O Canada gender neutral lyrics being held up by Senate

Apr 4 2017, 6:46 pm

The bill to change the words of “O Canada” to make them more gender neutral is being held up in the Senate, amid arguments over language, religion, and whether it even matters.

The bill, which changes the lyrics from “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command,” was proposed by terminally ill Ottawa MP Mauril Bélanger.

The House of Commons passed Bélanger’s bill to adjust the lyrics in June last year, 225-74. The bill’s supporters had hoped to rush it through while Bélanger was still alive.

Bélanger was in attendance to see the victory, and to watch as the House then stood together to sing the anthem with the new gender-neutral lyrics.

Sadly though, Bélanger died in August aged just 61, a year after being diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The bill he proposed has now reached the final stage of the legislative process before it becomes law–a third reading in the Senate.

However, Senators are continuing to debate the bill, objecting to the changes, and delaying any vote on it.

‘Clunky, leaden and pedestrian’

In the Senate debate last Tuesday, Sen. Joan Fraser, a former journalist and a member of the Senate Liberal Caucus, said she was an “ardent feminist” but did not support the bill.

If Parliament had decided to change the national anthem’s words, they should make use of the poet laureate’s services to do so, she said.

“I think the wording proposed ‘in all of us command’ is clunky, leaden and pedestrian,” said Fraser. “It’s a fine example of what happens when you let politicians meddle. Politicians are not usually poets.”

Fraser also said that if we’re going to change the words to make the anthem more inclusive, then we should also take out the reference to God.

“‘God’ was a parliamentary addition to the national anthem. And make no mistake about it, colleagues; we’re talking about the Christian god here, not just anyone’s god,” said Fraser.

“What about people who are not Christian? What about people who do not believe in any god or perhaps believe in many gods? How do they feel when they’re obliged to stand and sing ‘God keep our land glorious and free’?”

Fraser went on to say it was not the words of the anthem that mattered, or whether the anthem reflected “today’s values”–it was the singing of the song itself.

“National anthems all over the world have a marked tendency to be bloodthirsty, ethnocentric, focused on a single religion and otherwise not inclusive,” said Fraser.

“The value of those national anthems does not lie in the specific words they use. It lies in the fact that they have been sung by generations of the citizens of those countries.”

‘Canadians deserve a decision’

This isn’t the first time the Senate has been faced with this decision. There have been 11 previous attempts to change the same line to include all genders and Canadians.

Five of those attempts introduced exactly the same amendment to the national anthem before Parliament or the Senate.

However, none was successful, and this latest attempt has spent 10 months winding its way through the Senate legislative process.

Speaking at a previous debate, earlier in March, Sen. Frances Lankin, who is an independent, pointed out that Canadians deserved an answer.

“Whether it is yea or nay at the end of the day, let’s take a decision,” said Lankin.

“This bill is an opportunity to make a real and important change to Canada’s national anthem — or not. That depends on how the vote goes,” said Lankin.

“Canadians, however, deserve a decision one way or the other from Canada’s Senate.”

Lankin said she supported the bill and it was time for Senators who were unsure or opposed to stop standing in the way of an actual vote on the matter.

“I think it is a very real part of our culture in Canada today to reach out and to ensure inclusivity,” said Lankin.

“I recognize that for some there may be a discomfort that may never go away. There may be a sense of ‘I’m not sure how I will vote. I’m torn in both ways.’

“You cannot continue to have a situation where the majority — whatever that majority is — is denied an opportunity to express itself.”

The latest debate took place on Tuesday; once again, the issue has been adjourned.

Just for reference, here’s the existing lyrics one more time:

O Canada!

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command,

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Jenni SheppardJenni Sheppard

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