THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
OTTAWA, Thursday, December 15, 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 10:30 a.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 from Nova Scotia, chair of
the committee. I invite my colleagues to introduce themselves.
Senator MacDonald: Michael MacDonald, Nova
Senator Stewart Olsen: Carolyn Stewart
Olsen, New Brunswick.
Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman from
Senator Petitclerc: Chantal Petitclerc from
Senator Nancy Ruth: Nancy Ruth from
Senator Raine: I'm Senator Nancy Greene
Raine from B.C.
Senator Cormier: Senator René Cormier from
Senator Merchant: Pana Merchant,
Senator Eggleton: Art Eggleton, senator
from Toronto and deputy chair of the committee.
The Chair: Thank you, colleagues. I would
remind us all that we are here to deal with Bill C-210, An Act to amend the
National Anthem Act (gender). The bill 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
This morning we are very pleased to have
appearing before us as witnesses Chris Champion, Editor of The
Dorchester Review, and Stephen Simpson, who is here as an individual.
I will invite them to make their presentations,
to be followed in the normal way by questions from my colleagues.
We will use the one question per round approach
to begin with, and I will ask Mr. Champion to present first.
Chris Champion, Editor, The Dorchester
Review, as an individual: Well, I thought that in the aristocratic
house the lineal descendant of the author of the poem ought to go first.
Senator Nancy Ruth: We don't make the
Mr. Champion: No, indeed.
I'm the editor of The Dorchester Review,
which is a biannual historical magazine. It's unique in Canada in that it is
a magazine of historical commentary, which is something that distinguishes
us from other history magazines. We have about 1,000 readers in every
province and territory, and 2017 will be our seventh year of publication.
Honourable senators, the House of Commons has
voted, in my view, hastily and hurriedly to change the national anthem. The
official lyric was adopted in 1980 and has not been changed since then.
The words have become quite familiar to
millions of Canadians across three generations. When I memorized it in
elementary school, we were still singing "God Save the Queen" in assembly,
and so generations X, Y and Z have all grown up with "O Canada . . . in all
thy sons command." Of course, generations before knew it that way too.
Senator Poy said, when she moved this years
ago, "The amendment I am proposing . . . is a minor one."
But it's not easy to get 30 million people to
remember a national dirge. It won't get any easier if you change it. I would
suggest that it would not be the last time, any more than having been the
first; it would not be the last time that it changed because changing it for
the first time sends a signal that it can be changed again and again.
Honourable senators, traditions are fragile.
Wittgenstein said that rebuilding a tradition is like trying to put back
together a spider's web. The little web is perfect and resilient until you
first break it. One strand broken is enough to unravel the whole. Shouldn't
we strengthen our traditions rather than weaken them?
France’s national anthem is 200 years old. As
you may know, La Marseillaise is extremely violent, bloody, sexist,
vengeful, xenophobic and racist. The anthem is so politically incorrect that
a former minister of Justice announced that she would refuse to sing it.
However, there is no debate in France about changing the official lyrics.
They will stay the same. The French know that changing a classic text means
the loss of tradition and culture. So the anthem should not be changed.
La Marseillaise is taught to children starting at age six in public
schools in France.
So I ask: Are the words "in all thy sons
command" really so offensive? Do they really discriminate? Do they really
I looked at the Mainstreet Research poll — the
one that shows a majority supporting — and I find the methodology quite
manipulative. After a series of leading questions — "Were you aware the
anthem was changed in 1913? Did you know the original poem contained the
word ‘us’?" — it then asks, "Which is more appropriate?" I find this
The poll is not upfront that this is the first
time the anthem is being changed since it was officially adopted. It's my
view the anthem is already inclusive if understood within our literary
In English literature dating back to
Shakespeare and the Authorized Version of the Bible, and in hymnals that
used to be familiar to all Canadians, the words "sons" often referred to
both men and women. How many people over the last hundred years were ever
really bothered by that?
