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.