An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Mauril Bélanger  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of April 29, 2015
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment substitutes the words “of us” for the words “thy sons” in the English version of the national anthem, thus making it gender neutral.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

April 29, 2015 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

NATIONAL ANTHEM ACTPrivate Members' Business

April 27th, 2015 / 11:05 a.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

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.

NATIONAL ANTHEM ACTPrivate Members' Business

April 27th, 2015 / 11:15 a.m.
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St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-624, an act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender).

The official lyrics are based on a poem written in 1908 by Justice Robert Stanley Weir. Although changes to the original poem were made prior to the adoption of the national anthem, it must be mentioned that no changes have been made to the English version since its adoption. Bill C-624 proposes to change the anthem by removing the words “thy sons” and inserting the words “of us” in the English version of the national anthem. This line was inserted in 1914 by Robert Stanley Weir, the original author, and has remained unchanged for a hundred years.

The lyrics to O Canada are symbolic. The anthem in its current form is important to Canadians. O Canada is not only a source of pride and a reflection of our nation, it is loved by Canadians as it is. It is part of our historical legacy.

As studies have shown, the anthem continues to be a sense of pride and belonging. A 2012 survey found that 78% of Canadians believe our national anthem is a great source of pride. Another poll conducted in the same year found that 74% of Canadians believe that our national anthem best reflects what Canada really is. The anthem is a very important Canadian symbol.

As more recent surveys have revealed, the majority of Canadians oppose changing the anthem to make it gender neutral. A 2013 study found that 65% of Canadians oppose the change, including 61% of women. Only 25% supported the change to gender neutrality.

The sponsor of the bill correctly mentioned that this poll used the phrase “her sons” instead of “thy sons”. While this is correct, his reasoning is that Canadians who were asked the question over the telephone instantly thought this was a reference to our queen and opposed the change. Considering that there was an oft-cited 2002 poll that showed only 5% of Canadians actually knew that our head of state was the queen, this line of reasoning shows the member is stretching this issue a little. The core question in the 2013 poll still asked Canadians if they wanted a gender neutral anthem, and 65% of Canadians said they did not. In fact, 61% of women in that survey said they did not want a gender neutral anthem.

Supporting the bill could send a message to Canadians that their opinions do not matter and that Parliament does not want to listen to them. O Canada is an anthem, and Parliament should not swap out its phrases without the support of all Canadians.

I strongly disagree with the NDP member for Vancouver East, who in our previous hour of debate said that O Canada was “offensive”. That is the word that she used. I would point out that the person who sits next to her, the Leader of the Opposition, has been quoted as saying:

I think that when you start tinkering with an institution like a national anthem that you're looking for problems [...] We seem to have agreed on the English and French versions as they are and I think that's probably a good thing.

I did not think I would stand up in the House and say that I agree with the Leader of the Opposition on too many things, but on this issue he has it right. He should share his concerns with the member for Vancouver East, who said in February that opposition to this anthem was “a no-brainer”.

It is outrageous, regardless of one's position as to whether it should be changed, that someone would be calling our Canadian national anthem “offensive”. It is a source of pride for Canadians across the country. In fact, her own leader called the anthem “wonderful”. He stated that the anthem should not be changed and that it is important to Canadians.

While the position of the member for Vancouver East on the anthem is hers to hold, she should apologize to the House and withdraw the remarks she made about our Canadian national anthem.

I cannot think of another country, in any type of parliament or house of representatives, that would have heard any member stand up to say that about their national anthem.

Our government is committed to recognizing women who have individually and collectively helped to build the strong, proud, and free Canada that we have today. Every year, commemorative events, such as the International Women's Day, Women's History Month, and important events such as the Governor General Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case, represent important occasions when all Canadians recognize the tremendous contributions that women make to all aspects of Canadian life. As an example, initiatives for the commemoration of World War I and World War II include recognizing the invaluable role that Canadian women played in our country's military efforts.

Canada recognizes and celebrates the instrumental role that Canadian women have played to build our great country during Women's History Month. During this month, we recognize the contribution of Canadian women and highlight their achievements in all areas of life: politics, sports, medicine, business, education, and it goes on. That is not to mention the vital accomplishments of the Famous Five: Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby, women whose leadership in the fight for equality paved the way for future generations and whose statues stand just to the east of this building on Parliament Hill.

