WINNIPEG — Margaret Atwood, Kim Campbell and other female notables want to restore gender equality in “O Canada.” But they might wish to add to their list a long-overdue change in the anthem involving the version in our other official language.
This is not something completely out of sight and out of mind for anglophone Canadians. There are two lines always sung in French across the country when the need is felt to display our bilingual nature: “Car ton bras sait porter l’epee, il sait porter la croix.”
Yet most Anglos have no idea of the implications of those words, and that includes many of the folks arguing for gender neutrality in the song.
The poetic translation has it as Canada with an arm ready to wield the sword, it is ready to carry the cross. The literal translation is Canada knows how to carry the sword and the cross.
Written in 1880 for a St. Jean Baptiste Day ceremony, the French lyrics’ sentiments are relics of a different era, proclaiming this country is advancing Christian civilization and boasting implicitly of converting “les sauvages” with the sword ever at the ready.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be devoting considerable space to show the consequences for aboriginal Canadians. The cutting edge in multimedia splendours will be used to throw light on the effects of the squalid triumphalist doctrine that created the misery members of First Nations experience.
But all the while, there are beaming parents and grandparents listening as fresh-faced young teachers from Saint John’s to Victoria sit back proudly as their young charges sing: “Car ton bras sait porter l’epee, il sait porter la croix.”
Yes, ignorance can be bliss.
Now consider some of the fine words from the distinguished ladies’ Restore Our Anthem website, dedicated to gender: “‘O Canada’ is something that represents our country on a global scale and should therefore be inclusive and indicative of our population and our attitude towards (it).”
One would think those who favour an inclusive multicultural Canada might see “il sait porter la croix” at least as great a barrier as the lack of gender equality.
The Christian triumphalism is not exactly welcoming for those Canadians who don’t wish to “carry the cross.” And let us remember we have no official church, no state religion. Indeed, the English version of “O Canada” asks God to keep our land glorious and free, but that reference is not linked to a specific religion.
Why hasn’t the knowing-how-to carry-the-cross line ever been amended? Would this notion have survived in the English version? Likely not.
The answer probably has something to do with politicians not wanting to give Quebec separatists something to exploit. Not that separatists actually care about “O Canada,” and church strength and attendance have never been lower, but anytime the PQ and the Bloc find a wedge issue, they’ll take it. That’s what their Quebec Charter of Values is about.
But perhaps calling for some courage in our leaders is a goal which should in all of us command.
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 9, 2013