The first lines of Handel's oratorio Joshua
are these: "Ye sons of Israel, ev'ry tribe attend. Let grateful songs and
hymns to Heav'n ascend!" And the "sons" refers to all people here.
In Malachi's prophecy, the saviour will come:
"For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not
consumed." "Ye sons of Jacob" refers to all the people waiting in hope.
Psalm 4 begins, "O ye sons of men" and so on.
When Saint Paul begins his epistles with "Fratres," brothers, he's obviously
including both sexes, which is why it is sometimes translated as "brothers
Previous generations of Canadians used to learn
these classic stories. These were part of our national mythology, our
cultural heritage, and so the use of "sons" to include everyone was familiar
and well understood.
It seems people today do not understand, and
because they don't understand they seek to change. But Saint Francis said,
"Seek first to understand."
Honourable senators, given the rich tradition
that we come from, maybe the poetic merits of neither version of the
national anthem is particularly outstanding. But the phrase "in all of us"
is truly insipid.
I did a literary search and found there is only
one example of the phrase "in all of us," and that is in the grunge singer
Kurt Cobain's suicide note.
And, of course, once the tinkering begins, we
risk turning the national anthem into what bureaucrats call an "evergreen
document." We may have to start a ceremony for tabling the annual "amend O
Canada" bill in the house.
The equality of men and women is important, but
how much would this change really accomplish? In fact, nothing. We are
eroding a little bit our collective memory, treating the national anthem
like a seminar essay to be edited at will to meet the politically correct
nostrums of the day.
Finally, I would like to ask honourable
senators to consider this: Why did MPs take it upon themselves to rewrite
our national poetry? What gave the members of another place the literary
gift to versify on behalf of the Canadian people? Shall we have the songs of
Leonard Cohen rewritten by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House
Affairs? Shall we have the sculpture and paintings in Centre Block redone by
the Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations? Shall we have the
bronzes on Parliament Hill recast by the Standing Committee on Government
Operations and Estimates?
We know that Margaret Atwood is on the record
supporting the change, but not all women in the public square are
supportive. Maclean's columnist Emma Teitel is opposed to the change
because, she says, "it is a solution in search of a problem," an empty
Candice Malcolm, a bestselling author on
amazon.ca and author of Generation Screwed, calls the change an
"insult to women."
The Forum Research Poll last July found 65 per
cent were opposed to the change, including 45 per cent of women.
And how many Canadians did the house consult?
Did the house consult the League of Canadian Poets? Did the house consult
the Writers' Union of Canada? Did they consult the Songwriters Association
of Canada? Did they consult the Parliamentary Poet Laureate, George Elliott
Now I rather suspect that they would all be in
favour of the change. I don't know, they probably would, but they were never
asked. But they do like to be asked. And even if they did support it, they
would still only represent a literary elite, not the views of most
In sum, honourable senators, "O Canada" is
quite old; it is something that is established; it's inclusive the way it
is; it has become part of who we are. And if people don't understand the use
of language we should try harder to transmit our own traditions rather than
change them willy-nilly.
Do we really need to apply a Procrustean sword
to this traveller from an antique land? Thank you.
Stephen Simpson, as an individual: Well, I
would like to congratulate my companion here on the most delightful and most
erudite discourse. I'm glad that my approach is somewhat different, but I
couldn't concur more with what he has to say.
I will discuss the thing with the family. We
have been talking about this for many, many years. And I had a conversation
with my cousin from Newfoundland. He eventually sent me an email one day in
which he said:
If the spiritual relevance of "O
Canada" that "we stand on guard for thee" could be returned to
pre-eminence, with its natural relationship to our First Peoples'
traditional respect and reverence for the land, instead of the
Judeo-Christian "God keep our land" phrase introduced in 2002, the
gender issue would become almost irrelevant.
