Canada’s National Anthem Includes Everyone

As of January 31st, 2018, Canada’s Senate approved changing the words of “O’ Canada”, our country’s national anthem to make the English version gender neutral. What appeared to be a simple quick fix in lyrics, actually produced a great deal of controversy, especially from Conservative senators. When O’ Canada officially became the country’s national anthem in 1980, 12 bills have been introduced in the House to replace “in all thy sons command” with “in all of us command”. Since then, all attempts at reform have failed, until now.

The English lyrics of the Canadian anthem were written by judge and poet Robert Stanley Weir in 1908, however his original words did not include the notorious line. It was added only after World War I in reference to the men that lost their lives in battle. On May 6th, 2016, Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger, who was battling advanced stages of ALS, made it his dying wish to amend the lyrics to promote the traits that our nation strives to embody: the principles of gender equality and inclusivity. Before he passed away, Bélanger introduced a private member’s bill known as Bill C-210 and it was quickly approved by the House of Commons with a vote of 225 to 74. The bill hit a roadblock once reaching the Senate as the Conservative opposition took extensive filibuster measures to prevent the bill from passing. Some members of the Senate cited that the new phrasing is “both grammatically incorrect and a misguided attempt to make the song reflect ‘today’s values’”. However, this does not appear to be an issue for the French. The french version of the Canadian anthem actually has quite a few differences to its English counterpart, one of them having been gender neutral from the beginning. 

Nova Scotia Conservative Senator Michael MacDonald stated that the amendment is “simply an attempt to sanitize a national symbol”. The Senator further stated that  our national symbols will begin to no longer hold value as a result of the continuous revisions. It was widely agreed upon by Conservative Senate members that passing this bill will gradually erode Canadian national heritage. However, in order to fulfill Bélanger’s wishes, an unusual motion was made in the Senate to limit debate in order for the bill to pass in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. It was concluded that the small change will have a major impact on how the next generation views the fundamentals of being Canadian.

This small change in lyrics does in fact hold great symbolic value to Canadians across the nation. The Canadian national anthem instills patriotism in the proud citizens of our country as the anthem is one of the country’s major national symbols and what Canadians proudly sing every day. It is played daily in elementary and high schools, before the start of national and regional sporting events, and during official ceremonies. Although the change will not automatically fix the ongoing issues of sexism and gender equality, nor will it prompt equal pay or employment access on the whole of the population, it will however, promote the erosion of the gender boundaries

The changes in the amendment embarks on a whole new era of men and women working together to build Canada. It allows us to become unified while finally being able to including the 18 million women that make up our nation. As our nation evolves and grows throughout time, our laws and Canadian values need to progress as well, just like we have amended laws regarding homosexuality and abortion. In the “country of freedom” the promotion of masculine lyrics is extremely contradictory to our national identity. With this simple change, the result will be tremendous in the promotion of women’s rights, so why should it be an issue? After all, it is only two words right?

OpinionZahra Mohamed