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MPs debate changing O Canada lyrics

By Sheena Goodyear, Postmedia Network

A giant Canadian flag was passed around the crowd during the national anthem prior to a game between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place in this January 30, 2010 file photo. (ERROL MCGIHON/QMI Agency)

A giant Canadian flag was passed around the crowd during the national anthem prior to a game between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place in this January 30, 2010 file photo. (ERROL MCGIHON/QMI Agency)

Canada's national anthem pays tribute to astronaut Chris Hadfield, but not astronaut Julie Payette, Liberal MP Mauril Belanger said Monday while pushing his private member's bill to make O Canada's lyrics gender neutral.

"Our anthem should not ignore the increasingly important contributions of 52% of our population," Belanger said.

The House of Commons on Monday debated changing the English-language lyrics "in all thy sons command" to "in all of us command."

The lyrics were originally gender inclusive, Belanger noted, but were changed in 1913.

"Many believe the change was in response to the events leading up to the First World War," Belanger said. "But Canadian women also served in the First World War, not as soldiers, but in other functions, especially as nurses, and many of them died."

He said Canadian women now fight alongside men in the Armed Forces, and the anthem doesn't honour their sacrifices.

Costas Menegakis, parliamentary secretary for immigration and citizenship, argued changing the lyrics would be a slap in the face to Canadians.

The lyrics haven't been altered since they were officially adopted in 1980, he said, and government research shows most Canadians support the anthem as is.

"If our anthem is a celebration of what we are as a people, and represents the beliefs and values of citizens, how can we change it against the will of those citizens?" he said.

The 2010 speech from the throne outlined the Conservative government's plan to change the lyrics, but the Tories backpedalled after the proposal was met with widespread backlash.

Belanger's is the ninth bill to propose these changes to the anthem, but his is the first to make it to debate on the floor.

MPs will debate it again April 24, and a vote is expected later that month.

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