(via text-to-speech software)
moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to be in the chamber today to move second reading of Bill , an act to amend the National Anthem Act. The bill proposes a simple change, in the English version only, of our anthem. It proposes that “True patriot love in all thy sons command” become “True patriot love in all of us command”.
Changing only two words, “thy sons” to “of us”, gives Canada an inclusive anthem that respects what we were and what we have become as a country.
A few colleagues and some Canadians with whom I have spoken have argued that, in their view, our national anthem is sacrosanct. Such arguments are similar to those advanced 51 years ago to stop the adoption of the maple leaf flag to which we are all now attached. As Canadians, we continually test our assumptions, and indeed our symbols, for their suitability. Our Canadian maples have deep roots, but they also have continual new growth, reaching to the sky. Our anthem too can reflect our roots and our growth.
In fact, our anthem has been changed before. Not only are the French and English versions quite different, but the English version has already been modified in the past. The second line of the original English version of 1908 reads, “True patriot love thou dost in us command”. As members can hear, the gender neutral “us” is exactly what we are trying to put back into our anthem. The addition of “us” also includes and recognizes that Canadians come from all around the world, and that also is part of our roots and our growth.
Canada is all of us, not some of us.
In 1913, this line was changed to “True patriot love in all thy sons command”. Many believe the change was related to events leading up to the First World War. It was perhaps assumed that in any major conflict it would only be young men who would carry our national banner and pride into battle, but in fact, both men and women from Canada proudly took part in the First World War. Canadian women served overseas, not as soldiers but in other functions, especially as nurses, and many died doing so. We have commemorated them in Parliament's Hall of Honour but we have not commemorated them in our anthem.
Women also served on the home front. When Canada came of age in the First World War, women and men together made it possible.
In 1927, on the 60th anniversary of Confederation, the government authorized the singing of the anthem in schools and at public ceremonies, but it kept the second line of the 1913 version, not the original 1908 gender-neutral version. Other words were changed in 1927, then again in 1980, when Parliament passed legislation concerning the anthem.
The National Anthem Act was introduced, passed, and given royal assent on the same day, June 27, 1980, but the lack of inclusiveness in the English version was noticed and gave rise to debate. A commitment was made to provide time in the following session to study O Canada, in particular the words “thy sons”. Unfortunately, that was not done. We can correct this in 2016.
On the eve of the 150th anniversary of our federation, it is important that one of our most recognized and appreciated national symbols reflect the progress made by our country in terms of gender equality. This progress was slow and hard-won at times, and it marked our country's history. It should be celebrated in our national anthem. In the century since the introduction of “thy sons” in our national anthem, many events have occurred that justify returning to the use of “us”, as in the original version of 1908.
The following are some of these noteworthy changes. Women were first granted the federal right to vote in 1918, by the government of Sir Robert Borden. Canada held its first federal election in which women were allowed to vote and run for office in 1921. It was the year that Agnes Macphail was elected to the House of Commons, making her Canada's first female member of Parliament.
There was the 1929 Persons Case, where the Famous Five succeeded in having women recognized as persons, thereby becoming eligible for appointment to the Senate. A few months later, in 1930, Canada's first female senator, Cairine Wilson, was sworn in.
Less than a minute into 1947, once the Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect, the first born Canadian citizen joined us: a young girl named Nicole Cyr-Mazerolle.
The Royal Military College of Canada, in Kingston, started admitting women as students in 1980. There are now 10,000 women in the Canadian Forces, and all positions in the Canadian Forces are open to women today. Men and women are sent everywhere, including into space, and work side by side in the same jobs. Canadian women also serve in other public services such as the Coast Guard and in police services in communities across Canada.
Last but not least, let us not forget Nichola Goddard, who, in 2006, was the first female Canadian soldier to die in combat. She died in Afghanistan while serving her country, and she deserves a place in our anthem as much as any of our boys. Her mother gave her blessing to this symbolic but significant change to our national anthem.
