On January 31st of 2018, the Liberal government of Canada passed a bill that changes two words in Canada’s national anthem, O Canada, from “True patriot love, in all thy sons command” to “True patriot love, in all of us command”.
The intention was to make the anthem gender neutral, given that many Canadians felt the word “sons” only recognizes men.
While many support the revisions to the anthem, the decision to revise O Canada has provoked condemnation and anger from many Canadian citizens as well, who see this as another attempt by Justin Trudeau to force political correctness into everything he can.
But is that really what this is about, or is it something more important than that?
One thing we can all agree on is that the national anthem is important.
It defines us as Canadians, champions our values, and unites us as one common people, regardless of the differences in our skin tone, religion, political ideologies, and – you guessed it – our gender!
Our national anthem is supposed to invoke a broad sense of belonging to us, and moreover a deep love for and loyalty to our flag.
When we sing it, we remember our history and the role our ancestors played in making this country such a great place to live; we remember their sacrifices, and we stand proudly as inheritors of their success, honoured to carry the torch of Canada’s spirit into the uncertain future.
As the revised line states, either before or after the recent changes, patriotism is our responsibility; true patriot love.
However, something else is important to our country alongside our national anthem and patriotism: roughly 50% of our population. This is not about a soft politician changing our anthem to keep people from getting their feelings hurt.
This is about sending the message to our citizens that it is the responsibility of both halves of the population to be patriots to this incredible country. This is about our most cherished song calling us all forward, men and women alike, to be dutiful and loyal servants to this country which has given us so much.
Gender equality is a contemporary Canadian value which we hold in very high honour; it’s one of the things which makes our country a great place to live, and it sets us apart from a great many countries which are still far behind in this regard.
It encourages non-Canadians to look at our country with admiration and respect, and we have earned that respect through the dedicated and patriotic sacrifice of our female and male ancestors who fought to make it so. We stand on their accomplishments and reap the rewards of their struggle. And this is precisely what we should expect they wanted for us; a Canada where men and women stand together as equal patriots, both dedicated to the values and future of the country.
The national anthem is a tribute to our history, and the campaign to make Canada a gender egalitarian country is an important part of that.
Many have also used a historical argument to denounce the anthem revision, claiming that “True patriot love, in all thy sons command” was an ode to Canadian soldiers, whose bravery and devotion to their country at the risk of losing their lives was responsible for Canada’s survival in times of war.
They claim that removing the word “sons” is tantamount to ungratefully forgetting and dishonouring the sacrifice of these soldiers. However, is this truly the case?
Replacing “sons” with a gender-neutral term does not exclude any men who fought for the country; it rather broadens the scope of whose sacrifice we recognize.
Of course, we should honour the brave men who gave their limbs and their lives for their country.
They command more respect than we can even put into words and their patriotism sets a luminous example for all of us to aspire to. But are men the only ones who gave a sacrifice for Canada?
Consider the wives of these brave men, who had to give up their beloved husbands to the war effort.
These women woke up every day, wondering if their lover would make it back home, or whether he was already dead, or whether he would get captured and be subjected to torture.
And despite this, they kept a level head because they knew it was their responsibility to continue raising the country’s future by themselves. What about their patriotism?
Could you sacrifice your spouse or lover to your country, and live with the uncertainty of their return while you fulfil twice the familial responsibilities of a parent for your children’s sake?
This is no small feat we should gloss over; the case that we are dishonouring our female ancestors by singing “True patriot love, in all thy sons command” is far stronger than the case that we dishonour their husbands by singing “True patriot love, in all of us command”.
The second claim is essentially that unless we exclusively mention men, giving our gratitude to them alone in our national anthem, then they are being disrespected. I’m sorry, no.
Others in opposition with the anthem revision take a different approach, claiming that the context of the word “sons” as it was used at the time was already gender neutral, often being used to designate both women and men. Thus there is no reason to change the phrase in the first place. Here is the thing about context, though. If you are going to invoke context, you have to invoke it all rather than only the segments which suit your claim.
The word “sons” was used for both men and women in a historical period where women were essentially second class citizens with no right to vote or own property and were thus seen as so unimportant that designating them with a separate word was considered trivial. Denying the sexist context of the word use is a poor excuse for why the anthem should not be revised.
Simply consider why the same rules for the word “sons” never, under any circumstances, applies to the word “daughters” vice-versa.
If truly there is no sexism involved, why is it ok to say “I said sons, but that means women too” but not ok to say “I said daughters, but that means men too”? The implications are obvious.
The definition of the word “sons” indicates male offspring, and words should be used to designate what they mean. When I say “I have three sons”, you automatically assume I have three male children, and you should, because that is what the words in the sentence mean.
You would undoubtedly be surprised if I introduced you to my three children, and two of them were girls. If we expect each other to use our words properly, then something as paramount as our national anthem should be held to this standard at the very least as well. Using the word “sons” to indicate men and women is incorrect, outdated, and most of all, lazy.
Our anthem should be perfect. It should be a glorious monument to our heritage and collective spirit. There is no room in our most precious song for such poor use of language, incompatible with the current values which make the country such a great place to live today.
The third point of disagreement comes from people who claim the anthem should never be changed for any reason, least of all by someone trying to promote a political agenda. Well unfortunately for these critics, the version they defend with the words “in all thy sons command” is itself a revision of the original song from 1908, which was phrased “thou dost in us command”.
It was changed to “in all thy sons command” in as a tactic to encourage men to join the military. The last time I checked, encouraging recruitment for an army is a political agenda.
First of all, this proves wrong the weak argument that “sons” is already being used in the song to designate both genders. If it was changed from “us” to “sons” in the past specifically to encourage men to sign up for the army, then no, it wasn’t meant in the gender-neutral sense.
You cannot have both arguments at the same time.
Second of all, it means that if one wants to be a true and consistent traditionalist, and doesn’t approve of manipulating O Canada for political ends, they should discard the version they currently defend and sing the original gender-neutral version of the song instead. Of course, they probably won’t if their feelings actually rest on habit rather than tradition, which is what I suspect for the majority of said critics.
I understand, particularly given Justin Trudeau’s priorities as of late, the unease about the revision. The national anthem is sacred, and many as such feel our history is being erased. But even those of us who identify as conservatives know that we safeguard things from our past specifically for their meaning and purpose. We do not preserve antique remains just because. The anthem has meaning and importance, and thus we are not discarding the anthem. However, using the words “thy sons” incorrectly or exclusively does not carry importance which we can use productively in the future.
Societies which hoard too much of the past fall behind and degenerate; societies which forget too much of the past impulsively dart into chaos and ruin. This is precisely how conservatives and liberals keep each other in check; one acts as a counterbalance to the momentum of their opposite. This means that every once in a while, we have to give the day to our opponents.
We talk so much about how liberals are too sensitive over the smallest things, but causing a fuss over two words just proves that we aren’t all that different in this respect. Let them have their revision. By changing two words but preserving the song, we get the best of both worlds. We progressively champion the values of an evolved culture, and we maintain our roots at the same time.
With the relentless push for progress coming from liberals, our job as conservatives is to look to the past and protect or revive the old ideas, values, or traditions which the world still needs. Female exclusion and poor word use are not among those. Having an anthem which commands the patriotism of one hundred percent of Canadians, as opposed to fifty percent, remains the higher priority. And thus I tip my hat to my colleagues on the other side of the political spectrum.
You folks win this one.