In 1908, the judge wrote the third line of the
first verse, "true patriot love thou dost in us command." Clearly, it is
Canada, or more precisely the "spirit of our land," that demands our "true
patriot love" in exchange for her bounty. This is the spiritual and poetical
relevance hinted at above. It could also be viewed as the call to action:
Through our love and caring of her land we will be blessed by her sustaining
power and resources. To fail in this duty is to invite our ultimate peril.
We, the Weir clan, view "O Canada" as a poetic
text not to be tampered with. The problem facing us in 2002 was that for
over 80 years the Gordon V. Thompson publishing house had been publishing
the wrong song — an earlier rendition containing the five contentious "stand
on guard" verses rightly criticized by the Liberal ministers of the day.
The issue should have been resolved long ago,
but because of copyright restraints and the fact the judge had died in 1926,
the family was powerless to act. Only Parliament, with the waiving of
ownership rights, could change the lyrics, but the MPs didn't know, didn't
care or didn't listen to our protestations. They had a popular issue at
hand, and with the bit in their teeth they were eager to run with it. The
result was the words we have today.
Recently it seems that some people take the
line "true patriot love in all thy sons command" to be sexist and offensive.
This has nothing to do with political power and everything to do with
service to country. There is no gender issue here at all. This line served
to replace the archaic 1908 original "in us thou dost command." This command
is the call of the land or the spirit of the land — as any of our First
Nations people would understand — that commands "our true patriot love."
Below is my grandfather's final version as
presented to the Canadian Clubs in 1921, which met with an enthusiastic
response. For some inexplicable reason, this final draft never reached the
publisher's hands and therefore never saw the light of day. This is what I'm
attempting to address today. And I'll read what that original was, not that
we don't know. It was the only version that I or my compatriots in school
O Canada! Our Home and Native Land!
True patriot love in all thy sons
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free,
And stand on guard, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
Which finishes the verse. Then the refrain:
O Canada, glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!
And here we have the refrain balancing the
first verse, with its necessary repetition because it needs the introduction
to the concept in the first. R. Stanley Weir.
That's it, pure and simple. No "from far and
wide," no God evoked to "keep our land, glorious and free," stripping
Canadians of their duty of responsibility to the country. To put God in this
role distorts the poetic theme. This was the result of government meddling
shortly after my family first gave us our rights to the song. Beware of
politicians bearing quills.
The true irony of it all lies in the fact that
responsibility to keep "our True North strong and free" has been taken away
from all Canadians by a parliamentary edict and handed over to a deity who
historically has been the father of all misogynists.
I have come here today to set this matter
straight and trust that the true Weir version of "O Canada" that has been
held in abeyance for so long will finally see the light of day and indeed at
last become our rightful, actual, national anthem.
This final Weir version, circa 1921, has the
advantage of simplicity — no new words for anybody to learn, a final work
polished and honed over the years by an eminent judge, scholar, writer and
poet. This should be his ultimate legacy.
Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you both very much. I will
now open the floor up to my colleagues. I will remind you all that this
session will end no later than 10:30. We will use one question per round and
begin with Senator Eggleton, to be followed by Senator Stewart Olsen.
Senator Eggleton: Mr. Simpson, you called
the original 1908 "in us thou dost command" archaic. I hear Mr. Champion say
we should be respectful of our original wording and the original poetry, and
that is the original poetry.
Mr. Simpson: I quite agree.
Senator Eggleton: But you call it archaic.
Why was it changed in 1913 or 1914?
Mr. Simpson: That was the judge's work.
Senator Eggleton: What year was it, by the
Mr. Simpson: He made many revisions over
the years, and I don't know which one that first occurred in, but I think
there was only the 1908 version that held "thou dost in us command." By the
time it got into 1917, and after the first war, "all our sons command"
became more popular. As Shakespeare put it, it does not come trippingly off
the tongue. It was sort of a tongue-twister. It was more euphonic. So it was
Senator Eggleton: I'm trying to understand
the motive. Was it the First World War?