The adoption of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 has led to the gradual and rigorous implementation of equality between men and women, which the charter guarantees. We would be taking a very important symbolic step by ensuring that our anthem respects our charter.
Our anthem should not ignore the increasingly important contribution of 52% of our population. We have come a long way. The strides made by women in our society have been significant and should be fully recognized. Just as important, as revealed by recent events, much remains to be done and Canadians are determined to see realized the dream of true equality between the genders. We are in 2016. Our national anthem is a powerful symbol that reflects and supports the achievement of this ambition.
There are Canadians everywhere in our country in support of the change being advocated with this bill. I believe we are ready to address the issue and to ensure that our national anthem reflects the nation and the people that we really are in this 21st century.
I have received support across the country for my proposal to make this change. If our government does not make this change, ordinary Canadians will simply do it themselves. In fact, that is what is happening. Numerous personalities have expressed their support for the change. Choirs across the country, such as the Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir, the Vancouver Children's Choir, and the Elektra Women's Choir, have already taken up the new, more inclusive language. I even have the temerity to point out that in this very chamber, on Wednesday, March 9, when I had the great honour of presiding over it, a number of members chose to sing the inclusive version. I notably failed to bring them to order.
In fact, the majority of Canadians now support a change to the lyrics of the national anthem to make it gender neutral. Mainstreet Technologies conducted a poll of 5,000 Canadians in April 2015, which showed that 40% strongly approved, 18% somewhat approved of the change, and 24% neither approved nor disapproved. On the negative side, only 6% somewhat disapproved, and 13% strongly disapproved.
In addition, the poll asked:
|| The original English Anthem uses the word US, the current version uses THY SONS. Which version do you believe is most appropriate?
According to the poll, which was accurate to within 1.35 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, 53% supported the “us” version while 22% supported the “thy sons” version, and 25% said that they did not know.
Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Technologies, concluded “With this level of support consistent across Canada, Parliament should look favourably on reverting to the original version of the English O Canada. What was once likely changed to increase patriotic sentiment during a time of conflict and war was appropriate then but is no longer reflective of Canadian society today, or representative of over 50% of the Canadian population.” .
Canadians now are ready for an inclusive national anthem.
The objective of Bill is to honour the contribution and sacrifice of our Canadian women, in addition to those of our men, in our national anthem. It is to underscore that all of us, regardless of our gender or our origins, contribute to our unique country.
I look forward to a respectful and non-partisan debate, and eventually to a free vote.
I urge all of my colleagues in this chamber to support my bill.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for for his dedication and commitment not only to his constituents but also to Parliament and to our great nation. It is a great opportunity for me to say that I first befriended the member for Ottawa—Vanier at the first committee that I was ever charged to be on here in the House of Commons. It was scrutiny of regulations, and he was part of that committee as well. I appreciate his dedication to our country.
These last few months, the member has been a beacon of inspiration to Canadians. He has shown great courage and audacity while carrying out his duties in the House and in his constituency. The mere fact that we are debating his private member's bill today in this House is a shining example of his resolve during such challenging times.
Having said that, I will begin my comments regarding Bill .
Our shared history defines us as Canadians. It has shaped our identity. The symbols, events, achievements, and yes, even the lyrics of our national anthem are what bind us together in Canada. For generations, through world wars, horrific tragedies, great achievements, citizenship ceremonies, Olympic games, and the beginning of each school day, we have sung our national anthem, as written, with pride and enthusiasm.
The intent of this legislation is well meaning as we want our symbols and institutions to be as inclusive as they possibly can be; however, rewriting the lyrics of our national anthem in the name of political correctness would go too far. I worry, as do many Canadians, that if the words of our national anthem could be changed through a private member's bill, what sort of precedent would we be setting for future changes on other issues of Canadian identity?
