How Michelle Lang’s passing led to anthem debate

By Jack Locke, Calgary Herald March 13, 2010

The issue of amending O Canada is, sadly, directly connected to the Calgary Herald.

The death of Herald journalist Michelle Lang in December in Afghanistan likely resulted in the inclusion of the Prime Minister’s reference to a desire to amend the national anthem.

“True patriot love in all thy sons command” is an insult to the memory of Michelle, and other women who have died in service to Canada. Not to mention an insult to all mothers and women.

In January of this year, the Foundation for Public Poetry (of which I am poet-in-chief) started a contest to replace “True patriot love in all thy sons command.”

The call for suggestions was put out and entries to our “contest” were received from all 10 provinces.

The selected line is: True patriot love in all persons command. The word “persons” is to be sung with the same “sons” sound as in the current version (i. e. True patriot love in all per/sons command. A minor change, a major improvement.

A shortlist had been submitted to three members of the original author’s (Robert Stanley Weir’s) descendants. The shortlist was comprised of:

1. Faithful and diverse, in unity we stand;

2. True patriot love in all of us command; and

3. True patriot love in all persons command.

The idea of replacing a poet’s words (even a long-departed one) is not to be taken lightly. If O Canada was not Canada’s national anthem, designated by parliamentary decree, the original author’s work ought not be altered.

However, the goal of ensuring the anthem reflect gender inclusivity is significant.

We are no longer in the 20th century, we are no longer a society of male chauvinists. Though some of the comments made following the speech from the throne would make me wonder as they are truly appalling.

O Canada is rightfully an issue for all Canadian women, men, and children. The prime minister should be congratulated on bringing the issue forward. Not congratulated for backing down.

An object we established to judge entries was to maintain as best as possible Judge Robert Stanley Weir’s original spirit and words.

“I favour No. 3 (True patriot love in all persons command) as it will mean the least disruption to the way we sing it now, even though the sentiment of No. 1 (Faithful and diverse, in unity we stand) is most appealing,” commented Sonia Weir Stairs of British Columbia, a Judge Weir great-granddaughter.

Another Weir family member, Timothy J. Foulkes of New Brunswick, found the “person” version acceptable. His comments and other information can be read at

The idea of a contest was sent to the leaders of all five major parties in early January. The chosen replacement line had been forwarded to the prime minister and leaders of all parties prior to the throne speech and to the Canadian Senate, as the amendment contains a historic Senate reference.

In 1929, the British Privy Council overruled Canada’s Supreme Court to allow women to be appointed as Senators in Canada’s upper house.

Our court had said the following: “We are, for these reasons, of the opinion that women are not eligible for appointment by the Governor General to the Senate of Canada under Section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, because they are not “qualified persons” within the meaning of that section.”

It took 62 years to consider women as “qualified persons.” It has been nearly 100 years that women have been denied recognition in our national anthem. For shame!

If you think our national anthem is worthy of all persons, the prime minister must be told.

E-mail him at <> or write him at 80 Wellington St. Langevin Block, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A2

Jack Locke is poet-in-chief with the Foundation for Public Poetry/Fondation Poesie Publique, a Canadian federally registered, non-profit corporation.


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