Mr. Simpson: No, because he mentions that
this is where the "stand on guard" comes in. It has nothing to do with war
or defence. It had to do with guarding against insidious forces within our
Senator Eggleton: So he changed it from "in
us command" to "thy sons command"?
Mr. Simpson: No. That was the "stand on
Senator Eggleton: There are two words we
are talking about changing here: "thy sons." Was that change made because of
the First World War or not?
Mr. Simpson: No.
Senator Eggleton: All right. Thank you.
Mr. Simpson: We don't object to it either,
Senator Petitclerc: I read your June 2
testimony before the House Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. You said
then that many people today do not understand and that they seek to change
the English national anthem.
I understand the historical usage, yet I chose
to support Bill C-210, like many men and women and intellectuals and artists
and myself as a former Paralympic athlete, so old and young. Are you
suggesting that individuals who support Bill C-210 are badly informed? The
words you used were "not well formed," which I don't quite understand. What
are you saying about those who support Bill C-210?
Mr. Champion: I think it's a question of
influences, upbringing, education and acculturation. What kind of culture
did you have growing up? What kind of influences were there on one's
education? To be generic, it is of course legitimate to have differences of
opinion, but if the reason for making the change is influenced by one's lack
of exposure to the poetic tradition of one's culture, I think that
undermines a bit of the basis for supporting a change. For example, I think
it would be presumptuous for a group of anglophones without much exposure to
French culture to propose to change the French lyrics of the anthem.
It is legitimate to have a difference of
opinion, but I suppose it depends to what extent one's education has been
influenced by contemporary ideologies. I think the reason we get a large
amount of support for a change like this is in part because the emphasis in
education may be more political than it is poetic and historical.
So people are getting a bit more exposure to
ideologies in school, whereas in the past they got history, tradition,
poetry and the like. That is why I think there may have been a change over
the last 10 years in the opinion poll results.
Senator Eggleton: Mr. Champion, you
mentioned that there were changes in the anthem. I do recall when they took
out some of the "stand on guards." This may have been before the official
Mr. Champion: It was.
Senator Eggleton: I don't see that as an
impediment to making a change. We made changes before, and it was, for all
intents and purposes, our national anthem even before it was officially
adopted. I can remember adapting to the new words, and I didn't see that as
a major problem.
In 1965, we adapted to a new flag in the
country. The country didn't fall apart at that time. A lot of people were
concerned then about the historic nature of the Red Ensign and the fact it
was the flag of Vimy. We have been able to take into account the changes in
this country by doing that.
I don't understand why it is so difficult to
say "1980, that's it." In 1980, even Francis Fox said that changes could be
entertained and would be welcomed. There have been nine attempts to do this
I really don't understand why change is such an
impediment, if it's rational and justifiable.
Mr. Champion: If there have been nine
attempts or multiple attempts, one would have to ask why they didn't succeed
before. Maybe people thought the change was not truly necessary and perhaps
a waste of time.
The imposition of the new flag is quite a good
example of the imposition of something from above which was extremely
divisive. Once it happened, the people who were defeated moved on and that's
just too bad. It is a democracy.
Senator Eggleton: That can happen here.
Mr. Champion: Yes, it can. On the other
hand, it makes a break with the past when you do that.
If we are a country that's ever to settle down
and accept who we are rather than always look for somebody else, which I
think was the case, as I've written about the search for a new flag, which
went completely flat in Quebec, even though it was supposed to be a unifying
When Dominion Day was changed to Canada Day in
1982, it was done in a very quick, sleepy afternoon vote when there were
only 13 members present.
There is a bit of history of changing
traditional things for the sake of change, when quite often there is only a
minority who really supports it. I think there is a history of that in
Canada, and I wonder why that is. I'll leave that thought.
Senator Eggleton: I don't agree with you.
We'll leave it at that.