Without making light of it, maybe the botanists will be in an uproar about the shape of the maple leaf on our flag and demand that it be changed. Some may be upset that the almighty beaver will not stop chopping down trees, so the National Symbol of Canada Act must be amended to swap out the beaver for an animal that is far less destructive. Yes, for my colleagues or Canadians who may know, the National Symbol of Canada Act recognizes the beaver as the symbol of sovereignty of Canada. While we are at it, perhaps the maple leaf tartan, which is another official national symbol, needs to be redesigned because some people do not like how they look in plaid. I would also be remiss not to point out That the word “God” is also included in our anthem. Should we amend that line to ensure Canadians who are either agnostic or atheist feel included?
In Canada, we pride ourselves on being inclusive. We strive to accept and understand our differences. However, no one I talk to believes this change is necessary. People do not think our national anthem is broken. Every member of this House wants to recognize Canadian identity through our national anthem. However, we should ask ourselves, is rewriting the words to O Canada necessary?
Given those lyrics as currently written have inspired millions of people to immigrate to our country; while they pulled the heartstrings of millions after winning the gold medal game and many medals in the Vancouver Olympics; were sung at our children's high-school graduations; and stirred millions of brave men and women to fight and die for our country, do we believe this change is necessary or should we refocus our efforts and priorities on growing the economy? Should we be refocusing our time to improve the quality of life for Canadians?
We should also remember that the last government attempted to start the process of changing the anthem, and after listening to Canadians who thought the idea was offside, dropped the process. Remember that every time legislation has been introduced to change the lyrics, the idea has been defeated in this House for over the last 100 years.
I know my hon. colleague is probably thinking that the 11th time is the charm. While I applaud his tenacity, I will decline his revisionism.
I will also encourage all members of this House to carefully weigh the implications of changing our national anthem after it has served us well for over 100 years. Is it worth opening a Pandora's box of changing the symbols of our great nation in the name of political correctness?
I, for one, will stand up for the current national anthem, lacrosse, and yes, even the majestic beaver, so help me, God.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to serve with my hon. colleague, the member for , and honoured to be in this House today.
I am sorry that the extremely positive and supportive speech I was about to make has to be interrupted by saying I am ashamed to have heard those words from that member. After 10 years of the former government slashing and burning women's programs, creating national embarrassment across the world, disrespecting indigenous people, disrespecting history and science, and having this fantastic opportunity to remediate the Conservative Party's image, I cannot believe he would say such things. To speakers from his party, I hope that my compelling argument might change the tone for the next series of speakers to follow.
The New Democratic Party, being a strong supporter of gender equality and having a very strong record of concrete action on achieving women's equality, I, along with every New Democrat I know, am very proud and honoured to support this bill before the House today.
It must be said that true action on gender equality in Canada will only be achieved when the government shows true leadership and action on addressing the gender gap, taking real action on universal child care, equal pay for work of equal value, ending violence against women. That said, symbolic changes help as well.
A national symbol's value is tied to its ability to reflect every one of us and bring us together. To help bring us all together on this bill, I am going to give 10 great reasons to vote in favour of the private member's bill from the member for . Members will be relieved to know that not a single one of them is because it is 2016.
One, this is not such a big change, and I want my Conservative friends to really hear this. Our lyrics used to be gender neutral until they were changed in 1913. Even when Canadian women did not have the right to vote, Canada had gender neutral lyrics in its English language anthem. If this feels like a threatening change, please roll back time to more than a century ago in Canada when we had gender neutral lyrics for our national anthem.
Two, the French lyrics do not need to change, so, as we know in Canada, that makes it simpler. The French version does have gender neutral language, and it has since 1880. Its words have not changed since then. The French are very evolved, very ahead of their time.
Three, the member for is following in the tradition of fabulous New Democrats Svend Robinson and Libby Davies. This will be the tenth time in 35 years that this Parliament has tried to change the English language lyrics to promote gender equality. Said another way, it is about time.
