What a time it is for outrage and (self-) righteous fury in Canada. The last couple of weeks, it seems like the federal government has been able to tick people off in every corner of society, between the prime minister’s genuinely lame joke about supplanting “mankind” with the far more progressive “peoplekind,” to remarks about federal assistance to veterans that now, for many people, exemplify the prime minister’s cavalier disregard and apathy for the plight of our veterans looking for government assistance.
It’s not been a good February for Justin Trudeau and the federal government’s popularity. But, if the outrage over Trudeau’s recent gaffes, uttered amid a litany of “ums,” and “uhs,” is glowing incandescent, then another particular federal matter has stirred people up into a white-hot rage: the national anthem.
Recently, as I’m sure you know, former MP Mauril Belanger’s mission posthumously came to fruition, as the bill was passed that changed a particular line in the lyrics of O Canada to make it gender-neutral.
Depending on who you ask, this de-gendering of our most uniting and patriotic of songs may elicit a listless shrug, maybe some chuckles at the anger – and yes, lots and lots of anger.
Federal Conservative opposition leader Andrew Scheer – in what I can only imagine is him milking every possible opportunity to differentiate himself from Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals in any way possible – heroically announced that he wouldn’t sing the changed lyrics until they were codified as law.
Side note: a friend of mine rather fittingly described the fiery public indignation from some over a simple shift in the semantics of the national anthem to “a five-year old throwing a hissy-fit,” and I have to say, I agree.
The main thrust of the opposition to the changing of the national anthem’s lyrics is “it’s political correctness run amok,” and that the Liberal government is working to undermine Canada’s proud legacy by making the national anthem as antiseptically clean as possible of any suggestion that there are differences between the genders.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time, could it, with Trudeau himself maundering (read: “joking”) about the semantics of the word, mankind. It’s, to say the least, a pretty trifling thing to lose credibility over.
To save you the trouble of sifting through angry internet comments, I’ll distill the basic thrust of the argument against changing “in all our sons command” to “in all of us command.” The basic argument is one for historical continuity. People are resistant to change. Especially people who don’t understand the history of O Canada, and just how much change was involved in the song itself before we got to this point.
Personally, I find it amusing people are trying to cite history as a rationale not to change the national anthem, because most people using the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”argument don’t realize “in all our sons command” was a change made to the anthem. The original anthem, by the way, if we’re going to be historical purists, was written by a number of people in Quebec, looking for a French alternative to “God Save the Queen,” in the late 19th century.
It was over 20 years from then before O Canada was even written in English, to begin with.
Even then, in the first English translation of the anthem, the line that everyone has their knickers in a knot went like this: “True patriot love, thou dost in us command.” That, technically the “original” English version of the song, is pretty conspicuously void of any mention of gender.
So, technically, changing that particular lyric to one that is gender-neutral is making the national anthem more like the original version. That kind of makes you question what the people angry over the lyric change are really upset about, doesn’t it?
Sam Macdonald is a reporter with The News