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Third reading of Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender)

Third reading of Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender)

Third reading of Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender)

Third reading of Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender)


Published on 7 March 2017
Hansard and Statements by Senator Jim Munson

Hon. Jim Munson:

Honourable senators, first I want to thank Senator Lankin for taking all the tough questions.

An Hon. Senator: We have more.

Senator Munson: I am sure you do, but I don’t have to say yes.

I was thinking about Senator Lankin saying that she was in elementary school in 1967. I was at Expo. I was 21 years old and full of national pride at that particular time. I was thinking that two years before that, we had a new flag, a brand new flag. Talk about pride at that time, being a 21-year-old and seeing the maple leaf and a new flag.

We will have a continuing and longer debate here, and I respect the views of my colleagues, the great hockey players Senator Michael MacDonald and Senator Wells. I respect their views because they are important to have in this particular debate.

In case you missed what Senator Lankin said, I will say it all over again, with a few different words.

Honourable senators, it has been close to a year since I first spoke in support of Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender). Since then, many of us have heard other presentations and arguments about the significance and potential impact of the bill.

As we all know, Bill C-210 calls for a change to only two words in our national anthem — from “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command.” Whatever side of the matter we are on, our opinions are heartfelt. We recognize the anthem as an important symbol of our country.

Believing as I do that this change would demonstrate respect for the role of all Canadians in events that have shaped this country, I will not be swayed by any arguments to keep the anthem as it is. The power of language to affect beliefs and sentiments, and the value of social inclusion — these are among my strongest beliefs.

The late Mauril Bélanger described the objective of this bill as I see it too: “. . . to underscore that all of us, regardless of our gender or our origins, contribute to our unique country.”

Even when “O Canada” officially became our national anthem in 1980, legislators intended to revisit this section of the English lyrics. It is not for lack of trying that this portion of the anthem remains unchanged today. In fact, in the last 35 years, Parliament has considered 11 bills with this purpose. One of these, as mentioned by Senator Lankin, was sponsored by our colleague Vivienne Poy — she was sitting on the other side — and another is this one, Bill C-210. In the words of our former colleague Senator Nancy Ruth:

The bills have come from men and from women, from parliamentarians in different parts of the country and from parliamentarians of different origins. Taken together, they show all of us a way forward, a way to include all Canadians within the embrace of the song.

It is one of our roles as parliamentarians to represent the diversity of the Canadian population — the languages, the experiences and cultural backgrounds of everyone who calls this nation home.

Diversity is not something that simply happens. It is the outcome of a national will to remove barriers and build bridges.

“Of us” or “thy sons.” Reflecting on the choice has stirred up arguments for and against passing Bill C-210. It boxes our reflections and prevents us from fully exploring possibilities.

Honourable senators, we need to focus instead on the values expressed in the arguments — tradition and inclusion — and which of them will strengthen this country.

In her previous speech on Bill C-210, Senator Petitclerc posed the precise questions we must answer. She said:

Is the reason for sticking to the past for tradition or history or not wanting to change? In my view, the gift of inclusion is something we can give to all Canadians, present and future. Why would the past be more important than the present and the future?

In the interest of tradition, some people say that changing our anthem will not make it more inclusive. People already hear what they want to hear in our anthem’s lyrics.

Others think differently. Olympic and Paralympic rower Kristen Kit has described to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology the experience of athletes in regard to the national anthem. Like most of us, athletes recognize the national anthem as a symbol of our cultural identity. Because athletes hear and sing the anthem when they win gold, silver or bronze, they also regard it as a symbol of achievement. Ms. Kit is as Canadian as any male counterpart in the country, but the reference to “our sons” falls short of acknowledging the contribution of female athletes like her to the country.

She has said that women and men within the sport community would celebrate the passage of this bill. As she describes it, “. . . for my generation, to have a change like this installed would show that Canada is moving forward, that we are living in the present and moving toward the future.”