Four, changing the words will ensure that more than 18 million Canadian women are included in our national anthem. Continuing to sing “thy sons” excludes 52% of our population.
Five, as the member for has compellingly outlined, many advances have been made in Canada in gender equality since 1913. There was the federal right to vote in 1918, the right to run for office in 1921, the Persons Case in 1929, the admission of women in the army in 1980, and the inclusion of women's equality in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. The member compellingly argues that the bill reflects the evolution of our society.
Six, if we take the “stand on guard for thee” literally and think of soldiers, we have to vote for the bill. This would honour our sisters who are in service on the front lines of our armed forces.
Seven, it sounds good: “true patriot love in all of us command”. We all brought Kleenex for this. I am trying to lighten the mood here.
Eight, 58% of Canadians polled last year agreed with this change to the anthem.
Nine, they are in excellent company. High-profile supporters include former Conservative prime minister Kim Campbell, author Margaret Atwood, Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth, former Conservative senator Hugh Segal, former Conservative MP and Liberal Belinda Stronach, and former member of Parliament and Toronto city councillor Olivia Chow. Members are in good company if they vote yes.
Finally, if all of these reasons are not enough, the member for wants women to have this voice. Let us vote together, and let us include women in our national anthem.
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by expressing my admiration for the determination and commitment of the hon. member for presenting his bill today and his commitment to the institution of Parliament, which has been demonstrated by the extraordinary efforts he made to be here to ensure that we would have the opportunity to debate this bill.
Reputedly, it was writer H.G. Wells who said, “No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft”, or, as I have heard it said otherwise, “There is no human need as strong as the need to edit someone else's copy”. Nowhere is that particular human drive more openly manifested than when it comes to national anthems.
Take Germany, for example. The Deutschlandlied or Germany song, actually had its beginning as a royal anthem to the Holy Roman Emperor. It then became the anthem for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with the words changing each time the emperor changed. Its first appearance as a German anthem was in 1890. At that time, the Prussian royal anthem was still more popular. Deutschlandlied became the official anthem in 1922, but in the Nazi era, it was shortened to just the first verse, with its opening Deutschland über alles, Germany over everything.
That ultra-nationalist version was, understandably and for obvious reasons, banned initially after World War II. When it was restored in 1952, it was only the more benign third verse, which speaks of unity, justice, and freedom, that was used. Throughout, the version of the anthem that someone had selected had been, actually, a politically charged statement and in many cases, it was taken to mean something entirely different than was the original intention.
A similar desire to change and revise can be found in the case of the Russian anthem, and again politics has driven change. From 1816 to 1833, the Prayer of Russians, using the British music to God Save the King, served as the anthem. Later, a new anthem began to take its place, God Save the Tsar. It kept only the first line of the previous anthem and used an entirely new melody, which most today recognize as the theme representing Russia in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Despite its use, idealizing the Napoleonic War of 1812 to 1814, it was actually only introduced in 1833, so not entirely historically accurate, but it did prevail as the national anthem until the February Revolution of 1917 when the tsar was removed from power.
Then, for a period of time, the provisional Russian government used The Workers' Marseillaise, a modified version of the French anthem. With the coming of the Bolshevik government, The Internationale became the anthem of the day, a new tune and entirely new lyrics, but even that was not enough.
In 1944, a new Soviet anthem was unveiled. It worked until 1953 when, with the death of the brutal dictator Stalin, its glowing references to him were no longer politically vogue, so for years the melody was played with no lyrics. In 1977, a new set of lyrics was introduced. Stalin was gone and so were references to the great war. Lenin, however, remained and the triumph and immortal ideals of communism now figured large.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Patriotic Song of Glinka was adopted as the new anthem for the now post-Soviet Russian state. The Glinka melody went without lyrics until 1999, when it finally gained words, which evoked the tsarist past, speaking of Mother Russia and the two-headed eagle. Its life and that of another competing set of lyrics was brief.
