On September 22nd, Liberal MP Mauril Belanger introduced a new Private Member’s Bill advocating changes to the National Anthem.
Belanger’s Bill C-624 would alter the lyrics of O Canada from “In all thy sons command” to “In all of us command,” to make the anthem more gender neutral.
Opposition to alleged sexism in the anthem is not new. Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth and former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell have both advocated for revisions to the lyrics, and in the 2010 Speech from the Throne the Harper government suggested reverting back to Robert Weir’s original “Thou Dost in Us Command.”
Aside from earning the Liberals some feminist cred, is there really any point to this bill?
The National Anthem is a historical artifact. It is based on a 1908 poem, and like it or not it reflects the period in which it was written. To change the lyrics now to make them more gender neutral is akin to rewriting textbooks to claim there was gender parity at the Charlottetown Conference.
Yes, shameful sexist attitudes and policies were prevalent throughout Canada’s history. But covering up the mistakes of our past in a shroud of political correctness will not help us do better in the future.
At least when the Conservatives suggested changing the lyrics, their proposed revision was both more historically significant and syntactically correct. “Thou Dost in Us Command” were the original lyrics before the anthem was altered in 1914, and frankly make more sense than the garbled and nonsensical, “In all of us command.”
But really, what part of “In all thy sons command” is so heinous that it needs to be expunged?
Women have equal rights in Canada. I’m not denying that sexism exists in society – however, I don’t think one line in the anthem is actively impeding or demeaning women. At worst, the current lyrics are a harmless anachronism representing a different era in Canadian history. At best, they are a tribute to the men who served in World War I, a conflict in which Canada suffered devastating losses while proving ourselves on the battlefield and the world stage.
O Canada is a valuable reflection of our national origins and what we should aspire to. We should not tolerate politicians trying to re-write our history for political gain.
Originally published in The Fulcrum as “‘O Canada’ lyrics should not be changed,” October 9, 2014