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It's time the Senate included women in the lyrics of O Canada: Senator Lankin
October 11, 2017
image Frances Lankin, P.C.
Frances Lankin, P.C.
ISG - (Ontario)

It is time for the Senate to decide whether Canada’s national anthem will include all of us. 

Bill C-210 – which proposes to make the English national anthem gender-neutral by replacing “all thy sons” with “all of us” – has been debated in Canada’s Senate for 15 months and it is past time for senators to take a final vote.

Let me give you an idea of just how long this bill has been debated.

Since it was first introduced by Senator Nancy Ruth on June 15, 2016:

As women across this country have captivated, educated and inspired all of us these past 15 months, a small group of senators who reject the notion that Canada’s national anthem should be gender-inclusive have engaged in procedural tactics to block a final vote.

Unfortunately, I am not surprised. This is just another twist in the road that women in Canada have travelled toward genuine equality.

In the debate on Bill C-210, we have heard a great deal about the defining national characteristics that Canadians must not forget, about the formative periods in our country’s history, and about the experiences, events and emotions that define us and make us unique.

Personhood is one of those defining moments in the Canadian story, and it has not come quickly or easily. Let us not forget that 2017 is approaching the 100th anniversary of the Persons Case and the 50th anniversary of the appointment of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women.

Let us not forget that it took women of all origins almost a century to gain the vote in the governance structure of our land. When I look around Parliament Hill today, I see how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

During the debate on C-210, a Senate colleague spoke at length against changing our anthem for the “political flavour” of the day. I would like to remind him that women’s equality is not a “flavour of the day.” We have fought for our recognition, our rights and our equality from generation to generation and it seems every generation has to do it again.

Women of all cultures and origins fought our way into universities, skilled trades and trade unions, the public service, and all kinds of full and part-time jobs; on to city councils and legislatures and the bench; all of the time supporting family life and contributing to our communities as artists, athletes, visionaries and volunteers; we have woven ourselves into the fabric of our communities and our country but not our national anthem.

Over the past 30 years, 11 pieces of legislation have been introduced attempting to make the national anthem gender-neutral. Over the past 15 years, five have proposed changing “thy sons” to “of us,” yet we haven’t got to a final vote in the Senate. 

On Persons Day, October 18, we will commemorate the day a court said that Canada must avoid “frozen concepts,” that we must be progressive in our approach to the Constitution.

Those who stand in the way of the vote on C-210 must reflect on what Canada means to them. Is our country a frozen concept or is it a growing reflection of its citizens and our accomplishments?

I believe this country is all of us and that all of us deserve to be included in Canada’s national anthem.

Frances Lankin is a senator representing Ontario and was the sponsor of C-210, An Act to Amend the National Anthem Act (Gender), in the Senate. She is a member of the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, the Senate Committee on National Defence, as well as the Senate Committee on Senate Modernization.

This article appeared in the October 4, 2017 edition of The Ottawa Citizen.