An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender)

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.


Mauril Bélanger  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill.


This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.


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

This enactment amends the National Anthem Act to substitute the words “of us” for the words “thy sons” in the English version of the national anthem, thus making it gender neutral.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


June 15, 2016 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
June 1, 2016 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

June 10th, 2016 / 1:45 p.m.
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Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me first say how much I respect my hon. colleague who has moved the bill. I have been here for a very long time, and he has been here longer than I. Throughout the whole tenure of my term here in Parliament, which is over 10 years now, we have always had respectful dialogue, and I will do my best to keep my dialogue in regard to his bill, which seeks to change the national anthem, as respectful as I can.

I am speaking on behalf of a massive amount of constituents that I have heard from in my constituency who are finally becoming aware that this change would even happen.

I became aware of this as the member of Parliament for Wetaskiwin back in a Speech from the Throne, which my colleague had mentioned earlier. Ironically, at a time when the economy and keeping our streets and communities safe are important ever-pressing issues, the proposed change that was highlighted in the Speech from the Throne elicited such a response from my constituents that it let me know overwhelmingly that this is not a change that the people that I represent welcome.

That is our role as parliamentarians. Our role is not to take some other personal considerations into effect. Our role as representatives is to represent the will of the people that we were elected to represent. We should always be considerate of that first and foremost.

I have looked at a number of articles about this particular issue that have been printed in regional or national media. It always refers to, usually, colleagues from my side of the House speaking to this particular issue as they are reflecting the will of their constituents, yet when we hear from members of Parliament from other particular points of view, they are talking about how we need to pass the bill from a perspective of a personal attachment to a situation that a member of the House is going through. However grave that actually might be, it should never be a rationale for how we make decisions or determinations in the House.

We should always seek to do what is best and in the best interests of all Canadians and what the will of the people who sent us here to do our job actually is. I have not heard a lot of that debate on what the representatives who are voting in favour of the legislation are actually hearing from their constituents. I hear emotional arguments, but I never hear what the constituents of the folks who are voting in favour of this legislative change actually have to say.

I have been here a long time. As a matter of fact, my private member's bill in the last Parliament sought to make a change that would have affected a few hundred thousand, maybe one million workers, Bill C-525, and I was accused voraciously of doing this through the back door, taking a back-door sneaky approach to change some legislation when my bill went through the entire process. The process took over a year for it to happen. The committees at both the Senate and the House of Commons heard from dozens of witnesses and interested parties. It went through the private member's process.

I am not questioning the member's ability to bring forward a legislative change. I respect member's rights and privileges in the House. He has every right to move a legislative change as he sees fit. I do not dispute the fact that he has the right to do this. However, the process has been gerrymandered from the outset.

The bill was passed in the chamber on, I believe, June 1. It went to the committee on June 2. One witness was heard from for 45 minutes. The chair of the committee made an appeal to the members of the committee based on the medical health condition of the sponsor of the bill, and the bill was subsequently sent back to the House the very next day.

I have never seen a private member's bill move so quickly through the House without regard for due process, which is very concerning to me. If that is the process of how legislation is going to be adopted and changed, I can hardly wait to see what the Liberals are going to do with the changes they are going to be proposing when it comes to democratic reform, because if that is the MO, then we have a lot to be worried about.

Before I finish, I just want to read what one person, who was not able to get her particular point of view, either in a written submission or directly to the committee, taken into consideration. I will read this letter into the record.

It says, “To Whom it May Concern, I am writing you as a young concerned Canadian. I just finished reading a news article about [a Liberal MP's] Bill C-210, which calls for the lyrics of our national anthem changed to be 'gender neutral'. I am absolutely appalled that this is even being given thought, let alone consideration. I would first off like to state very clearly that I am not writing to you...out of any closed-mindedness [or malicious intent]. I am a full supporter of equality and inclusiveness 100% but I draw the line at the proposed lyric change in O Canada, and here is why:

“'True patriot love in all thy sons command. True North strong and free! O Canada, we stand on guard for thee'

“That block of lyrics is in reference to our sons at the front during the world wars. Yes, I am well aware that there were many nursing sisters at the front as well, but the reality is that our sons by far outnumbered our daughters at the front.

“Let's not forget the 1917 MSA conscription during the First World War after we lost the entire Newfoundland Regiment on the first day of the battle of the Somme. We lost our SONS in less than an hour, the regiment was all but wiped out. To change those lyrics is not only a slap in the face to all who serve now, but to our grandfathers and great grandfathers who so bravely marched on into battle for the freedom we enjoy today. It's a direct spit at the memories, stories and legacies those men left behind.”

The author of this letter is clearly indicating what we all know and feel in our hearts, that the national anthem, as it was changed, was done so to respect a time in history. It is not meant to be gender biased in any way, shape, or form. It is a historical anthem. It was our nation's founding moment. Many historians would argue that when our sons, mostly sons, who were fighting in the wars at that particular time made an assault on Vimy Ridge, they earned our right to participate internationally. Some would say it was the birth of our nation.

She goes on to say in this letter, “The final line in the block of lyrics actually renders the statement gender neutral”, and she says “I say this because we as a nation do stand on guard for “thee”. “We” is the part that means “all of us”.

