(via text-to-speech software) moved that Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender), 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 C-210, 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 C-210 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.