Don’t mess with the national anthem

Emma Teitel sings the praises of ‘O Canada’


Les Bazso / Province

Update: News today — at the start of 2016 — that MP Mauril Belanger is again determined to update the lyrics of the national anthem. Here’s Emma Teitel from the last time this came up.

This month, on the heels of the castrate-David-Gilmour campaign, Canadian author and Gilmour syllabus reject, Margaret Atwood, endorsed a feminist movement aiming to restore Canada’s national anthem to a gender-neutral version. Flanked by former senator Vivienne Poy, Atwood announced that she’d like a lyric, “In all thy sons command,” to be replaced with a gender-neutral one, “In all of us command.” (When poet Robert Stanley Weir first created the English lyrics in 1908, he used the neutral “thou dost in us command,” but that wording was masculinized in 1913.) The women behind the movement have launched a website, RestoreOurAnthem.ca, and a short video calling for much-needed government intervention.

Our environmentalists take on the oil sands, our tolerant take on Quebec’s proposed charter of values, our First Nations take on massive indifference to the disappearance and murder of their young women and our self-avowed feminists—God bless them—take on a gender-specific song lyric. In Canada, the highest-profile feminist causes of the day may have the lowest stakes in human history (“Fire David Gilmour!”). They seem to concern themselves less with what harms than with what offends; so far, a seemingly ineffective tactic. But the campaign to change the national anthem, well-meaning and sympathetic as some of its proponents are (it’s understandable that Sally Goddard, mother of Nichola Goddard—the first female Canadian soldier killed in combat—would want the anthem changed) is doomed for reasons beyond public distaste for ivory-tower, armchair feminism. It’s doomed because it’s a solution seeking a problem.

Key to the campaign is the argument that “the lyrics of O Canada now exclude more than 50 per cent of our population while acting as the underlying foundation of our nation.” But the underlying foundation of our nation is not a song kids mumble after the morning bell and before hockey games. The foundation of our nation—the thing that makes us us—is our Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, both of which protect the rights of women and minorities.

And that’s why Atwood and friends can’t get their Canadian sisters riled up about “all thy sons command.” The song’s lyrics, written long ago, don’t reflect the modern society in which they are sung today, which means they don’t sting the way they once would. Not only do they not harm; they don’t even offend.

Instead, they appear to pay homage to a time when men—“sons”—were in uniform, not daughters, an era in which a lot of “sons” lost their lives. It’s logical, then, that we can honour that time and sing those lyrics while fully embracing the gender equality that has taken root in our country since. Were our rights as women on the line, or our country’s state secularism (some are advocating that the government remove the word “God” as well), modernizing the anthem would be prudent. But they’re not.

When your culture rejects macho heroism and institutionalized religion, channelling those things in song and ritual is no longer dangerous or offensive. It’s quaint.

In fact, our modern egalitarian society is filled with formerly sexist and otherwise oppressive ritual that is, in the fair future, quaint and comforting. Many a progressive non-virgin woman walks down the aisle in white, arm-in-arm with her equally progressive father, where she is “passed off” to her equally progressive soon-to-be husband. Many an independent, thoughtful girl concedes when a guy offers to pay on the first date. Many a non-believer gives something up at Lent. When society ceases to be inherently sexist and religious, it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, necessarily shed all rituals born from that sexism and religiosity. Some of those rituals can be a lot of fun.

Case in point: Every Friday night, my largely secular Jewish family gathers around the Shabbat dinner table to sing a song in praise of a God we may or may not believe in. One part of the song is reserved for men and, when that part comes along, the women at our table stop singing. We don’t do this because we see ourselves as inferior to the men in our family, or because we are sticklers for the rules of old (were we to join in, nobody would care) but because rituals—or lyrics—that were once indicative of an oppressive culture lose their edge when that culture no longer exists. Our silence, once symptomatic of a time and norm that wouldn’t allow men and women to sing together, has no bearing in our modern lives. It’s a ceremonial throwback: a 30-second living museum exhibit, before reality kicks in and the patriarchy goes back to helping with the dishes.


