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.