After Putin took power the next year, in 2000, he restored the old Soviet anthem's music, but, of course, once again, a lyrical rewrite was required; in fact, it was directed by Putin. Lenin and the Communist Party were not really in. A set of lyrics was settled by committee, but even it was changed before Putin set the new words in law, losing its references to tsarist era symbols. Not surprisingly, a decade later, a majority of Russians could still not recall the first line of the recently revised version of the national anthem.
In Canada, we actually also have a history of editing and changing national anthems. It is a recurring theme.
At this time I will take the opportunity to advise the House and make everyone aware that the Conservative Party has taken a position on this bill that it will be a free vote. Everyone will be able to vote their conscience, which I think is, as the hon. member has said in proposing this bill, the appropriate way to approach this matter.
In the case of the Canadian anthem changes, politics, too, has played a part. God Save the Queen was played for many years in pre- and post-Confederation Canada.
This reflected the fact of Canada as a British colony, and after Confederation, the fact that Queen Victoria was the head of state of our new country of Canada. Some, however, felt the need for a uniquely Canadian song as a Canadian anthem.
In the year of Confederation, 1867, Alexander Muir composed The Maple Leaf Forever. It was said to have been inspired by a silver maple tree in his neighbourhood in east end Toronto. In fact, beside you, Mr. Speaker, is a flag stand that has been carved from that very tree, which was felled by a storm in July 2013. However, there is some debate, I should confess, about whether the Orange lodge had the right tree when it erected the plaque there in 1958.
While, for many, The Maple Leaf Forever served as the national anthem, some criticized the anthem. They said that its words focusing on Wolfe's victory at Quebec and referencing the thistle, shamrock, and rose were too Anglocentric. Muir revised the words to include the lily, symbolizing Canada's French roots.
Although the song enjoyed popularity in the past, it has faded over time, despite many rewrites of the lyrics that sought to placate critics and salvage this undoubtedly historically significant song. Today, it is principally heard when the Toronto Maple Leafs skate onto the ice before home games. Sadly, they have experienced a similar decline in their fortunes.
Another parallel effort to give Canada a national anthem of its own was more successful. Originally commissioned by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste to provide a patriotic Canadian song in French, it had a tune composed by Calixa Lavallée and lyrics by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. It was first performed on June 24, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, in 1880. It was O Canada, French lyrics only.
It really began to gain momentum when it was played for the visit of the future King George V, the Duke of Cornwall, in 1901. In the years that followed, competing efforts to write English lyrics took place, but a 1908 version by Montreal lawyer Robert Stanley Weir began to win hearts and minds. His version is close to the one members would recognize today, but even that would change in his own hands between the 1908 and the 1927 version, which is what I sang as a child.
Parliamentary efforts to make it official moved forward in steps from 1964, but only in 1980 would it officially become the national anthem, and through that time, more lyric changes took place. It is significant that one of the causes of delay was resistance by Weir's family to further changes to the lyrics. There have been no word changes since the 1980 law that made the anthem official.
A proposal to change the words was raised by the previous government, in which I served, in a throne speech in 2010. The public response was strong, and it was negative. Those of us who were part of the government experienced that reaction. Even though the proposal would restore an original Weir lyric, Canadians wanted no changes. Even Weir's grandson weighed in, opposing any change.
What Canadians were telling us is important, which is that symbols matter. Those things we use to create our national identity matter. They were saying that, in a world of rapid change, they want to hang on to things that matter to them. They want to continue to believe that the things that made Canada a great country remain great things. They were saying that, in a lifetime of singing the national anthem, they were doing so with pride for their country. They do not want everyone poring over the national symbols, which make us Canadian, and looking for reasons to change them. Canadians want to be able to hang on to their heritage.
It is a motivation and sentiment that I respect. It is a perspective that I believe we should value. In a world where change moves faster and faster, respecting the history of the symbols, the icons, and the stories that have made us who we are is actually a good idea. That is why I am listening to those who told our government in 2010 to leave their national anthem alone; it belongs to Canadians now.
Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the member for for that brief and very good lesson on the national anthem. I would also like to thank the member for for appearing here today in the House of Commons. It is phenomenal to see him here, and I am very grateful that he was here to introduce his bill.
Today I stand in support of our national anthem, O Canada, in its current form, the form that was adopted in 1980 when it became our national anthem.
Back in January when I went on record with local media sources and stated that I would not support the bill to amend our national anthem, within my own community, with a few exceptions, men and women alike from a variety of ages and groups fully supported my view on not changing the anthem.
Sarah McClure wrote, “Thank you for standing up against changing our national anthem”. Tracey Hare wrote, “Thank you Karen”. Mary Lou Stanley of St. Thomas wrote, “Thanks Karen. I believe there are more important issues for women than words in a song”. Doris Baughman said, “Thank you. We should not have to change anything. You can't please everyone.” Joan Wakeling said, “It is great the way it is. Thanks for your stand on this issue.” Mackenzie Murray Cameron Smith said, “What about the other verses? If you are changing the song's lyrics then you have to change the 3rd verse as well to be gender neutral: O Canada, beneath the shining skies, may stalwart sons and gentle maidens rise...”. Tina Dunn said, “That's wonderful. Thank you Karen L. Vecchio. We need more politicians who will stand up for our heritage”.
On the page from the local radio station there were 37 shares and thousands of likes to follow. These are my constituents, and I am here as their elected official.
Now, when we move to national media, many of the same types of support exist, but for those who did not agree with me, there was a whole new discussion. These discussions become much more directed and included the following: Spider Queen, “l am disgusted by Vecchio's response”; and Duckie, “Wake up and get with the 21st century”; but finally, “The Cons could always be counted on to vote against anything that would in the smallest way recognize Canadian women as equal.”
Although I scoured the Internet last night, I could not find the initial comments that were drawn from this original discussion, but let us just say that, if people are so worried about the way they are treating women and want to change the national anthem, the words and slanders that they threw my way would be totally unacceptable. It is quite funny that women's rights mean one thing until you disagree and stand up for a different opinion.
I am a strong woman and a leader within my community. I stand with pride when I sing the national anthem, but by no means am I offended by the national anthem. People in support of keeping the national anthem the way it is will comment that the word “son” can have many different uses including a possessive to God and so forth. I am not going to attempt to say that the word “son” does not mean male, but my true concern is the following and something summed up very well.
In Maclean's magazine on October 9, 2013, regarding a campaign to make our national anthem gender neutral, the following was written by Emma Teital and states:
|| Key to the campaign is the argument that “the lyrics of O Canada now exclude more than 50 per cent of our population while acting as the underlying foundation of our nation.” But the underlying foundation of our nation is not a song kids mumble after the morning bell and before hockey games. The foundation of our nation—the thing that makes us us—is our Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, both of which protect the rights of women and minorities.
We see in our own history that there are have been many attempts to change O Canada, including June 1990 when Toronto City Council voted in favour of recommending to the federal government that the wording, “our home and native land” be changed to “our home and cherished land” to be more inclusive of non-native-born Canadians, and that the phrase, “in all thy sons command” be changed to “in all of us command” to bring it closer to the original, “thou dost in us command”, and be more gender inclusive.
The same occurred in 2002 when a Senator introduced a bill that “in all thy sons command” be changed to “in all of us command”.
Several groups criticized the reference to God in the English version and to Catholicism in the French version as being anti-secular, and in 2010, the Speech from the Throne indicated it would review the original gender-neutral wording of the national anthem. Public outcry against changing the national anthem, including the same in the riding of saw the plans reversed.
The government and all members of Parliament in the House, support women.
