O Canada now officially gender neutral after bill receives royal assent

The national anthem is now officially gender neutral after the private member's bill making the change received royal assent, Heritage Minister Melanie Joly told reporters Wednesday.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer disappointed by how the government went about changing anthem

A Canadian flag standing on the ice flies in front of Centre Block. The national anthem is now gender neutral as the the bill making the change received royal assent Wednesday. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The national anthem is now officially gender neutral after legislation altering the lyrics received royal assent Wednesday morning, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly told reporters.

Joly, standing alongside Catherine Bélanger, the wife of the bill's original sponsor Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger who died of ALS in 2016, said the line "in all thy sons command" has now been officially replaced with "in all of us command."

"His long advocacy for the subject has actually changed the course of our history. Now, women across this country will be well-reflected in their own national anthem," Joly said as she looked at Bélanger's widow.

"This is a wonderful day. My granddaughters and I are on cloud nine and I am sure Mauril is smiling," Bélanger said.

Joly said she has instructed officials in her department to change the lyrics on the government's website and alter materials the federal government distributes to schools. Joly said no new money would be made available to promote the change, but existing departmental funds would be repurposed to make the public aware of the new lyrics.

The bill received royal assent this morning, and was signed into law by the Governor General's secretary, Assunta Di Lorenzo, as Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette is in South Korea ahead of the Olympic opening ceremonies.

Joly said Canadian Olympians in Pyeongchang already sang the altered version of the song this morning during a flag-raising ceremony at the athletes' village.

Members of Parliament traditionally sing the national anthem each Wednesday before the start of business, and Joly said she would proudly sing the new lyrics. She said she hopes Conservative MPs will also sing the gender-neutral anthem.

Some Tories opposed

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer voted against Bélanger's bill in the House of Commons.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Scheer said he's "disappointed" by how the government went about changing the lyrics to O Canada.

MPs sing the gender neutral version of O Canada

6 years ago
Duration 1:20
MPs sing the gender neutral version of O Canada

Bill C-210 passed the Senate last week after more than 18 months of debate. Many Conservative senators were staunchly opposed to changing words written by a man long dead. Others, including Conservative Manitoba Sen. Don Plett, thought the new lyrics should have been put to the people in a referendum.

Tory senators ultimately boycotted the final vote in opposition to some procedural tools used by Independent senators to shut down debate once and for all and hold a vote.

Since 1980, when O Canada officially became the country's anthem, 12 bills have been introduced in the House to strip the gendered reference to "sons," which some have argued is discriminatory. All attempts have failed until now.

The English lyrics were written by Robert Stanley Weir in 1908 and they have been changed before — including an update that dates back to before the First World War when the author added the line that later sparked so much debate. Weir, a poet and judge, changed "thou dost in us command" to "in all thy sons command."