Canada’s Senate has voted to make the country’s national anthem gender-neutral, ending decades of efforts to replace the phrase “all thy sons” with “all of us.”
A date for the change will be set once the nation’s governor general gives her expected “royal assent.” The House passed the bill in 2016.
The fiercely debated legislation officially changes the opening lyrics of “O Canada” from: “O Canada! / Our home and native land! / True patriot love in all thy sons command” to: “True patriot love in all of us command.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailed the change as “another positive step towards gender equality.”
A major booster, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, also praised the Senate vote.
Since 1980, when “O Canada” became the nation’s anthem, 12 bills have been introduced in the House to replace the word “sons.”
“I’m very, very happy,” the bill’s Senate sponsor, Independent Ontario Sen. Frances Lankin, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “There’s been 30 years-plus of activity trying to make our national anthem, this important thing about our country, inclusive of all of us. This may be small — it’s about two words — but it’s huge.”
Passing the measure fulfilled the dying wish of Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger, who was a member of the House when the bill he introduced passed there. Bélanger, who was diagnosed in 2015 with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, died two months after the vote. He had long argued that the change “would ensure that more than 18 million Canadian women are included in our national anthem.”
But an 18-month debate in the Senate was acrimonious, and conservative members lashed the bill’s passage Wednesday.
The anthem was written in 1908 as gender-neutral. Sometime before World War I, songwriter Robert Stanley Weir changed “thou dost in us command” to “in all thy sons command,” according to the CBC.
The French version of the anthem doesn’t include the word “sons.”
Canadians were passionate on both sides, as well as about other proposed modifications to the anthem. Letters last year to Trudeau, obtained by news Canada, objected to “O Canada, our home and native land,” which seems to ignore immigrants. The suggestion? “O Canada, our … cherished land.” Others pointed out that it’s only truly native land for indigenous people, and suggested changing the lyrics to “O Canada, our home on native land.”
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