Skip to content
SOCI - Standing Committee

Social Affairs, Science and Technology


Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Issue No. 13 - Evidence - December 14, 2016

OTTAWA, Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, to which was referred Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender), met this day at 4:16 p.m., to study this bill and carry out a clause-by- clause consideration.

Senator Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.


I'm Kelvin Ogilvie, a senator from Nova Scotia and chair of the committee. I'm going to invite my colleagues to introduce themselves, starting on my left.

Senator Eggleton: Art Eggleton, senator from Toronto, deputy chair of the committee.

Senator Merchant: Pana Merchant, senator from Saskatchewan.

Senator Raine: Nancy Greene Raine, senator from British Columbia.

Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman from Montreal, Quebec.

Senator Marshall: Elizabeth Marshall from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Senator MacDonald: Michael MacDonald from Nova Scotia.

The Chair: Thank you, colleagues. I realize that our distinguished witness knows all of that, but the viewing audience will know it now as well.

I want to remind you that we are here today to consider Bill C-210, An Act to amend the National Anthem Act (gender). Bill C-210 proposes to amend the National Anthem Act to substitute the words "of us'' for the words "thy sons'' in the English version of the national anthem, thus making it gender-neutral. Bill C-210 does not propose any changes to the French version of the national anthem as it is considered to be gender-neutral already.

So it is my pleasure as chair of the committee to welcome the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, our colleague Senator Nancy Ruth, to whom we will open the floor now. As she well knows, after she's finished, we will open the floor up to questions from her colleagues. Senator, you have the floor.

Hon. Nancy Ruth, sponsor of the bill: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Senators, I'll use my time to give you facts regarding our national anthem. I will refer to three documents in doing so, all of which you have in hand, A, B and C. You also have in hand a retyped page. It looks like this, and it goes with document B. This is a clarification of Judge Weir's note.

The National Anthem Act came into force on July 1, 1980. The debates on the act at that time show there was unease about the second line of the anthem in English, the line that's under discussion. A promise was made by the then Minister of Heritage, former Senator Francis Fox, that there would be opportunity to reconsider "in all thy sons command.'' Thirty-six years later, we are doing so.

Let's start with the act, which is marked A. The relevant page is the schedule, the one with the music and the words on it in both French and English. You will see from the schedule that each song has only one verse. The original songs have more than one verse. The other verses are not relevant to the official versions and not to Bill C-210.

In section 3 of the act, the page with the Canada crest on it, paragraph 3 provides that the music and words are in the public domain. Canadians own the national anthem. Canadians own everything we do in Parliament. We are a diverse and lively country, and Canadians are rarely unanimous in their views. It's our job as parliamentarians to make choices for Canadians every day, on every subject matter. We are studying a legitimate matter in a legitimate way.

Bill C-210 replaces the schedule to the National Anthem Act. The new schedule provides that the second line of the song in English will read "in all of us command,'' replacing "in all thy sons command.'' One of the principle reasons I support "all of us'' is that these words respect the history of the song as it was originally written, and it was first written in 1908. Please see document B. On the third page of that document, the music page, on the second line in 1908, you can read that it says "thou dost in us command.''

In debate in the chamber on November 1, 2016, Senator Cools asked for evidence about the words of the 1908 version of the English song. I have provided you with such evidence, marked B. I have provided a copy of "O Canada'' published by Delmar Music Company, marked B, and it contains a personal note from Judge Weir, which is the faint page in the package and also the retyped legible page. It is from the Recorder's Chambers, Montreal, dated November 10, 1908. That's on the back of that page.

What's key about this is two things. The second line says "thou dost in us command,'' and the back of the page gives you the 1908 date. This publication, by the way, is from Library and Archives Canada.

I have also provided a copy of the song published in a book dated 1913 from the Educational Book Company Ltd. in Toronto, marked document C. The second line of the song reads "in all thy sons command.'' You can see the change from 1908 to 1913. The Library of Parliament document we were sent on this actually gives you a 1914 edition, again saying "in all thy sons command.'' Somehow there was a change.

This book, The Common School Book of Vocal Music, can be found in many libraries across Canada. We do not know why a change was made, simply that this songbook shows it was made.

Bill C-210 is the eleventh bill in Parliament to propose this simple change to the National Anthem Act. Nine have been proposed in the other place and two in the Red Chamber by former Senator Vivienne Poy. This change has been circulating and discussed in the public realm from many different places and perspectives for more than 35 years. The bills have come from men and from women, from parliamentarians in different parts of the country and from parliamentarians of different origins. Taken together, they show all of us a way forward, a way to include all Canadians within the embrace of the song.

Since 2010 in particular, the proposal to sing "all of us'' in the second line of "O Canada'' has been widely reported and debated everywhere in Canada. It has been sung on football fields and it has not been sung in hockey arenas. There is quite a discussion about it everywhere.

To use a phrase from the debate on Bill C-210 in the other place, I think it is reasonable to say that there has been robust public discussion on this simple amendment.

I have said above that, one of the principle reasons I support Bill C-210 is its connection to Canada's past. The other principle reason is its connection to our present and our future. We study this bill at a particular point in time in our history. As has been agreed in debate in both chambers, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirms and protects the rights of Canadians. Our debate and our decision should reflect the rights and freedoms we share.

With Bill C-210, we have an opportunity to reflect and act on these values. The Charter is not a small beacon on a distant hill; it's a flame that we must actively tend and use. It's not a boundary to be enforced by others; it is a direction for us in our day-to-day law-making.