Senator Seidman: Mr. Simpson, do you feel
that you have a special voice to present given you are a member of the
family? For me, it's important to hear from a member of the family, someone
related to the person who wrote the anthem which is so important to our
country. I know that you expressed a certain cynicism about what
parliamentarians have tried to do to something that your grandfather wrote,
saying that we’re misplaced and not really getting it.
Mr. Simpson: Indeed.
Senator Seidman: I value what you say
enormously, and I would like to have your opinion even more than you've
already given us as the grandson of the person who wrote our national
Mr. Simpson: Tradition, of course, is
vitally important. It's a problem of political correctness, and I guess
everybody gets on the wagon and cheers, "Oh, this is a great move for the
day." It's a spur of the moment thing, and it's not lasting at all.
Actually, over the years I found it strange,
when I was reviewing this, that he had made many changes himself, but this
was sort of a polishing of the work. Sometimes poetic inspiration comes in
one shot, bang; other times you get glimmers of it and you have to fill in
between. This is sort of the whole work of imagination, intuition and
inspiration on how things got us inspired.
I found this quite interesting, that he
struggled to find this "glorious and free." Once he had that line, then he
could dispense of the extra "we stand on guard," but it wasn't until the
final version that he came up with it. Initially Gordon did have this
version of "we stand on guard, we stand on guard for thee" which is
dreadful. It is right to criticize it because that is indeed what he had
changed. He realized that himself. You could see the mind working towards
the polishing of it. This wasn't quite right. This wasn't right. It had to
work out. He finally hit on the whole thing, which I outlined here, and so
it became with the "O Canada, glorious and free." Then the repeat of "we
stand on guard." That of course, as I say, is how he ended the first verse.
As you said, you can't introduce that in the chorus unless it's introduced
in the verses, so this is a poetic thing, how you write it.
Senator Seidman: I appreciate that. Thank
Senator Stewart Olsen: I am listening to
all of this with interest. This is difficult for me. I understand that on
the one hand I would like to do it for the wishes ostensibly that this will
be good for women. On the other hand I don't feel that a small group of
people in Ottawa, the legislators, should do this to a tradition that Canada
has had without feeling the backup of the majority of Canadians.
Mr. Champion, I think you mentioned the poll
that was done. Do you think that if there was a clear question, as in Quebec
for a referendum — I'm not suggesting a referendum — for Canadians, "Would
you change the anthem to be gender neutral," that they would say yes or no?
Mr. Champion: One would need some powers of
clairvoyance to know that.
Senator Stewart Olsen: Just a guess.
Mr. Champion: It would be different in each
region of Canada, I suppose. It would depend on regional lines. It might not
break down on gender lines as much as we expect. That would be an important
point. You may not even have a majority of women supportive of one side or
the other. I think there is an open question about that.
To what extent do Canadians think it should
even be raised? They might be angry and vote a Brexit to keep it the same. I
don't know; I'm just speculating.
When this was done in Australia in 1974, they
had a vote, and they proposed three or four different songs. It was a clear
question. I think 25 per cent went for "Waltzing Matilda," by far the best
Australian song that I know, but they ended up with "Advance Australia
Fair." There are still complaints. As you know, the words were changed to be
gender neutral. But again I would step back and urge the point that it
already is inclusive and that really it's not a question of gender. Focusing
on the word "sons" I think is over-politicizing the issue.
Even if it were about sons of Canada, over
100,000, who fell in war, I'm not saying it is, but even if it had become
that in Canadians' imagination, wouldn't that be legitimate too? Because
didn't men overwhelmingly perish in the wars? Yes, women suffered at home.
I'm a reservist. I have trained with women, and there is no doubt that women
make every sacrifice. But in wartime, death has historically overwhelmingly
been the gift of sacrifice made by men on behalf of everyone else who can't
or doesn't go. That's just a consideration.
