the Constitution Act, 1982, any amendment to the role of the monarchy would require the unanimous agreement of all ten provincial legislatures (but not the territories), the House of Commons, and the Senate—what experts like Greene call the unanimity formula.

The unanimity formula is infamously difficult, but not as impossible as monarchists insist, Fred says. In his view, if the majority of Canadians want a republic, their elected representatives should be on board.

“It was difficult to patriate our constitution. It was difficult to change our flag,” he says. “To say ‘don’t bother,’ because it’s hard to do is defeatist. What kind of argument is that?”

But what about our political divides? It’s difficult to imagine, say, Alberta voting in accord with the federal government.

“They would object to it,” Freda admits, “just because Justin Trudeau thought it was a good idea.”

Which, it should be noted, Trudeau doesn’t.

Freda believes it would take a multi-partisan parliamentary committee—with the prime minister keeping quiet—to get the job done.

“Then, I guarantee you, the provinces will come to an agreement.”

For Freda, leaving the monarchy isn’t just a goal—it’s an inevitability. Eventually, he says, the status quo will give, and Canada will enter the final stage of its symbolic maturity.

It’s not just republicans who believe becoming a republic is inevitable—even Greene, a staunch monarchist, concedes the monarchy won’t last forever.

“It’s based on personal loyalty to the royal family,” says Greene, and the royals are, after all, only human. “They have their own personal problems.”

Greene feels republicans should focus not on leaving the monarchy, but on what to do once we’ve left.

“It is important for us to come up with a way of choosing the vice-regal positions,” such as the governors general, Greene says, “so when ties with the monarchy are eventually cut, we have a replacement system.”

He’s got a point: if the governors general are to become the new heads of state—as Freda wants—shouldn’t the politicians figure out how to select them?

Freda claims focusing on the process—on what Canada will do once the monarchy is gone—is a tactic monarchists use to distract and divide republicans.

Through such tactics, Freda says, monarchists defeated Australia’s 1999 republican referendum by splitting the republican vote.

For Freda, it’s better to have only two options: monarchy in, or monarchy out.

Were such a referendum to happen, Freda says, “There’s not a bone in my body that is unsure of the result.”

Still, Greene stresses how vital the vice-regal positions are.

“Although most of their duties are ceremonial,” says Greene, “they have the legal responsibility to protect the constitution.”

For Greene, this task is too vital to leave in the hands of the electorate or the prime minister, since either option would politicize the position.

“It needs to be a nonpartisan process,” says Greene, “one all the parties buy into.” Republicans, in his view, have yet to offer a suitable solution.

Philip Resnick, professor emeritus of political science at the University of British Columbia, agrees there’s a need for a new system in advance—but he has a solution in mind.

Resnick advocates for Canada to adapt the German system. In Germany, the head of state is elected by an equal number of federal and state-level parliamentarians—meaning, in Canada, the provinces would have equal say with Ottawa.

“Some of the key issues and tensions which can arise in Canada, we’ve seen with respect to both Quebec and Alberta, involve federal-provincial relations,” says Resnick.

A head of state selected using the German system, Resnick says, “could play an important mediating role.”

Resnick isn’t the only republican worried about unity under the monarchy. In their April 24 press release, CCR detailed their suggestion for a similar system in Canada.

“To me, it’s an issue of national unity,” says Vincent. For him, the colonial monarchist symbols inundated throughout Canadian society are another serious problem.

“Think of the colonial symbolism to Irish Canadians of Catholic origin, to Jamaican Canadians, Barbadian Canadians, Acadians,” says Vincent. Not to mention the myriad other peoples brutalized by the British Empire.

“The majority of Canadians,” Vincent says, “have some kind of beef with this institution.”

However, some experts in Canadian politics believe Canada won’t become a republic without outside influence.

Philippe Lagassé, an associate professor of international affairs at Carleton University, who has served as an advisor to the government, says Canada has no real chance of becoming a republic in the near future.

Lagassé, who considers himself “agnostic” on the issue, says “Canada will become a republic if the [United Kingdom] becomes a republic,” and argues Canadian republicans should focus on aiding their British brethren.

But for Ashok Charles and Republic Now, leaving the monarchy is something Canada can do without deferring to its Commonwealth cousins.

“I don’t think we’re a deferential country,” says Charles. “I don’t think Canada is the kind of country that’s always looking around to see what other countries are doing, and only falling in line.”

As the Monarchist League of Canada website reminds, “In 1867, the Fathers of Confederation unanimously chose constitutional monarchy as Canada’s form of government.” The key word there is chose.

It’s been over a hundred and fifty years since confederation, and Canada has changed.

“Getting our own national anthem, our own national flag,” says Vincent, “those are republican initiatives that made Canada a better place; a more sovereign nation.”

For Canada, Vincent says, “there’s only one last step left.”

Freelance writer Luke Sutton can be reached at

Looking Beyond

The perplexities of the spiritual world are explored through John Pothiah, a well-known Peterborough psychic.

