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February 22, 2002

Le May Doan forced to sing sexist anthem, Senator says

Call to change lyrics

Jack Aubry
Ottawa Citizen
National Post

OTTAWA - Canada's national anthem did not do justice to speed skater Catriona Le May Doan last week when she stood on the Olympic podium to receive her gold medal in Salt Lake City, the Senate was told yesterday.

Launching her private member's bill to change the anthem, Vivienne Poy, a Liberal Senator, argued the words to O Canada should be made more inclusive of women by simply changing the words "thy sons command" to "of us command" to make it gender-neutral.

"We have many great athletes in this country. Should we not acknowledge them in our anthem? Last week when Catriona Le May Doan stood on the podium after winning the first gold medal for Canada in the 500-metre speed-skating race, should she not have been celebrated in the words of the anthem as it played for all the world to hear?" Ms. Poy said.

There were signs that the proposed anthem change will generate an emotional debate in the Senate, with Anne Cools, a Liberal Senator, indicating she intended to lead the charge against the change when debate resumes at future sittings.

The private member's bill did receive immediate support from Gerald Beaudoin, a Tory Senator who is considered the Upper House's constitutional expert. He said the word change is backed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees gender equality in the country.

For those who argue against change in favour of tradition, Ms. Poy said the original words of the anthem -- "thou dost in us command" -- as written by Robert Stanley Weir of Hamilton in 1908 should never have been changed.

Ms. Poy, the sister-in-law of Adrienne Clarkson, the Governor-General, also quoted from letters written by entertainers Sharon Hampson and Bram Morrison, and Mitchell Sharp, Jean Chrétien's mentor, who was seated in the gallery, in support of the anthem change.

"I was in the Pearson government that approved our national anthem and our Maple Leaf flag. I support your effort because I think it will add to the acceptability among Canadians of the words of our national anthem. They will sing it with greater enthusiasm," Mr. Sharp wrote.

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