Ramona Lumpkin, President and Vice-Chancellor of Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, also told the Senate committee that this bill gives us an opportunity to modernize an anthem that is out of step with how things really are. She told committee members that the change should be treated as “a teachable moment.” It would present us with a chance the teach school children about history, changes in language and how important it is for girls as well as boys to see themselves in our songs, our words and poems, our cultural productions. It would create a point of meaningful reference for understanding what it is to use “the right language” to express the right values.

Choosing to alter the lyrics to better reflect the composition of our society and show respect to as wide a spectrum of Canadians as possible, that’s what this is about. This is not in conflict with our national traditions. Rather, it is thoroughly in keeping with this country’s history, the beliefs and values inherent in a democratic and rights-driven society.

Senator Nancy Ruth was an eloquent and passionate sponsor of this bill, and she said:

The principle of this bill is respect — respect for both our cultural heritage and its ongoing evolution; respect for the service of Canadians, past and present, at home and abroad; and respect for the men and women, whatever their origin, whose rights are protected by Canada’s Charter.

Honourable senators, the time has come for our national anthem to better reflect who and what Canada is. It is in our hands to decide if Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act, will be passed and its purpose fulfilled.

Honourable senators, we are a country of human beings willing to accommodate and demonstrate respect for one another. As parliamentarians, it is up to us to make the call, to act with respect to the people of Canada. They have done their part and spoken to us of inclusion and progress and their hopes for the future.

Not putting a timetable, as has been said here, what is the rush? Of course all senators should be heard in this debate and want to speak. We went through a gut-wrenching exercise on physician- assisted dying in this chamber, and the pressures around us, even within our caucus, of which way you should go and how should you vote, was very emotional and difficult to do. We saw the individual nature of senators during that particular debate.

Well, this is another debate, and it is Canada’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, and over the next couple of months we will have an opportunity to settle it this time. I hope you will all join those of us who support this bill in the affirmative.

4 Comments

  1. Sue nelson 4 months ago

    Please explain the argument against. Is it that women have t contributed? Or that we don’t exist? Thank you.

    • Andy 4 weeks ago

      Blaine Calkins Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

      Mr. Speaker, let me first say how much I respect my hon. colleague who has moved the bill. I have been here for a very long time, and he has been here longer than I. Throughout the whole tenure of my term here in Parliament, which is over 10 years now, we have always had respectful dialogue, and I will do my best to keep my dialogue in regard to his bill, which seeks to change the national anthem, as respectful as I can.

      I am speaking on behalf of a massive amount of constituents that I have heard from in my constituency who are finally becoming aware that this change would even happen.

      I became aware of this as the member of Parliament for Wetaskiwin back in a Speech from the Throne, which my colleague had mentioned earlier. Ironically, at a time when the economy and keeping our streets and communities safe are important ever-pressing issues, the proposed change that was highlighted in the Speech from the Throne elicited such a response from my constituents that it let me know overwhelmingly that this is not a change that the people that I represent welcome.

      That is our role as parliamentarians. Our role is not to take some other personal considerations into effect. Our role as representatives is to represent the will of the people that we were elected to represent. We should always be considerate of that first and foremost.

      I have looked at a number of articles about this particular issue that have been printed in regional or national media. It always refers to, usually, colleagues from my side of the House speaking to this particular issue as they are reflecting the will of their constituents, yet when we hear from members of Parliament from other particular points of view, they are talking about how we need to pass the bill from a perspective of a personal attachment to a situation that a member of the House is going through. However grave that actually might be, it should never be a rationale for how we make decisions or determinations in the House.

      We should always seek to do what is best and in the best interests of all Canadians and what the will of the people who sent us here to do our job actually is. I have not heard a lot of that debate on what the representatives who are voting in favour of the legislation are actually hearing from their constituents. I hear emotional arguments, but I never hear what the constituents of the folks who are voting in favour of this legislative change actually have to say.

      I have been here a long time. As a matter of fact, my private member’s bill in the last Parliament sought to make a change that would have affected a few hundred thousand, maybe one million workers, Bill C-525, and I was accused voraciously of doing this through the back door, taking a back-door sneaky approach to change some legislation when my bill went through the entire process. The process took over a year for it to happen. The committees at both the Senate and the House of Commons heard from dozens of witnesses and interested parties. It went through the private member’s process.

