Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 37th Parliament,
Volume 139, Issue 118

Thursday, May 30, 2002
The Honourable Dan Hays, Speaker

National Anthem Act

Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Continued

On the Order:

Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Poy, seconded by the Honourable Senator Banks, for the second reading of Bill S-39, to amend the National Anthem Act to include all Canadians.—(Honourable Senator Jaffer).

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I am pleased to rise today in support of Bill S-39, a bill to amend the national anthem to include all Canadians, male and female, who have contributed to this great nation of ours.

As we all know, women’s rights have been evolving in Canada over the past century. These changes are reflected in our homes, in our laws and in our communities. At the same time, our national anthem has also evolved over the past 40 years. It is time again, in this millennium, to ensure that our anthem continues to resonate with all our citizens by more accurately reflecting our society today.

The start of this new millennium provides us with an ideal opportunity to ensure that our national anthem communicates to Canadians and the world that we acknowledge the past, current and future generations of women who have, who are and who will continue to contribute to the greatness of our country.

As Senator Poy stated in her address to the Senate on February 20, 2001:

…I would argue that Parliament should not forget the contributions women have made to the growth of our nation, nor can we afford to ignore the daughters of tomorrow. We have an obligation as legislators to both acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of Canadian women through both practical and symbolic measures….

…let us join together to send a clear message to Canadians and to other nations of the world that Canada respects gender equality by changing the wording of the national anthem to more closely reflect the reality of our country.

Women have always had fewer rights than men. In law, in religion and in everyday life, the masculine has included the feminine.

This bill proposes a change of only two words in the national anthem — that the words “thy sons” be replaced with “of us” in the third line, so that it reads “in all of us command.”

Honourable senators, Canadians are continuously striving to improve women’s rights, access and opportunities, in what is still a very male-dominated world. Although some major challenges have been overcome, they have not been overcome without great struggle.

Until 1897, women could not practise law in Canada. In 1897, Clara Brett Martin became the first woman advocate to try and practise law. She overcame editorials opposing women lawyers on the grounds that the physical attraction between them and the judges and juries would be intolerable. She lobbied for a bill in the Ontario legislature that would overturn the Law Society of Upper Canada regulations barring women, because only “persons” could be admitted. She was taunted and ridiculed by classmates, professors, the public and the media simply for enrolling in law school.

I am glad to say that, today, women make up somewhere between 45 to 50 per cent of first-year law students, and almost 50 per cent of the students called to the bar are women.

Until 1919, most women could not vote in a federal election. The majority of Canadian women got the federal vote in 1919, but that did not include Aboriginal women who were status Indians and some immigrant groups, for example, Chinese or South Asians.

Although women were granted the right to vote federally in 1919, it took another two decades for women to be given the vote in all provinces, with Quebec being the last province to give women the vote in 1940.

Until 1929, women were not considered persons. In 1927, Emily Murphy appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada to define the word “persons” in the British North America Act so that women would qualify as persons. Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Nellie McClung, all came to be respected for their tireless work to gain rights for women. They asked the Supreme Court if the word “persons” in section 24 of the BNA Act included female persons. When they were told that they were not persons, these five women continued their quest with a petition to Canada’s highest Court of Appeal, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

On October 18, 1929, the Lord Chancellor of the Privy Council announced that women were persons and were therefore eligible to be summoned and may become members of the Senate of Canada. The decision was a milestone in women’s legal rights. Those five women became known as Canada’s Famous Five.

Until 1943, women could not work outside the home. Women were expected to stay home and take care of the family. The year 1943 marked a massive influx of women into the paid labour force because, until then, men had all the jobs and women could not work.

In 1945, Saskatchewan MP Gladys Strum announced in Parliament:

No one has ever objected to women working. The only thing they have ever objected to is paying women for working.

