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Why Margaret Atwood wants to change the lyrics of O Canada

Vancouver Canuck fans sing O Canada before the start of game five of the Stanley Cup final playoff hockey action in Vancouver, June 10, 2011.


A group of prominent Canadian women are campaigning once again to change the lyrics of O Canada to be more "gender-neutral."

At issue is the line: "True patriot love in all thy sons command." According to Restore Our Anthem, a group that includes writer Margaret Atwood and former prime minister Kim Campbell, these lyrics are exclusionary of women, and do not reflect the original intent of Robert Stanley Weir, who wrote the English words for O Canada in 1908.

The original lyrics of Weir's O Canada, the group says, were "thou dost in us command." But in 1913, they were changed, "for no documented reason," to the current "sons command" version.

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They're now lobbying to have the line changed to "in all of us command."

The words "all thy sons command" in the English national anthem suggests that only male loyalty is being invoked," Margaret Atwood said in a statement.

"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."

Other notable women supporting the Restore Our Anthem campaign include retired senator Vivienne Poy, Senator Nancy Ruth, and Sally Goddard, whose daughter Nichola Goddard was the first female Canadian soldier killed in combat.

Changing the lyrics would celebrate the role of all Canadians, Ms. Goddard said in a statement. "It would recognize the heroes, leaders and teachers who have made Canada what it is today – regardless of their gender."

This is not the first time a change to O Canada has been proposed. In 2002, Ms. Poy introduced a bill to try to change the lyric, and in 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked Parliament to look at whether or not to make the change. But Harper abandoned the proposal just days later, after facing backlash from the Conservative Party.

In a press release, Restore Our Anthem said they are bringing the proposal back this year to mark the 100th anniversary since the lyrics were changed to the "sons command" version.

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About the Author
National Food Reporter

Ann Hui is the national food reporter at The Globe and Mail. Previously, she worked as a national reporter and homepage editor for and an online editor in News. More


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