Senator Munson: Thank you very much for
being here. I'll pick up on that. I respect your views, but I respectfully
disagree, I guess. The word that we're feeling is the word "inclusion," and
inclusion comes in many forms. We heard quite compassionate and passionate
testimony yesterday from Kristen Kit, who is a Paralympian who appeared here
before us, and she talked about being at the games in Rio, and she talked
with emotion about how women athletes do feel excluded when they stand in
front of our flag that we have accepted as Canada's flag, and that the words
"thy sons" didn't reflect who she is and her fellow compatriots.
You talked about the connotation of 100,000
men, so after listening to her and thinking of my Aunt Eileen, who is still
living, in her late eighties or early nineties — she too went to war; I had
five uncles who went to war, one who didn't return — and looking at these
debates, it's not just one of these glib moments in our lives. I think it's
a very profound moment as we evolve as a nation and as we respect each other
in terms of the word inclusion.
I remember having the debate with my father
over the Dominion of Canada in the house. We were also having a debate over
the Red Ensign and all kinds of things. As time happens and we process this
whole thing, we do get to a point as a nation that evolves. I wanted to put
that on the record. While I do respect what your grandfather did, my
goodness, we sing it loud and proud and so on and so forth, but just this
one step, two simple words, will be a major step to where and who we are as
Mr. Simpson: I think the whole problem is
this whole gender issue is a misinterpretation of the poetic theme. If you
start from the very beginning of it, "thou dost in us command" who art thou
who dost command? It is Canada, not the men or the women in the country who
are commanded. It has to do with the soul of the country. It has to do with
the whole spiritual nature that underlies what we are that commands our true
love of the country. This has nothing to do with wielding political power,
whether men, women or whatever. It simply has to do with a call of the land
to us to respond to her so that we are responsible guardians of the nation.
So really I find the whole idea spurious that
we're dealing with this issue of gender.
The honourable senator mentioned the idea of
"thou dost us command." I have kicked it around with the family. Nobody
objects to that, if you can put your tongue around it, and it does not come
trippingly off the tongue. "Thou dost in us command," great, that's fine,
because that deals exactly with the issue of "thou" is not the people and
the "command" is coming from the land whether we love our land or not.
Everything else that tries to make a gender of it becomes politicized, a
whole damn political issue. It has nothing to do with it whatsoever. It's
Senator Petitclerc: We have covered this a
little bit, but I just want to have your opinion. It's very simple. In the
chamber there have been very heartfelt testimonies both supporting and not
supporting this bill, and I think we all agree that our national anthem is a
very strong and powerful symbol.
Is the reason for sticking with the past for
tradition or history or not wanting to change? In my view, the gift of
inclusion is something that we can give to all Canadians, present and
future. In your view, why is one more important than the other? Why would
the past be more important than the present and the future?
Mr. Champion: I guess if one were to do a
referendum of everyone in the past and everyone in the future, then they
would vastly outnumber the people who live in the present. The risk of
making any change in the present is always that that calculus doesn't truly
represent the many millions of people before us and we hope the millions who
would come after.
In a way, when the Anglicans were debating what
to do with "thee" and "thou" and with inclusive gender language in their
service books, the debate was whether to throw out the old Book of Common
Prayer. I'm not an Anglican, but I'm familiar with the tradition. What
happened, of course, was they brought in these new books that are already
dated. They brought them in in the 1970s and of course now they are dated.
That's because, as people used to say, whoever marries the spirit of this
age will find himself a widower in the next.
We have one snapshot in time that we live in.
Why are we empowered, then, to make a change that breaks with so many
generations before and the generations in the future? How can we be certain
that we're making an improvement? Why would we assume that the change is
more inclusive? Why would we assume that the prejudice should be on the side
of change? I don't know, again, the majority of opinion. People may actually
be powerfully moved by the anthem as it is. I don't sing it, personally. I
don't sing when the anthem plays. There are different reasons for that, but
I stand at attention and I listen to the music.
