O Canada should be more inclusive

(Jenn McNaughon/Ryersonian Staff)

(Jenn McNaughon/Ryersonian Staff)

If Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger could have his way, O Canada would be gender neutral.

Bélanger has had his eye on tweaking Canada’s national anthem for a while now and, in January, he reintroduced a bill that would change the lyric “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command.” Why? Well, because “it is 2016,” said Bélanger in the House of Commons.

This is the second time that Bélanger has made this bid to Parliament — the first was in April 2014, a time when Stephen Harper was prime minister.

Bélanger’s crusade for change is appreciated and, to be frank, long overdue. But does it go far enough?

What has yet to be formally addressed is the use of God in Canada’s anthem.

Nearly 25 per cent of Canadians do not follow any religion at all, according to the 2011 household census.

For a country that prides itself on multiculturalism and multi-faith, it seems disrespectful to devote our anthem to any deity. Granted, the anthem may not affect the day-to-day lives of Canadians, but its lyrics still matter.

National anthems are designed to instil patriotism in citizens. An anthem with a reference to God in the lyrics shuns a large portion of society. That’s a step back for a pluralistic, liberal democracy such as ours.

The English version of the anthem was written by Robert Stanley Weir in 1908. It wasn’t until 1968 that a special joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons recommended God be added.

And thus, what was once “O Canada, glorious and free,” changed to what it is now: “God keep our land glorious and free.”

Proof of the influence of  religion in Canada was the Lord’s Day Act of 1906, which restricted Canadians from making any kind of business transaction, like grocery shopping on Sundays.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled in 1985 that the act was unconstitutional, as it prevented Canadians from exercising their basic rights. It was realized that not every person followed the same religious beliefs or Sunday routine.

And the point still rings true today. Just as the Supreme Court ruled that everyone should be free to do as they choose on Sundays, there is an opportunity in 2016 to renew our anthem with more inclusive language.

To remove God from our anthem would not be to undermine the history of religious contributions to Canada.

The changes in lyrics are merited because it is time everyone in Canada feels recognized in the anthem, no matter our religion or gender.

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