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OpEd: Changing the words to O Canada? While we’re at it…

Gender issues are not the only problem with our national anthem.
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Karen Green, October 2, 2013 12:30:45 PM

A growing number of prominent Canadian women are making the (very) valid argument that the lyrics of our national anthem do not represent 50% of Canadian citizens (that would be, the women), and therefore should revert to Robert Stanley Weir’s original gender-neutral 1908 lyric.

The line, “in all thy sons command” used to be “thou dost in us command,” but was changed in 1913 or 1914 for no given reason, and later adopted as our country’s national anthem with the new lyric firmly in place.

Changing the words back would be a great move—let’s do it. And while we’re looking at lyrics that don’t reflect our citizens, it’s time to make another change to our national anthem as well – it’s time to remove the religious references.

Just as Weir’s original first verse, from which we have derived our official anthem, makes no mention of sons, it also makes no mention of God. That too was added some time around 1914. Like the whole, “true patriot love/thy sons command” line, the change might have been made for sentimental reasons at that time – Canada was sending its men overseas to fight in a war from which many would not return. It may very well have been comforting for families to believe that God was officially keeping our land strong and free.

But it is nearly 100 years later. Just as women are (supposedly) equitable citizens comprising 50% of a nation whose official anthem does not represent them, there are many who do not count the Christian God (or any God for that matter) as representative of their beliefs.

We could also argue for the removal of religion based on the grounds that, although Canada has no constitutional separation of church and state (something else to work on, eh?), we are proudly a nation of immigrants, whether first, second or tenth generation, and our varied experiences, beliefs and doctrines are what make this great country unique. The very theist brush with which the anthem paints us does not do our diversity justice.

For those objecting to changes based on the grounds that O Canada is ingrained in our culture and history, consider that it was not officially recognized as our national anthem until 1980. Before that, our recognized anthem was God Save the Queen. Don’t get me started.

This is not the first time that concerns over gender and religion in O Canada have been raised; a motion from Toronto City Council in 1990 also suggested that the revisionist lyric “our home and native land” was problematic and should also go.

As to what the lyrics should be changed to, the 1908 version is pretty good, but the line a friend’s kindergartener uses after mishearing the lyrics should do well to please everybody. Her version?

“Gotta keep our land glorious and free.”

Can’t argue with that.

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