Many Canadians, in my experience, don't sing
it. They don't know it, they can't sing or it's too difficult to sing. It
probably isn't objectively the most beautiful anthem in the world. There's
the Russian anthem and the United States anthem. There is lots of
competition out there. People have been moved by the Marseillaise for
generations. It's very stirring. There is a traditionalist version of "La
Marseillaise des Blancs," which in my view, is even more stirring than the
revolutionary one, but that's another point.
Senator Raine: Thank you very much. It's a
real pleasure to have both of you with us today. I'm intrigued by the
history of Stanley Weir's composition of this poem, which became our
Mr. Simpson, can you give us a few more details
of how the copyright for the national anthem was given to the Government of
Canada? You seem to say in your comments that you weren't exactly happy with
that because it was changed at the time. Could you give us a little more
background on that?
Mr. Simpson: Well, the problem was that
Judge Weir died in 1926. In 1921 he made his presentation to the Canadian
Clubs, which was enthusiastically received. In the family we knew this to be
the Weir version. It's the only one I ever heard growing up. It's the only
thing we ever sang in Quebec. I don't know about the rest of the country. I
know mother used to say, "I wonder where this other horrible version came
from with all the extra ‘stand on guards.’" The family didn't know. We
didn't know anything about it. The two sons died in the two wars and the
four sisters were — how could anyone take a particular stand when mother was
the only one who really was a writer?
But the problem was that the judge had died,
Thompson was printing this thing up, and of course as time went on, these
words, with all the extra "stand on guards," became the accepted ones
because the old-timers knew the song by heart, as it were. All of a sudden,
nationally, after about 80 years of printing the wrong propaganda, there was
going to be a fair price.
We couldn't do anything about it because the
publisher held the copyright and the judge was dead. So the only way it
could be changed was for us to give up the copyright, hand it over to the
government, and they would make this wonderful change, in their wisdom. We
knew damn well what their wisdom was going to be: political expediency. So
that's what it was. They ended up with lines like "far and wide," anything
to get rid of the "stand on guards."
If they had actually listened, they would have
found out that that wasn't the judge's final say on it at all. They were
flogging a dead horse. This was not the version that he finely polished. It
didn't have all these extra "stand on guards." So the minute they got hold
of it, they ran with it. Oh, boy, this is it. Let's bring God in there for
the churchy crowd. Let's bring this in for that. "Far and wide." Oh, hey,
kids' stuff. What do we want to be, like America? They have their ideas of
history. They talk about the soul of the nations and the soul of the
country. This is the spirit. Do we have the same God, metaphorically
speaking, as America? I hope not. This is one of the reasons why God must
go. We don't want to be associated with this. And the whole politics of the
day, if you will, that's where we're all headed, thanks to the greatness of
America and the works of NATO, blowing up everything from North Africa
through to Afghanistan in the name of freedom of democracy and love. Only in
The Chair: Back here in Canada, Senator
Senator MacDonald: Thank you, chair.
Mr. Simpson: My cousin warned me, "Don't
get into a rant."
Senator MacDonald: I want to thank you both
for being here. I wasn't initially going to ask a question because I spoke
to this in the Senate. I strongly support your position.
I have to mention the thing about God. I never
understood why it was put in the anthem. I said in my speech it's an
Americanization of the anthem, in my opinion at the time. I still hold that
Mr. Simpson: Might I interject that finally
in response to the churchy crowd of the day, the judge wrote a whole verse,
which we have somewhere around, to do with the churches. Then some churchman
responded to him that it really wasn't necessary because they liked the song
the way it was.
Senator MacDonald: Isn't the real issue
here just the lack of appreciation for literacy really and lack of
appreciation for the meaning of words and how they can have complex and
multiple meanings? What would your response be to that, Mr. Champion?
Mr. Champion: I guess I have addressed that
a little bit, senator. Seen within our tradition, the anthem is inclusive as
I wrote to poet Robert Bringhurst in B.C.,
because I thought, "Who has consulted the poets?" So I wrote to one. A
friend had his email address. He didn't think either version, English or
French, had much poetic merit: "They are both toward the lower end of the
literary scale." He said, "Parliament is in no immediate danger of botching
a literary masterpiece." He said, "Nostalgia is surely a larger issue, but
let us not confuse it with poetry."