Our government has done much to help ensure that the many contributions and achievements of women are recognized and that their remarkable role in society is highlighted.

I do believe in gender equality, and so does everyone on both sides of the House. We recognize and highlight the incredible and numerous contributions that women have made to the building of our beloved country. However, I do not believe that changing our national anthem is the way to accomplish this, and neither do the majority of Canadians, including the majority of Canadian women.

Supporting the bill would also open the door to further proposals to changing the national anthem. It would open Pandora's box and weaken the anthem as a symbol. Given that Canadians have already spoken loudly and clearly on this issue, I will not support the bill.

I understand why the sponsor put the bill forward, and our government proposed a similar change in the 2010 Speech from the Throne. The reaction from Canadians was overwhelming. While some members of the opposition may claim from time to time that the government does not listen to what Canadians are saying, on this issue, immediately after learning of the reaction to the change in national anthem, we did react. Do not forget that this was shortly after our huge successes at the Olympics in Vancouver. There was sense of pride. The national anthem was sung many times across this country. There was reaction to the moderate change we had put forward, not unlike the one made by the member. It was a reaction that led us to understand that this is a sacred anthem that is enjoyed by Canadians and should not be subjected to any form of change.

The lyrics to O Canada are symbolic and deeply rooted in tradition. It is a great source of pride to Canadians. We have a responsibility to maintain and protect our national symbols. Our anthem is one of those symbols. Any form of change to an anthem that is memorized, known, and sung literally hundreds of times a day in our country, and it does not matter the geography, should not occur. All Canadian citizens understand, know, and love what our national anthem stands for. They understand the importance, significance, and the symbolism of not changing the anthem.

There are very few countries that delve into changing the symbol that is their national anthem. When we open the door to change, there are going to be those who line up, whether it be on this issue with respect to the anthem or another issue. I believe that the best way to maintain the symbolism and importance of the anthem is to keep it exactly the way it is. Everyone understands it. Everyone knows what it stands for, and everyone loves singing O Canada.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

February 23rd, 2015 / 11:05 a.m.
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Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

moved that Bill C-624, an act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to the bill entitled “an act to amend the National Anthem Act”. The bill proposes a simple change in the English version only. It proposes that “True patriot love in all thy sons command” become “True patriot love in all of us command”; therefore, changing only two words: “thy sons” with “of us”.

There are many reasons we would want to sing “in all of us command”. We love our country and all of its people. Our anthem is important to us, and we want it to clearly include every Canadian. All of us are proud to sing O Canada, and O Canada should embrace all of us.

These two words that we want to reintroduce in O Canada are small yet meaningful, and would ensure that more than 18 million Canadian women are included in our national anthem

As Canadians, we continually test assumptions, and indeed symbols or anthems for their suitability, as we did with our flag 50 years ago. It is a sign of courage and thoughtfulness that, as a nation, we are willing to say this is just not good enough for us. We have done the right things many times. We have the opportunity to do the right thing now with respect to the English version of our national anthem.

Hearing the words “True patriot love in all of us command” would make the anthem crystal clear and inclusive, which is the essence of what it is to be Canadian.

The French version of O Canada was popular and remained unchanged from the moment it was sung on June 24, 1880. However, it took some time for the English version to emerge. Lest us not forget that the English version is not a translation of the French O Canada, even though they share the same music. A number of poems were set to Calixa Lavallée's music, including one written in 1908 by Judge R. Stanley Weir, of Montreal, in honour of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City.

Here are the words from the first verse that Judge Weir wrote, in 1908:

Our home and native land!
True patriot love thou dost in us command.

As members can hear, “us” is exactly what we are trying to put back in our anthem

Judge Weir is known to have amended his poem in 1913, 1914, and 1916. By 1913, he changed the second line of the poem to “True patriot love in all thy sons command”. Many believe the change was in response to the events leading up to the First World War, in which men and women from Canada proudly took part. We do honour the Canadian men who fought for liberty on those battlegrounds. We honour them and all who died. We honour them in our anthem.

Canadian women also served in the First World War, not as soldiers, but in other functions, especially, as nurses, and many died. We have commemorated them in Parliament's Hall of Honour; however, we have not commemorated them in our anthem.

In 1927, the 60th anniversary of Confederation, the government authorized Judge Weir's song for singing in schools and at public functions, but kept the second line from the 1913 version, not the original 1908 gender-neutral version.