Women’s wages did not reach 50 per cent of the male average until 1981. That year, women in all earning categories earned 53.5 cents for each dollar earned by men. This included part-time workers. If we compare only full-time workers, then women averaged only 53 cents to the average male worker’s dollar in 1981. Today, women earn approximately 75 cents to the male worker’s dollar.

Until 1955, married women could not work in the federal public service. Being married while working for the government was seen as unacceptable. In 1955, the restrictions on married women in the federal public service were removed. Up until 1955, female public service employees were fired upon marriage. It took 45 years, until 1974, to refute a 1910 report that concluded, “Where the mother works, the baby dies.”

Until 1971, women were not protected from discrimination on the basis of sex. We could not earn wages similar to those of men. We could not take maternity leave.

In 1971, amendments to the Canada Labour Code were implemented that included the prohibition of discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of sex and marital status. The 1971 amendments also reinforced the principle of equal pay for work of equal value, and introduced provisions for a 17-week maternity leave.

Until 1978, married women were not entitled to an equal share of marital assets if their marriage broke down. The Supreme Court of Canada case Murdoch v. Murdoch was a catalyst for change in this aspect of family law. The Murdochs worked on ranches as a hired couple, with their pay being given to Mr. Murdoch. Their funds were used, in part, to purchase a ranch and homestead. Over the next 20 years, Mrs. Murdoch made a substantial contribution to the operation and management of the farm.

When the marriage broke down, she sought a judicial separation and claimed she was entitled to one-half share, not only of the homestead, but also of the ranch. However, in the absence of a direct financial contribution, or an extraordinary financial contribution, the court held that Mrs. Murdoch’s actions were, “…just about what an ordinary rancher’s wife does.” As there was no explicit agreement linking her labour efforts to an entitlement to a share of the ranch, she was deemed to have no interest in the ranch, that is, she was not entitled to any share. Later, the federal government changed the laws so that women are now entitled to shares in matrimonial property.

Until 1982, women’s rights were not entrenched in the Canadian Constitution. In 1981, 1,300 concerned women met to discuss women’s rights being excluded from the proposed Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They lobbied Members of Parliament intensively, which resulted in the inclusion of women’s rights in Canada’s Constitution.

Today, discrimination against women and violence towards women are both against the law. Women who are physically abused by their husbands can seek help for themselves and their children in shelters. As a society, Canada has come a long way in legitimizing, acknowledging and protecting women. We now need to celebrate our efforts and also sing about them.

Until 1983, women had no legal recourse if sexually harassed in the workplace. In 1983, the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibited sexual harassment in workplaces under federal jurisdiction. Before this, women in their workplaces had no legal recourse if their employer demanded sexual favours.

The YWCA of Canada, the largest women’s organization in Canada, is a movement of women, girls and their families in all our cultural, racial and ethnic diversity. In a letter to the Honourable Senator Poy, Elaine Teoflilovic, the Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA, said:

As an organization that has for the past century worked to sustain Canadian women in their pursuit of equality and socio-economic autonomy, we are pleased to express our support for the motion you intend to put forth Bill S-39, An Act to Amend the National Anthem to include all Canadians, by substituting the current national anthem wording “thy sons” for “of us.”

Ms Teoflilovic went on to say:

At our spring 2001 annual membership meeting held last May in Calgary, the YCWA of Canada celebrated the Famous 5 and their contribution to the greatness of this country.

It is from their inspiration that YWCA member associations from across Canada have lent their support to your motion to adopt a more inclusive wording of the English national anthem and thereby recognize the contribution of Canadian women to the development of prosperity in this country. And I am pleased to forward you the petition, which was signed by 99 YWCA members from across the country.

Honourable senators, in 1919, women did not have the right to vote; now we do. In 1929, we were not considered persons; now we are. In 1982, our rights were not entrenched in the Canadian Constitution; now they are.

Today, we are not included in the national anthem. It is time that our national anthem acknowledged and recognized the rightful contribution of Canadian women to this great country of ours.

On motion of Senator Adams, debate adjourned.