Yet perhaps the most prominent cut lines through debate on this bill have been references to the values and work of those who support it. Here are a selection of them: in the name of political correctness, revisionism, Pandora's box, an empty gesture, playthings, changing poetry into mere doggerel, changing heritage on a whim, picking away, pretender claim of female inclusivity, tampering with art over gender identity, tinkering with our anthem, narrow personal agendas, and last but not least, as spoken in our chamber by Senator David Wells last week, a token of appeasement.

In contrast, the principle of Bill C-210, like its predecessors over decades, is respect — respect for all aspects of our complex heritage and its ongoing evolution; respect for the service of all Canadians, both past and present, at home and abroad; respect for men, for women, whatever their origin, who have made Canada home; respect, in short, for all of us.

The widespread debate about "all thy sons'' has produced a consensus about its modern meaning. Even Andrew Coyne in the National Post of May 9, 2016, gives us a practical take on this point. He says:

Let's stipulate off the top that no one sings the national anthem with the intent that it should apply only to "thy sons.'' There isn't a soul alive who wants to "exclude half the population,'' as the phrase has it, from this symbol of our national unity.

He observes that the vast majority of citizens understand it to mean "all of us.'' The simple question, then, about this simple amendment is this: Should the English national anthem not simply reflect the values we share? Should it not simply reflect what we overwhelmingly agree it means?

Bill C-210 is not destructive of our past; it illuminates how we have evolved, who we are and now wish to continue to be. Our history is dynamic and it's moving. Bill C-210 reinforces what is at the very heart of Canada.

In 2003, this committee studied Bill S-3 during the Second Session of the Thirty-seventh Parliament. It reported Bill S-3 back without amendment on October 23, 2003. Bill C-210 is identical in substance to Bill S-3 and was passed in the House of Commons by an overwhelming majority in June of this year, supported by members of all parties — not by all parties but by members of all parties.

I urge this committee to complete its review and report Bill C-210 back without amendment so that the bill can be passed and proclaimed as early as possible. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much, senator. We are now going to open up the floor to questions from colleagues, starting with Senator Eggleton. We will attempt to make sure that every senator who wishes to have a question this round will be able to do so. I would remind you that this session will end no later than 5:15.

Senator Eggleton: Earlier this afternoon in the Senate Chamber we said our farewells to Nancy Ruth as she gets ready to depart the Senate. She will also be departing this committee, and she has served on this committee for some period of time. Sitting usually on the side as opposed to where she's sitting today, she has been persistent in asking questions about gender-based analysis and pushing the envelope to get attention to the issues and make sure people come up with the answers. What she said in the chamber today about the need for persistence to continue is something I wholeheartedly agree with.

I also want to point out that the last study we did in the committee on dementia was something she proposed and we took it on. I can understand part of her rationale there was the fact that dementia, in spite of what is commonly believed, affects more women than men. So thank you for that. And thank you for the work on the assisted-dying bill that was done with yourself, Mr. Chairman, and Senator Seidman as well.

Today, we have the national anthem bill. I guess we could call this your swansong. It is one that I support. I think it would be a terrific Christmas gift if we can get this through. Tomorrow it will be voted on in the committee and then will go to the Senate Chamber. It would be nice if we got it through there.

I want to ask you a question about amendments of this nature. Apparently, there were some nine attempts over the years to make a change of these two words from "thy sons'' to "of us,'' but there are also some other ideas like "in our hearts command'' as opposed to "of us command.'' Going to another section of the anthem, there's the suggestion that "native land'' be changed to "cherished land.''

Do you have any thoughts about those, or are you sticking to what was recommended in the House of Commons and the bill represented by Mauril Bélanger there? Do you have any other thoughts on the anthem?

Senator Nancy Ruth: Well, I am sticking to the act, and there are many suggestions. In fact, Carolyn Bennett has a bilingual version she would love to bring in and redo the whole anthem.

The reason I encouraged MP Bélanger to do it this way was because of the 1908 version. That was what Judge Weir wrote initially.

My office has searched the newspapers and the public record in Montreal for any debate around the anthem, and there is absolutely nothing at all. It's extraordinary. The biggest social movement going on in Montreal at that time was the suffragette movement. When I went to Prime Minister Harper to ask him to look at restoring the anthem to the 1908 version, I couldn't quite say that. I didn't think that would win me the day. So I suggested it could possibly be because of the First World War, but we have no proof of that.

I have not dealt with "our hearts'' or "native land'' or other things that are there. There's no question they're there, but they are not part of this act, period.

Senator Eggleton: The same wording, I take it, was in the Speech from the Throne in 2010? This was the wording that Prime Minister Harper's government was going to put into the bill. It was announced. We were in the chamber, we heard this, but of course it didn't get implemented. Is it the same wording as was proposed then?

Senator Nancy Ruth: What was in the Speech from the Throne, as I remember it, was that the Prime Minister would strike a committee to look at the issue. There were no particular words.

Senator Eggleton: Thank you very much.

Senator Raine: Thank you very much. I really appreciate your work on this, and that of your colleagues. I admire your tenacity and your drive.

I think it's time to change it. This has been going on for a long time. In my lifetime I've seen it change. It became the official anthem of Canada, I think, in 1980, but it was really accepted as our anthem back when I heard it play in Grenoble, France, when I won my medal.

When I won my medal, I saw the Canadian flag go up. I was so proud of the new flag. I have to tell you that until he passed away, my father flew the old Red Ensign flag because he insisted that was his Canadian flag. We all kind of chuckled about it, but things do change.