Incidentally, other words were changed in 1927, and again in 1980, when it was enacted by Parliament. The National Anthem Act was introduced, passed, and given royal assent, all in the same day, on June 27, 1980. The rapidity with which this was done did not allow sufficient time to deal with some concerns, such as the lack of inclusiveness of the English version. A commitment was given that time would be devoted in the following session to further considering O Canada, including in particular the words “thy sons”. Unfortunately, it did not happen.

Since 1980, there have been nine private members' bills introduced in Parliament to change the second line of the English anthem so as to include both women and men. Unfortunately, until now, none have been debated or voted upon in the House. Today could become an interesting moment. I invite my colleagues to engage in this debate, which could lead us to deciding to include our daughters and granddaughters in our national anthem.

Thirty-five years is a long time to wait to bring about a simple yet meaningful change, especially with the 150th anniversary of Confederation quickly approaching. The House now has the opportunity to rectify the 1980 oversight.

We can restore words that were written and sung 107 years ago. We should not fear such a change. The English lyrics for O Canada have already been changed five times since 1908. The first version, the 1908 one, was inclusive, but then the words were changed. The line “thy sons command” perhaps seemed more appropriate because of our soldiers' participation in the First World War; however, it is not inclusive enough for our time.

Some may wonder or ask why. In the century since the introduction of “thy sons” in our national anthem, numerous events justify returning to the “us” of the original version from 1908. Here are some of these noteworthy changes:

Women were first granted the federal right to vote in 1918, by the government of Sir Robert Borden.

Canada held its first federal election in which women were allowed to vote and run for office in 1921. It was the year that Agnes Macphail was elected to the House of Commons, making her Canada's first female member of Parliament.

There was the 1929 Persons Case, where the Famous Five succeeded in having women recognized as persons and thereby eligible for appointment to the Senate. A few months later, in early 1930, Canada's first female senator, Cairine Wilson, was sworn in.

Less than a minute into 1947, once the Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect, the first born Canadian citizen joined us, Nicole Cyr-Mazerolle, a woman.

The Royal Military College of Canada, in Kingston, started admitting women as students in 1980. Now women serve as soldiers, and just recently a woman was promoted to the rank of major-general, Ms. Christine Whitecross.

The adoption of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in 1982, has led to the gradual and rigorous implementation of equality between men and women, which the charter guarantees. We would be taking a very important symbolic step by ensuring that our anthem respects our charter.

Let us remember and celebrate the fact that our Canadian women won more medals than our men during the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. It is no longer just “he shoots, he scores”; it is also “she shoots, she scores”.

When I took the oath of office for the Privy Council, I swore allegiance to the Queen of Canada. Three times, she has been represented by female Governors General, and we have had and have many women Lieutenant Governors. Why are Her Majesty and her representatives not included in our anthem?

Chris Hadfield, my colleague from Westmount—Ville-Marie, and the other men who have risked their lives in space are included when we sing “thy sons”, but their colleagues, Julie Payette and Roberta Bondar, are not. This is far from appropriate.

In 2013, the Restore Our Anthem campaign was launched to change the English words from “thy sons” to “of us”.

Former prime minister, Kim Campbell, internationally renowned author, Margaret Atwood, Senator Nancy Ruth, and former senator, Vivienne Poy, have lent their support to the campaign. The hon. Belinda Stronach also supports this.

Author Wayne Johnston said, “This is a no-brainer. All thy sons? Citisons? All of us, of course. Sing it loud and proud. My wife, sisters, mom, nieces...us”.

Jacquelin Holzman, former mayor of Ottawa, sings “all of us” already. CFRA talk show host Lowell Green told me that he supports this change. Ms. Maureen McTeer, Canadian lawyer and author, wife of the Right Hon. Joe Clark, 16th prime minister of Canada, sent me a note supporting this initiative. Former MP and leader of the NDP, Mr. Ed Broadbent, also confirmed his support to me.

Former Conservative senator Hugh Segal said:

Our national anthem should reflect the women and men who have led and sacrificed to shape our history. [Sing all of us] is right about what needs to be done.

Jonathan Kay, of the National Post, stated:

Perhaps the best argument for bringing O Canada into the 21st century is the fact that if our government doesn’t do it, ordinary Canadians will.

In fact, that is what is happening. Choirs across the country have already taken up the new language. Some musical groups that are now advancing an inclusive national anthem are the Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir, the Vancouver Children's Choir, and the Elektra Women's Choir.