She argues that the previous line that talks about “in all thy sons command” refers to a part of our history. The part that “we stand on guard for thee” is the gender neutral language, which encompasses all of us and charges all of us with the diligence to look after, protect, and preserve our nation.

This is a good enough reason for me, based on the fact that many of my constituents have already told me how they feel about this and the fact that the bill, regrettably, and I do understand the circumstances, does not seem to have been given due process in this place at all. I am going to have to vote against the legislation.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

June 10th, 2016 / 1:55 p.m.
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Edmonton Centre Alberta


Randy Boissonnault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, as a Canadian and as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-210, an act to amend the National Anthem Act.

I listened to the debate and I am very pleased to add my thoughts to those of my honourable colleagues.

However, before I do that, I want to thank and honour the work of the member of Parliament for Ottawa—Vanier for his 20-plus years in the chamber, for his work on behalf of Franco-Canadians, and for his work on behalf of Parliament and all Canadians. I know that he can hear us, and I know that he knows we are with him, and so are Canadians. He is the best combination of a brother and an uncle I have ever met in my life for someone who is not a family member.

I know that this debate has raged, and I know that it is an important debate, but I want to get to the substantive issues. We are talking about making our national anthem gender neutral. The issue is whether the English lyrics “in all thy sons command” should be amended to “in all of us command” to reflect the original gender neutral 1908 version.

I, and many others in the House and across the country, believe that this change is fundamental. We reject the assertion that changing this is simple pandering to a political base. This is in fact taking it to its original base and making it appropriate for all Canadians. How else am I going to explain to my 12-year-old niece, Skylar, that we in the House on Wednesdays, and Canadians from coast to coast to coast, continue to sing a version of the Canadian anthem that is discriminatory to her gender and to 51% of Canadians?

The debate is about bringing our national anthem into the 21st century. It is 2016. This is about gender neutrality. This is about the future. What else could be more Canadian?

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2016 / 6:15 p.m.
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Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very proud to rise today to speak to bill C-210, an act to amend the National Anthem Act regarding gender. The bill proposes replacing the words “thy sons” in the English version of the national anthem, with the words “all of us”, in order to make it gender neutral.

Before I continue, I would like to explain why I really wanted to discuss this important bill today. Originally, according to the Order Paper, today I was supposed to introduce my bill, Bill C-236, regarding credit card acceptance fees for Canadian businesses. Instead, my bill will be introduced for second reading on September 19, 2016.

It was really a no-brainer for me to give up my place for my colleague, the member for Ottawa—Vanier, as he courageously fights Lou Gherig's disease.

During the first hour of debate on Bill C-210, I was really disappointed by the lack of empathy shown by our colleagues in the official opposition, who chose not to drop the debate and instead to force a second hour of debate for clearly political reasons.

There are times when we must set politics aside and show some humanity, compassion, and openness.

The sponsor of the bill, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier, has spent his entire career working tirelessly to promote justice for all, and I would like to highlight some of his remarkable achievements. His determination to introduce this bill yet again is just one example of his steadfast commitment to fairness.

A staunch defender of human rights and strong advocate for official languages, he inspires every one of us. I first met my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier when I became a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, and I had the great fortune to work alongside him. The status of official languages is an issue that matters very much to me too as the member for the Quebec riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

My colleague elucidated the reasons that justify the change, which I wholeheartedly support. There must be no gender bias in our national anthem. This is a change we need and want because, yes, esteemed colleagues, it is 2016.

This bill holds personal meaning for me as the mother of four children, two boys and two girls. My children are the reason I became involved in politics. This is a dream I have always had for our country and my family. I want my girls to have the same opportunity to achieve their full potential as my boys.

In my opinion, the words in all thy sons command may have reflected Canadian society in 1913, but our society has evolved considerably in the past century.

When the lyrics of our national anthem were written, women could not vote for or against a bill. In fact, they could not vote at all. Before 1929, they were not considered persons. It is essential to modernize the words of our national anthem to reflect the social progress made by Canadian men and women. Again, this is 2016.

For decades, the Government of Canada has been committed to promoting gender equality here at home and abroad. Many bills have been introduced to recognize the contribution of women who, alone or in groups, contributed to making Canada the strong, creative, and inclusive country that it is today.

I am not saying that we have achieved perfect gender equality in Canada, but we have quite certainly improved things. Our government remains determined to build a country where our boys and girls will be equal participants in all aspects of society.

Allow me to mention some of the measures taken by the Government of Canada to recognize the vital role played by the women who contributed to building our Canada of today.

In budget 2016, our government announced investments that will increase capacity at Status of Women Canada. In fact, a $23.3-million investment over five years beginning in 2016-17 will support local organizations working in gender equality and women's issues. These new funds will also support the creation of a dedicated research and evaluation unit within the agency to provide evidence-based, innovative research on women's issues.

This year, we will be proudly celebrating the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote in Manitoba. This event gives us another opportunity to highlight the remarkable achievements of activists who have fought for women's equality and gender equality.

Canada's commitment to promoting gender equality and women's rights is central to our foreign policy and makes us proud. The Minister of Status of Women announced in March 2016 before the UN Commission on the Status of Women that Canada is running for a seat on the commission for the 2017-21 term. This would allow our country to play an even greater role in creating a better future for women and girls in Canada and around the world.

