Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to support private member's Bill C-624. This bill would change one verse only in the English lyrics of our national anthem. It would replace the words, “True patriot love in all thy sons command” with “True patriot love in all of us command”. That is with the intent of ensuring gender inclusiveness. The French version is not affected.
The New Democrats strongly support gender equality. The proposed legislation introduced by the member for Ottawa—Vanier reflects a long-standing goal which has been firmly supported over the years by initiatives by NDP MPs, including Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Svend Robinson, and most recently the member for Vancouver East. Since 1980, no less than nine bills have been tabled proposing this very change.
Tradition is certainly important, but Canadian values of gender equality and inclusiveness have moved beyond mere sentiments and are now principles firmly entrenched in Canadian law.
We join in singing our anthem to express a common love of our nation, its values, principles and accomplishments. When the English lyrics of our national anthem were written in 1908, women had not yet been granted the vote. Much has changed since with women finally recognized as legal persons granted the right to vote, the right to run for elected office, and with a majorly expanded military role.
I am proud to be a member of the caucus with the largest percentage of women. I am equally delighted that over 50% of the New Democrat candidates in the current Alberta election are women inspired to run by a strong and eloquent female leader.
While this symbolic change is important, we recognize that gender equality will only truly be actualized when governments address the gender gap in accessing education and employment opportunities through universally accessible child care, pay equity and a national strategy to end violence against women.
While the French lyrics of our anthem remain as written in 1880, the English version has changed many times. In 1913, the original neutral and inclusive version was altered from “dost in us command” to “in all thy sons command”. As our anthem was made official by statute, changes must now be made by Parliament.
In 2010, the Prime Minister committed in the throne speech that the anthem would be rewritten to make the language more inclusive, and then he reneged on this undertaking. Many calls have been made since to recognize the modern role of women in our anthem, including notably by Sally Goddard, the mother of the first female military member killed in Afghanistan.
Canada claims to be a world leader in terms of the proportion of women in its military and the areas in which they can serve. According to the Department of National Defence website, the Canadian Armed Forces are highly regarded as being at the forefront of military gender integration. According to the department, women can now enrol in any CAF occupation and professes that all career opportunities are based solely on rank, qualifications and merit, not gender.
Women have been involved in Canada's military service and have contributed to Canada's rich military history and heritage for more than 100 years, which of course makes it additionally reprehensible that we would have reverted to this discriminatory language. It may be a surprise to many Canadians that the largest number of women served during the Second World War and many performed non-traditional duties.
Since 1971, in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada, the department has expanded employment opportunities for women in the military. With the passage of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, women's military roles were again majorly expanded. Presently, women serve on a number of global operations ranging across the spectrum from peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance operations, presumably in Nepal today where our deeply heartfelt feelings are with the people there, through to stability, security, and peace enforcement operations.
According to the Department of National Defence website:
Although the CAF do not keep track of the gender of deployed personnel, it is safe to assume that eligible women are likely to be serving on the majority of our missions.
The history of Canadian service women is an important part of our national military heritage and their achievements contribute to the full and equal inclusion of women in our society and national institutions.
Be they men or women, regardless of race, religion or culture, CAF members share a common goal—protecting the country, its interests, and values while also contributing to international peace and security.
Canada is a world leader in terms of the proportion of women in its military, and the areas in which they can serve. Among their allies, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are highly regarded as being at the forefront of military gender integration.
The Conservative member for Richmond Hill, in speaking to this bill, said that the government backed off on its announced change because its 2013 poll showed major opposition, yet a 2015 poll found 40% strongly supportive of the amendment and 18% somewhat supportive of making our anthem gender neutral. Only 13% expressed strong disapproval, a significant shift in opinion from two years back.
It is time that our national anthem reflected the true role served by Canadian women in building and protecting our nation.