In 1968, when I sang the anthem on the podium, I'm not sure, but I think we were starting to sing then the phrase:

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

But that was new. When I was in school, we sang:

The True North strong and free,

And stand on guard, O Canada,

We stand on guard on for thee.

We seem to stand on guard forever.

It has changed in my lifetime, and I think we all embraced that change because it made us feel good because it was from far and wide, and we're opening our anthem to people who didn't just grow up in Canada. Today, I think we understand a lot more about diversity of different kinds of people.

What I like about the phrase "in all of us command'' is that it really does embrace every different kind of person that we have in Canada. So I support it. I have been contacted by linguists, specialists who teach grammar in school, and they sing "O Canada'' to their students every day. They say they won't be able to sing this because it's not grammatically correct.

I thought about that all summer long. As I thought about it, I started reading poems and songs and recognizing that poetry and songs are not always grammatically correct. I think it's allowed, as long as the expression is understood.

So for you I would just ask one question: Are you comfortable with the grammatical correctness of this phrase? I certainly am, but I'd like to hear it from you.

Senator Nancy Ruth: I'm happy with what Judge Weir originally wrote, yes. Did I answer your question?

The Chair: That was a very clear answer. Thank you, senator.

Senator Seidman: Thank you very much, senator.

I would like to echo all that has been said today, in chamber and again here on committee. I have to tell you that I remember that you came to speak to me and offer wise words at the reception after I was sworn in seven years ago. I remember those words very well, and I especially appreciated them because I was a stranger to you, but you took the time. You have been an inspiration ever since in this committee, in the Senate, on our special joint committee on MAID, and I think probably to young women who aspire to political careers. So I just want to say thank you for that.

I would like to ask you a question about the bill, one that comes up fairly often. The song was originally written in 1908, and at that time it's quite true that it read "thou dost in us command.'' Then in 1914 it was changed to "in all thy sons command.'' There were other changes made in the song. It wasn't until 1980 that it was officially adopted as Canada's national anthem, and it hasn't been changed since.

There are a lot of people who say, "Why should we change it now''? If it was adopted officially in 1980, why should we make the change to it now that it is our official national anthem? What transpired before is not terribly relevant. I know this is very important to you. I would really like to hear your rationale for that so that we can answer those questions.

Senator Nancy Ruth: I have two reflections. First, in the caucus in which I sit, when we sing the national anthem, it is not these words that are in the act. It is a mixture of French and English and this and that. So we do change the anthem when it seems to suit us.

Second is the promise that Francis Fox made. The act was passed in one day in 1980. There was all this debate going on about this line. In 1979 Trudeau was talking about the repatriation of the British North America Act, the Charter was starting to be built, the Victoria conference happened in 1979. There was all this stuff going on about equality rights, so there was quite a lot of discussion around "all thy sons.'' We were promised they would look at it afterwards, and it has been looked at but it has not succeeded. This time, I hope it will.

Senator Seidman: This is testimony to your persistence that people talk about.

Senator Nancy Ruth: All the other people who have carried the act over the 36 years.

Senator Seidman: I appreciate that. Thank you very much.

Senator Merchant: Senator Nancy Ruth, I too would like to associate myself with all the wonderful things that were said about you. You are unique. I too remember when you first came to the chamber because I was there at the beginning of 2003. The first thing you said to me was, "Why are you here? What are you interested in?''

You said, "I am interested in certain issues, and I would like you to become part of it.'' I think you gave me your card at the time. So you're very friendly in an aggressive, passionate way. People recall that, and you get things done.

I remember when Vivienne Poy struggled with this. You've already answered my question. There are some who say the reason that in 1913-14 the words were changed had something to do with our men fighting in the war. But you said that you have not found that in any of your research.

Why do you think that the words became more masculine than they had been before? What do you think might have happened?

Senator Nancy Ruth: I have no idea. We have really tried hard. We also went down to the Canadian War Museum; we looked for documents or statements from various generals. There is one from General Arthur Currie in 1913 talking about how Canada must get ready, must get prepared for the war, and there are documents saying how difficult it was for those who saw this coming in Europe.

They were having a struggle motivating people in Canada to be prepared. It was not an item. I mean, it's extraordinary when you look back and you think it wasn't, but it wasn't. So I honestly don't know.

Senator Merchant: I'm very curious to know why the words were changed, but you haven't found anything. You answered that.

Senator Nancy Ruth: We have no proof at all. All we know is that there were these two movements at either end of this period of time, the suffragettes demanding the vote and then the commitment of Canada to fight with Britain and go to war.

Senator Merchant: I thank you very much for your persistence and for the good work you do. I wish you all the best.

Senator Nancy Ruth: Thank you, Senator Merchant.

Senator Marshall: Thank you very much. Has there been any assessment of costs associated with this change?

Senator Nancy Ruth: No, not that I have seen. I think Canadian Heritage will incur some cost. There will be a cost from printing up those bookmarks we hand out and some things like that, but everything is online, and that's a minimal cost. There will be promotion.

Senator Marshall: I can't think of anything. If the bill goes through, will there be a surprise, somebody looks up and says that by the way, it's going to cost $2 million to change such and such? There's nothing you are aware of?

Senator Nancy Ruth: No. I mean, there are always some costs with change. We paid $4 million to put gold stripes back on the Navy officers' uniforms, and I could not understand that.

Senator Marshall: Thank you very much.

Senator Nancy Ruth: Sorry, chair.

The Chair: Thank you, colleagues.

