The Commonwealth flag
The Commonwealth flag consists of the Commonwealth symbol in gold on a blue background. The symbol includes a radial grating forming the letter “C” surrounding a circular solid, on which are superimposed five latitudinal lines and five longitudinal lines to represent the globe.
The Commonwealth flag has no official status, but it is flown at the headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and at Commonwealth events and meetings.
About the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth is a multilateral, intergovernmental organization made up of countries with links to the United Kingdom of Great Britain, most of which are former colonies, including Canada.
With over 53 independent states, the Commonwealth comprises close to a third of the world’s population. Thirty-one of its members are small states, many of them island nations. The Commonwealth spans all continents, bridging race and religion. It includes some of the world’s largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries. It enables people to discuss their common problems freely, and to work together in finding solutions.
The guiding principles of the Commonwealth are contained in the Commonwealth Charter.
History of the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth became a reality in 1931 when the independence of the dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa was legally recognized in the Statute of Westminster. It began to take its modern form when India was granted its independence in 1947. Two years later, India became a republic and the Commonwealth adapted itself to accept countries that owed no allegiance to the British Crown. Today, regardless of their form of government, all Commonwealth countries regard Queen Elizabeth II as a symbol of the association and, as such, Head of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth has grown as former colonies in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the Pacific were granted their independence and chose to remain members of the association. Each Commonwealth member is free to follow its own policies, but all subscribe to a set of common ideals agreed to by Commonwealth heads of government in 1971.
By adopting the Declaration of Commonwealth Principles, Commonwealth nations expressed their commitment to international peace and order, equal rights for all citizens and liberty of the individual. Member countries are also united in their opposition to colonial domination and racial oppression, and in their commitment to achieving a more equitable global society.
Members of the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth’s 53 member countries span Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific. All members subscribe to the Commonwealth’s values and principles, outlined in the Commonwealth Charter.
Leaders of member countries shape Commonwealth policies and priorities. Every two years, they meet to discuss issues affecting the Commonwealth and the wider world at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. All members have an equal say – regardless of size or economic stature. This ensures even the smallest member countries have a voice in shaping the Commonwealth.
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Bahamas, The
- Brunei Darussalam
- Fiji Islands
- Gambia, The
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- Sierra Leone
- Solomon Islands
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
- St. Kitts-Nevis
- St. Lucia
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Kingdom
- United Republic of Tanzania
Throughout the Commonwealth, the second Monday in March marks Commonwealth Day.
Over the years, Canada has played a great role in the promotion of Commonwealth Day. First celebrated on the last school day before May 24, “Empire Day” began in Canada in 1898. This day was adopted in the United Kingdom in 1904, allowing people of the Commonwealth to show their pride in being part of the British Empire.
Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day in 1958 to reflect the new relationship between the nations of the former empire.
In 1973, the National Council in Canada of the Royal Commonwealth Society wrote to Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to express the desire to have Commonwealth Day observed on the same day throughout the Commonwealth. In 1975, this request appeared on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. By 1976, Canada’s proposal for Commonwealth Day to be celebrated throughout the Commonwealth on the second Monday in March was adopted.
There is no identical way to observe Commonwealth Day in member countries; it is left to each country to mark that day as it considers suitable. In Canada – where physical arrangements allow – the Royal Union Flag, also known as the “Union Jack,” is flown along with the National Flag at federal buildings, airports and military bases from sunrise to sunset, to mark this day.
Physical arrangements means the existence of at least two flagpoles ; the Canadian flag always takes precedence and is never replaced by the Union Jack. Where only one pole exists, no special steps should be taken to erect an additional pole to fly the Union Jack for this special day.
Commonwealth Day is not a statutory holiday; rather, it is a day of observance of the common bonds shared by the Commonwealth of Nations.
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