It’s essential that, as a country, we’re able to re-evaluate who we are as time goes on. When the national anthem no longer reflects a nation, it makes perfect sense for it to be changed.
The House of Commons recently passed a private member’s bill from 2016 that will alter the national anthem. Instead of “in all thy sons command,” the anthem will now use the lyrics “in all of us command” in order to create a more gender inclusive O Canada.
The pushback against changing these two words is rooted in keeping history intact, but considering O Canada has only been the national anthem since 1980, it represents a considerably short period of time in Canadian history. O Canada was adopted as the anthem in order to reflect that Canadians had their own identity separate from the United Kingdom. The anthem became representative of who the country was at that time, not what it used to be.
Now that Canada has changed, the anthem should follow suit. Although they’re just two words, they have a big impact on inclusion.
Although adult Canadians don’t encounter the anthem every day, young Canadians begin each school day either by singing or listening to O Canada. When school-age children repeat these words on a day-to-day basis, they’re bound to internalize the message. If a more inclusive anthem can alter the way we interact with each other from a young age, it’s a change worth making.
The gender-exclusive lyrics may not appear to be all that important at first glance, but for any Canadian who doesn’t identify as male, changing the words to include ‘us’ represents an inclusion in the Canadian identity they haven’t experienced before.
This change matters because language matters. The anthem lyrics convey national values, and when those change, it’s only natural to change the anthem as well. The Canada we have today values inclusion, and that’s something we should celebrate.
That being said, there’s more to be done with a national anthem that still uses the words “God keep our land.” The French version of O Canada is even more entrenched in religious language. Considering it’s taken 12 attempts to get a bill passed to change just two words to expel gendered language, it’s clear there’s a lot of work ahead to address the anthem’s other issues with representing all of its citizens.
Changing the national anthem doesn’t threaten to erase history, it only threatens a symbolic imbalance of power in our country, which is something worth toppling.
— Journal Editorial Board
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