Senator, your colleagues have heard the debate to this point, and I suspect that has a great deal to do with the nature and number of questions coming your way. I think the next session we will see more questions with regard to the overall issue.

I have looked into as much of the background as I could in order to prepare myself in the role of chair to deal with the various excitements that might occur around this debate. As a result, I have no specific question for you.

I did find it quite surprising the way the current anthem evolved. You've just been discussing it. There were no riots in the streets. There were no great, long debates that one can find on it. It was remarkable the way the changes came about, for something that is such an important part of Canadian character and identity.

Regarding the accolades today in the Senate for Senator Nancy Ruth, I needed to point out to the Speaker that if Senator Nancy Ruth didn't get free in order to come to start this session off, that which she has been most interested in would not likely make it through before tomorrow. So the Speaker had to intervene to limit the number of accolades and people wishing to speak on your behalf, senator, which is a considerable tribute to you.

It's a privilege for all who have worked with you in so many different ways to have the opportunity to work with you on this very important issue for you and for Canadians.

Colleagues, we will proceed with the witness at hand, and the video folks are trying to get an early contact with our witness by video conference. We will ask Ms. Kit, who is appearing for us from Rowing Canada Aviron, to present. She is, of course, an athlete of renown. She will present, and we will begin to question her, but we will interrupt as soon as our video conference guest is available to us. We will have her make her presentation, and then we will proceed as normal.

If that's in agreement, Ms. Kit, would you please present to us.

Kristen Kit, Athlete, Rowing Canada Aviron, as an individual: Thank you for inviting me here this evening to show my support for Bill C-210. I am honoured to be here to share my views.

I have represented Canada internationally since 2006 in the sport of rowing — on able-bodied, or Olympic, and Paralympic teams. While the process of training for a world championships or games event is important, I have to admit that I am somewhat outcome driven. Many of my teammates and I dream of a moment that includes stepping on a medal podium, seeing the Canadian flag raised and singing our national anthem.

Through hard work and some fortune, I have stood on medal podiums across four continents and watched our country's flag hoisted in front of the international stage. On occasion, I have stood in the gold medal position and sung our national anthem in front of the world.

I am just as Canadian as my male counterparts, and a gender-neutral anthem represents that I am equally a part of the Canadian identity. From day-to-day training through to racing internationally, I am in service to my country, and I want to be included in the anthem that I sing, if and when I step on a medal podium again.

The change that Bill C-210 will invoke reflects Canada's evolving composition. Although there is progress, I believe gender barriers still exist in and outside of sport today. I believe it takes a lot of small steps to continue this progress. Changing two words in the anthem to include all women in Canada reflects the Canada that I want to be a part of and contribute to in the future. I am passionate about this change because I think it is really important for women like me to be represented in a piece of Canada's cultural identity.

To conclude, I brought the medal that I won on behalf of Canada in the Rio Paralympic Games. This is Canada's first para-rowing medal in history. While sport is sometimes selfish, I feel that this medal belongs to Canada as an entity, and I'm proud to be able bring it here and share it with all of you today.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

I'm going to begin the questioning with Senator Stewart Olsen, to be followed by Senator Eggleton.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Thank you, Ms. Kit. It's a pleasure to have you here.

I'm still trying to decide about this. I was mentioning that when I grew up, a long time ago, we actually sang "in all our hearts command'' instead of "in all thy sons command.'' I don't know why.

My question is this: This is gender-neutral, so that means that it would include, then, LGBTQ, everyone, and be a more inclusive anthem specifically.

Do you really think that the "sons command'' needs to be changed to more be gender-neutral or neutral? I want to hear what you think about that.

Ms. Kit: Again, I'm not an expert in many aspects. I'm here to speak on behalf of the Canadians that represent Canada internationally, those of us who are women that represent Canada internationally, and those women who want to be part of Canada's future. I'm going to speak from a place of what I know.

I do believe it needs to be changed. I want to feel I'm a part of Canada's cultural identity. To me, "sons'' doesn't encompass me. Somewhat selfishly, I want my national anthem, when I sing it, to represent me. So, yes, I do think it needs to be changed.

I feel very strongly about this, and the more I learn about this bill, the more passionate I become. Even though it might be a small change, I think it's a very important one. I'm 28, and I want to continue to contribute to Canada, and I want to be passionate about contributing to Canada. A change like this makes me passionate about contributing to Canada. I know many of my peers feel the same way.

Senator Eggleton: Congratulations on your career, your medals and the many times you've been on the podium.

Ms. Kit: Thank you.

Senator Eggleton: That's a heavy piece around the neck.

Ms. Kit: It is.

Senator Eggleton: If you put a few of them on, you would really be weighed down.

This anthem has been changed a number of times in its words over the years. In fact, "in all thy sons'' was not part of the original wording, as you've heard. There are some people that, for some reason, say, "Yes, but in 1980 it became official, and we can't change it.'' What do you say to that?

Ms. Kit: Canada is always changing and needs to be always changing. Canada is a moving image, and if we get stuck in tradition, then I don't think we will continue to be in the forefront of the international community.

I know this seems like a small change, and I know that some may argue that in 1980 it became official and that we should just leave it, but I think for my generation, to have a change like this installed would show that Canada is moving forward, that we are living in the present and moving toward the future.

Senator Eggleton: In 1965 I was here, actually, on the Hill when they took down the Red Ensign and put up the flag of Canada as we know it today. So we have moved forward with changes such as that.

Senator Munson: Thank you for being here. You said, "I am just as Canadian as my male counterparts, and a gender-neutral anthem represents that I am equally a part of the Canadian identity.''

