• Trampolinist Rosie MacLennan (L) waves the Canadian flag next to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)Source: REUTERS/Chris Wattie
The bill seeks to change the lyrics: "True patriot love in all thy sons command".
Michaela Morgan

1 Jul 2017 - 11:11 AM  UPDATED 1 Jul 2017 - 11:11 AM

It looked like Canada was on its way to having a gender neutral national anthem—with a bill to change existing masculine lyrics easily passing through the House of Commons with a vote of 225 to 74 last year.

The bill was introduced by the late Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger—who died before it could be made into law—but now conservatives in the Senate have decided to block its progress.

The lyrics to ‘O, Canada’ currently say: “O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command.”

Bélanger’s bill seeks to change that last line to: “True patriot in all of us command".

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Conservative Senator David Wells opposes the bill and told CBC that he was “trying to protect the tradition rather than, you know, water it down with a politically correct version that is historically inaccurate.”

"I don't misrepresent why I'm [using parliamentary stall tactics] … I don't like this bill, and I will do what I can to ensure it doesn't pass."

Another Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak said the bill only passed in the House because MPs were paying tribute to their colleague Bélanger, who was on his death bed at that point in mid-2016.

"The bill was passed in the House compassionately and out of sadness for a dying colleague. While that is touching, it is not the way we make public policy in this country and it is not the way we do our legislation," the Ontario Senator said.

Ramona Lumpkin is the president and vice-chancellor of Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, and a strong supporter of the bill.

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“When I think about members of the transgender community that I know, I know this means a lot to them.”

"We're so close and I really regret that there are a few senators who seem to have dug in and decided to delay. I hope it's not a permanent block," she said.

"It's not as if the words were brought down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets like the Ten Commandments, they are words created by humans and subject to change as our social and cultural conditions change, and thank goodness they do," she said.

Lumpkin said she is concerned about the future of the bill, which faces being amended in the Senate and sent back to the House. MPs would then have to unanimously agree to replace Bélanger as the sponsor of the bill.

"That worries me," Lumpkin said.

"I know language matters and I talk to students and young women regularly who still feel their voice doesn't carry as strong as the voice of their male friends.

I think the gesture, even though it's symbolic, would say a lot to those young women."