‘O Ca­na­da’ will be­come gen­der neu­tral with new lyrics

L’hymne na­tio­nal ca­na­dien est désormais in­clu­sif.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito | Sommaire -

Il s’agit de deux mots – deux mots qui ne cessent de sus­ci­ter le dé­bat au Ca­na­da de­puis les an­nées 1980. Le 31 jan­vier der­nier, les sé­na­teurs ca­na­diens ont en­fin tran­ché. Les mots “thy sons” du pre­mier cou­plet de l’hymne na­tio­nal ca­na­dien se­ront rem­pla­cés par les mots “all of us”, afin de rendre ce der­nier plus in­clu­sif. Re­tour sur une ba­taille lan­ga­gière pour l’éga­li­té des sexes.

Ca­na­da’s Se­nate on Wed­nes­day ap­pro­ved chan­ging the words of “O Ca­na­da,” the coun­try’s na­tio­nal an­them, to make the En­glish-lan­guage ver­sion gen­der neu­tral. The move came af­ter de­cades of un­suc­cess­ful ef­forts, and some last-mi­nute po­li­ti­cal dra­ma.

2. Now the se­cond line of the an­them, which gai­ned of­fi­cial sta­tus only in 1980, will soon be­come “True pa­triot love in all of us com­mand” ra­ther than “in all thy sons com­mand.”


3. “It may be small,” said Se­na­tor Frances Lan­kin, who spon­so­red the bill in the Se­nate, to re­por­ters on Wed­nes­day af­ter the vote. “It’s about two words. But it’s huge in terms of one of our ma­jor na­tio­nal sym­bols, the an­them we sing with pride about our coun­try. And we can now sing it with pride kno­wing the rules will sup­port us, the law will sup­port us in terms of the lan­guage and we will sing — all of us.” 4. Since Ca­na­da was host of the Win­ter Olym­pic Games eight years ago, Ca­na­dians have been less re­luc­tant to wave their flag (the cur­rent maple leaf ver­sion of which was only adop­ted in 1965) and to sing “O Ca­na­da.”

5. Out­side of Quebec, “O Ca­na­da” is du­ti­ful­ly sung each mor­ning by school­chil­dren, of­ten in a va­ria­tion that mixes French and En­glish, and be­fore some sports events, par­ti­cu­lar­ly ones in­vol­ving teams that al­so play in the Uni­ted States, like those in the Na­tio­nal Ho­ckey League.


6. Al­though “O Ca­na­da” is not heard much in Quebec, out­side of the Bell Centre where the Mon­treal Ca­na­diens play, it was crea­ted in 1880 by French-spea­king Que­be­cers. It was crea­ted as an al­ter­na­tive to “God Save the Queen,” which then had of­fi­cial sta­tus as the coun­try’s royal an­them, a de­si­gna­tion it re­tains. 7. Twen­ty years la­ter, the mu­sic by Ca­lixa La­val­lée was adop­ted by some En­glish-spea­king Ca­na­dians, but trans­la­tions of the lyrics, a poem by Adolphe-Ba­sile Rou­thier, didn’t catch on. A tor­rent of En­glish va­ria­tions fol­lo­wed, part­ly spur­red on by com­pe­ti­tions. The win­ner, ul­ti­ma­te­ly, was writ­ten in 1908 by Ro­bert Stan­ley Weir, a lawyer in Mon­treal.


8. The first ver­sion was gen­der neu­tral with the se­cond line: “True pa­triot love thou dost in us com­mand.” Why or when that ly­ric was chan­ged to “in all thy sons com­mand” is un­clear. But com­plaints about the ex­clu­sion of wo­men sur­fa­ced as ear­ly as the 1950s when “O Ca­na­da” was ve­ry much an al­so-ran as the na­tion’s unof­fi­cial an­them to “The Maple Leaf Fo­re­ver,” a pa­trio­tic song in which Ca­na­da is crea­ted and sha­ped by Bri­tish mi­li­ta­ry vic­to­ries, in­clu­ding the conquest of New France. Un­sur­pri­sin­gly, that song was un­po­pu­lar in French-spea­king Quebec and among in­di­ge­nous people and im­mi­grants.

9. Since 1980, se­ve­ral dif­ferent groups, among them one that in­clu­ded the au­thor Mar­ga­ret At­wood, tried to prod Par­lia­ment in­to ma­king the change. A do­zen bills in­tro­du­ced over se­ve­ral years all fai­led to pass.

10. Ms. Lan­kin, the Se­na­tor, said that al­though the change has had wi­des­pread sup­port from wo­men, she’s al­so re­cei­ved te­le­phone calls from “ve­ry an­gry people.” “They re­fer­red to the words as being al­most sa­cred,” she said. “When I’ve wal­ked them th­rough the his­to­ry, they’re sho­cked.”

11. The bill ap­pro­ved by the Se­nate on Wed­nes­day was a dying man’s wish. It was in­tro­du­ced by Mau­ril Bé­lan­ger, a Li­be­ral mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, who was diag­no­sed with amyo­tro­phic la­te­ral scle­ro­sis short­ly af­ter his par­ty, un­der Prime Mi­nis­ter Jus­tin Tru­deau, took po­wer in 2015.

12. With the go­vern­ment’s sup­port it pas­sed in the House of Com­mons about two months be­fore Mr. Bé­lan­ger died in 2016. But Con­ser­va­tives op­po­sed to the change sty­mied its pro­gress th­rough Se­nate, whose mem­bers are ap­poin­ted ra­ther than elec­ted. An unu­sual move to li­mit de­bate for­ced the vote on Wed­nes­day.

13. It is still un­clear exact­ly when the change will take ef­fect. The go­ver­nor ge­ne­ral has to give it “royal assent” — a for­ma­li­ty — and then a date pro­clai­ming its co­ming in­to force has to be set.

(Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

The Ca­na­dian men’s na­tio­nal ho­ckey team sings their coun­try’s na­tio­nal an­them du­ring the 2014 Win­ter Olym­pic Games in So­chi, Rus­sia.

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