I, too, touched the medal. I noticed on the back that, in terms of changing in Canada, there is Braille, which is sensitive to the Paralympic sport you were in.

Have you had these conversations within the Olympic movement before this came before us in the Senate and in the House of Commons? Have you talked about this, or are you here because you heard about this because of the late Mauril Bélanger, Member of Parliament?

Ms. Kit: That's a good question. Sport in Canada is governed by our national federations, and outside of that there are various geographical areas that make up a sports centre. The athlete services coordinator for the sports centre in British Columbia found out about this bill, and she reached out to all the athletes inside of her community. So, yes, a few of us were talking about this because of our athlete services coordinator who made this apparent to us.

Quite a few of us, since I became involved with this, have been talking about the change.

Senator Munson: What is your argument for those on the other side, though, that feel strongly about what is there before us? For example, I've had great discussions with my parents over the years about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, who we are as a country and the British Empire. I would always say, "We're Canada, we're evolving. We're changing all the time.''

My parents had a strong view about the national anthem. My father had a strong view about the Dominion from sea to sea. He eventually accepted the flag, as Senator Eggleton was talking about.

What do you say to those who feel as strongly as you do about changing two words? They, too, have a position, and they're passionate about it.

Ms. Kit: I'm respectful of that. I'm respectful and proud of where Canada has come from. I think it's important to respect all that has come before us, before me, in terms of tradition. I don't think that tradition should be forgotten. It should be celebrated and reflected on, but to stay current and be at the forefront of the international community, we need change.

Senator Munson: On the other side of the equation, what do you think this will mean if this is passed in the Senate? We take our time, as you know. I know that, and I'm always in a hurry.

Moving ahead, what would it mean to a new generation in this country to hear those words instead of "thy?'' I'm a minister's son, so the only time I hear "thy'' is when thy will won't be done. I'm just curious about that.

Ms. Kit: Inside the sport community, it would be celebrated. It would definitely be celebrated amongst women's and men's teams. It would be celebrated because it's a sign that there's change, and we get to celebrate the change when we represent Canada and make it to a medal podium, and to the centre of the medal podium, which is the gold-medal spot.

The anthem is special to me and other athletes because of what it means in terms of achievement when we get to sing it. It means a lot. For a change to happen, if it were to happen next year, and one of us were to win a medal, it would be special to get on that medal podium and be able to sing those changed words on Canada's one hundred and fiftieth birthday.

The Chair: My understanding is we can now bring in our witness by video conference.

Dr. Lumpkin, we are in the process of considering the bill that you are very much aware of.

I will remind my colleagues that Dr. Lumpkin is President and Vice-Chancellor of Mount Saint Vincent University in Nova Scotia.

We are pleased to have you join us for this hearing. Dr. Lumpkin, I'm going to invite you to make a presentation to us, and then I'm going to open the floor up to questions from my colleagues. Because we have started our discussion here, I'm going to start with the two people who were on my list and who had not yet asked a question. I will then give the persons who spoke earlier a chance to ask questions directly of Dr. Lumpkin, and then we will proceed on an ongoing basis.

Dr. Lumpkin, please provide us with your words on this important topic.

Ramona Lumpkin, President and Vice-Chancellor, Mount Saint Vincent University, as an individual: Thank you. I want to thank honourable senators for the opportunity to address you on this matter.

I was very heartened to read the transcript from the Senate's June 21 debate on Bill C-210, in which a number of senators expressed strong support for the bill. In addition to the Honourable Nancy Ruth, who moved second reading of the bill with great persuasive power, the Honourable Jim Munson reminded us that this bill is about respecting the rights and roles of women in society. Its purpose is to ensure our national anthem best expresses how our society has progressed and to help us make sure it continues to do so.

The Honourable Ratna Omidvar argued forcibly that the words we use matter. Language can include or exclude. Today we need language that is both symbolic and a real expression of inclusion in our society.

On behalf of Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I'm pleased to express strong support for a change to the lyrics of "O Canada'' from "all thy sons'' to "all of us.''

The organization I represent was founded in 1863 by the Sisters of Charity - Halifax and was one of the first institutions of higher education for women in Canada. At a time when women could not vote, the Mount provided an opportunity for women to learn and participate equally in society.

The original purpose of the organization was to train novices and young sisters as teachers, but the Sisters of Charity also recognized a need to educate other young women and therefore opened the academy to young women who lived within the city of Halifax. By 1912, the sisters recognized a need to offer greater opportunity through higher education, and they immediately adopted a plan to establish a college for young women.

Since 1925, when Mount Saint Vincent became the first degree-granting women's college in the British Commonwealth, right down to the present day we have continually renewed the Mount's commitment to provide a positive learning environment where women's contributions and perspectives are valued.

In keeping with the objectives of the university to provide strong role models and leadership, our 12 presidents have all been women, and this is a crusade that continues for us today. Though we became a co-ed university in the late 1960s, the Mount continues to champion the advancement of women. Today the Mount also stands firmly in support of the LGBTQ community and all marginalized and minority populations.

Reflective of our organizational values, a couple of years ago we invited those attending our convocation ceremonies to sing an inclusive "O Canada,'' and that change has been embraced by our university community. Although the Mount has been a leader in support of equality for women, and even though Canada has made great strides on issues of gender equality, there is still so much more to be done.