The Ottawa Citizen supported my bill in an editorial titled, “What's so scary about an inclusive anthem?” The following is an excerpt from that editorial:

It’s a little bizarre that so many people consider the anthem’s current lyrics to be sacrosanct when the very line in question is the result of a change to the lyrics.

In a similar move, the Austrian legislature changed its national anthem in 2011, adding the word “daughters” to make the lyrics inclusive. If Austria can do it, why can't we?

Even our neighbours to the south have taken note of the inequality of our English anthem. The New York Times had this to say:

Although Canada's public schools are trying to eliminate sexism from the curriculum, every morning when "O Canada" is sung in English, half the population is effectively excluded.

It is actually a little more than half of the population.

Last, but certainly not least, let us not forget Nichola Goddard, who, in 2006, became the first female Canadian solider to die in combat. She died in Afghanistan serving us. She deserves to be included in our anthem just as much as our sons. Her mother also supports this symbolic, yet very meaningful change to our anthem.

We have come a long way. The strides made by women in our society have been significant and should be fully recognized. Our anthem should not ignore the increasingly important contribution of 52% of our population. There are Canadians everywhere in our country in support of the change being advocated with this bill.

There are also some who are opposed to it. They believe our anthem is fine as it is. This reminds me of the debate that we had in Canada 51 years ago about adopting a new flag. It was a fierce, sometimes acrimonious, debate. In the end, the right decision was made. The proof is that today our flag is embraced by an overwhelming majority of us. I repeat the words, “of us”. I believe that including all “of us” in our anthem will yield the same results.

The only goal of this bill is to honour the contribution and sacrifice of our Canadian women, as well as those of our men, in our national anthem. I look forward to a respectful, and hopefully non-partisan debate, and eventually to a free vote.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

February 23rd, 2015 / 11:20 a.m.
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Richmond Hill Ontario

Conservative

Costas Menegakis ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address Bill C-624, an act to amend the National Anthem Act with respect to gender, which seeks to amend the act to replace the words “thy sons” with the words “of us” in the English version of the national anthem. The intent of this change is to make our national anthem gender neutral. The verse would then read “True patriot love in all of us command” rather than “True patriot love in all thy sons”. O Canada is not a direct translation. Therefore, the lyrics of the French national anthem would not be affected by the proposed bill and would remain the same.

In addition to O Canada, Canada also has a royal anthem, God Save the Queen, that is performed in the presence of members the royal family and as part of the salute accorded to the Governor General and Lieutenant Governors at ceremonies and events across our country.

Canada has a rich history of other patriotic songs as well, such as the Ode to Newfoundland and The Maple Leaf Forever, that preserve our heritage and history in song.

National symbols and anthems are very important aspects of a country. They are very important to national identity. They represent the beliefs and values of citizens and tell the story of a nation, its people, environment, history and traditions. They can be used to instill pride and unity in a nation's population, and this is particularly true of our national anthem.

Every country has its own set of symbols that establishes its identity and sets it apart from other countries around the world. Our symbols are as diverse as Canada's history and include the coat of arms, our motto, the national flag of Canada, our official colours, the maple tree, the beaver, the national horse of Canada, our national sports, the tartan and, of course, our national anthem. Together, these symbols help explain what it means to be Canadian and express our national identity. For Canadians, these symbols provide connections across space and time, and are a source of unity and pride.

As we head toward 2017, our government will focus on increasing Canadians' awareness and fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of our country's history, symbols and institutions as we celebrate our 150th anniversary.

The symbols of Canada can heighten not only our awareness of our country, but also our sense of celebration in being Canadian. Our national anthem represents a legacy that has been passed down from our predecessors. It is a source of national pride. A 2012 survey found that 78% of Canadians believed our national anthem to be a great source of pride. Another poll conducted in the same year found that 74% of Canadians believed that our national anthem best reflected what Canada really was.

Our government is committed to promoting and protecting our symbols and institutions. These pillars of national cohesion are key in building awareness and appreciation of shared experiences and pride. National symbols represent the country and its people. The lyrics of the national anthem have remained untouched since it was adopted as the official national anthem in 1980.

Although many bills have been tabled seeking to modify the national anthem to make it gender neutral, none of the bills was successful.

