News & Politics

O, Canada? Whose Canada?

Canada rainbow flag

As VillageQ’s resident Canadian blogger, I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that, up here, the government is open for business.

I’m not really gloating here — our prime minister, Stephen Harper, is and has been quite capable of his own version of shutting government down (in our case, it’s known as proroguing Parliament) — whenever he gets cranky or paranoid about, say, his ruling party being threatened by a vote of non-confidence or having his questionable actions investigated, etc. But, even then, it’s not like all government services shut down.

(Also, as VillageQ’s resident Canadian blogger, I would like to let you all know that I am subject to a certain amount of — shall we say — flak for the ways in which Canadians allegedly say the words “out” and “about.” I’m not naming names here, Vikki and Deborah. All I’m saying is that the glee with which certain VQ bloggers mock my alleged Canadian accent is, perhaps, excessive. I’m thinking that perhaps my fellow nameless bloggers’ excessiveness is their way of telling me how happy they are for the Canadians because we have national gay marriage AND healthcare for all, not to mention actual gun-control laws. And some fairly solid abortion rights. Sort of.)

But. I digress. I’m thinking about governments, and Canada, which also has me thinking about the Canadian national anthem, which I’m sure is being sung all over the country as I write this, while my government and its agencies go about their official duties.

A little history: O Canada was first written in 1908. Back then, its opening lines went like this:

O Canada, our home and native land,
True patriot love thou dost in us command.

In the year 1913, however, those lyrics were changed, from “thou dost in us command” to “in all thy sons command.”

Did you catch that? Some perfectly good, gender-neutral language was transformed into some sexist, exclusionary, language, for no decent, documented reasons. That sexist version was adopted by the Canadian government in 1980, and it’s the version still sung across the country — including in our schools — today.

Now, on the hundredth anniversary of that regrettable change, there’s a movement afoot to “Restore Our Anthem“ to its original gender-neutrality. Many notable Canadian women (including writer Margaret Atwood and former Prime Minister Kim Campbell) are behind the campaign, which advocates changing the words “thy sons” to “of us.”

Seems like a simple fix, but of course it’s actually incredibly polarizing, with traditionalists and pooh-poohers of so-called political correctness on the one side and, people who think that excluding more than half a country’s population from its national anthem is an antiquated and reprehensible choice on the other.

You can imagine which side I’m on.

And then there are the people who figure that there’s so much more wrong with the anthem and with the state of our country that we should focus on bigger things. For the record, in my not-so-humble opinion, O Canada is already a terrible national anthem. There’s the sexism, obviously. But let’s take the phrasing, “our home and native land.” Our home on native land is more like it, but what about the fact that our country has been built on immigration? What about the millions upon millions of Canadians for whom Canada isn’t a native land but the place they came to from their native lands? What do immigrants think every time they sing this farkakte song? And then there’s the mention of God, which always irks me. Somehow, I feel that part of our national religious freedom includes the freedom from having God thrust upon us in our country’s official song.

These are issues, to be sure. Sexism, religious bigotry, xenophobia — they all need to be addressed, both in our anthem and in our society.

It’s like the debate in queer society over gay marriage, or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: why should we focus on marriage, or the military, when there are bigger fish to fry? Why focus on marriage, or the military, when both are flawed institutions in the first place?

I never get those arguments. Just because there are largest systemic problems afoot, it doesn’t make any sense to ignore the smaller ones, especially when there are simple and elegant solutions to them. Words matter. As a parent, I can tell you that it matters to me that my sons sing a song almost every day in their school that excludes not only their mothers but at least half their classmates. (Words matter: I was reminded of that again today when I had to cross out “Father” on yet another form and write in “Parent.”)

So, no, changing two words in the song won’t solve all our problems. But as Macklemore sings (about gay marriage and ending homophobia) in “Same Love,” “it’s a damn good place to start.”


Photo by Clara Johnson

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One Comment

  1. Pingback: Mama Non Grata » Blog Archive » Being Canadian over at VillageQ

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