The amendment that my hon. colleague is proposing would change only two words, but this small change would be a significant gesture that would ensure that women are no longer excluded from our national anthem. That is why it is important for me to allow my colleague to take my place so that he can present his bill, which is so important to him.

As we prepare to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, our support for Bill C-210 would give us an opportunity to ensure that this important national symbol continues to reflect our values and inspire pride and a sense of belonging in all Canadians. In 2017, at Canada's 150th birthday celebrations, I hope to hear a national anthem that reflects Canada's modern reality.

In closing, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for introducing this bill. By supporting it, we will send a clear message to Canadians and the entire world that we stand and will continue to stand for gender equality and that we value the significant contributions that women have made and continue to make to our country. It will serve as yet another example of the government’s resolve to promote the equality of all Canadians.

My dear colleague from Ottawa—Vanier, I thank you on behalf of my two sons and my two daughters.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2016 / 6:35 p.m.
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Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-210, an act to amend the National Anthem Act, particularly as the bill proposes to reword the anthem so that it finally has inclusive language in terms of gender.

This is an important initiative put forward by the member of Parliament for Ottawa—Vanier. Along with members of my party, I want to acknowledge his tireless efforts over time to achieve this historic change.

This a change that we in the NDP are proud to support. I would like to acknowledge that this change was also proposed, over the years, by NDP members of Parliament such as Libby Davies and Svend Robinson.

Like many efforts to achieve equality, we must also acknowledge the push that came from women outside of this place. Without their tireless campaigning and advocacy to make this change to these lyrics, it would not be possible.

It is important to note that this change is symbolic. It is about making a line in the anthem more reflective of the fact that women and men are Canadians. It is about sending a message that we are not sons, but we are people. This is about adopting gender-neutral language, a practice that has been very important over the last few decades. In essence, it would allow us in the House to alter the language in our anthem and in a way catch up to the kind of changes in language we have seen over time.

In fact, during the 1970s, feminists Casey Miller and Kate Swift created a manual called The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing. It served to reform the existing sexist language that was said to exclude and even dehumanize women.

This conversation led to important changes, like changing the words businessman or businesswoman to business person. It led to changing words like chairman or chairwoman to chair or chairperson. Policeman became police officer, stewardess became flight attendant, and the list goes on.

These changes matter. They send a signal to girls and young women that they can aspire to do anything. By changing our language, by moving from what is known as androcentric language and focus, we send a signal that we all share space in this world.

Feminists have argued that male terms contribute to making women invisible, that they obscure women's importance and distract attention from their or our existence. I also want to point out that changing this part of the anthem also means that the language would be inclusive of trans people, or people who identify as gender fluid. Changing the anthem in this way sends a signal that we can all be just as proud to love our country, and we should celebrate that.

However, we should not stop here. The anthem, as well as many of our national symbols, must be an accurate reflection of who we are. The reality is that there is much work to be done.

We know that so many of our symbols are not reflective of our history of nation building, which is premised truly on colonization and the attack on first nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples; that we continue to live and work on unceded territories; that we continue to perpetuate racist attitudes and implement discriminatory policies.

We also know that, in many cases, our national symbols fail to reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our country, or the fact that many people immigrated to Canada from around the world to help build the country of which we are so proud. We fail to recognize that, while many have come as immigrants and have made Canada their home, others have only been able to come as migrant workers, without access to the rights any citizen would have.

Therefore, much work remains to be done to make sure our national symbols—and symbols they are—are reflective of the kind of reality we all live in this country.

These are important conversations that people are already having on a day-to-day basis. I want to acknowledge the work of many who have taken part in the discussion around reconciliation and what reconciliation ought to mean. Those discussions also involved reforming and reshaping our national symbols.

I want to acknowledge that many activists have been critical of the concept of reconciliation, and recognize that in many cases the narrative around reconciliation, as it is used by some, is used to pacify, in their particular case, indigenous activists who are truly challenging the foundations of our country.

I also want to acknowledge the many who have called for a very critical lens when it comes to discussions around our national symbols, as well as concepts of fairness and justice, and what that might mean for racialized Canadians in particular.

Going back to the notion that today is about symbols, I also want to acknowledge that we in the NDP have made it clear that this is an important step, and changing that one sentence in our anthem is critical. However, it certainly is not enough when we are talking about achieving gender equality in our country.

We are at a historic time. We have a Prime Minister who has identified as being a feminist. We have seen a government appoint a gender-equal cabinet. We have seen some very positive pronouncements when it comes to the recognition that injustices faced by women are injustices that require federal leadership. In particular, I am thinking of the commitment to a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

The reality is that in order to make a difference in the lives of women, to make a difference in the daily lives of Canadian women, we need to go far beyond symbolism. We need to move to action. There are many ways in which we need the federal government to act and to take leadership to truly make a difference in the lives of Canadian women.

First and foremost is the area of violence against women. We know that while other kinds of violence have dropped over the last number of years, domestic violence continues to remain stagnant. We know that over the last number of years, in fact, statistics show that women continue to face intimate partner violence at the same rate, consistently, year after year.

We know that violence targeted against women also impacts women differently according to their identity. Sixty-six per cent of all female victims of sexual assault are young women under the age of 24. We know that indigenous women are four times more likely to be targeted in terms of violence than non-indigenous women. We know that 60% of women with a disability experience some form of violence in their lifetimes.

