Can Canadian citizens receive British knighthoods and damehoods?

To mark Canada Day on 1 July, we look at the history of Canadian citizens in the British honours system and the Nickle Resolution of 1919.

Canada UK British Honours

Can foreign nationals receive knighthoods or damehoods from the Queen?

Any British national can receive an honour in the British honours system. But it is not just UK citizens who can receive honours; citizens from the 15 Commonwealth Realms (of which the Queen is Monarch), can also receive honours through the UK Honours system. However, many Commonwealth countries do not use the British honours system and instead use their own, including the likes of Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

The Foreign Office does also recommend honorary awards for citizens of countries that do not have the Queen as their head of state to be approved by Her Majesty. In these cases, the awards are ‘honorary’. Should someone receive an honorary knighthood or damehood, the recipient is entitled to place initials after his/her name. However, unlike citizens of countries that do have the Queen as their head of state, they are not entitled to style themselves ‘Sir’ or ‘Dame’.

Can Canadians receive knighthoods or damehoods from the Queen?

Currently there is a practical ban on Canadians accepting British honours. Debates around Canadian citizens receiving honours from other countries have been taking place for over a century, since the presentation of the Nickle Resolution in 1917 to the House of Commons of Canada. The Nickle Resolution was passed in 1919 and stated that the practice of foreign governments bestowing honours on Canadians should be discontinued.

However, the Nickle Resolution was not fully effective in stopping the honouring of Canadians by foreign governments and there was a brief revival of the practice during the Conservative administration of Prime Minister R.B. Bennett in 1934/35, where several knighthoods and lesser distinctions were awarded. A parliamentary committee in 1943 also recommended that the ban on nontitular honours briefly be lifted, so members of the military and civilians could be recognised for services during World War 2.

The policy was once again reaffirmed in 1968 by the government of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and again in 1988 by the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, which adopted a policy entitled Policy Respecting the Awarding of an Order, Decoration or Medal by a Commonwealth or Foreign Government. The Resolution requested that the British government not confer “any title of honour or titular distinction" on a Canadian, except for those of a professional or vocational character.

Which Canadians have received British honours?

One of the most high-profile modern cases where the Nickle Resolution was cited is that of Canadian publisher Conrad Black. In 2001, British Prime Minister Tony Blair advised Queen Elizabeth II to confer on Black a British life peerage with the title of The Baron Black of Crossharbour (Gazette issue 56379). However, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien attempted to use the Nickle Resolution to prevent it.

At the time, Black held both Canadian and British citizenship, but Chrétien believed that, despite the British government honouring Black as a British citizen, he as Prime Minister of Canada had the right to keep Black from becoming a British life peer. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Chrétien, however Ontario courts have no jurisdiction outside of Ontario and no Canadian courts have any jurisdiction in the UK. In the end, Black resolved the issue by renouncing his Canadian citizenship. He sat as a life peer on the Conservative benches in the UK until 2007.

There have also been other Canadians who have received British honours in less controversial circumstances. Following World War 2, Winston Churchill recommended that the George VI bestow a knighthood on Sir William Stephenson, known by his wartime intelligence codename 'Intrepid'. The Canadian government did not object. For his service to the war effort, Stephenson was made a Knight Bachelor by the King in the 1945 New Year Honours (Gazette issue 36866). In recommending Stephenson for the knighthood, Winston Churchill wrote: "This one is dear to my heart."

Another notable knighthood following the Nickle Resolution was that of Sir Frederick Banting, the Canadian medical doctor who co-won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for the discovery of insulin. He was knighted by King George V in 1934 (Gazette issue 34056).

See also

American citizens with honorary British knighthoods and damehoods

Everything you need to know about nominating someone for a UK honour

What is the difference between a CBE, OBE, MBE and a knighthood?

Image: Getty Images

Publication date: 1 July 2020

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.