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Charlotte Cardin seems well on her way to international stardom.

The Montreal-born singer-songwriter leads this year’s Juno nominations and has become a rising star in France. Last weekend, she performed before millions of Americans who tuned into the NBA all-star game in Indianapolis. Her pitch-perfect a cappella delivery of O Canada awed the crowd.

Quebeckers are usually the first to point out when one of their own scores the winning championship goal, captures the gold or cleans up at the Grammys. But the rendition of Canada’s national anthem that Ms. Cardin sang at the NBA all-star match drew anything but rave reviews in her home province. That is because it was in English only.

Now, you might think Quebeckers are just overly sensitive about their language and that there are more important topics to write about in these troubled times than the age-old grievances of Canada’s other solitude.

But for those of us who straddle Canada’s oldest cultural divide, the one that led the Fathers of Confederation to create a Constitution that protects French-language rights and that Pierre Trudeau sought to bridge by making Canada officially bilingual, it is not possible to ignore such slights. Especially as they pile up in the collective memory.

In the past few months alone, francophone Canadians have witnessed the national anthem performed en anglais seulement on several occasions when a bilingual version was called for. It happened at November’s CFL Eastern Final game in Toronto between the Argonauts and the Montreal Alouettes, and again at this month’s NHL all-star game, also in the Ontario capital.

While the CFL made sure a bilingual version of O Canada was performed at the Grey Cup final in Hamilton, it was the near-total absence of French during the weekend festivities that stuck in the craw of Alouettes safety Marc-Antoine Dequoy, who delivered an impassioned plaidoirie on live TV in favour of his mother tongue after the team’s Cinderella season and Grey Cup victory.

“They never believed in us. Everywhere you look, and it’s written in English. … You know what? Keep your English. We’re going take the cup to Montreal, take it back home,” Mr. Dequoy cried in a speech that went viral in Quebec and France, and made him an instant hero with francophones on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

The rendition of O Canada in English and Punjabi performed by schoolchildren at a Winnipeg Jets game in December put smiles on the faces of many Canadians outside Quebec who saw the event as a touching and historic moment, and a reflection of the country’s multicultural reality.

Quebeckers had a somewhat different take; for them, it was a symbol of the marginalization of French in a country that, while still officially bilingual, no longer values the concept. Not when Mandarin, Punjabi and Tagalog are more commonly spoken than French in Canadian cities outside Quebec. Not when reconciliation and decolonization have become more important priorities for English Canadians than the protection of French or Quebec’s distinctness.

It probably never dawned on the teachers at Winnipeg’s Amber Trails Community School that what they imagined as an act of inclusiveness – having students perform the national anthem in English and Punjabi – might be interpreted as a sign of disrespect toward francophone Canadians.

Did they even know that, long before English Canadians embraced O Canada as their own, the original French-language version, Ô Canada, had been the unofficial anthem of French Canadians?

It was composed in 1880 by Calixa Lavallée, with original French lyrics by Adolphe-Basile Routhier, for that year’s St. Jean Baptiste celebrations. The English lyrics were written in the early 1900s by Robert Stanley Weir, but until the 1960s, most English Canadians still considered God Save the King (or Queen) to be their country’s national anthem. It was not until 1980 that O Canada was finally proclaimed as Canada’s national anthem, in what many French Canadians still consider to have been an act of cultural appropriation.

The English lyrics were modified in 2018 to replace the words “thy sons” with “of us” in the line “True patriot love in all of us command.” The French lyrics, which tell a very different story of cultural and religious endurance, have never undergone a rewrite. They still refer to “the sword” and “the cross” carried by their forefathers and the “faith” that protects French Canadians.

Unlike in English Canada, where some are calling to change the line “our home and native land” to “our home on native land” in recognition of Indigenous territorial rights, there are no calls in Quebec to modify Ô Canada to reflect the province’s secular character in the 21st century.

In the minds of most Quebeckers, reconciling past and present requires no such erasure of history. It is the opposite in English Canada, where French has become just another minority language comme toutes les autres.

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