The statistics go on. We know that in order to act on violence against women, there needs to be action at the federal level. I am proud to have worked with our party to propose a comprehensive national action plan to end violence against women, a comprehensive national action plan that we put forward in a motion in the last Parliament. We certainly hope that the Liberal government will not just talk about the need for a comprehensive national action plan, as we have heard, but more importantly, will implement that national action plan to end violence against women.

Another area that demands federal leadership is the area of economic injustice still faced by women. We know that on average Canadian women still only make 72 cents to the male dollar, but when we apply a racialized lens or even an immigrant lens to that reality, the numbers are even more stark. Racialized women who are also immigrants only earn 48.7 cents for every dollar a non-racialized man earns in Canada today.

In terms of violence or economic injustice or the ongoing discrimination that women face on a daily basis, whether it is on our streets, in our schools, in our institutions, we know that the reality is that there needs to be concrete action so that women can truly see a change in their daily reality.

I also want to acknowledge the work that needs to be done in terms of child care and the work that needs to be done in terms of strengthening our social safety net to support women, whether it is in terms of employment insurance, health care, or acknowledging the importance of how a strong social safety net contributes to women's equality.

I will conclude by saying that, yes, while we are proud to support Bill C-210, an act to amend the National Anthem Act, we also ask that the government show leadership in that same vein and commit to concrete actions and concrete support in terms of funding to truly achieve equality for women in our country.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2016 / 6:45 p.m.
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Hull—Aylmer Québec


Greg Fergus LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation

Madam Speaker, I have the honour to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-210, an act to amend the National Anthem Act, which proposes changing the English version of the national anthem to make it gender neutral.

The bill proposes replacing the words “thy sons” with “of us”. The third line, which now reads “true patriot love in all thy sons command” would be replaced by “true patriot love in all of us command”.

First, I would like to thank the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier for introducing this important bill. His dedication to the principle of justice in general and gender equality in particular and his extraordinary courage are a source of inspiration and an example to us all.

The theme of this bill should be of interest to all Canadians, men and women, and I am very proud to talk about it. The hon. member noticed that the national anthem did not correspond to our society and values. His bill seeks to correct that contradiction and change the anthem so that it better reflects Canada's reality. What is more, and I am sure that everyone in the House will agree with me, we want a Canada that gives men and women an equal opportunity to participate in society.

I want to point out that the French and English versions of O Canada are quite different. The verses in the English version are not a literal translation of the French version. That is why Bill C-210 is focused on the English version. The French version is already gender neutral.

The French version of O Canada was written in 1880. The music was composed by Calixa Lavallée, and the words were written by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The words of the French version have not changed in all this time.

The English version of O Canada was written later. The music is the same as the French version, but the words were written by Justice Robert Stanley Weir, in 1908. Many changes have been made to Mr. Weir's words since 1908.

The first change dates back to 1913, and I would like to make a slight correction to what my hon. colleague from Abitibi said. When Mr. Weir changed the neutral words “true patriot love thou dost in us command”, he replaced them with “true patriot love in all thy sons command”. It is widely acknowledged that this change was made to honour the men who served in the armed forces on the eve of the First World War.

The 1913 version became the official English version of O Canada when the National Anthem Act was adopted in 1980. The words “in all thy sons command” may have reflected the Canada of 1913, but our country has changed considerably over the centuries. Nowadays, women participate in all facets of Canadian life, including our armed forces.

On June 27, 1980, the National Anthem Act was adopted unanimously by the House of Commons and the Senate, and it received royal assent that same day. It is important to note that the parties agreed to limit debate on the National Anthem Act to one representative each because other changes to the lyrics of O Canada would be made through private members' bills.

Prior to that arrangement, the House had considered a number of bills to adopt a national anthem, but all died on the Order Paper. Since 1980, 12 bills have been introduced in Parliament to make the English version of the national anthem gender neutral. All of them sought to change the words “thy sons”.

Despite the fact that all of the bills were rejected or died on the Order Paper, support for the change grew. Last year, a bill identical to Bill C-210 was rejected at second reading by a vote of 144 to 127.

Public support for making the national anthem gender neutral has also increased. A 2015 poll commissioned by the member for Ottawa—Vanier and conducted by Mainstreet Technologies revealed that 58% of Canadians supported the amended wording proposed in Bill C-210. After 34 years and 12 bills, the time has come to return to the neutral meaning of the original 1908 version of the national anthem.

This change to our national anthem is long overdue. In fact, it is 36 years overdue. Its lyrics should have been changed when O Canada became our national anthem in 1980. I think it is appropriate to make this change now, and I hope all members of the House will agree.

The idea of changing a national symbol can spark debate. People are reluctant to give up traditions. However, as I just said, O Canada has only been our official national anthem since 1980.

This year, 2016, marks the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote. Next year we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation. It would be nice if we stopped excluding women from their national anthem.

Today I call on all members of the House to make up for lost time and support the changes proposed in Bill C-210.

Last November, our government received a lot of attention and support throughout the world when it appointed an equal number of men and women to cabinet. At that time, our Prime Minister expressed his pride in appointing a cabinet that reflects Canada.