Don’t mess with the national anthem

  1. I suppose I can handle the sexism, but the sheer ugliness is intolerable.

    • What ugliness?

  2. Please leave the National Anthem alone. It is historical and should be left as such. Once we start conceding to the feminist, the atheist will start attacking the christian foundations of our Great Country.

    • It doesn’t have any.

      • Foundations?

      • God you’re ignorant. It had an established church until the mid-19th century!

        • WTF are you talking about?

          I was talking to rjm….not you…. about his comment on ‘the christian foundations of our Great Country.’

          We don’t have, and never did have, any such thing.

          • You are factually incorrect! In Ontario church lands were set aside until the 1840’s — it was something like 10% of the land, which vastly enriched the Church of England — and until the 1830’s you couldn’t legally get married except by C of E or RC clergymen.

          • “After the conquest of Quebec and the American Revolution, many leading Anglicans argued for the Church of England to become the established church in the Canadian colonies. The Constitutional Act of 1791 was promulgated, and interpreted to mean that the Church was the established Church in the Canadas. The Church of England was established by law in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. In Lower Canada, the presence of a Roman Catholic majority made establishment in that province politically unwise.[12] Bishop John Strachan of Toronto was a particular champion of the prerogatives of the Church of England.”


          • Well we can go back and look at the Bronze age if you like, but I doubt it has much bearing on present day Canada.

            Give it up Frank.

          • This was a highly religious society until at earliest the 1920’s. Perhaps that shouldn’t have any bearing on present policy — I don’t think it should, anyway — but you are way too apt to make leaps about facts and then back them up with nothing but willpower.

          • Everybody was ‘highly religious’ at the time…..you were wrong, that’s all….and you were rude about it.

          • So, just to confirm,

            a) we DID have an established church in the 19th century, as I said
            b) everybody WAS highly religious (i.e. Christian) at the time, as you denied
            c) I was “wrong, that’s all”

            You are quite a piece of work, EmilyOne. You can be proven absolutely wrong and blithely claim the opposite. You’re like a well-adjusted secretary at the Ministry of Truth.

          • No Frank, we had nothing of the sort….and you are still wrong.

            Now go find something useful to do, since you can’t argue for toffee.

          • 1. You disputed the assertion that the country had “Christian foundations.”

            2. I posted a quotation from the Wikipedia article confirming that the Church of England was established by law in the Maritime provinces, and was certainly considered established in Upper Canada by most people (e.g. in the land grants to it and in the privilege of enacting marriages).

            3. You yourself declared that “everybody was very religious at the time.”

            4. But apparently I am “still wrong” about the “Christian foundations” of a country which began with an established church and almost total allegiance to Christianity in one form or another.

            I suppose it’s pointless to warn you that you are losing credibility, etc., since you are obviously just a mechanical puppet cranked up on pure egomania, denying even facts displayed IN THE VERY THREAD YOU ARE COMMENTING ON. But such a warning would presume that you have readers or fans who take you seriously. The real question is: why do you make such an exhibition of yourself, anonymously, every day, in post after post? Do you imagine that there are hundreds cheering you on? You realise that you are a comedy act, right? Your pride is OK with that?

          • The country has no ‘foundations’ at all….it’s a country, not a building…..but if you want to be dramatic, ‘our foundations’ were native….not ‘judeo-christian’. That’s rightwing US nonsense.

            Certainly there were Anglicans here, and I’m sure they thought they were very powerful…..but we also had Presbyterians and Baptists and Muslims and Hindus….and they all managed to get through life marrying and being born and dying ….without Anglicans. It wasn’t LAW that you had to be Anglican.

            ‘Religion’ was a bigger deal then….ANY religion…as compared to now, however there were also atheists.

            Your misunderstanding of what you read is your problem, not mine. You are so determined to be right, you aren’t listening.

