The Tenors remind us that ‘All Lives Matter’ is unhelpful at best

Why ‘All Lives Matter’ is a deeply unproductive statement—especially when you’re co-opting Canada’s anthem on national TV

The Tenors perform during the 25th anniversary celebration of the Rick Hansen Man in Motion relay in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. The Tenors changed some of the lyrics of O Canada as they made a political statement while singing the national anthem at Tuesday night's MLB all-star game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The Tenors perform during the 25th anniversary celebration of the Rick Hansen Man in Motion relay in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. The Tenors changed some of the lyrics of O Canada as they made a political statement while singing the national anthem at Tuesday night’s MLB all-star game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Remember that whole months-long political brawl to change two words in the Canadian anthem? The fight that Mauril Belanger, the longtime member of Parliament dying of ALS, has devoted his days to? You know, the surprisingly intractable fight over changing “all thy sons command” to “all of us command,” to perhaps consider the 18,075,100 Canadians who identify as women?

Well, the Tenors didn’t. They see that argument and raise you a totally bonus inflammatory banner in another heated political debate, with millions of eyes on them.

So here’s what happened: The Tenors, a vocal quartet from Victoria who perform in the vanilla, operatic style of Josh Groban but who, combined among the four of them, lack his charms, were asked to perform the Canadian anthem at Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. It’s a prosaic job, best done prosaically: all you’re asked to do, and what is expected of you, is to sing a note-for-note, word-for-word performance of the anthem. Straying from that tried-and-true format is how you find yourself on Sportsnet’s blooper reels.

But the Tenors, sensing a political moment, decided to not just stray from the book but read from a different one completely.

In place of the lyrics “With glowing hearts we see thee rise, The True North strong and free,” the group sang instead: “We’re all brothers and sisters / All lives matter to the great,” raising a marker-scrawled sign “All Lives Matter,” before returning to the standard lyrics in French. (A note of pity here for Michael Saunders, the Toronto Blue Jays’ Canadian-born outfielder, who stared blankly into the sun as the camera panned to him during this moment.)

Let’s leave aside what they could have meant by “to the great,” and take a moment to explain why the statement “All Lives Matter” alone here is thoughtless, at best. As a dismissal, or even a response to the statement “Black Lives Matter”—a movement and rallying cry for black communities in America, Canada and beyond who have witnessed, experienced and felt acts of discrimination (both overt and subtle) and are refusing to accept societal norms that have produced police brutality and other acts of violence—it is unworthy. It is a statement that salves the oppressor; it is a sentence that erases the pain by equating that pain to that which is experienced by everyone. It is, as the popular argument goes, the equivalent of telling a neighbour whose house is on fire that all houses matter. It is, as my colleague Jason Markusoff noted on Twitter, the rhetorical equivalent of interrupting those solemnly pausing on Remembrance Day to say “Never forget” with a haughty “No, it should be ‘Never forget all genocides.’ ” Never mind that taking vitriolic offence to the brusque response one often receives to “all lives matter” takes away from the actual issues at hand. “All Lives Matter” is, at best, unhelpful because it refuses to acknowledge that people are different, and some people are hurting right now.

Some may point to U.S. President Barack Obama’s more diplomatic note at the recent NATO summit in Warsaw: “When people say ‘black lives matter,’ that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter. That just means all lives matter.” This, it’s worth noting, is a different point than merely saying “All Lives Matter.” That’s because saying “Black Lives Matter” does not mean “only black lives matter”; that’s a flawed premise too, and it’s a defensive reading that refuses to acknowledge that those lives actually do. The conceit of “Black Lives Matter” is about focus, and not about exclusion; the reality that most of North American society has focused expressly on lives that are not black makes this urgent, and makes “All Lives Matter” particularly cruel.

MORE: How Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Janaya Khan sees Canada

So, back to the Tenors. What does this tell us? We have no statement yet from the group, who likely thought they were doing the right thing by making a political statement. (Update: at 10:10 p.m., the Tenors’ Twitter account released an apologetic statement blaming the act on “lone wolf” tenor Remigio Pereira; Pereira, who “will not be performing with the Tenors until further notice,” also sent a response through his own Facebook account.) And also, it is worth saying that co-opting an entire country’s anthem to make a personal point is, to say the least, selfish and unthinkable.

But here’s what we do know: at the end of the day, despite political efforts in Parliament and productive debate and worthy protests in the street and splashy headlines and deep coverage—a group (or one lone wolf) can still decide to stride onto national TV and change up a national anthem on their terms.

And they didn’t even sing “all of us command.”

Just in case you’ve forgotten, here’s the Barenaked Ladies performing the old 2015 anthem from our Canada 148 project, to show you how it’s done.