The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier asked the following question: should a national symbol not be reflective of the people it is supposed to represent? I sincerely believe that our 42nd Parliament will answer him with a resounding yes.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

May 6th, 2016 / 1:30 p.m.
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Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

(via text-to-speech software) moved that Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

He said: Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to be in the chamber today to move second reading of Bill C-210, an act to amend the National Anthem Act. The bill proposes a simple change, in the English version only, of our anthem. It proposes that “True patriot love in all thy sons command” become “True patriot love in all of us command”.

Changing only two words, “thy sons” to “of us”, gives Canada an inclusive anthem that respects what we were and what we have become as a country.

A few colleagues and some Canadians with whom I have spoken have argued that, in their view, our national anthem is sacrosanct. Such arguments are similar to those advanced 51 years ago to stop the adoption of the maple leaf flag to which we are all now attached. As Canadians, we continually test our assumptions, and indeed our symbols, for their suitability. Our Canadian maples have deep roots, but they also have continual new growth, reaching to the sky. Our anthem too can reflect our roots and our growth.

In fact, our anthem has been changed before. Not only are the French and English versions quite different, but the English version has already been modified in the past. The second line of the original English version of 1908 reads, “True patriot love thou dost in us command”. As members can hear, the gender neutral “us” is exactly what we are trying to put back into our anthem. The addition of “us” also includes and recognizes that Canadians come from all around the world, and that also is part of our roots and our growth.

Canada is all of us, not some of us.

In 1913, this line was changed to “True patriot love in all thy sons command”. Many believe the change was related to events leading up to the First World War. It was perhaps assumed that in any major conflict it would only be young men who would carry our national banner and pride into battle, but in fact, both men and women from Canada proudly took part in the First World War. Canadian women served overseas, not as soldiers but in other functions, especially as nurses, and many died doing so. We have commemorated them in Parliament's Hall of Honour but we have not commemorated them in our anthem.

Women also served on the home front. When Canada came of age in the First World War, women and men together made it possible.

In 1927, on the 60th anniversary of Confederation, the government authorized the singing of the anthem in schools and at public ceremonies, but it kept the second line of the 1913 version, not the original 1908 gender-neutral version. Other words were changed in 1927, then again in 1980, when Parliament passed legislation concerning the anthem.

The National Anthem Act was introduced, passed, and given royal assent on the same day, June 27, 1980, but the lack of inclusiveness in the English version was noticed and gave rise to debate. A commitment was made to provide time in the following session to study O Canada, in particular the words “thy sons”. Unfortunately, that was not done. We can correct this in 2016.

On the eve of the 150th anniversary of our federation, it is important that one of our most recognized and appreciated national symbols reflect the progress made by our country in terms of gender equality. This progress was slow and hard-won at times, and it marked our country's history. It should be celebrated in our national anthem. In the century since the introduction of “thy sons” in our national anthem, many events have occurred that justify returning to the use of “us”, as in the original version of 1908.

The following 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, thereby becoming eligible for appointment to the Senate. A few months later, in 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: a young girl named Nicole Cyr-Mazerolle.

The Royal Military College of Canada, in Kingston, started admitting women as students in 1980. There are now 10,000 women in the Canadian Forces, and all positions in the Canadian Forces are open to women today. Men and women are sent everywhere, including into space, and work side by side in the same jobs. Canadian women also serve in other public services such as the Coast Guard and in police services in communities across Canada.

Last but not least, let us not forget Nichola Goddard, who, in 2006, was the first female Canadian soldier to die in combat. She died in Afghanistan while serving her country, and she deserves a place in our anthem as much as any of our boys. Her mother gave her blessing to this symbolic but significant change to our national anthem.

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.

Our anthem should not ignore the increasingly important contribution of 52% of our population. We have come a long way. The strides made by women in our society have been significant and should be fully recognized. Just as important, as revealed by recent events, much remains to be done and Canadians are determined to see realized the dream of true equality between the genders. We are in 2016. Our national anthem is a powerful symbol that reflects and supports the achievement of this ambition.

There are Canadians everywhere in our country in support of the change being advocated with this bill. I believe we are ready to address the issue and to ensure that our national anthem reflects the nation and the people that we really are in this 21st century.

I have received support across the country for my proposal to make this change. If our government does not make this change, ordinary Canadians will simply do it themselves. In fact, that is what is happening. Numerous personalities have expressed their support for the change. Choirs 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, more inclusive language. I even have the temerity to point out that in this very chamber, on Wednesday, March 9, when I had the great honour of presiding over it, a number of members chose to sing the inclusive version. I notably failed to bring them to order.

In fact, the majority of Canadians now support a change to the lyrics of the national anthem to make it gender neutral. Mainstreet Technologies conducted a poll of 5,000 Canadians in April 2015, which showed that 40% strongly approved, 18% somewhat approved of the change, and 24% neither approved nor disapproved. On the negative side, only 6% somewhat disapproved, and 13% strongly disapproved.

In addition, the poll asked:

The original English Anthem uses the word US, the current version uses THY SONS. Which version do you believe is most appropriate?

According to the poll, which was accurate to within 1.35 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, 53% supported the “us” version while 22% supported the “thy sons” version, and 25% said that they did not know.

Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Technologies, concluded “With this level of support consistent across Canada, Parliament should look favourably on reverting to the original version of the English O Canada. What was once likely changed to increase patriotic sentiment during a time of conflict and war was appropriate then but is no longer reflective of Canadian society today, or representative of over 50% of the Canadian population.” .

Canadians now are ready for an inclusive national anthem.

The objective of Bill C-210 is to honour the contribution and sacrifice of our Canadian women, in addition to those of our men, in our national anthem. It is to underscore that all of us, regardless of our gender or our origins, contribute to our unique country.

I look forward to a respectful and non-partisan debate, and eventually to a free vote.

I urge all of my colleagues in this chamber to support my bill.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

May 6th, 2016 / 1:40 p.m.
See context


Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier for his dedication and commitment not only to his constituents but also to Parliament and to our great nation. It is a great opportunity for me to say that I first befriended the member for Ottawa—Vanier at the first committee that I was ever charged to be on here in the House of Commons. It was scrutiny of regulations, and he was part of that committee as well. I appreciate his dedication to our country.

These last few months, the member has been a beacon of inspiration to Canadians. He has shown great courage and audacity while carrying out his duties in the House and in his constituency. The mere fact that we are debating his private member's bill today in this House is a shining example of his resolve during such challenging times.

Having said that, I will begin my comments regarding Bill C-210.

Our shared history defines us as Canadians. It has shaped our identity. The symbols, events, achievements, and yes, even the lyrics of our national anthem are what bind us together in Canada. For generations, through world wars, horrific tragedies, great achievements, citizenship ceremonies, Olympic games, and the beginning of each school day, we have sung our national anthem, as written, with pride and enthusiasm.

The intent of this legislation is well meaning as we want our symbols and institutions to be as inclusive as they possibly can be; however, rewriting the lyrics of our national anthem in the name of political correctness would go too far. I worry, as do many Canadians, that if the words of our national anthem could be changed through a private member's bill, what sort of precedent would we be setting for future changes on other issues of Canadian identity?

Without making light of it, maybe the botanists will be in an uproar about the shape of the maple leaf on our flag and demand that it be changed. Some may be upset that the almighty beaver will not stop chopping down trees, so the National Symbol of Canada Act must be amended to swap out the beaver for an animal that is far less destructive. Yes, for my colleagues or Canadians who may know, the National Symbol of Canada Act recognizes the beaver as the symbol of sovereignty of Canada. While we are at it, perhaps the maple leaf tartan, which is another official national symbol, needs to be redesigned because some people do not like how they look in plaid. I would also be remiss not to point out That the word “God” is also included in our anthem. Should we amend that line to ensure Canadians who are either agnostic or atheist feel included?

In Canada, we pride ourselves on being inclusive. We strive to accept and understand our differences. However, no one I talk to believes this change is necessary. People do not think our national anthem is broken. Every member of this House wants to recognize Canadian identity through our national anthem. However, we should ask ourselves, is rewriting the words to O Canada necessary?

Given those lyrics as currently written have inspired millions of people to immigrate to our country; while they pulled the heartstrings of millions after winning the gold medal game and many medals in the Vancouver Olympics; were sung at our children's high-school graduations; and stirred millions of brave men and women to fight and die for our country, do we believe this change is necessary or should we refocus our efforts and priorities on growing the economy? Should we be refocusing our time to improve the quality of life for Canadians?

We should also remember that the last government attempted to start the process of changing the anthem, and after listening to Canadians who thought the idea was offside, dropped the process. Remember that every time legislation has been introduced to change the lyrics, the idea has been defeated in this House for over the last 100 years.

I know my hon. colleague is probably thinking that the 11th time is the charm. While I applaud his tenacity, I will decline his revisionism.

I will also encourage all members of this House to carefully weigh the implications of changing our national anthem after it has served us well for over 100 years. Is it worth opening a Pandora's box of changing the symbols of our great nation in the name of political correctness?

I, for one, will stand up for the current national anthem, lacrosse, and yes, even the majestic beaver, so help me, God.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

May 6th, 2016 / 2:10 p.m.
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Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, I, too, join my colleagues in commending our colleague across the way for his tenacity and his courage, and for bringing the bill forward.

I am pleased to speak to Bill C-210, an act to amend the National Anthem Act with respect to gender. It was not that long ago that we were here debating the same legislation in the past Parliament with Bill C-624. Neither the purpose of Bill C-210 nor the means of doing so have changed since last year, which is to make our national anthem, in the eyes of the legislation's proponents, more gender neutral. The bill would achieve this by amending the phrase “True patriot love in all thy sons command” to “True patriot love in all of us command”, as has already been noted.

Our anthem is not a direct translation between French and English. In fact, it is not even a close translation. Therefore, the bill would not affect the French version of the anthem.

As all of us are now aware, the verses of O Canada have remained unchanged since the song was adopted as Canada's official anthem in 1980. As with anything, there was not universal satisfaction at the adoption of the anthem and there have been those who have wanted to see it changed for various reasons over the past 36 years.

As I mentioned, Parliament has been down this road before. Since 1980, there have been 10 private member's bills introduced in Parliament to change the second line of the English version of the anthem, for both personal and technical reasons. I believe that all these attempts have failed by and large because Canadians do have a strong attachment to our anthem as it is and Parliament has resisted changing the anthem or even holding lengthy debates on the future of the anthem for that reason. Ask anyone and they will tell you of the great sense of pride in our country they feel upon singing or hearing our anthem.