      I am not questioning the member’s ability to bring forward a legislative change. I respect member’s rights and privileges in the House. He has every right to move a legislative change as he sees fit. I do not dispute the fact that he has the right to do this. However, the process has been gerrymandered from the outset.

      The bill was passed in the chamber on, I believe, June 1. It went to the committee on June 2. One witness was heard from for 45 minutes. The chair of the committee made an appeal to the members of the committee based on the medical health condition of the sponsor of the bill, and the bill was subsequently sent back to the House the very next day.

      I have never seen a private member’s bill move so quickly through the House without regard for due process, which is very concerning to me. If that is the process of how legislation is going to be adopted and changed, I can hardly wait to see what the Liberals are going to do with the changes they are going to be proposing when it comes to democratic reform, because if that is the MO, then we have a lot to be worried about.

      Before I finish, I just want to read what one person, who was not able to get her particular point of view, either in a written submission or directly to the committee, taken into consideration. I will read this letter into the record.

      It says, “To Whom it May Concern, I am writing you as a young concerned Canadian. I just finished reading a news article about [a Liberal MP’s] Bill C-210, which calls for the lyrics of our national anthem changed to be ‘gender neutral’. I am absolutely appalled that this is even being given thought, let alone consideration. I would first off like to state very clearly that I am not writing to you…out of any closed-mindedness [or malicious intent]. I am a full supporter of equality and inclusiveness 100% but I draw the line at the proposed lyric change in O Canada, and here is why:

      “’True patriot love in all thy sons command. True North strong and free! O Canada, we stand on guard for thee’

      “That block of lyrics is in reference to our sons at the front during the world wars. Yes, I am well aware that there were many nursing sisters at the front as well, but the reality is that our sons by far outnumbered our daughters at the front.

      “Let’s not forget the 1917 MSA conscription during the First World War after we lost the entire Newfoundland Regiment on the first day of the battle of the Somme. We lost our SONS in less than an hour, the regiment was all but wiped out. To change those lyrics is not only a slap in the face to all who serve now, but to our grandfathers and great grandfathers who so bravely marched on into battle for the freedom we enjoy today. It’s a direct spit at the memories, stories and legacies those men left behind.”

      The author of this letter is clearly indicating what we all know and feel in our hearts, that the national anthem, as it was changed, was done so to respect a time in history. It is not meant to be gender biased in any way, shape, or form. It is a historical anthem. It was our nation’s founding moment. Many historians would argue that when our sons, mostly sons, who were fighting in the wars at that particular time made an assault on Vimy Ridge, they earned our right to participate internationally. Some would say it was the birth of our nation.

      She goes on to say in this letter, “The final line in the block of lyrics actually renders the statement gender neutral”, and she says “I say this because we as a nation do stand on guard for “thee”. “We” is the part that means “all of us”.

      She argues that the previous line that talks about “in all thy sons command” refers to a part of our history. The part that “we stand on guard for thee” is the gender neutral language, which encompasses all of us and charges all of us with the diligence to look after, protect, and preserve our nation.

      This is a good enough reason for me, based on the fact that many of my constituents have already told me how they feel about this and the fact that the bill, regrettably, and I do understand the circumstances, does not seem to have been given due process in this place at all. I am going to have to vote against the legislation.

  2. Kelly Graham 4 months ago

    I have taught for 15 years in the elementary school system. When I wrote out the lyrics to Oh Canada in my first year of teaching on chart paper to hang next to the flag I replaced ‘our son’s command’ with ‘in all or our command’. I’m glad that many of my former students believe these are the words to our national anthem. Over the years, many parents and administrators have commented. All have been in support – some even expressing their commitment to singing these inclusive words in the future.
    This issue is a no brainer. If we want to be a sensitive and inclusive nation. Please pass this bill.

  3. Canadianpatriot 1 month ago

    Don’t like our national anthem? Feel free to leave.

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