Why is Canada thinking of changing its national anthem?

The Canadian parliament is on track to changing its national anthem to be more gender neutral, a move that doesn't sit well with some Canucks. 

Rob Schumacher/USA Today
A Canadian flag. The country is on its way to making its national anthem more gender-neutral.

Canadians are at odds over two words in the country’s national anthem: “thy sons.”

In an effort to make the English version of “O Canada” more gender neutral, the country's parliament is on its way to changing the line — “in all thy son’s command” — to “in all of us command.”

The House of Commons overwhelmingly passed two readings of the bill last week before it was sent to a heritage committee and returned to the Commons for a third reading, according to USA Today. If the Commons and Senate approve the legislation, the anthem will likely be changed in the fall, reported the Ottawa Citizen.

Following the readings, parliament members broke out in singing "O Canada," though some on the floor aren't pleased with the initiative. They question why a part of history must conform to modern-day political correctness. Others say that the change will not hurt Canadian heritage, but will mean a lot for half of the country’s population.  

“We are in 2016,” Christine Moore, a New Democratic Party parliament member, said during a debate, reported the Ottawa Citizen. “The Canadian population will understand why we want to make the change. It is not a big change, and there will not be a big difference in the national anthem, but the difference is significant for women all across Canada.”

“It is the right time to do it. Let us make our national anthem inclusive,” she said.

Since it was written in 1906 to accompany the French version of the song, “O Canada” has been revised twice. Before 1914, the lyrics were much like the proposed version. The disputed line was “thou dost in us command,” but was rewritten to “thy sons” apparently to promote patriotism among Canadians off to World War I, reported USA Today.

Members of Canada’s Liberal Party have fast-tracked the bill because the health of its drafter, Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger, has deteriorated rapidly, Canadian media reported. Yet the Liberals weren’t the first Canadians to recommend such a rewrite. Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper unsuccessfully recommended the line be changed back to “thou dost in us command" in 2010, shortly after the Canadian women’s hockey team sang the national anthem after winning gold at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

For Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, political correctness in this case is inappropriate.

“It is wrong for a country to tread on its heritage and history, even when some of those heritage symbols, songs, and anthems may seem a little dated when looking at it through the lens of 2016,” said Mr. O’Toole, according to MRCTV. “That is really what we have come to with a debate about our national anthem.”

In a column for the Toronto Star, Candice Malcolm agreed.

There is no stopping where this politically correct obsession will take us,” wrote Ms. Malcolm. “From a Remembrance Day ceremony honoring the brave men and women who fought and died for Canada, to the Canadian women’s hockey team belting the lyrics after winning the Gold medal on home ice at the Vancouver Olympics, O Canada has helped define our country and brought us all together.”

Canada isn’t the only country to be torn over efforts to modernize its national anthem. Switzerland held a contest to rewrite its national anthem, a religious psalm. Former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (D) fought an uphill battle on his last day in Congress to retire the “Star Spangled Banner” for “America the Beautiful.” He pointed out that the US national anthem doesn’t even include the word “America.” 

A majority of Canadians favor making the anthem more gender-neutral, according to a May poll commissioned by a national organization advocating for the change. But at least one Canadian woman said lawmakers are barking up the wrong tree.

“Don’t we have better things to do?” Shah Vernon told the North Shore News in North Vancouver. “If we’re going to do something for women, let’s give them decent wages.” 

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