We need to remember that Canada has more than one symbol, and they are as diverse as our history. They include the coat of arms, our motto, the national flag, our official colours, the maple tree, the beaver, the national horse, our national sports, the tartan, and of course, our national anthem. Thankfully, Canadians do care about our symbols. Our national symbols, chosen over time, are the threads that weave together our history as Canadians. Taken together, they define what it means to be Canadian and are an expression of our national identity.

Of all Canada's symbols, the anthem is the most prominent and the most poignant. All of us can remember the Vancouver Olympics when Canadians from coast to coast to coast would break out and proudly and loudly sing our national anthem. We watched with pride and anticipation every time a Canadian athlete won a gold medal, to hear our anthem played.

While the members who support this legislation say that it is a minor reform, when it comes to our symbols, there is no such thing.

Any time Parliament debates our national symbols, and our anthem is very much a symbol of our country, Canadians express a vested interest in the outcome. Most Canadians would not be able to offer up a 10-page thesis on why they like the anthem as is. They would not be able to offer up a long explanation for why they would oppose a change. However, most Canadians know intuitively that they want the anthem to remain the same.

Every time this issue is raised and debated in the chamber, I receive a flood of correspondence and phone calls from constituents who are overwhelmingly against this change. Public opinion surveys have backed up this anecdotal evidence. A 2013 study by Forum Research found that 65% of Canadians opposed the change; only 25% supported the change, and 10% had no opinion at all on the issue.

I know that the legislation's proponents would argue that there are a number of prominent Canadians who support this change and have spoken passionately about it. Quite honestly and with respect, in debates of this nature it is not one's prominence, but rather one's personhood that matters.

Proponents of this change would also argue that the anthem is somehow insulting to women and therefore should be changed. With respect to all members, I do not believe the anthem is sexist, and any student of history knows this.

I would like to take this opportunity to expand on that.

The original line in the English anthem was “thou dost in us command”. This line was changed by Robert Stanley Weir in 1914 to “in all thy sons command”, as an homage to Canada's young men who were going to war. This changed reflected the reality of the appalling toll of young male lives as the price paid for their “true patriot love”.

The reference to “thy sons” is the military reference to the Great War. It is a proud reference to Canada's history and the first time that Canada fought as an independent nation, and won, at Vimy Ridge.

When Weir made this now famous change to the anthem, he was not thinking about gender equality. He was thinking about the Great War and the heavy cost that young Canadian men would bear. Changing this verse would fundamentally change Robert Stanley Weir's original intent when he made this change from his 1908 version. It would remove this incredibly powerful reference to our country's history that forms the backbone of our anthem.

I would also posit that the anthem is well liked today for exactly this reference. Canada took its rightful place on the world stage during the First World War, and it is entirely appropriate for our anthem to note this achievement.

In conclusion, I will not be supporting this proposed legislation, for two reasons. First, I have yet to see any evidence that the majority of Canadians want to see this change. Second, I do not believe that making the anthem gender neutral would make our anthem better, more inclusive, or more representative of Canadians. If anything, it would do the contrary.

All Canadians, regardless of gender, are equally proud of our soldiers' accomplishments in the First World War and understand that “thy sons” is a reference to the bravery that our soldiers displayed during a specific time in our history.

Women serve with distinction in our Canadian Forces. However, this phrase in our national anthem is a historical symbol of Canada coming of age during this conflict, and should remain so.

It is my sincere hope that respect for our past, together with a strong desire to preserve our history, will ensure that any future symbols that may be chosen to acknowledge important events will also stand the test of time.

National Anthem ActPrivate Members' Business

May 6th, 2016 / 2:20 p.m.
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Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me add my words of gratitude to the member for Ottawa—Vanier for many years of service to the House, but especially, for the stamina and strength that he showed today by coming here to Parliament. I consider him a friend. I consider him a true colleague. I have watched his hard work here in the House. I also have the honour of living, in my secondary residence, in the area the member for Ottawa—Vanier represents and I can tell members that judging by the communication that he carries on with his constituents, he works hard on their behalf each and every day.

I am sure that every one of my colleagues in the House joins with my wife and I in our daily prayers for strength and stamina for my colleague's family and, especially, for my colleague going through this very difficult challenge.

I am proud, today, to speak in the House about an issue that is very important to me. It is in this very place, every Wednesday, that we, as members of Parliament, sing our national anthem together. We do so united as Canadians, without regard for the political, regional, or other differences that sometimes divide us in this place.

Similarly, across this great country, in hockey arenas, classrooms, community centres, and memorial parks, the national anthem brings Canadians together. I am sure all my colleagues, on Canada Day, have many opportunities to join in communities across their ridings and, if not lead in the singing of the national anthem, at least join with their constituents in the singing of the national anthem. What a joy it is for us, as members, to be able to join our constituents, especially on Canada Day, as we celebrate.

O Canada is not just our national anthem. It represents our common historical, emotional, and spiritual heritage as a country and as a people. It is as important as the maple leaf, the beaver, the tartan, and other symbols that represent Canada and contribute to our national identity. When the national anthem is sung, it evokes passionate emotions of patriotic fervour, solemn remembrance, and enthusiastic national pride in the hearts of all who hear it.