            WTF are you talking about….readers? fans? This is a comment site……comments are invited….so I comment. A few people mark a post up or down….that’s why there are arrows Frank. I’m talking to YOU, not a crowd.
            I suggest you stop now, and go have coffee or something….because you are lost. Next time, try just talking to people…..without the rudeness.

          • I get it! You’re actually in dialogue with yourself, right? “You are so determined to be right, you aren’t listening,” “just try talking to people, without the rudeness,” etc. Which one of you is Smeagol?

            We had Muslims and Hindus in Canada in the first half of the 19th century? What a discovery! I’ll grant you there were a few Baptists. There were probably a handful of atheists, but they were well hidden.

            It actually was a law that you had to be a Christian to sit in the legislature in early days: there was a big to-do about the Lower Canada legislature excluding a duly elected Jewish member. It was also a profoundly sectarian society, and Roman Catholics (especially Irish) in Upper Canada faced very severe discrimination, when their farms weren’t getting burned down by the (very widespread) Orange Order.

            Our foundations weren’t native, if you mean First Nations. That is the whole point to the sad history of First Nations: they were shunted aside and basically French and British cultures were planted here, from which they were physically and politically excluded until quite recently.

            I’ll grant you that “foundations” are, indeed, metaphorical. You have succeeded in moving the goalposts on that one. So next time you hear somebody talk about their Italian roots, just you go ahead and denounce them for talking nonsense — as though people were plants — haw haw haw!

          • Frank you’re talking nonsense. My family has been here since the 1840s,,,Orangemen and Anglicans and all.

            It was a much different world than you are imagining.

            Now please….go lie down before you hurt yourself.

          • You keep the true Orangeman spirit, anyway.

          • I have never been one, Frank. I’m an atheist.

          • Sigh . . . The Orange Order was not a religious organisation . . . God it’s like talking to a difficult 12-year-old.

          • Yes dear, we know that. It’s sad that everything has to be explained to you in minute detail.

          • The Orange Order was religious all right. It was Anti-Catholic religious. Remember Ian Paisley?

    • You clearly didn’t read the column…

    • How about ‘conceding to the feminist’ be replaced with adding daughters too?
      It’s about inclusion, not concession. I can’t see how even the very traditional
      would object to ‘All of our command.’ After all, the ‘sons’ wouldn’t be here without their mothers. (I think ‘all of US command’ is awkward.)

      • “All of us command” doesn’t have the patriotic ring to it as does “All thy sons command”. Canada’s sons, that is, Canada’s loyal people are the ones that are asked to have “true patriot love”.

        • I prefer all of our command.
          I am not a son.

    • What Christian foundations? Canada is a multicultural nation. It has been like that for a very long time and it will likely continue to be that way. I was born and raised in Canada and I am an Atheist- does that mean I should be kicked out of Canada? No.

  3. Well we can’t fix the anthem because there are more important things to worry about. We can’t get rid of the senate because there are more important things to worry about. We can’t even consider getting rid of the monarchy because we have more important things to worry about.

    Except…..we never get around to doing those ‘important’ things either.

  4. Emma might claim that the anthem was changed to honour the men serving in our army, but pray tell, what war were we fighting and losing our “sons” in in 1913? The Boer War was over in 1902, and there were no active Canadian combatants before WWI.

    Sexism and misogyny doesn’t exist in a vacuum. A Canadian schoolgirl would be forced to sing the national anthem, saying she lives in all thy *sons* command, over 2500 times from kindergarten to high school graduation. These messages may seem frivolous, but are internalized by both young boys and girls with the message that the men are in charge, and the women subservient.

    It’s lovely that in Emma’s home, the patriarchy helps with the dishes, but in the rest of Canada, women are still fighting very hard for equality. This matter may seem trivial to Ms. Teitel, but hey, I’ll make you a deal. Let’s pay women 100% of a man’s wages, and elect a proper representation of 52% women to Canadian Parliament, and we’ll drop this anthem business, okay?