The Tenors remind us that ‘All Lives Matter’ is unhelpful at best

  1. This is why we shouldn’t have a national anthem, a national flag, a national animal, a national fish, a national flower……….etc

    It’s just tribalism

    • Oh horse sh*t! National symbols give us a sense of shared pride especially because geographically we are a very large and diverse country. Our national sport is Lacrose which is a First Nations game. The Maple Leaf is our national flora even though is only grows in a very small part of Canada. Our national anthem may not be the most beautiful song but it is ours as is our flag (every country has a flag). Are you saying that you don’t choke up when it is raised when a Canadian athlete wins a gold medal at the Olympic Games? I certainly do. I have been from mile 1 on Vancouver Island to Mile 1 at St. John’s, Newfoundland. I have visited much of this country and felt the gratitude that my ancestors chose it as their home. To suggest that we should not have symbols because some a**hole might bastardize it for his political agenda is utterly foolish. It is our shared history. No one steals it from us unless we let them.

      • Yes, it’s meant to give people feelings of pride and patriotism and nationalism.

        Whole nations have gone to war singing their anthem

        Nations are a artificial creation….there are no actual lines

        We are now moving to globalization.

      • Brexit would indicate that many aren’t in thralled with globalization and prefer their artificially created national borders. Even you show preference for your articially created provincial borders on consistent occasions and use the opportunities to degrade others artificially created provincial borders. Nations and provinces are competitive animals in a global game. The artificial lines that delineate the borders will not come down because those establish who are citizens of which entity and what government they pay taxes to. Globalization is only about ease of trade and increase market share. It doesn’t surrender power or freedom of nations to be self governing unless you believe the world bank is taking over as a world government.

        • We moved from the family to the tribe, from the tribe to a region and from regions to countries….next is globalization. Whether you and some elderly Brits are confused or not.

          One world, one race, human….no borders.

          • “One race, human….no borders.”

            Sounds really nice. Will this eutopia you are envisioning include Alberta? If so, I suggest you start working on getting past your bigotry sooner rather than later.

        • Well Gage I got married in Alberta, had a child in Alberta…..lived there 6 years.

          Peter Lougheed era

          After he was gone, and the steaming of oil started…..Alberta changed drastically.

          The ‘curse of oil’ I guess. Oil fever.

          Now Albertans have a mean miserable attitude.. Cheap, belligerent, right-wing, self-righteous….with some kind of wacko SoCon agenda. Old SoCreds. Calvinism in politics.

          So while I’m sure there still are some nice Albertans……there are a lot of ‘freeze in the dark’ types and I’d never live there again.

          There are some Ontarians with an ‘Alberta attitude’ too…..what someone on here called ‘low IQs and high resentments’ awhile ago.

          Alberta needs to globalize….it isn’t any utopia, it’s practical common sense.

          • So much misinformation. It was Lougheed who went head to head with Trudeau SR. Over the National Energy Program in the early 1980’s. Albertans love globalization. They voted overwhelmingly for NAFTA. We are exporting province. Of course we want to get our products to a global audience. We hate protectionism. We aren’t dairy farmers. We are cattle ranchers. We wanted out of the wheat board. We just don’t understand why the US tar sands isn’t objectionable but ours is. We also don’t understand why tankers can bring oil from other countries into the St. Lawrence River but the West coast waterways are problematic when it comes to tanker traffic. We don’t understand why we would subsidize a jet company when the only way it will be successful is if people travel via jets and that means jet fuel and increased emissions.

        • Gage…I see you’re doing your usual gimmick of introducing every subject on earth…..none of which has to do with the topic at hand…which is the anthem.

          Alberta is a primary resource economy Oil and farmers…..not a diverse global one

          Big oil is over.

    • I couldn’t disagree more Emily. Without a national fish, what are we? A fishless nation? A collection of humans with no appreciation of fins and scales?

      Look back at our history, for heaven’s sake. Emily Carp is only one of dozens who defined this nation.

      • LOL Carp is what most of them do too!

      • If you take no pride in the fact that a Canadian discovered the vaccine for Ebola or the work of people like Banting and Best, then that is up to you but some of us are proud of the people and the institutions that have made this country great. I am sure you were proud of the PM and the people of Canada who dug in and donated so that so many Syrian families could make a home here. That didn’t happen in our neighbour to the south. Nor do they have universal health care. Listening to O Canada is a chance for some of us to reflect on how lucky we are to live here.

        • All countries have brilliant people.

          YOU have to sing a song about it?

  2. This article is an opinion piece repeating what we’re fed through the media, real or not that black people are targeted by police. Well how about some data from a Harvard Economist on racial profiling: https://t.co/evcuLmHetJ. It shouldn’t matter what race the man is, but considering Black Lives Matter seem make everything about that, then this guy is black.