Hardly a week goes by without my being approached by a young woman on our campus who is unsure of her voice, her authority, and her capacity to lead in our society. These young women want to talk with a woman leader and be assured that they too can succeed in leadership roles within our corporations, our government and our universities. To my frustration, even at this date, only 20 per cent of Canadian university presidents are women, and that's a figure that hasn't budged in 20 years.

I share my own story with these young women who come to me, and I encourage them to be pioneers and change- makers on behalf of themselves and of those who will come after them.

Bill C-210 not only has the potential to modernize an anthem that is out of step with modern Canadian values, but it also has the potential to demonstrate loudly and clearly our government's leadership on issues of gender equality.

Consider that when the "our sons'' version of the anthem was introduced in 1913, women did not even have the right to vote in Canada. Our national anthem, as an expression of Canadian pride, has not kept up with our country's achievements in gender equality and in inclusion generally. This proposed change will help close that gap and will be an important outward expression of the values we hold dear as Canadians.

In short, our context has evolved, though perhaps not as much as many of us would like, and our symbols must also evolve. With this small change, we will demonstrate the inclusivity that is at the core of our shared values and our Canadian identity.

As I close, I would like to make one final comment, and that is that the proposed wording change in our national anthem has been characterized as a shift based on gender neutrality — but for me, from Mount Saint Vincent University, and for countless others, the change is about more than gender neutrality; it's about gender equality.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Senator Marshall: When I put my name on the list of questioners, I was going to speak to Ms. Kit, so I'll carry on there.

I found your presentation very interesting. It's a unique perspective because of your age. You said you were 28 years old. I hadn't heard it from that perspective before, but I had already made up my mind that I would support the amendment. I must say that after I heard you speak, I know that I've made the right decision. Your presentation was excellent.

Ms. Lumpkin, I don't have a question for you either, but I must say I found it very interesting when you spoke about your interaction with young women. I too am interested in mentoring young women, so I very much appreciated your remarks in that regard. Thank you very much.

Ms. Lumpkin: Thank you. I share your appreciation of Ms. Kit's comments. I was brought in in time to hear her closing comments. To hear a young woman with that confidence and that voice express opinions so beautifully was also very heartening to me.

Senator Merchant: Thank you very much. I am a little conflicted in my comments, because I want to congratulate both of you, and also Senator Nancy Ruth, for all the work you do with regard to gender equality.

I'm just wondering, with something like "O Canada,'' is it a good approach to pit men against women? Well, that's how we have made advancements for women. Sometimes that polemic kind of language we use does not serve our best purpose. I know there is more than one purpose for the work you do, but when we talk about the national anthem — I like the words you say, "to be more inclusive,'' to include everybody. I am a Canadian who was born outside of this country, so I like to be included in the fabric of Canada.

Do you think that sometimes we overstate gender in a way that perhaps does not serve, in this instance? I am directing this to Dr. Lumpkin.

Ms. Lumpkin: Certainly I understand the point you're making. I myself lived through a couple of waves of feminism when there was a lot of concern about whether women were alienating men by asserting rights strongly. But in fact I think we have seen our society grow and evolve. Some of the strongest supporters of women and of inclusivity in my world are men. In fact, the young men on our campus are very excited about the fact that I'm testifying tonight and about what this change means.

The comment was made earlier that change can be difficult. It was extremely significant to me at a much younger age when language started moving from being "he'' to "he and she'' or "him and her.'' I think again men have accepted that and do not see that as an attack upon their validity and identity.

I don't see this as an issue pitting men against women. I see it as an evolution. As we develop, we become more aware of symbols that carry on from our pasts that in fact carry an old meaning that no longer fits our reality. I think that we can as men and women embrace this change on behalf of our sons and our daughters and the world that we want them to create.

The Chair: Thank you. Ms. Kit, do you wish to add to this?

Ms. Kit: Only to the extent that I think that a change in wording would be more inclusive. To echo similar thoughts, I have had a lot of positive feedback from male teammates or men in my life who encouraged me to come here tonight as an expression of the power of the democratic government. I think that's really special.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Professor Lumpkin, I'm going to go to the practical. I speak a lot to grade-school children in their assemblies. Every assembly they sing "O Canada.'' The words are all there. Sometimes they put them up on screens if the school is wealthy enough. I'm from rural New Brunswick.

I'm wondering how we go about changing the words and getting all these kids who have learned this anthem to do that? In a practical sense, has anyone given any thought at all to reaching all of the kids and trying to explain this in a way that we can get the anthem sung at every event?

Ms. Lumpkin: I certainly think it's a wonderful opportunity. It's what they call a "teachable moment,'' when we introduce the change into schools to boys and girls, about history, about the evolution of language, even to bring up the fact that decades ago we used "him'' to mean "him and her'' and why that's changed, about how important it is for girls as well as boys to see themselves in our songs, our words, our poems, our cultural productions and to give the opportunity for boys and girls within classrooms to stop and reflect a moment about the malleability of language and the importance of using the right language to express the right values.

As for exactly how it's done, I suppose you send out messages to superintendents and school principals and teachers. At our convocation, we simply explained to the thousand or so people gathered what we were doing and why, and people picked up on it very quickly.

There is work to do, but what wonderful work it will be to have that message to take out and speak to our children about.

Senator Eggleton: I asked a question earlier of Ms. Kit that I would like to ask Dr. Lumpkin, if I might.

I received a letter from a veteran that said the change in the wording was made to honour the men who died in the First World War. We don't know that for sure, but the original Weir version says "thou dost in us command,'' but around 1913-14, another version came out with "all thy sons command.''