  5. Female Uncle Tom…

  6. Too bad the French lyrics aren’t equivalent. Don’t suppose that’s why the Quebecois are so fractious?

    • You’d have a point, if the French version had not come first. (And it was first performed on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, so there.)

  7. I’d rather we adopt an old folk song instead. NW passage makes more sense to me.

  8. How about the Quebec french version of Oh Canada that refers to “carrying the cross for Canada” – that should go well with our Muslim and Jewish friends – anyone asking about that:? Or is it just more fun to get the feminists in a fluff? They won’t bother with anything really significant.

    • And why did they add God to the words? When I was growing up there was no “god keep our land” in there. That was added during Cretien’s time. Take it out and go back to the original

      • “God keep our land glorious and free” replaced the too many “We stand on guard for thee” clauses.

  9. The only thing I like about our anthem is its antiquated language. It is a giant middle finger to all the overly sensitive progressive activist types, and serves to distract them from areas where they could perhaps do more harm, if they applied themselves.

  10. Wow do only feminists (god bless them) want to make the anthem constitutional?
    Yes, I am a sister Margaret and co. can rely on. I could have been a brother as well, and the co. that Margaret keeps is also male. In short I do not understand why this is touted as a feminist issue. They changed the anthem back then for the soldiers of WW1. Why not change it now? It could become a relevant ritual rather than a quaint one. Why not sing what you believe at a hockey game?They are not many words changed for some extraordinarily significant changes- makes the anthem not only palatable to sing, but constitutional. Or is the very activity of singing to outdated to bother with?

    We end up falling away from each other in this focus on the division between men and women. Would we have such reluctance if the words were about race?
    Keeping the words antiquated is a war against the anthem.

    • I really don’t care one way or another, but I agree with Emma that with everything else that needs attending to this seems like a rather frivolous pursuit.

  11. “Thy Son’s command.” The second person singular “Thy” has fallen from usage in English, but it used to be for addressing royalty or God, as in “Hallowed be Thy name.” If it is God, then according to Christian mythology God’s Son is Jesus. Jesus’ command, which replaced the Old Testament ten commandments, is something “Love your neighbour as yourself.” That’s something this old agnostic finds beautiful and that’s why it should be in our anthem.

    • Honestly, that was how I had always interpreted it as well.

    • “Command” here is a verb (in the imperative), not a noun. It’s the same (archaic) meaning as in the ossified phrase, “such-and-such commands respect.”

    • The meaning in the anthem is , “Canada, command true patriotic love in every one of your citizens!”

  12. O Canada is a version of the original French anthem, which was written to celebrate French Canada, in case you missed that point in school.
    In fact, English O Canada is a colonialist vestige of a bad translation — from first word to last. Obviously, we should trash all of it, every last word.

    Not sure they still sing The East Is Red in China; if not, why not sing that?

    I think Mugs Atwood wants to get a fat a commission to write a new version.

    • The English-language version isn’t a translation, it has no relation to the French-language version.

  13. PREACH

  14. Enough with feminism already and the victim syndrome. This is getting annoying. Women are already in charge. Look at many couples around you and tell me how many of them have men making the primary decisions in the household. Modern society has turned men into a comical character that all he does is play video games and fixes stuff – for the important stuff, you have to talk with a woman, This is the result of “over fixing” the inequality.

    As for matching the salaries of men and women (as I read in one of the comments), there are plenty of jobs where women are paid an equivalent salary. But let’s face it, despite the fight for equality, few women actually put the same effort and hours in the work place. Men are also hungrier at trying to get ahead at work or a re more willing to migrate to Ft. Mac and work in the oil fields where it is tough labor but great wages.
    But what does it matter – women are the one who spend that money anyway….

    Enough with the “equality struggle – women have a great thing going on, but because of the tolerance factor, we still let some extremist groups of women ruin the life for the rest of us.