Personally, I think that "in all thy sons
command" is more poetic. It flows better. "Dost in us," dustiness, I
compared that to a vacuum cleaner sort of situation in the house committee.
"In all of us," as I say, you can't find that
phrase in any poem anywhere. The only place you can find it is, again, off
the pen of Kurt Cobain, God rest his soul. You know, if there is a God, if
he has a soul, as the famous prayer goes.
I just think that there is comparatively more
poetic merit in the version as it is than in the change that is proposed.
Surely some more consultation could be done with some of the people I cited,
the Writer's Union, the League of Canadian Poets and so on. These people
have some sense of what good poetry is. I'm just not convinced, with all due
respect, that Parliament is necessarily the place to do that kind of
parsing, except in order to make a final decision in due course.
The Chair: Thank you, and I thank you both
for being here. I think what you have illustrated today is the complexity of
issues that go into a decision relating to issues of this nature that a
country has to deal with. In fact, you have given, in my opinion, all kinds
of reasons why it is possible to change a song of this nature and other
reasons why one shouldn't, based on a different perspective of the way one
looks at issues over time.
I think that you have, as far as I can see,
convinced us that we do have a right, as a Parliament, having been asked to
make an opinion on this issue, to deal with it. It has come before the
Parliament. Therefore, it must be dealt with. My guess is that, if we were
to consult the many persons that you, Mr. Champion, have suggested we
consult, we would wind up not necessarily — and you even implied it — with
anymore absolute agreement on the right way to go forward. That is why, of
course, we have a Parliament.
I do want to thank you both very much for the
exceedingly clear, thoughtful and broad approach you have brought to us. The
questions that you have elicited from the senators today and your answers
have given us further information. We are now left to deal with that as we
advise the Senate of Canada, which will have a final say in this regard.
Okay, colleagues, I'm going to call us back
into session for our clause-by-clause discussion. I will remind us all that
those listed as members or substitutes officially listed as members of the
committee for today's meeting have both voice and vote. Those with only
voice do not have a vote, if it comes down to those issues. All senators
are, of course, more than welcome to be present for the discussion.
The issue before us now, the first question
that I must put to you, is the following: Is it agreed that the committee
proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-210, An Act to amend the
National Anthem Act (gender)?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you. I will now ask the
questions in the normal manner. For the benefit of more recently appointed
senators, it is normal that the first question is the following: Shall the
title stand postponed?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: It's normally agreed, as it is
today, that that be the case. Then, we come back to it should the rest of
the clauses proceed. All right, shall clause 1 carry?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: It's agreed. Shall the schedule
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: That's carried. Shall the title
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: That's agreed. Shall the bill
Senator Stewart Olsen: On division.
Some Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: That's agreed on division. Does
the committee wish to consider appending observations to the report?
Hon. Senators: No.
The Chair: No. Thank you. Is it agreed that
I report the bill to the Senate?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: That's agreed. Colleagues, that
completes our discussion of the bill. I want to thank you for the way that
you have conducted yourselves on this issue. It's obvious that a great deal
of difference of opinion can be had on almost any aspect of the issue. I'm
not going to go into them any further, having dealt with the issue of poetry
and so on. For the course of a lifetime, I think we could look at this in
very many ways. There are very many arguments that could be brought before
us, and we had a number of them before us today. So I think we have had a
lot of really good input to our decision on this. Now we will return it to
the Senate for the Senate to make an informed decision, in the course of
time, on this matter.
With that, then, I want to wish you all a very
happy holiday and thank you for your contributions to the Senate this year
through this committee. We will look to a new year, with a new contingent to
some degree, and look forward to our further progress in contributing to
Canadians through this important committee. With that, I declare the meeting
(The committee adjourned.)