We are all committed to seeing a better life and better opportunities for mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and granddaughters, but there is much more that we can do. In the status of women committee, we are currently studying gender-based analysis and will be returning in the fall for a full and in-depth study on violence against women.
Although I did not support the bill put forward by the NDP member for , who is here today, because I did not feel it was necessary to create a new committee, as it should have been done under the status of women committee in my view, this government and all parties are studying pay equity. The previous government put forward many initiatives for women also, including the International Day of the Girl, as well as opportunities for businesswomen and entrepreneurs.
However, I go back to the anthem.
As I said, changing the anthem would open up Pandora's box. The lyrics to our national anthem are a great source of pride for Canadians and a symbol for all Canadians. Once we open up this discussion to amend the national anthem to make it gender equal, as some may say, we also open it up to a variety of other changes, including the removal of religious words and words referring to indigenous people.
We should be supporting all Canadians: men and women, seniors and our youth, Christians and Jews, and so on, but this is a discussion about changing part of our Canadian heritage. This is an empty gesture and we should be focusing on what is real and tangible for Canadians. This gesture is about being politically correct, and not truly creating new opportunities for women.
As I said and as it was indicated in Maclean's magazine, our national anthem is not perfect but it is part of our national heritage. We all stand with pride and sing our national anthem and I do so as a woman. Persons of different faith backgrounds stand and sing our national anthem. New immigrants taking their oath to Canada at citizenship ceremonies stand up and sing our national anthem, and all with great pride. This is our national anthem.
If we are really trying to achieve equality, social media masters would not be seeking to discredit me just because I stand on my beliefs and those of my constituents, and slander my integrity. We have all heard that actions speak louder than words, so I would suggest that we start acting to support all women, and not just when our views are the same.
I look forward to this rigorous debate and I support the views of all colleagues on all sides of the House regardless of their personal views.
I do not support this legislation but I do support Canadians and I support our national anthem in its current form. As one of the greatest women in Canadian history, my mother, said, “Karen, keep the national anthem as is.”
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 , 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 . 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.
Mr. Speaker, let me add my words of gratitude to the member for for many years of service to the House, but especially, for the stamina and strength that he showed today by coming here to Parliament. I consider him a friend. I consider him a true colleague. I have watched his hard work here in the House. I also have the honour of living, in my secondary residence, in the area the member for represents and I can tell members that judging by the communication that he carries on with his constituents, he works hard on their behalf each and every day.
I am sure that every one of my colleagues in the House joins with my wife and I in our daily prayers for strength and stamina for my colleague's family and, especially, for my colleague going through this very difficult challenge.
I am proud, today, to speak in the House about an issue that is very important to me. It is in this very place, every Wednesday, that we, as members of Parliament, sing our national anthem together. We do so united as Canadians, without regard for the political, regional, or other differences that sometimes divide us in this place.
Similarly, across this great country, in hockey arenas, classrooms, community centres, and memorial parks, the national anthem brings Canadians together. I am sure all my colleagues, on Canada Day, have many opportunities to join in communities across their ridings and, if not lead in the singing of the national anthem, at least join with their constituents in the singing of the national anthem. What a joy it is for us, as members, to be able to join our constituents, especially on Canada Day, as we celebrate.
O Canada is not just our national anthem. It represents our common historical, emotional, and spiritual heritage as a country and as a people. It is as important as the maple leaf, the beaver, the tartan, and other symbols that represent Canada and contribute to our national identity. When the national anthem is sung, it evokes passionate emotions of patriotic fervour, solemn remembrance, and enthusiastic national pride in the hearts of all who hear it.
Initially, many Canadians sang God Save the King and The Maple Leaf Forever as the de facto national anthems of Canada. In fact, many of my colleagues in the House probably stood in elementary school and sang, as the national anthem, God Save the Queen.
However, as a result of our desire for an anthem that was more applicable for French Canadians, Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier and Calixa Lavallée were commissioned to write O Canada in 1880. This anthem gradually grew in popularity across Canada and over the course of the early 20th century.
