Robyn Benson, PSAC

Oh, Canada

Canadian flag in sky.jpg

Is the “restoration” of our national anthem a big thing or a small thing? A new proposal—an earlier one died more than three years ago—would make a two-word change: from “thy sons” to “of us” in the line, “in all thy sons command.”

What’s now being proposed is not actually a restoration in every respect, which would have taken us back to 1908, when the wording was “thou dost in us command.” That wording seems a little dated now, and should probably be left where it lies. But its gender neutrality, now more than a century old, is what a number of prominent Canadians—including former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, Margaret Atwood, and Sally Goddard, mother of the first female Canadian soldier to be killed in combat—would like to see restored. And so would I.

“True patriot love,” after all, is something that every Canadian citizen, not merely those of the male persuasion, has a right to express. And all of us in 2013 should be able to see ourselves in the song that stands for Canada. So what’s the problem with a two-word change to make that happen?

Ah, say some. Tradition. Don’t mess with it.

Well, then, which tradition? The 1908 gender-neutral one? The version with “sons,” added in 1914? Or the 1980 wording, adding “God keep our land”—the year when “O Canada” actually became our official Canadian anthem?

It’s reasonable to speculate that the wording change in 1914 had much to do with the outbreak of World War One, when Canadian men were starting to go overseas. Could it also have been partly in reaction to the growing suffragist movement? That same year, the Premier of Manitoba infamously said, “The majority of women are emotional, and if given the franchise would be a menace rather than an aid.”

Well, times change. Women got the vote in 1918. We were officially declared “persons” in 1929. Both of those advances were, I suppose, breaks with “tradition.” Not all traditions, obviously, are worth preserving.

Of course, this isn’t really about tradition at all, which we can see has been flexible indeed over the years. It’s about inclusiveness. Those still resisting the equality of women in 2013 will be first in line, guaranteed, to oppose this change. But the time is ripe for it.

My opinion, anyway: you may well have a different one. But do spare a thought for the excluded majority.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on October 2, 2013 8:30 AM.

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