'O Canada,' whom dost thou command?

Peter Goldring supports a gender-neutral national anthem

Israelis are silhouetted behind a Canadian flag at a rally to thank Canada's PM Harper for his support of Israel during his visit at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem

Sons aren’t just men and boys, but all people, even women, and that’s why Tory MP Peter Goldring thinks a legislative attempt to reword O Canada is foolhardy. The latest parliamentary debate on the national anthem’s lack of gender neutrality, sparked by the private member’s bill C-624, is silly, says Goldring. A close reading of a dictionary, he argues, proves O Canada is already blind to gender.

Now, Parliament could annex Turks and Caicos, move the House of Commons to a warmer climate, and debate dictionary definitions for the rest of time. But no debate, even if it lasted to infinity, would see Goldring’s logic win the day. Here’s his key point:

The word “son” has more than one definition; it does not necessarily refer to a male offspring. This is particularly true when referencing nationhood.

Take Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition. A son is defined as: “a person closely associated with or deriving from a formative agent (as a nation, school, or race).” Or the Concise Oxford, ninth edition, which includes in its definition: “a person regarded as inheriting an occupation, quality, etc., or associated with a particular attribute (sons of freedom, sons of the soil).” Hence, sons in this context can be seen as persons.

Never mind that in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the so-called “nationhood” reading of the definition is the third definition of five; the first, second and fourth make exclusive reference to boys, men and “a male member of a family, nation, etc.”; and the fifth refers to Jesus Christ. Oxford overwhelmingly treats sons as not women or girls or daughters.

Liberal MP Mauril Belanger’s bill would change two words, and revert to language from the anthem’s 1908 version: True patriot love in all thy sons command would become True patriot love in all of us command. During his speech, Belanger listed eminent men and women across the country who support the lyric change, which he said is inevitable. “Choirs across the country have already taken up the new language,” he told the House.

New Democrats and Liberals spent the hour of yesterday’s debate supporting what MP Stéphane Dion reminded his colleagues was the ninth legislative attempt to change O Canada‘s lyrics. A pair of Conservatives, Costas Menegakis and Stella Ambler, opposed the bill on the grounds that its changes rudely ignore history and tradition.

The bill will likely fail, once again, because the Conservatives have the most votes. Even though the government floated its own review of the anthem’s perceived gender favouritism in 2010 (a review that never came to be after an immediate public backlash), the status quo wins the day in this Parliament. Goldring, dictionary in hand, will be on the winning side.