By Bianca Mazziotti | Featured image courtesy of Pixabay | April 18, 2019

We hear his footsteps coming down the stairs. Andrea Hester and I stop our conversation and look up to see her husband, John Pothiah, standing in the doorway. The 67-year-old psychic comes to about 5’ 4,” with dark skin and brown eyes that are always moving and never seem to focus on anything in particular. He appears completely drained and distant, which begs me to wonder if I am welcome. Pothiah lifts his hand so I can shake it and gives me a small smile before leading me up to the second floor of his red-brick house, nestled in the quiet suburbs of Peterborough.

As I walk up the stairs and enter a room I have only been in twice before, my mind wanders as to what my true intentions are. I’ve been lying to most people, saying I am here just for an assignment, undeniably masking the fact that I am looking for more. The truth is, I am searching for proof that the world beyond the physical exists.

I sit down in a big red leather chair, knowing I am going in with a skeptical eye, searching for the smoke and mirrors behind the magician that is Pothiah. I take a deep breath as he quickly enters the room, wondering if my questions will be answered soon.

He stands in front of me as he begins my third psychic reading with him, and I immediately notice a change from a few minutes earlier. The tired man I saw before now has transformed into what seems like an energetic child.

Pothiah begins to talk at a rapid speed, and his face lights up as he discusses  what he says have been my past lives. “You’ve been a writer in many lifetimes,” he says. “You used to be a short man, a bit plump, but you could write sonnets like crazy.”

Pothiah speaks about the spiritual world as if he has never known anything else. He says he is clairsentient, which means he is able to interpret the energy around him and make predictions based on the information he receives. He will try to convince anyone that past lives, spirit guides, ghosts and aliens exist. Pothiah speaks about these topics with such conviction that it’s easy to get caught up in his beliefs. After being around Pothiah for some time, I feel a push to try and find evidence to back up his claims. The problem is that finding such evidence is quite difficult, to understate.

Life beyond the physical is challenging to measure; however, Michael Newton, who has his doctorate in Counseling Psychology and is the Founder of the U.S. Newton Institute for Life Between Lives Hypnotherapy (TNI), claims he found a way to detect what happens after you die. Newton used a technique that has existed since the 2nd century BC, called past life regression. Past life regression involves a patient being hypnotized to remember their past lives, because it is believed we store everything in our subconscious that our soul has gone through. Usually, hypnotherapists use it to help patients discover and heal from the trauma that has been brought over from their past lives; however, Newton decided to use hypnosis to take the patient back between their past life and current life, so they can relive their last death and discover the spirit world that follows.

In Newton’s 1994 book, Journey of Souls, he explored the many case studies he conducted that support life after death. What Newton discovered was that his patients had similar experiences after they died in a previous life. The main commonalities involved a feeling of being pulled out of the body and continuing as a radiant white light, which is believed to be the soul. Newton said after his patients realized they had died, they mostly had the same response: “The most common type of reaction I hear is a relieved sigh, followed by something along the lines of, ‘Wonderful! I’m home in this beautiful place again.’” The patients say their soul feels at peace and they are happy to be rid of their human body. However, proclamations that  suggest there is life after death are difficult for most people to accept. people are beginning to accept the possibility of something beyond the physical. There is an increasing number of people turning to psychics when life becomes uncertain. In an article by IBISWorld, titled Psychic Services Industry in the US, the rise in popularity of psychics is explored: “Over the past five years, the Psychic Services industry has grown by 2.0% to reach revenue of $2bn in 2018.” It is clear psychics are more widely accepted by the public, but they haven’t always been accepted.

A Psychic From a Young Age

When John Pothiah was a young boy, society treated him harshly. In 1956, at the age of five, he moved to Tottenham, England from South Africa, and had to learn the hard way just how different he really was. It became obvious when he was enrolled in a Catholic school and started attending church regularly. He would look up at the stained-glass windows of St. Francis Catholic Church and notice the array of colours surrounding the people depicted in them. The colours he saw mirrored what he saw  every day: auras.

Pothiah describes auras as a unique formation of colours that radiate from us, based on our personality and soul. It is not something that most people can see, but Pothiah believes everyone has them, and he has been seeing auras since birth. When Pothiah told the nuns at his school, they would beat him and say he was evil. This made Pothiah suppress his connection to the spirit world and not tell anyone about his abilities for years to come.  

Aside from having to deal with the difficulties that come with navigating the spiritual world at such a young age, Pothiah also had to contend with racism. Pothiah’s family had escaped apartheid, but Britain, was not free from discrimination. Being of Indian descent, Pothiah was not treated the same as the other children at his Catholic school. Pothiah was neglected by his teachers and because of the lack of attention, he was still unable to read and write at age seven.

But what happened next seems like something out of a fairy tale. Pothiah says that, at this time, his spirit guides stepped in. These are evolved beings of the spirit world that Pothiah says taught him everything he knows. He says they taught him how to read: “They showed me how to absorb the knowledge of any book, just by holding it,” he says. This new skill catapulted Pothiah to the top of his class. “The teacher thought I was a genius. I wasn’t! My spirit guides helped me cheat.”