In the 2010 Speech from the Throne, our government committed to looking at changing the lyrics for gender neutrality. However, following this speech, the public strongly expressed its opposition to changing the anthem and the government opted not to modify it. Further research to seek Canadians' opinion on this subject was conducted and there was a clear indication that Canadians loved their anthem and wished to see it kept as it is. A 2013 study found that 65% of Canadians opposed the change. Only 25% supported the change and 10% had no opinion on the issue.

After that clear message, how can we possibly support the bill? Canadians across our country, men and women alike, are against the change and have voiced that. Supporting this bill would be telling them loudly and clearly that what the majority of Canadians want does not matter and that their opinions do not matter to the government.

As mentioned, our symbols are a celebration of who we are as a people. They are designed to unite a population that possesses similar views, outlooks and goals. If our anthem is a celebration of who we are as a people and represents the beliefs and values of citizens, how can we change it without the consent of those very same citizens? It is the opinion of Canadians across our country that counts. No government can go against the will of its people.

I believe gender equality to be a very important issue. Our government has come a long way in ensuring that the many contributions and achievements of women are recognized and that their role in society is highlighted. This is accomplished through the designation of special days such as International Women's Day and Women's History, by presenting awards, by highlighting the significant role women continue to play in the building of our country during commemorations and celebrations, and by making specific investments through Canada's economic action plan.

For example, since 2007, our government has provided over $146 million in funding through the Status of Women Canada's women program, which aims to achieve the full participation of women in the economic, social and democratic life of Canada.

There is certainly work left to be done to ensure that gender equality in all aspects of Canadian life is realized. It is incumbent upon all of us to continue to work toward that key objective. However, given that Canadians oppose changing our national anthem, our government will not support this bill. Our government will continue to recognize women in the various tangible ways it has been doing and will remain committed, with conviction, to protecting and preserving our national symbols.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

February 23rd, 2015 / 11:40 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today and, as the Canadian heritage critic for the Liberal party, express my support for Bill C-624, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender), sponsored by our indomitable colleague, the member for Ottawa—Vanier.

It is a seemingly simple bill, perhaps one of the simplest bills we have ever debated in this House. It simply changes two little words in the English version of our national anthem. However, since that change will have immense symbolic significance, we would not expect it to receive unanimous support right away.

I therefore want to examine the arguments made against this bill with an open mind, and demonstrate that they do not outweigh those in its favour.

The bill proposes making the English version of the national anthem gender neutral by changing two little words in one of the verses. Thus, the verse “True patriot love in all thy sons command” would become “True patriot love in all of us command”. They are two small words, “thy sons” to “of us”, but they are an important symbol.

Why change it? It is because the new gender-neutral wording would make Canada's anthem gender inclusive, thus catching up with the evolution of Canadian society and confirming one of the most important values espoused by Canadians, which is the equality of women and men.

This is the only, but important, purpose of the bill.

Who, then, would want to oppose such a change and why? Do all of us here in the House not support gender equality? Of course we may not always agree on how to promote equality, but I am quite certain that we all agree with the objective.

Moreover, it would be completely unfair to accuse everyone who opposes the bill of also opposing gender equality.

My understanding is that those who disagree with the proposed change argue that O Canada is a historical artifact that must be preserved in its current form for purposes of heritage and historical integrity. They argue that the past has contributed to the Canada of today and serves as an indicator of how far we have come as a society and a nation.

We have to recognize that that is a valid argument. Take the French version of O Canada, for example.

Some might say, and rightly so, that it is not inclusive enough for today's Canadian society. The French version of the anthem begins with making reference to the land of our ancestors, when the ancestors of many Canadians were not born on this land. It urges us to wear the cross, when many of us are not adherents of the Christian faith.

Nevertheless, in response to those arguments, I think we might say that the beautiful poem written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier in 1880 is part of our heritage and must be respected. It reminds us where we came from and helps us determine together where we want to go.

Let us call it the heritage argument. Today's Canada was born of yesterday's Canada and did not come out of nowhere. Our national anthem serves to remind us of that. That argument has merit. By the same token, it is not an absolute. There are other arguments to consider.

When we weigh all sides of the issue, it seems that the small change proposed in Bill C-624 is quite justified. Better still, it is desirable and I have two arguments to back that up.

Firstly, the heritage argument in this specific case supports changing the two words as proposed by Bill C-624. If we look at the heritage side of this matter, then it would be more accurate to say that we are reverting back to the original version rather than making a change.