    • Oh my. Quite a story you’ve got going there ‘son’.

    • Did you actually just call women lazy?
      I love how no price is put on the physical sacrifices women make to carry, birth and physically care for children. Of course it’s not, cause men don’t do it so it doesn’t count. Do women get paid vacation days for this “duty”? What other job requires 18 hour work days, 7 days a week for years without a single day off?
      Great thing going on? Things are worse for women. Cause not only do they do everything in the home and for the kids and the spouse, they also have to pay half the bills too. I do not know a single man who does 50/50 in the home. NOT ONE.
      In what fantasy land are men are staying home in droves? Willing to sacrifice benefits and status in the workplace so that their women can follow their dreams and potential? Yeah, right.


      People like you don’t want to see what makes you so privileged. What elitist does?

  15. 1913 anthem changed. No 1st World War soldiers to change it for. Women weren’t considered ‘persons’ and were prevented from exercising basic rights of citizenship. FAST FORWARD. 2013. Women free to join and serve in our armed forces, police forces and virtually any other career they choose [albeit they will still bump up against neanderthals and juvenile ‘boys will be boys’ behaviour here and there].

    Since the national anthem’s purpose, among other things, is a thing to unite all Canadians in pride, service to each other and a sense of belonging, let’s invite in the half of the population that helps give this country meaning and passion. We all have hearts, so how about ‘In all our hearts command’ – it’s what I’ve been singing for years. And while we’re at it, how ‘we keep our land’ rather than God – more inclusive, and more reality based, since it’s up to US, all of us, men and women alike, to keep our land glorious and free, now, and in future.

    • Part of the problem is the failure to recognize the contribution of women to this country.
      Alone for long periods of time with many children in a hostile environment. Pregnant when their was little medical help and the very real possibility of death.
      Or their having laboured on the farms. Or the brutal urban jobs that they worked. These jobs paid the women a fraction of what a man was paid for the exact same job. Women were in fact given the worst “suicide” jobs – e.g. making matches out of lethal chemicals.
      Or how about them actually serving as pilots and so forth in world wars when no men could? Or filling men’s jobs at home for a fraction of the pay and then being forced to “quit” for the men returning?
      How about the droves of women and children abandoned during the depression by men?
      Or how about being a wife and mother meaning no time off ever. First one up and last one to bed year after year while men lounged and drank their evenings away?

  16. The sexism isn’t the biggest issue — the acceptance of collective delusion begged by the song’s overt godism is a larger problem in my estimation. Get rid of that ridiculous phrase “God keep our land…”.

  17. Oh geeze, just leave it alone!
    I’m feminist to a point but I get darn tired of all these “politically correct/gender neutral” titles and things. A cop is still a cop, a fireman can be a woman, not saying fire fighter we know what they do!
    Now you want to mess with the National Anthem??

    Give it a rest and let’s get with some real issues not stupid ones!

  18. Our national Anthem has been overhauled so many times its hardly recognizable! Why not just do away with it and start humming the American Anthem; Harper’s favorite.

  19. Once again the minority appears to be dictating to the majority in the name of political correctness. Our National Anthem was created to exemplify who we are as Canadians and what it took to provide the freedom and liberties we enjoy as Canadians. Those freedoms are what allows all of us to have freedom of speech and the ability to express our opinions. Just because we have an opinion, doesn’t mean we’re right and should automatically get what we want.

    • 50% of the population is not a minority, sweetheart….

    • WOMEN are a MINORITY? Awesome insight. Women just give up and are too busy to even know what’s going on let alone participate in change.
      Most women I know won’t sing that section of the anthem FYI.

  20. The idea of “True patriot love in all thy sons command,” being sexist is ludicrous. The word “sons” is used here to encompass all of Canada’s children—just as the word “man” in the sentence, “This is the oldest fossil known to man” does not exclude “known to woman.” Also the use of the grammatical “he” includes women as in, “If anyone wants a milk shake, he can just step up to the counter and ask for it.” Does such a sentence exclude a woman from asking for a milk shake at the counter? Clearly not.