In 1927, it was officially published for the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation and began to be sung in schools and at public functions. Later, in 1967, a special joint committee of Parliament tasked with studying O Canada would recommend that it be adopted as the country's national anthem. Following further deliberation and study by Parliament, O Canada was proclaimed as the country's official national anthem in 1980.
The development of O Canada is a reflection of the creativity and character of Canadians who crafted and adopted an anthem suitable for a country as extraordinary and diverse as Canada. However, it would be both inaccurate and disrespectful to consider the national anthem to be merely a banal song, hymn, needless formality, or meaningless tradition. Rather, the national anthem is a significant and momentous aspect of Canadian identity, and when sung, it is as evocative as it is impressive.
There are numerous examples of the importance of the anthem in so many facets of Canadian life. For instance, the national anthem is sung with enthusiasm by new Canadians upon receiving their citizenship.
Again, I need to just divert for a moment to consider the fact that many of us in this room have the privilege and honour of joining with our new Canadian citizens as they stand to take the oath of Canadian citizenship. Then, at the end of that ceremony, we sing, together, O Canada. For many of them, it is the very first time they will sing it, and for all of them, they sing it as a Canadian citizen and it is an incredibly emotional time.
It is sung by our athletes when representing this country on the world stage and by our military when serving their country, both at home and abroad.
Indeed, the national anthem is even sung by those who are not Canadians, as we saw following the terrorist attack here in Ottawa two years ago. At that difficult time, our neighbours in the United States came together and sang O Canada before a hockey game between two American teams to show their support for our country amidst tragedy.
Of course, the national anthem is sung when we gather to remember the sacrifices of the men and women who have given their lives in order to secure the freedom and prosperity of their fellow Canadians. Again reflecting on the many opportunities I have had to join with Legion members at ceremonial events across my riding, it is just an honour to be able to join them in singing O Canada and recognize the sacrifice they made to allow us to be able to sing this great song together.
However, since the adoption of O Canada as the official national anthem in 1980, it has remained unchanged. Given the great symbolic significance of the national anthem, modifying it or changing it in any way is a matter that concerns not only this House but the entire country as a whole. It is important to note there remains substantial opposition among Canadians to any changes to the national anthem. A definitive study conducted by Forum Research in 2013 indicated that over 65% of Canadians, both men and women alike, believed the national anthem should not be changed. It is for this reason that every previous attempt to modify the national anthem has been unsuccessful. There simply has not been significant public support for any sort of alteration.
When Canadians gather to sing the national anthem together, they do so in part to demonstrate their commonality and unity as citizens of this great country. Furthermore, it should be noted that over 78% of Canadians see the national anthem as it exists as a source of great pride. As such, any change could seriously affect the role of the national anthem as a source of pride and unity among Canadians. For instance, we can reflect on the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games when all Canadians came together in a remarkable display of national pride and unity. All across Canada, Canadians were able to cheer on the brilliant exploits of their athletes, and the national anthem served to inspire and unite us during this grand event.
Next year, we will continue to demonstrate our national pride when we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the remarkable development of our country since that time. When we are commemorating this significant milestone in the history of our country, our national anthem will feature prominently as a symbol of our country and an expression of our national unity. On such occasions, the national anthem serves as a symbol that continues to bring Canadians together and an important aspect of what makes us Canadian. Moreover, as we reflect on the great achievements of our country and the sacrifices those achievements have required, the importance of our national anthem remains evident.
In closing, I must remind members of this House to consider the importance of the national anthem of Canada as a symbol of national identity, a source of national unity, and a reason for national pride. Most of all, it is my hope that regardless of the outcome of this debate, each and every Canadian will continue to proudly sing the national anthem with a glowing heart. I most certainly will.
While I am not supporting this bill, I have a great deal of respect for my colleague from , and that respect and admiration will continue and will not change regardless of the outcome of the vote on Bill .