Pothiah excelled in school and discovered many subjects of interest, but he did not find his true passion until he moved to Peterborough, Ont., at age 21, and got a job as an aerospace machinist at Magna, Dowty ITT.

Pothiah says his spirit guides stayed with him throughout every challenge and success in his life and eventually encouraged him to become a professional psychic in his downtime. Due to the words of assurance from his spirit guides, Pothiah has been a successful, professional psychic for over 30 years, and he says it all started with just one small advertisement he placed in the Peterborough Examiner.

One of Pothiah’s repeat clients is Nicole Spradbrow, a 42-year-old massage therapist from Peterborough. She has had seven readings with Pothiah over the past 15 years. At first, she was skeptical of Pothiah’s abilities, but after his predictions rang true, she kept coming back. “He told me when people in my life were going to pass away,” she says. “He described the people and the circumstances around them and then told me approximately when they would die. Both times, his predictions were accurate.”

“He told me when people in my life were going to pass away.”

Pothiah does not usually tell clients when their loved ones will pass away, because it is far too much for most people to deal with. He will also not tell you when you will die, or if your partner is cheating on you. If you are single, however, he will say in great detail who your next partner will be and roughly when they will come into your life: “He describes them, the circumstances around them, what he sees us doing, and at the time, I don’t think it is ever going to happen, and then I meet that person and it freaks me out,” says Spradbrow. She is just one of many believers in Pothiah.

John Armitage, however, is not as convinced of Pothiah’s abilities. Armitage’s first and only reading with Pothiah took place in 2013, and the now 25-year-old executive chef at Peterborough’s Summit Terrace Luxury Senior Apartments says the psychic was wrong on multiple fronts; the first concerning his career. “He told me I would move to Toronto and become a big-time chef, and that didn’t happen.” Armitage still lives in Peterborough, where he was born and raised. Another prediction that was not accurate relates to Armitage’s love life. Pothiah told Armitage he would meet a woman named Jenn within the following four years and eventually get married. “I have not found anyone named Jenn, or even come close to marriage.”

When I confronted Pothiah about his inaccurate predictions he told me some people are more difficult to read than others. “You can see through the walls they put up but you can just see hints because they don’t want you to know everything.” Pothiah also points out that certain spirits are more challenging to connect with. “When spirit comes in it’s like trying to fine-tune a radio station for someone until you get them in clear. Sometimes spirit comes on strong and sometimes it’s weak.”

Due to inaccurate predictions and the rise in fake psychics, scientists have often tried to find evidence to prove or disprove psychic abilities, but few have gone as far as James Randi. Toronto-born Randi, a scientific skeptic and the Co-Founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI),  decided to create a series of challenges to prove the validity of psychics. This was first developed in 1964, and anyone with enough confidence was allowed to take it on. If the psychic could prove their abilities, they would win one thousand dollars. Over the years, the prize money increased, and by the termination of the challenges, in 2015, it had grown to one million dollars.

Over the course of five decades, up to a thousand people had taken Randi’s series of challenges, and none was able to pass.

With no solid evidence proving there is such a thing as psychic powers, then why do many people still spend time and money consulting with psychics?

A Huffington Post article titled Are More People Turning to Psychics for Life Advice, investigated just how expensive some psychics can be. “In 2015, Fortune profiled some of the top business psychics in the U.S., with many charging up to $10,000 a day for guidance,” the article reported.  Pothiah, on the other hand, charges $100 per hour and, at the height of his psychic career, he was seeing about 21 clients per week.

When asked what is the most common reason  people go to psychics, Pothiah says most want to find their purpose. Jeff Brown, a 57-year-old former lawyer from Toronto, turned spiritual writer, went to Pothiah for this reason, and found his one-hour psychic reading to be life-changing. “I feel like the essence of what he said to me made me feel validated and empowered. I walked out of there feeling like I am on the right path. I am here to do something intensely powerful, and I have what it takes to do it. Who gets a message like that just anywhere?”

Brown’s reading with Pothiah affected him greatly, to the point where he discussed it in his book, Soulshaping: A Journey of Self-Creation. “If the best adventures are those that turn our expectations upside down, then I was in a full-blown headstand,” he wrote. “This stranger seemed to know my story inside out. Every word he uttered resonated.”

Hearing about Brown’s experience with Pothiah only reminded me of my own reading.

What Pothiah instilled in me, that cold November night, was hope.

As I left his house, walking down the front doorsteps, hearing the fresh snow crunching under my feet, I felt a sense of calm in the knowledge that I was on the right path regarding my career. Pothiah seemed to understand me on a personal level; he fully expressed my fears and dreams, without me saying anything. My reading with him only left me with more questions about the existence of the spirit world. Comparing the many failed scientific studies indicating that psychics do not exist, with my own reading, I wondered if we are not meant to know for certain what is beyond the physical. Maybe psychics, spirit guides, past lives and ghosts are all meant to remain a mystery to us, just like death.

Bianca Mazziotti is a freelance writer. For inquiries, please contact her at