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.