Letter: Changing O Canada lyrics won’t promote equality

“O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love, in all thy sons command.”

Canadians from far and wide know these lyrics, having belted them out with our countrymen thousands of times. To proud citizens, “O Canada” is a source of national pride, true identity, and most obviously, a source of blatant sexism. Wait – what!?

According to the 225 supporters of Bill C-210 within the House of Commons, this is the case. Proposed by MP Mauril Bélanger in May, Bill C-210 would change the lyrics “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command.” The bill has made it through three readings and discussions and will soon enter the Senate. Canadians could potentially have a “new” anthem for Canada Day.

But is it really that sexist? Is it even sexist at all? Is it worth the House of Commons and Senate’s time? I’m all for equal rights and opportunity for everyone, but if equality is seen as changing a couple lyrics, I disagree.

Be completely honest with yourself, has or does the Canadian national anthem really upset you? Were you horribly offended at the first paragraph when you read or sang the first two lines, containing the alleged sexist lyrics? It’s unlikely.

Words can have literal dictionary meanings and they can also have meaning that is attributed over time. As Andrew Coyne of the National Post wrote in a June article on the topic: “a word or phrase might not only be intended to be understood in a way other than its most obvious and literal sense.”

Yes, the anthem has been changed before, but it’s doubtful that the 1913 modifications were meant to exclude women. Most people believe it was a way of honouring the men fighting on battlefields across the world.

Moreover, if Justin Trudeau, Bélanger and the other bill-backers want equality so badly, why haven’t they removed the religious lyrics from both the English and French versions? What about the equality of atheists, or other religious groups when they come across “God keep our land, glorious and free,” or the literal French translation about a sword-wielding soldier figure carrying a cross?

The anthem is something that is ingrained in the very fabric of a country. It is an identifying Canadian song that is sung by millions of citizens. If this alteration is to be raised, no matter how small of a change, would it not make sense to subject something so widespread to a public vote? Especially since taking offence to something is incredibly subjective.

Not even all women agree with the proposal. Candice Malcolm of the Toronto Sun wrote how she felt the “national anthem rewrite is an insult to women.”

Former Governor General Michaëlle Jean proposed a similar plan to review the anthem back in 2010. Seventy-five per cent of Canadians polled rejected the proposal. Six years later, the general public has never been consulted, with many people not even realizing changes could be made. If the Liberals truly want an equal anthem sung by everyone, our opinions should at least be heard on the matter. Then we can see what all of us really command.