Slightly longer TL;DR version: Yes and no. You can be a Baron, but you can never be Baron XYZ.
Something made me very curious a few months back... an ad for becoming a Scottish laird/lord/lady/whatever for a small amount.
I raised an eyebrow - that wasn't right, there is no way it would ever be possible. And I dove into a world that intersects law and history and I was hooked.
The first important question is - can Canadians hold noble titles? At first glance, considering that the Government has a policy to disallow foreign governments to grant them, we'd expect the answer to be 'no'.
As surprising as it sounds, the answer is 'yes'! Granting honours is the prerogative of the Crown (which typically does so on the advice of the Prime Minister). It turns out that Canadian governments have not been too keen on that lately, though. Curious readers can have a look at McCreecy's Master's Thesis on the topic.
It is important that titles are a matter that pertain to the Crown (i.e. the King or Queen of Canada - currently HM Elizabeth II), have no legislative framework (in Canada) and are essentially bound by tradition at this point.
The possible titles emanating from the Crown are:
- Prince/Royal Highness (Royal family only)
- Duke (Peerage)
- Marquess (Peerage)
- Earl (Peerage)
- Viscount (Peerage)
- Baron (Peerage)
- Baronet (Baronetage)
- Sir (from the orders of knighthoods)
The British Parliament passed some laws (e.g. Life Peerages) that do not apply in Canada, as Canada became a country of its own in 1931 and achieved full independence in 1982.
It is important to note that that titles cannot be purchased since the adoption of the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925. I'm inclined to believe that this law would be applicable in Canada, but we'd need a constitutional scholar to be 100% sure.
That being said, constraints put in place by Royal Warrants apply as they are worded, and that is typically to all the Crown's realms. So even though Canada is not mentioned explicitly, they should apply here as well. I am not a lawyer, let alone a constitutional scholar, so I could be wrong. But I'm going to assume that even if I were, the Queen would gladly fill any loopholes as needed to keep things in sync.
I'm not going to include a link to the scammers themselves, both as a protection against defamation lawsuits and avoiding to give them publicity.
I will point to some of the resources that tell the truth though. I suggest having a look at the Fake Titles site from the Earl of Bradford, Heraldica, Cracroft's Peerage, the College of Arms, the Lord Lyon.
The only doubt I have comes from one article. The article sounds like all kinds of titles are traded, but I sense exaggeration from an under-informed journalist. I would conclude from is that they sell French and Italian titles as well as Scottish and Irish feudal baronies.
I wrote to Burke's Peerage for clarification on 2015/06/12, and I was informed that, after Mr. Brooks-Baker passing, this business is no longer ongoing and that they don't really know much about it.
What is a Title Anyway?
It is good to clarify what we are talking about, and it can be confusing sometimes.
Because we're so used to courtesy titles, the subject gets confusing very fast. There are two kinds of titles, the formal kind, and the courtesy title.
For most commoners like me, we use a courtesy title such as would be 'Mr.', 'Mrs.', 'Ms.', 'Miss'.
An actual title reflects position, status and achievement. That's the kind of stuff that nobody can give themselves. In a way, it is a shortcut to respect (and possibly authority).
For the purposes of this post, I'll use 'title' to mean a noble one, like a knight or an aristocrat.
The Cheap Titles Scam
The cheap titles scam I mentioned above works by essentially getting your name legally changed from John Doe to Lord John Doe. The 'Lord' or 'Lady' is a part of the first name, not an actual title.
The scammers will also send you a coat of arms that is supposedly yours.
In Canada, the Canadian Heraldic Authority (CHA) is in charge of granting coats of arms as well as registering foreign coats of arms.
The Law of Arms of Canada is a non-codified law, but its basics are well-known and derived from the English one. Essentially, it is not legal for subjects of the Queen to assume arms (i.e. to pick some for themselves). They must either inherit arms or receive a grant. Foreigners can assume arms and get them registered.
The problem is that the law isn't really enforced. So 'Lord John Doe' could innocently put that coat of arms on his letterhead and not face consequence as long unless he keeps it away from Scotland.
