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Singing a different tune urged

Notable women want national anthem's lyrics to be gender neutral

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Whenever Gail Asper sings O Canada, she belts out the lyrics she believes are correct.

The driving force behind the Canadian Museum for Human Rights replaces the line, "in all thy son's command," with "in all of us command," and she's not shy about it.

"I sing very loudly. I love the national anthem," she said. "I have been very concerned that we have lyrics that are unnecessarily excluding 50 per cent of our population."

People and businesses take their lead from the government, Asper said, and if Ottawa says it's OK to exclude women in the national anthem, they could take it to mean it's OK to exclude women from the workplace or the boardroom.

"This is an opportunity for the government to take a leadership position," she said.

Asper applauds a group of notable Canadian women who have launched a campaign for gender-neutral language in the English lyrics of our national anthem.

The group, which includes author Margaret Atwood and former prime minister Kim Campbell, says the change would restore Canada's English national anthem to its original gender-neutral intentions. It has even set up a website to promote the idea.

RestoreOurAnthem.ca is being launched on the 100th anniversary of the change made to Judge Robert Stanley Weir's original English lyrics.

It is calling on Canadians to join the campaign and encourage the Harper government to make the changes Asper already has.

The coalition says for no documented reason the lyrics were revised in 1913 from "thou dost in us command" to "in all thy sons command" and it is time to make a change to reflect the inclusive intentions of the original lyrics.

Other members of the group include Sen. Nancy Ruth, retired senator, author and fashion designer Vivienne Poy and Sally Goddard, mother of Nichola Goddard, the first female Canadian soldier killed in combat.

"The words 'All thy sons command' in the English national anthem suggests male loyalty is being invoked," said Atwood. "Restoring these lyrics to gender-neutral is not only an easy fix to make our anthem inclusive for all Canadians, but it's also long overdue."

Stacey Nattrass, longtime singer of the national anthem at the MTS Centre, won't be making any changes to the lyrics when she steps to the microphone on Friday night prior to the Winnipeg Jets home opener against the L.A. Kings.

"I'm not going to be the one who changes things to ruffle people's feathers. (True North) expects me to sing it the way everybody knows it and the way it's been sung for decades. I'm happy to keep doing that until somebody tells me otherwise," she said.

Nattrass said the lyric debate is fair and she wouldn't be surprised if the words were changed at some point in the future.

Jocelyn Thorpe, a University of Manitoba assistant professor in women's and gender studies, said the campaign is on the right track but doesn't go far enough.

"I find it hard to get behind the one thing when it seems to leave in place these bigger things," Thorpe said.

"The 'our home and native land' is 'our home on native land.' It's only 'glorious and free' for Canadians at the expense of indigenous peoples that were here first. All that language is part and parcel of what makes it an outdated thing.

"To add the 'daughters,' or whatever, almost seems worse because it seems to make it fine when the whole thing is not fine."

Thorpe said she would toss out the pervasive idea of militarism from the anthem.

"We're 'standing on guard for thee,' we're keeping our land 'glorious and free.' Whose land?" Thorpe asked.

"We need to decide what kind of a nation do we want to celebrate. Then perhaps most Canadians would agree that we would prefer to have one that includes the recognition of aboriginal title to land, that includes newcomers as well as European Canadians. A broader model that emphasizes things like co-operation rather than militarism."

 

-- with files from The Canadian Press

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

What notes would a gender-neutral O Canada hit for you? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 2, 2013 A2

History

Updated on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 7:37 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

7:17 PM: Fixed misquote of Gail Asper -- said "the government" not "Stephen Harper".

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