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Canada Parliament Votes To Make National Anthem Gender-Neutral

Just two words would change, but not everyone is happy about the idea.

06/06/2016 01:42 pm ET | Updated Jan 03, 2017
Chris Wattie / Reuters

Canada's Parliament voted overwhelmingly last week to pass a bill aimed at making the country's national anthem gender-neutral.

Bill C-210, which passed 219 to 79, proposes to switch just two words in the lyrics of "O Canada" -- changing "in all thy sons command" to "in all of us command" in one verse. The simple substitution is meant to do away with the exclusively male phrasing in part of the song, but it's also causing an uproar among some conservative members of Canada's government.

While a large majority of the Liberal Party-dominated Parliament favors the change, Conservative Party members vocally opposed the vote and accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party of forcing through the bill without consulting Canadians. Some Conservatives allege that the expediency is because the bill's author, Mauril Belanger, has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and his health is in quick decline. Conservative MP Peter Van Loan also accused the Liberals of trying to impose their worldview on Canadians.

Supporters of the bill point out that changes to the anthem are nothing new. The "thy sons" line wasn't even in the original anthem, but was added later, in 1913. In fact, "O Canada" has only been the country's official national anthem since 1980, when it replaced "God Save The Queen."

Canada’s debate over amending the anthem’s “thy sons” verse is an old one in the country, and numerous previous attempts have failed to remove the gendered line. In 2010, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper even suggested the change during a major speech, but his administration quickly reversed tack after backlash from his party’s political base.

Trudeau, meanwhile, has made gender equality a prominent aspect of his administration since being elected last year, including selecting the government’s first Cabinet with the same number of women and men. An avowed feminist, Trudeau has spoken numerous times in interviews, campaign speeches, and as prime minister to promote gender equality. 

Before recently losing his voice as a result of ALS, Belanger spoke about the need to change the anthem to be more inclusive and reflect the evolution of Canadian society.

“Why would it be that my national anthem would command true patriot love to my grandson only and not to my granddaughters as well?” he told Canada’s CTV news in 2014. 

The next step for the bill will be a study by Canada’s heritage committee, as well as another vote before the lyrics can be officially changed.

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