    In our day, it seems some are way too sensitive about such inclusive words as “son”, “man”, “he”, etc., mistakenly thinking they are limiting.

    • Wow, you really are obtuse if you don’t see the sexism in your speech.

    • Nobody talks like that anymore. If they do they aren’t popular. Trust me. women at my work HATE people who talk like that and DO FEEL excluded. You have no right to dictate to girls/women what they should accept. And trust me they hear it as gendered. You can’t just make up the rules and deny how it is heard and felt by those excluded.

      So I can call you a SHE or a DAUGHTER. Don’t get whiny. Just accept it. You are trying to uphold language used when girls/women had no rights. Ever heat ot the Persons case. If not get an education before typing.

      I’ve NEVER heard of a daughter being called a son.
      Would you feel the same if it was in all our daughter’s command?
      No you wouldn’t. Then of course that would never happen and you’ve never experienced anything like that to even “get it”. Nice to be so privileged.
      NO LINGUIST would agree with your self-serving crock of crap.

      • Every linguist would agree. But no courteous person would agree with your disrespectful phraseology in your final sentence. Would you talk to my face in that fashion?

  21. Please help me to understand why some people are never satisfied and have to make changes. Those people don’t seem to have a life and want to change others around them to change to their standards. Maybe they are just bored with life.

    • I felt it was exclusive when I was a child. It needs to be changed so that other little girls don’t have to feel that way.

  22. Leave it alone already. It’s our anthem and that’s that.

  23. There is far more wrong with the anthem than gender issues. The wording is bizarre and inappropriate in many ways. “Command” patriot love? Or what? The “True North”? What does that even mean? There are a lot of countries in the Northern hemisphere. But the most objectionable aspect is the repeated expression of “True” paranoia. “We stand on guard for thee”? Against whom, or what? Is that the essence of Canada? This is the foundation of the whole song, and yet ironically, as a nation we completely failed to stop the real threat, the decimation of our economic base by the “diversification” of our industrial production to other countries by the forces of globalization, so that now our country is neither strong, nor “glorious”, nor free, and we are “standing on guard” for a memory.

    • So excluding half the population is not as problematic as petty little wordings. That’s scary.

  24. So according to Emma Teitel we should disregard the advise of Margaret Atwood and other prominent Canadian women to change the sexist sentence in our national anthem, because in Emma’s Jewish family they preserve the ritual of having only men sing a portion of some religious hymn and the women voluntarily abstain from joining in. Great logic.

  25. Emma misses the point entirely if she thinks that raising the gender issue is frivolous. Changing the anthem (to it’s original version, no less) makes it inclusive and respectful of all Canadian citizens. Inclusion and respect are very important things.

  26. It wasn’t changed in 1913, those bloody liars. It was changed in 1914. Yeah. That’s right. The year our sons were being sent off to be butchered and maimed and shot and gassed in europe.

    • How about all the women butchered and maimed? Domestic violence, death bringing children into this world, disability bringing children into this world. unpaid labour, women also served in those wars. Women also did all the work at home during those wars. AND women had no role in starting those wars yet did their time too.

  27. Maybe this one woman doesn’t care if she is consistently left out or belittled in “traditional” things all the time, but I would like more equality. I don’t see the harm in changing the national anthem to something more gender neutral, and I think it sends the message that all genders are equal in Canada. I don’t accept tradition as a good reason to keep doing things when we have progressed beyond that into a society where men and women should get equal treatment under the law and in society.

  28. Brilliant.

    Beware fighting the establishment lest you become establishment itself, and other associated items of futility.

    Anthem singing as role playing

    Ladies and gentlemen, behold, the Canadian identity — it’s in how we wear our hearts on our sleeves.

    Live long and prosper, Maclean’s and archives.

Sign in to comment.