May 31, 2017 4:38 pm

How a Senate amendment could wind up killing gender-neutral ‘O Canada’ bill

Liberal MP Mauril Belanger answers a question during question period in Ottawa, on Dec. 7, 2015. Belanger died last summer, and his bid to change the lyrics to O Canada has since stalled in the Senate.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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The effort to change the lyrics to the national anthem has stalled in the Senate a month before the updated version was set to be sung on Parliament Hill for Canada Day.

A Conservative amendment is at the heart of the roadblock, and it threatens to permanently kill Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger’s private member’s bill, first tabled in early 2016.

The legislation proposed changing the lyrics to O Canada from “in all thy sons command” to the more gender-neutral “in all of us command.”

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The bill moved through the House of Commons last year at a relatively brisk pace, passing to the Senate in June, but it has remained there ever since.

READ MORE: Should ‘O Canada’ be gender-neutral? Other countries have tweaked their anthem 

After its third reading, the legislation has been spoken to 13 times in the upper chamber. The bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Frances Lankin, is accusing Conservative senators of stall tactics.

At one point, a Tory senator reportedly asked for debate to be adjourned because it was her birthday, and the chamber obliged.

Then, on May 18, an amendment was proposed by Conservative Sen. Don Plett, who moved that the words “in all of” be replaced with the words “thou dost in.”

READ MORE: Funeral for MP Mauril Belanger ends with playing of gender neutral ‘O Canada’

While seemingly innocuous, that amendment presents a major problem.

Bélanger died last August of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. As such, he will not be able to support his original version if the bill returns to the House of Commons for a vote on the Senate amendment.

WATCH: How would gender-neutral lyrics in ‘O Canada’ change the song?

To get around that, the House of Commons would need to unanimously agree to replace Bélanger with another sponsor, but the Conservatives are unlikely to support that move because they have previously opposed the legislation.

In the end, according to Lankin, sending it back to the House of Commons “would effectively kill the bill.”

“Even if unintentional, it is at its heart, a motion to make sure Bill C-210 dies,” she wrote.

Global News has reached out to Plett’s office for comment on his amendment.

In a statement sent to several other media outlets on Wednesday, the Conservative senator said that “the rule relating to changing the sponsorship of a bill was news to most of us in the Senate.” But, he reportedly added, it doesn’t change the merit of his amendment.

“For a senator to suggest that I would purposely take advantage of the death of a former colleague is disheartening.”

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