Lord of the Manor Scam
This one has some basis in reality. Anyone can purchase a 'Lord of the Manor' title, which gives some small possibility of revenue stream from natural resources and abandoned land. It does NOT confer a title of any kind, nor does it grant you a coat of arms.
Some people have created the tradition of calling themselves Lord or Lady after purchasing one. However, that's 100% wrong and I hope there's going to be a crackdown at some point.
English Feudal Barony Scam
This one is a variant on the Lord of the Manor scam. Some people think that feudal baronies still exist in England, and are the baronial version of the lord of the manor.
I checked with the College of Arms and they informed me that there is no such thing, and owning one of those won't give the owner nicer coats of arms either.
The Foreign Title Pointlessness
Some sites advertise legal services to buy an actual French or Italian title. French titles (both named and feudal) still exist today and are tied to a piece of land. So that means that you get to buy some land that comes with a title.
That one is totally legal, but useless. That is because the Crown doesn't give Royal Licenses to foreign title holders since 1930, which means that you couldn't use the title in Canada. The text of the Warrant of April 27, 1932 on Foreign Titles is here.
Note that this applies only to the Queen's subjects. If your citizenship is not one of the Queen's Realms, then that's totally fine.
Hereditary Peerages cannot be transmitted to children from adoption (Royal Warrant of 30 April 2004) or artificial insemination (Royal Warrant of April 1st, 2011). The wording of the Royal Warrant make it sound like it applies in Canada, but refers to a British law. That is an apparent loophole which is probably not worth trying.
This also applies for Baronets, which can be inherited only by male children from marriage (see Succession for a Baronetcy). I was a bit surprised to see this constraint, and I had the chance to exchange emails with Grant Bavister, Asst Reg of the Peerage & Baronetage, on this question, and this is what he had to say.
"You comment upon (1) succession by children born out of wedlock and (2) the position of children adopted by a Baronet. The law in relation to succession, which is analogous to the Common Law is the same for Peers and Baronets, so I shall deal with both.This is as good a summary as you can get.
In relation to (1) the position is that for the purposes of succession to an hereditary title, for a child (normally the eldest, or eldest surviving son) to be the heir of his Father he must be born within wedlock; the long established convention is, and the terms of the Patents of the vast majority of the Patents that create hereditary titles, provide for succession by “heirs male of the body [of the grantee] lawfully begotten” or similar wording; put simply that means that the heir to a title can only be one who was born to the Baronet or Peer and his wife after they were married, ie. within wedlock. Any child born to parents outside of wedlock are not considered to be an heir for succession purposes.
In relation to (2) - adopted children the same position applies; because a child adopted by a Peer or Baronet and his wife will not have been born to them as a married couple that child cannot be considered as an heir to the title; children so adopted may now use a courtesy title of the younger son of a Peer. Children born to a Peer or Baronet and his wife but conceived by means of artificial insemination etc are also in the same position as adopted children."
In summary, the only thing adoption gives is a courtesy title.
Scottish Feudal Barony?
It is possible to purchase a Scottish Feudal Barony. The title is now independent from the land ownership. The title is foreign to Canada, but is subject to the same Queen.
So, in theory, the owner should be able to call themselves Baron of XYZ, but NOT Baron Firstname Lastname.
The owner of a feudal barony may get a coat of arms from the Lord Lyon, with the only difference being that the helmet above the shield will look different. In other words, only the trained eye will notice the difference.
I'm going to guess that the Baron would some kind of official recognition in their Canadian Passport, though there is no official documentation available about that. This is hardly a surprise, considering that there are very few Canadians ever receiving titular honours, let alone a Barony!
Now, if you have a few extra British Pounds (the starting price is apparently at £75,000), please send them my way, and I'll gladly find out all that for you!!!
So, a Canadian can't purchase a title, but can get pretty close to. That is, however, a very expensive option. I hear that one gets plenty of freebies in return, like business class upgrades and the like. So maybe it gives a return on the investment, but I doubt it.
[Update 2015/07/18 : Added the reference for the lowest price of a Scottish Barony]
[Update 2015/09/16] Added explanation on the Law of Arms