Initially, many Canadians sang God Save the King and The Maple Leaf Forever as the de facto national anthems of Canada. In fact, many of my colleagues in the House probably stood in elementary school and sang, as the national anthem, God Save the Queen.

However, as a result of our desire for an anthem that was more applicable for French Canadians, Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier and Calixa Lavallée were commissioned to write O Canada in 1880. This anthem gradually grew in popularity across Canada and over the course of the early 20th century.

In 1927, it was officially published for the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation and began to be sung in schools and at public functions. Later, in 1967, a special joint committee of Parliament tasked with studying O Canada would recommend that it be adopted as the country's national anthem. Following further deliberation and study by Parliament, O Canada was proclaimed as the country's official national anthem in 1980.

The development of O Canada is a reflection of the creativity and character of Canadians who crafted and adopted an anthem suitable for a country as extraordinary and diverse as Canada. However, it would be both inaccurate and disrespectful to consider the national anthem to be merely a banal song, hymn, needless formality, or meaningless tradition. Rather, the national anthem is a significant and momentous aspect of Canadian identity, and when sung, it is as evocative as it is impressive.

There are numerous examples of the importance of the anthem in so many facets of Canadian life. For instance, the national anthem is sung with enthusiasm by new Canadians upon receiving their citizenship.

Again, I need to just divert for a moment to consider the fact that many of us in this room have the privilege and honour of joining with our new Canadian citizens as they stand to take the oath of Canadian citizenship. Then, at the end of that ceremony, we sing, together, O Canada. For many of them, it is the very first time they will sing it, and for all of them, they sing it as a Canadian citizen and it is an incredibly emotional time.

It is sung by our athletes when representing this country on the world stage and by our military when serving their country, both at home and abroad.

Indeed, the national anthem is even sung by those who are not Canadians, as we saw following the terrorist attack here in Ottawa two years ago. At that difficult time, our neighbours in the United States came together and sang O Canada before a hockey game between two American teams to show their support for our country amidst tragedy.

Of course, the national anthem is sung when we gather to remember the sacrifices of the men and women who have given their lives in order to secure the freedom and prosperity of their fellow Canadians. Again reflecting on the many opportunities I have had to join with Legion members at ceremonial events across my riding, it is just an honour to be able to join them in singing O Canada and recognize the sacrifice they made to allow us to be able to sing this great song together.

However, since the adoption of O Canada as the official national anthem in 1980, it has remained unchanged. Given the great symbolic significance of the national anthem, modifying it or changing it in any way is a matter that concerns not only this House but the entire country as a whole. It is important to note there remains substantial opposition among Canadians to any changes to the national anthem. A definitive study conducted by Forum Research in 2013 indicated that over 65% of Canadians, both men and women alike, believed the national anthem should not be changed. It is for this reason that every previous attempt to modify the national anthem has been unsuccessful. There simply has not been significant public support for any sort of alteration.

When Canadians gather to sing the national anthem together, they do so in part to demonstrate their commonality and unity as citizens of this great country. Furthermore, it should be noted that over 78% of Canadians see the national anthem as it exists as a source of great pride. As such, any change could seriously affect the role of the national anthem as a source of pride and unity among Canadians. For instance, we can reflect on the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games when all Canadians came together in a remarkable display of national pride and unity. All across Canada, Canadians were able to cheer on the brilliant exploits of their athletes, and the national anthem served to inspire and unite us during this grand event.

Next year, we will continue to demonstrate our national pride when we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the remarkable development of our country since that time. When we are commemorating this significant milestone in the history of our country, our national anthem will feature prominently as a symbol of our country and an expression of our national unity. On such occasions, the national anthem serves as a symbol that continues to bring Canadians together and an important aspect of what makes us Canadian. Moreover, as we reflect on the great achievements of our country and the sacrifices those achievements have required, the importance of our national anthem remains evident.

In closing, I must remind members of this House to consider the importance of the national anthem of Canada as a symbol of national identity, a source of national unity, and a reason for national pride. Most of all, it is my hope that regardless of the outcome of this debate, each and every Canadian will continue to proudly sing the national anthem with a glowing heart. I most certainly will.

While I am not supporting this bill, I have a great deal of respect for my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier, and that respect and admiration will continue and will not change regardless of the outcome of the vote on Bill C-210.

National Anthem ActRoutine Proceedings

January 27th, 2016 / 3:40 p.m.
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Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender).

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to introduce this bill, seconded by my colleague, the hon. member for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill. I am quite proud of her.

On September 22, 2014, I introduced in this House the same bill, which advocates a simple change in the English lyrics of our national anthem. It proposes that “True patriot love in all thy sons command” become “True patriot love in all of us command”, therefore replacing only two words, “thy sons”, with “of us”. This change would render the anthem gender neutral.

Although my bill was defeated in the last Parliament, the drive to make O Canada more inclusive has been advanced. Members from all parties supported my bill in what was the first vote on such an initiative in the House of Commons.

I commissioned an opinion poll on this issue which showed solid support for this initiative: a total of 58% supported this measure and only 19% disagreed.

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

By the way, it is 2016.

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