The Canadian House of Commons has just passed a bill, 219-79, that gender-neutralizes the country’s National Anthem. Predictably, this has aroused controversy, with Conservative MPs objecting the change represents a “slippery slope.” (“Maybe the botanists will be in an uproar about the shape of the maple leaf on our flag and demand that it be changed,” Tory MP Larry Maguire opined, I can only hope facetiously.) Others insist that modifying the anthem is somehow desecrating both it and the country’s history, demonstrating the fatuous, and unfortunately rampant, notion that change – a concept upon which no country can hope to thrive without – is sacrilege.
This contention is especially vacuous because the original lyrics to O Canada were gender-neutral. The contentious “in all thy sons command” was in fact “thou dost in us command” until 1914, when both it and the anthem’s invocation of God were added. That means, of course, that the anthem was already modified once; clearly, those living in the historical era which modern-day anthem Luddites seek to shield did not see the lyrics as the untouchable symbolic bastion the Luddites do.
While they’re at it, the House of Commons should purge the anthem of its religious invocation too. “God keep our land glorious and free!” How trite. Sadly, Canada does not, like America, explicitly separate church and state in its constitution; indeed, our Head of State is also the Head of the Church of England (associated with the Anglican Church of Canada) and “Defender of the Faith.” Eradicating faith-based discrimination from our anthem would represent a wonderful step towards the aforementioned American ideal (not practise, shamefully, but ideal) of Jefferson-opined separation. And, considering the anthem is currently under scrutiny anyway, what an opportunity to do it.
The national anthem should not remain static. Nations change. Anthems, which represent those nations, should too, accordingly.