The original version, written in 1908 by Judge R. Stanley Weir, had “True patriot love thou dost in us command”. The bill proposes returning to this original historical form, though using contemporary English, so it would be “in all of us”.

The English lyrics for O Canada have been amended a number of times since 1908. They were amended in 1913, 1914, 1916, 1927, and 1980. That does not mean they changed these lyrics without very valid justification, but it shows that they are not untouchable, particularly when the proposed amendment would, in one fell swoop, bring our national anthem closer to its original 1908 form.

It also shows that while the words have been amended on various dates, what has stood the test of time is the spirit of patriotism that continues to be embodied by Canada's anthem and Canadians who rise to sing it.

Secondly, the two-word change proposed in Bill C-624 is not only true to our heritage but it is also likely inevitable. If we do not make that change now, it will be made another time.

It would be better for us to get on the right side of history by making this change ourselves right away rather than leaving it for the legislators of tomorrow to do.

If “thy sons” does not become “of us” today, it will tomorrow.

A similar evolution happened in Austria, where, in December 2011, legislators voted to add three little words to the first verse of their national anthem. Thus “homeland of great sons” became “homeland of great daughters and sons”.

The English lyrics of Canada's anthem were adopted in 1980. They have been criticized ever since for excluding women, so if we do not fix the problem, the debate can only grow with time. Between 1984 and 2011, no fewer than nine bills have been introduced in Parliament to make these lyrics gender neutral.

Even the current Conservative government, in the 2010 Speech from the Throne, proposed to amend the anthem to make the lyrics gender neutral. It stated, “Our Government will also ask Parliament to examine the original gender-neutral English wording of the national anthem”. The government supported reverting to the original 1908 poem, replacing the current “in all thy sons command” with “thou dost in us command”. Although the government changed its mind 48 hours later, general support for such a change has only increased since.

In 2013, an online campaign entitled “Restore Our Anthem” was launched to make the English version of the national anthem gender neutral. Prominent Canadians such as Margaret Atwood, Kim Campbell, Vivienne Poy, Nancy Ruth, and Belinda Stronach have lent their support to the campaign.

An increasing number of Canadians are willing to embrace this change because it is so simple and consistent with today's values of equality.

Choirs and musical groups across the country, such as the Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir, the Vancouver Children's Choir, and the Elektra Women's Choir, have already taken up the new language. It is inevitable that the words “thy sons” will be replaced with “of us”, if not today, tomorrow.

Therefore, let us support Bill C-624 for all of us. Let us support the small but important change our colleague, the member for Ottawa—Vanier, rightly proposes. Our anthem will thus remain true to its original lyrics and most importantly, true to our daughters and sons both, who equally stand on guard for thee, the true north strong and free.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

February 23rd, 2015 / 11:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-624, an act to amend the National Anthem Act with respect to gender.

The purpose of the bill is to amend the act to make the lyrics of the anthem more gender neutral. Specifically, the bill seeks to replace the words “thy sons” with the words “of us” in the English version.

The lyrics of the national anthem have remained unchanged since it was adopted as the official national anthem in 1980, as members have heard today. Several attempts have been made to change the lyrics, so we have been down this road before, but these attempts have not been successful.

Additionally, as the media has reported and recent studies have demonstrated, Canadians have voiced their opinion that the anthem should not be changed. A 2013 study by Forum Research found that 65% of Canadians opposed the change, only 25% supported the change, and 10% had no opinion on the issue.

First, let me mention the many ways the Government of Canada is recognizing women and their significant role in society. One of the ways Canadian women are celebrated across Canada is through the designation of special days, as the parliamentary secretary mentioned, such as International Women's Day and Women's History Month. Our government is also recognizing women through awards commemorations and investments in the economic action plan.

International Women's Day has been celebrated since 1911. This global day of recognition and celebration provides an opportunity to highlight the contributions women have made and are continuing to make in society. It is also a time to reflect on the progress in advancing women's rights and equality and to reflect on the challenges that are still facing women, not only in Canada but all around the world.

On March 8, 2015, Canada will once again participate in this special day with events and activities to raise awareness and to pay tribute to the economic, political, and social achievements of women. International Women's Day is celebrated not only by the government but also by organizations, charities, educational institutions, women's groups, corporations, and the media.

