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Ottawa gives voice to anthem controversy Add to ...

Were the young Canadian women standing on Vancouver's Olympic podiums with gold medals draped around their necks the "sons" who are commanded by the national anthem to patriotically love their country?

Clearly not, and federal politicians want to determine if that matters.

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in Wednesday's Throne Speech that it will ask Parliament to "examine the original gender-neutral English wording of the national anthem."

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It's a debate that resurfaces every now and then as women take exception to the patriarchal - some would say sexist - vestige of yesteryear that is the second line of O Canada .

And it always prompts an impassioned reaction, both from those who want a more gender-neutral phrase and from those who argue that tradition should not be dictated by political correctness.

"I don't think we've committed ourselves as a government to any particular language or indeed changing the language," Industry Minister Tony Clement told reporters Wednesday.

"We're saying, 'Let's research through either a parliamentary committee or some other means to review the original language that was found in O Canada that had changed over the years and to assess whether the language should change.'"

But even that is a matter of debate.

The Canadian Heritage website says the poem written by Stanley Weir in 1908 that formed the lyrics of the anthem did not mention sons at all.

Instead, it says, the second line was "True patriot love thou dost in us command."

But Stephen William Weir Simpson, the grandson of the poet, said several years ago that the first version was "in all thy sons command" and he has a copy in his grandfather's handwriting to prove it.

"You don't change Shakespeare or Shelley," he told The Globe in 2001.

"Either you have tradition or you don't."

An overwhelming 77 per cent of respondents to a poll conducted for the newspaper at that time said changing the lyrics to remove the reference to sons would be a "bad idea."



The national anthem should reflect its population and Canada consists of 51 per cent women. Adele Mercier, Queen's University professor


And yet the issue does not go away.

When asked what prompted the government to conduct a review, Mr. Clement said the Prime Minister had been getting complaints.

It's an issue that was rolling around in a "subterranean" fashion before the Olympics," said Mr. Clement, but "well, we got so used to singing O Canada at the Olympics that maybe it became more top of mind."

The anthem revision may also help the Conservatives curry some favour with women who, polls suggest, are less enthused about Mr. Harper and his party than male voters.

It certainly has won the government the praise of one woman - Liberal Senator Vivienne Poy, who in 2002 introduced a bill to change the contentious line to "in all of us command."

"I am thrilled," Ms. Poy said Wednesday in an e-mail after hearing the government's intentions.

Adele Mercier, a Queen's University professor who specializes in the philosophy of language, said it's about time the lyrics were changed.

"The national anthem should reflect its population and Canada consists of 51 per cent women," Ms. Mercier said.

"Women soldiers fight in Afghanistan alongside the men and die alongside the men, and they hear that Canada is under the guy's command."

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