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