Another form of recognition for women in Canada is the Governor General's Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case, a landmark victory for Canadian women, which has also been mentioned this morning. These awards, which were created in 1979, the year in which Canada celebrated the 50th anniversary of the persons case, annually honour five recipients. The award continues the tradition of the famous five, and it recognizes Canadians who have made an outstanding contribution to the goal of equality for women and girls in Canada.

The entire month of October is designated Women's History Month. It provides an opportunity to build understanding and to recognize women's achievements as a vital part of our heritage. We celebrate the accomplishments of Canadian women and recognize their contributions in this way.

Activities for Women's History Month take many forms: events, exhibits, film screenings, and classroom activities. Canadians are encouraged to learn about and better appreciate women's contributions to history and their fight for equality, which is a powerful, ongoing social movement.

It is another opportunity to bring to the forefront the work of the famous five: Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby, from Alberta. Their tireless efforts created a new precedent for women. It is also an opportunity to recognize other women in Canada's history who achieved important firsts or other significant accomplishments, women such as Cairine Ray Wilson, the first woman in the Senate of Canada, or Harriet Brooks, Canada's first woman nuclear physicist, or Roberta Bondar, Canada's first female astronaut.

Canada is proud that women have the opportunity to participate in every aspect of Canadian life. From entrepreneurs to astronauts to world-class athletes, women are making their mark, changing their nation for the better, and inspiring future generations.

This is not to say that equality has been fully realized, but Canada is making real progress toward this goal. As we look forward to Canada's 150th birthday, the Government of Canada is marking important milestones that have shaped our nation. The commemorations of the First and Second World Wars are under way. These commemorations are opportunities to celebrate Canada's heroines, who served their country with dedication and courage.

Yes, today women are part of every aspect of military life. All of us in this House probably know of at least one or two or more strong women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. However, in 1913, when military involvment was mandatory, that is, conscripted, only men were conscripted.

I believe this Liberal member's intentions are honourable but tend to the sentimental, if not revisionist. Women's contributions on the home front should be honoured and commemorated. Canadian women not only served in military roles but also assumed unprecedented roles, working in factories, offices, and volunteer organizations that supported the war effort.

In my own riding of Mississauga South, a small arms building is still in existence. It was a factory for Lee-Enfield rifles and Sten machine guns. In fact, there were over 5,000 women working there at any one given time creating and making these Lee-Enfield rifles for the entire allied efforts. I know the contributions women made in the great wars.

The 1914 change reflected the reality of the appalling toll in young male lives, reflected as the price paid for their so-called “true patriot love”. The reference to “thy sons” is clearly a military reference to the Great War. It is not about sexism or discrimination, as the NDP member opposite said. I see it as respect for Canada's history.

It is not simple either, as one of the Liberal members mentioned. With two small words, the Liberals would have us believe that this is insignificant, but erasing history does not accomplish the goal of gender neutrality or equality for women. Concrete actions taken to improve the lives of Canadian women accomplish this goal.

As I have said, our government recognizes women and their significant role in society in a variety of ways, including with special days, awards, commemorations, and investments through the economic action plan. These tangible forms of recognition show the value placed on women in Canadian society.

We have heard from Canadians on this issue, and they have spoken loudly and clearly. They overwhelmingly do not want to open the issue. This is an issue for the Ottawa bubble, not for ordinary Canadians, including strong women from coast to coast to coast who want us to reject this bill.

Our tradition of the anthem will remain intact in its current form, and the Government of Canada will continue to show its support for women in positive and tangible ways that celebrate their accomplishments, recognize their contributions, and support their future success in Canadian society.

National Anthem ActRoutine Proceedings

September 22nd, 2014 / 3:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-624, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender).

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to table a bill entitled “An act to amend the National Anthem Act”. It is seconded by my colleague from St. Paul's.

The bill proposes a simple change in the English version only, two words to be precise: “True patriot love” and “all thy sons command” to become “true patriot love in all of us command”.

In due course, I will present the arguments which I hope will convince a majority of my colleagues to support the bill. I also hope the exchange and debate will be respectful and beyond partisanship.

I attended the Famous 5 luncheon today, where the first and thus far only female prime minister, the Right Hon. Kim Campbell, was the guest speaker, and she was a terrific speaker. At the end of her speech, she welcomed this initiative to make our national anthem gender inclusive.

I look forward to engaging with my colleagues as we address this important matter.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)