Tag Archives: gender neutral words for O Canada

Looking Back Instead of Forward

The Canadian Senate may soon kill a bill that alters our national anthem to make it more gender inclusive.

The bill introduced in the House of Commons by the late Liberal MP Mauril Belanger and passed by a majority vote, would change the phrase ‘in all thy sons command’ in O Canada to ‘in all of us command.’ The bill is awaiting Senate approval to become law. Senator Don Plett and some of his colleagues may prevent that from happening. Plett has introduced an amendment to the bill that would return the contentious phrase in the song to its original 1908 wording ‘thou dost in us command’.

The wording Plett is championing is also gender inclusive but here’s the problem. If the Senate amends the bill it has to go back to the House of Commons to be voted on again. Since Mr. Belanger has died members will have to agree unanimously to let another MP sponsor the bill. Some members may refuse to agree because they don’t want to change the words of the anthem. Thus the bill will die.

 Plett is aware this could happen but won’t withdraw his amendment. He says he isn’t comfortable tinkering with the song’s language even though the Toronto Star reports the anthem’s words have been altered many times in the past. I wonder if those who oppose making the anthem gender inclusive would feel the same way if the phrase in question said ‘in all our daughters’ command.’

Statue at the Manitoba Legislature that recognizes the famous five  who fought to have women recognized as persons in Canada

In a Senate speech Plett claimed our anthem shouldn’t change because it reminds us of where we came from. The current version which uses the word ‘sons’ to refer to Canadian citizens does remind us of the past when women weren’t persons in Canada. They were their husbands’ and fathers’ property. They couldn’t vote and their contributions went largely unrecognized. Mr. Plett is right. It is very important to remember where we came from. We come from a time when women were victims of all kinds of abuse because they had fewer human rights than men.
Anyone watching the new television version of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s chilling story The Handmaid’s Tale will recognize just how vital it is not to take for granted what women have gained in their fight for equality. Atwood’s tale reminds us there is great peril in forgetting the negative ramifications of patriarchy, not only for women but also for society as a whole.  I wonder if Mr. Plett and his colleagues are thinking we need to maintain the sexist version of our national anthem so we remember those terrible times and continue to fight for equality? Somehow I doubt it. There is a time for looking back at the past but our national anthem should inspire us to think about a better future. 

 ‘In all of us command’ represents reality. Women can serve in our country’s armed forces in all the same roles as men. Women make up half our government’s cabinet.

 The current debate about the anthem reminds me of something that happened in a church I attended in the 1980s. I asked for the church constitution to be changed removing the pronoun ‘he’ from descriptions of duties for elected offices in the church. A number of women held these offices but they were still being referred to as ‘he’ in our constitution. My suggestion caused so much debate and alarm I almost left the church.

A trio of Quebec suffragettes who fought for 22 years to give women the right to vote in their province.

But that was more than three decades ago. Surely people have realized by now that language is powerful and can exclude and marginalize. Language isn’t stagnant. It is ever evolving just as the role of women in Canadian society continues to evolve. Hopefully Mr. Plett and his like-minded senators can come to see that. 

Other posts………

Are You This Determined to Vote?

An Inclusive O Canada

The Famous Five

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Filed under Music, Politics

Changing the Words For O Canada

I was at the Winnipeg Goldeyes Stadium this week. We sang the national anthem before the game. Perhaps because I’ve been living outside of Canada for six years and haven’t heard the song O Canada very often I was struck by the fact it still contains the line ‘in all our sons’ command.’  In a day and age of political correctness and equal opportunities for men and women shouldn’t that line have been altered ages ago?

I did a little research and found out there have been various initiatives to try to make the song more gender neutral.

In 2002 Senator Vivienne Poy from Ontario introduced a bill to change ‘in all our sons’ command to ‘ in all of us command’. During its third reading in the Senate the bill was defeated. 


When Governor General Michaelle Jean read the speech from the throne in March 2010 she announced the government’s plan to appoint a commission to look into the possibility of changing the words of the national anthem back to their original form as written by Stanley Weir in 1908.  They would read ‘ thou dost in us command’.  However just two days after the speech CBC carried a story saying the national anthem would not change because 75% of Canadians polled after the throne speech objected to any tampering with the text of the national anthem. 

I am very surprised at that result.  I realize that changing the words of a song may not be the most important thing on the agenda when it comes to providing equal opportunities and support for women but it would be a start. When I think of all the little school girls who sing O Canada every morning and in doing so pay lip service to the idea that only Canada’s sons and not her daughters are responsible for their country’s well-being and future it makes me sad and disappointed. 

Perhaps a solution is to use the words by Mercy E. Powell McCulloch. In 1908 Collier’s Weekly held a contest inviting citizens to pen new words for our national anthem. First prize went to a woman, Ms. McCulloch. I really like her stirring text which emphasizes Canada’s beauty.  This is Ms. McCulloch’s O Canada.

O Canada! in praise of thee we sing:

From echoing hills our anthems proudly ring.

With fertile plains and mountains grand

With lakes and rivers clear,

Eternal beauty, thou dost stand

Throughout the changing year.

Lord God of Hosts! We now implore

Bless our dear land this day and evermore,

Bless our dear land this day and evermore.


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Filed under Canada, Education