It may not be proof positive, but it seems to be related to that time period. This particular veteran thought that we were somehow diminishing our honouring of the veterans of the First World War if we changed it. What do you say to that?

Ms. Lumpkin: I would say a few things. I thought for a while because I think this sort of grew into an urban legend, that yes, it was during or after the First World War that the change was made. But then I read more recently that it happened in 1913 before the war, and that there really is no definitive source for that explanation.

More importantly, we do know that in recent wars women and men have gone to war. I would hope that this veteran would, with some explanation and respectful conversation or correspondence, accept the appropriateness of honouring women and men, honouring all of us.

I find often that the men who most recognize the importance of this kind of leadership and these symbols are men who have daughters. If he has daughters or granddaughters, he might be appealed to on those grounds, in terms of not repudiating the contributions of men or of our sons at all but of opening it up and embracing the contributions of our daughters and women as well.

Senator Eggleton: Good response. Thank you.

Senator Seidman: Dr. Lumpkin, you mentor young women, and we have sitting in front of us Ms. Kit, a young woman who has demonstrated, as you have, courage. You offer your support and you model that indeed, as is evidenced by your words. I commend both of you for that.

Senator Nancy Ruth has also advised that we ought to keep asking and persisting in the hard questions. So I'm going to go back, if I may, to the question I began with when we started this meeting.

The English version of the anthem was written in 1908. At that time, it was "thou dost in us command,'' as we know. It was changed in 1914 to "in all thy sons command.'' Then there were other changes made in the anthem over the years, but it wasn't until 1980 that it was officially adopted as Canada's national anthem under the National Anthem Act. It has not been changed since.

So there are traditionalists around who ask, "Why should we change it?'' Dr. Lumpkin, you said, and it was a really great quote, that it carries an old meaning that no longer fits our reality. But there are people who say that Shakespeare writes poetry that carries an old meaning that no longer fits our reality but we don't try to change Shakespeare.

I would really appreciate your opinion on what is a difficult issue over the generations.

Ms. Lumpkin: Yes, that is a tough question. Thank you. My field is English literature, so I certainly have had the challenges of teaching Shakespeare to high school kids with the difficulty of the language. In fact, it often requires a bit of translation. Language is again a malleable and a living thing. There are productions of Shakespeare that are put into modern language for kids that help to make his artistry accessible to them and, I think, serve a purpose. But, in fact, we don't sing Shakespeare at the Olympics; we don't use Shakespeare in our everyday congress in the way that we do the national anthem.

I think we have such an incredible opportunity to say to the girls and women in our society that, as a country, we choose to make this change. We choose because we have evolved as a society, because this anthem is a core part of our identity and of our values, and we choose to make this change to embrace what we now understand better is the importance and the value of girls and women in our society.

Senator Seidman: Thank you very much for that.

Senator MacDonald: Thank you, professor, for being here today.

As you mentioned, you have a PhD in English literature, so I know that the grammar in higher education is very important to you. I also suspect you know the difference between a subject, an object and a possessive pronoun.

Ms. Lumpkin: I do.

Senator MacDonald: "Thy sons command'' is a plural and possessive phrase. I argued, when I spoke in the Senate — and I still believe this firmly to be true from the people I have spoken to who have degrees in literature — that the proper replacement for "thy sons command'' would not be "all of us command'' but would be, in fact, "all of our command.''

I'd like your response to that.

Ms. Lumpkin: Sure. "All of us'' is grammatically correct. I think it's an elegant solution to a shift in the language. "All thy sons'' is archaic in that it refers to the sons of Canada, but you can grammatically shift that to be a phrase that means all of us as opposed to all of Canada's sons.

So it's a shift in phraseology that's grammatically correct. It doesn't say exactly what "thy sons'' does, but I think it, in fact, says something better.

Senator MacDonald: I agree that "thy'' is archaic, but "thy sons command,'' as a phrase is still a possessive phrase. According to the rules of literature, of grammar, a plural possessive phrase requires a plural possessive pronoun. "Us'' is an objective pronoun. "Our'' is a possessive pronoun. Why would the objective pronoun fit better than the possessive pronoun when the phrase is plural and possessive?

Ms. Lumpkin: Because you changed the phrase. You've got "in all of us.'' "Of'' takes the object and "us'' is the objective pronoun. So you shift the phrase, and you shift it in a way that is grammatical. It's not referring to Canada as the mother of all of us, but it is referring to all of us as belonging to Canada.

Senator MacDonald: So it changes the meaning of the phrase? That's what you're saying.

Ms. Lumpkin: It changes the meaning of the phrase in an important way. It includes all of us now.

Senator MacDonald: But "all of our command'' would include all of us as well and would be grammatically correct.

Ms. Lumpkin: "In all of our command?'' That would be nonsensical.

Senator MacDonald: How would it be nonsensical? How would a possessive pronoun replacing a plural possessive phrase, a plural possessive pronoun replacing a plural possessive phrase that is inclusive, be nonsensical?

Ms. Lumpkin: Because you've changed —

Senator MacDonald: Without changing the meaning of it.

Ms. Lumpkin: You've changed "thy,'' which is your possessive pronoun, to "of,'' which is a preposition. You've changed it to a preposition, and you want the object of the preposition to be "us.'' So you've changed "thy'' to "of.'' You've changed a possessive pronoun to a preposition, and it's still correct.

Senator MacDonald: But it does change the meaning.

Ms. Lumpkin: It does change the meaning in a wonderful way.

Senator MacDonald: Okay, thank you.