  3. Why pick on Mike Saunders? He didn’t look much blanker than anybody else in the line-up – at least he had his cap off. But yeah, even though he is an American, having played in Toronto as long as he has, he’s probably bright enough to notice that ‘something was wrong with that one’, even though he wasn’t Canadian enough to get upset about it.

    The Tenor muffin was ‘playing to an American audience’ – they actually started the black lives matter thing, which is more in their news, these days, than our Gay Parade stoppage.

    • Michael Saunders AKA #CaptainCanada is from Victoria BC and was in the All Star Game because of 17 million Canadian votes. Lone Canadian in the game this year. That’s why the cameras were on him.

  4. Why was the Canadian national anthem sung anyway at the
    MLB all-star game in San Diego? There are many baseball players
    from the Dominican Republic. Was that country’s national anthem
    sung as well? This was not an NHL all-star game played in the USA.

    • You seem to forget that MLB has a Canadian team. The Dominican Republic does not.

    • Because the Toronto Blue Jays play in Canada.

      Anthems before a game have nothing to do with the nationality of the players. At an NHL game between two US clubs only the US anthem is played – despite the fact that a third or more of the players are typically Canadian.

    • Ummmm, Toronto Blue Jays are in Canada…….and they are part of MLB, so of course both anthems would be appropriate!!

  5. “All Lives Matter” was the motto of Nazis. Those words are so racist and bigoted, it makes me sick.

    • Well get ‘unsick’….because it has nothing to do with Nazis

      • Learn your history Emilyone. The words over the gates of Auschwitz were famously ‘Alle Leben sind wichtig’.

        Today we know that not all lives matter, because we’re not nazis.

        • When first entering the camp of Auschwitz, the prisoners saw over the main entrance the words; “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work will give you freedom)

          Now stop with the right-wing crap.

          • Are you saying that you dont think “All Lives Matter” is nazi propaganda?
            Wow, just wow, like, I literally cant even.

            Sorry you lost WW2 Emilyone. It’s 2016.

        • Well Alphanerdwit I suggest you have another coffee and pull yourself together.because you’re babbling. nonsense.

          • For once, I agree with Emily. Just don’t call this Alfanerd right wing. His act is clearly from the leftist playbook.

  6. Adrian Lee — please edit your article to reflect the fact that this was the choice of ONE member of the group, not all four. Your headline is inaccurate. By the time you get around to acknowledging this at the END of your article, the damage created by your misinformation is done.

    The single performer responsible for this boneheaded move not only offended a nation and insulted the Black Lives Matter movement, he betrayed his colleagues and undid nearly 10 years of work of very hard work. Please show them the respect they deserve.

    And for anyone who doesn’t understand why “All Lives Matter” is not helpful:
    When we say “Save the Whales” we’re not saying “Screw the Dolphins”.
    When we say “We need a cure for breast cancer” we’re not saying “Forget about testicular cancer.”
    Get it?

    • I am sure the dozen or so readers that Adrian has won’t make much of dent on the reputation of the remaining Tenors. He covers pop-culture on Maclean’s, making him about as relevant as tabloid trash and horoscopes. The Tenors will survive without his acknowledgement.

    • Only a nazi could ever say “All Lives Matter”

        • sorry nazi, you dont get to tell me what to do.

          • You took the wrong meds today Alpha.

            You have no source for any of your babble.

            Bye bye

    • You are interpreting the words “all lives matter” as saying others lives don’t, the words themselves don’t say that….your interpretation is within your control, not in the control of others…..stop projecting your viewpoint on others and holding them accountable for your viewpoints. I take the singer at his word that his intention was to encourage the “coming together” of all people to stop the madness and murder….perfectly reasonable and accurate. To me the bigger issue is changing the words of a national anthem, but like I said before, since he is American, I’m sure it was just something he never thought of….Canada, that is.

  7. My god, look what we’ve become as a society. I wonder how history will look back at this….if there’s any aliens watching us, they must be laughing their asses off. We have this group apologizing, and if I read that correctly basically kicking the guy out of their group, for saying all lives matter. Saying the phrase “all lives matter” has become some kind of terrible, racist battle cry that needs to be condemned and apologized for. Where will this madness end I wonder?

  8. After reading this “opinion piece”, now more than ever, #ALLlivesmatter

  9. No, it’s 3 accurate words……I fail to understand the constant outrage everyone needs to feel these days…..the idea that ‘words’ instill actual injury is pathetic….it is free speech, and if one doesn’t agree….then don’t agree, everyone has the right to not listen, ignore, complain, outrage and argue opposite point of view, but they don’t have the right to prevent others from speaking ever!! I personally find changing the words of another nations national anthem ignorant, the guy who did it was American, and being such likely didn’t give Canada much thought at all…..the “all lives matter” phrase is accurate and intended as he said to bring people together, any idea of it being unreasonable to utter them is political correctness gone too far…..

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