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.