The Chair: Thank you very much for this stimulating discussion. Ms. Kit, do you wish to weigh in on this?

Ms. Kit: No.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Senator Raine: Thank you very much for your clarification of the grammar. Dr. Lumpkin, I really do understand the grammar because I understand the phrase "all of us'' as being inclusive and "all thy sons'' as being somewhat not inclusive. I know, for me, it just sounds right to sing "all of us command.'' It does not sound right to sing "all of our command.'' So thank you for clarifying that.

But I had a question for you, if you don't mind. We get people coming up to us and saying, "Oh, my goodness, can't you guys get serious? Aren't there more pressing matters to deal with than the anthem and gender equality?'' Could you give me really good zapper answer to that? I think you probably have some great words.

Ms. Lumpkin: Thank you. The "zapper'' was what stopped me because I'm going to give something that's more of a paragraph than a short phrase.

I was speaking yesterday to an executive at Nova Scotia Power. We were at an event where we were talking about a project focused on women in science and engineering. This executive said he had two sons and a daughter. His two sons are now in university studying to be engineers. His daughter is in premed and studying to be a doctor. She is an extremely bright young woman, as bright as her brothers, but she does not have the confidence they do. She questions her ability. She questions everything that she is challenged to do in terms of being confident in her own abilities. This was an accomplished engineer himself, a thoughtful man, and he said, "Why is this? Why does my daughter, who is just as bright, not have the confidence in her capabilities that my sons do?''

Now, that's too long a story for you to tell to anyone, but, as I was thinking of today's testimony, that story really haunted me and stayed with me. I think that every small thing we do — actually this is not a small thing; it's a large thing, nationally, to change the words of our anthem so that we are explicitly saying that we include women and girls — will be a message to that young woman.

It's going to take many more messages. It's going to take much more, but I think it accumulates. It accrues, and we just have to keep putting one gesture, one symbol, one hand reaching out to a young woman, one hour spent in a session with her, telling her that, yes, she can do what she dreams of doing. All those things accrued and combined will finally take us where we need to go. That's not a snappy answer, but I do feel passionately about the need.

The Chair: Would you like to comment on this?

Ms. Kit: Only to add that, in my experience, at women's training centres and on various teams, I see exactly what Dr. Lumpkin is speaking about. I see a lack of confidence amongst women who hold master's degrees and PhDs and are Olympic medalists. These are my peers. I see this lack of confidence, and I think that changing this part of our anthem expresses to these women that they can feel confident and that they are accomplished and that they can feel confidence in this.

Senator Dean: Thank you for the great presentations. This has been called a significant change, requiring a significant degree of reflection and thought. I notice, from my notes here, that this is the tenth legislative effort, over the last 32 years, to change a couple of words. Six of those legislative efforts didn't get beyond first reading, and none has ever moved beyond third reading. It is now before us at a Senate committee. I also learned today that we're talking about reverting to something that was actually in place in 1908, which likely traditionalists would take some comfort in.

Is this the time? Has the time for this change arrived?

Ms. Lumpkin: I have to say it is 2016, and yes, it's time.

Ms. Kit: Yes.

The Chair: I think you got a clear answer there, senator.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Unlike Senator Greene, I'm not hearing, "Why are you wasting your time'' from people. I'm hearing people say, "I don't think you should be doing that unless I have a chance to weigh in.''

We see a government that has talked about electoral reform and has sent massive numbers of postcards to Canadian citizens. It's our national anthem. I'm uncomfortable as a legislator and a parliamentarian sitting on the Hill in Ottawa without consultation and deciding something that I think Canadians have a right to talk about and to give me the okay on.

You sit in the halls of academia, you speak with a section, but I'm not sure we're getting the broad section. It is Canadians' national anthem. It's not women's national anthem, it's not men's. I understand the argument. I'm not saying I disagree with the argument. I think it's great. However, I'd like to do it with the solid backing of Canadians behind me.

What would you say to that, Dr. Lumpkin?

Ms. Lumpkin: I've never held political office, but I would say that there is a very delicate balance within our government between consulting and getting a broad consensus of the whole population or consulting as broadly as you can or simply taking a decision to do the right thing and leading.

That's the decision you're faced with. It's not one I can make for you. I know what I would do in your place. But I, as you say, live in a different world.

Ms. Kit: Similarly, I don't have any experience sitting in your seat. It's pretty amazing that you do take your seat really seriously and you do really reflect on it.

At the same time, Dr. Lumpkin is correct that there's a moment to lead, and the impact that everyone at this table could have on my generation is pretty special. I think that that moment is now.

The Chair: Senator Nancy Ruth, we are at the end of the questioning. Is there anything you would like to say at this point?

Senator Nancy Ruth: Yes. There's been at least 36 years of discussion by the people that brought it in. There was huge discussion in 1980 when Francis Fox moved the act. It's been kicking around. Even Andrew Coyne wrote about it. It's been kicking around for some time. We sort of forget about it, but there's been discussion.

Senator Stewart Olsen: Not positive.

Senator Nancy Ruth: There's been both, and I'll share the polls later.

The Chair: Senators, it's been very constructive to this point. We'll keep it that way.

Dr. Lumpkin, Ms. Kit, thank you on behalf of the committee for joining us today. You both bring very distinguished perspectives and experience to this discussion. You've been very thoughtful in the questions that have been put to you. Our colleagues have, as usual, not been afraid to raise the difficult questions. They have articulated them very well. We are the better for the discussion in general today, let alone on this particular subject.

I declare the meeting adjourned.

(The committee adjourned.)

Back to top