O Canada; Possible Lyric Rewrite?

Gender equality, the only glitch in “O Canada”?
Rahman Mohamed

After a court battle in 2015 the Supreme Court gave the federal government until 6 June 2016 to create a bill legalizing Doctor Assisted Suicide.  Passing reading in the House of Commons on May 31 it is now faced by the Senate.  On May 30 Toronto Star reported Parliament would likely miss the deadline and that the Bill has brought division within Parliament as well the Liberal government.  Assisted Suicide is the prime focus of Parliament but it is expected to face a new challenge soon: O Canada.

Gender equality is a common topic today.  Recently it has plagued governments in terms of pay equity.  Gender equality also includes equal representation in the public (administrative, government, public service, finance, medical) and equal opportunity.  Most recently gender equality has expanded into cultural expression.

Many already expressing intentions, including Gillian Anderson and Priyanka Chopra, Bollywood star known to Hollywood, People reported there is thought of making the next James Bond “Bond. Jane Bond” – a female superspy.  There’s a chance Jane Bond will be the new 007!

In Canada cultural gender equality has taken a different view.  On May 30 CBC reported that a salon in Halifax will be using “gender neutral” prices.  Prices charged will be for the length of hair and the time of the stylist; how much hair is on the ground and how lazy the barber is.  Gender equality has also been introduced to Canadian cultural laws (the government law books).

In January Parliament was introduced to a Private Member’s Bill arguing for changing “all thy sons command” to what is considered its original English line of “thou dost in us command”.  On May 31 Huffington Post reported that Liberal MP Mauril Belanger dying of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis  or Lou Gehrig’s disease) had support but faced opposition.  The bill was defeated in May 2015 by the Conservative government; Conservative MP Erin O’Toole says Canada shouldn’t change Canadian heritage but rather use it as an educational tool to show change in time.  But is this the only part of the Canadian anthem that needs to change?

O-Canada-2.pngIn 1980 it was made official: Canada had two anthems – English and French.  Unknown to many one isn’t the translation of the other; there is a French “O Canada”, English “O Canada”, and an official mix of the French and English lyrics. Canada was a budding pop star.

Both express multiple factions of Canadian history and heritage including it being a bilingual state.  The English anthem focuses on a single person’s pride in a nation and a willingness to act for it while the French anthem describes a historical, united nation that supports one and all Canadians.  The final line of each side clearly differ.  The English anthem “O Canada, We stand on guard for thee” implies a Canadian’s willingness to defend the nation; on the other side the French anthem sings “Protegera nos fois et nos droits” ([It/Canada] will protect our freedoms and our rights) describing Canada as a united nation that guarantees its citizens the freedoms and rights they want.  One talks about defence of the borders and the Great White North; another talks about Canada’s welfare system (Canada had Tommy Douglas Medicare when the anthems were released but weren’t a part of NAFTA)

The Bill proposed by MP Mauril Belanger is aimed at changing Line 3 of the English anthem “True patriot, in all thy sons command” to make it gender equal.  Is line 3 of the English anthem the only one that needs to change?

Both anthems have lines that state Canada is not an immigrant nation.  Line 2 of both the English anthem “Our home and native land” and French “Terre des nos aiëux [the land of our ancestors]” describe Canada as one that is today inhabited by people who have always lived in the Great White North.  According to the 2011 NHS more than 60% of Canadian claimed third generation or more; over 95% of Canadians claimed to not be Aboriginal (Inuit, Metis, or other First Nation descent).

Together, both anthems imply all Canadians belong to the Christian religion.  Line 8 of the English anthem sings “God keep our land glorious and free”; line 5 of the French anthem sings “Il sait porter la croix!” (It [Canada] knows to carry the cross).  In 2011 just over 62% of Canadians claimed Christianity (Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Christian Orthodox, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, United Church, Other Christian).  Over 23% of Canadians claimed no religious affiliation.

The 21st Century has been named the century of change.  The question now: how much of the Canadian anthem needs to be re-written to fit Canadian society today?


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