Bob Layton: Respecting our national anthem

A Canadian flag illuminates the rink during the Canada national anthem before a Calgary Flames game, Oct. 10, 2005.
A Canadian flag illuminates the rink during the Canada national anthem before a Calgary Flames game, Oct. 10, 2005. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

It was supposed to be a happy time with our children. It was a couple of decades ago and we were in an elementary school gymnasium for a much-anticipated concert.

We were asked to stand as the children sang O Canada. The first verse was very sweet, all those youthful voices swelling with patriotism. We were so proud.

And then it happened.

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As they began the second verse, some other parents standing in front of their metal folding chairs started to shift around uncomfortably. Some were murmuring just a little too loud. They were becoming upset. “What is all this ______?” one said. “I feel like ____ sitting down,” cursed another.

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The version of O Canada the children were singing was a surprise, too be sure. They were singing the second verse in French! Or perhaps I should more properly say, en français.

We were pretty impressed. Our children had not told us they were learning our other official language, if only for this one verse.

So, as we head for Canada Day, how do you like our national anthem, these days?

I still have angry people telling me they will still sing “in all our sons command” instead of “in all of us command,” the original wording notwithstanding.

Some would like to end the singing of the anthems at the start of sporting events.

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You’d think singing the national anthem would be an exercise in unity and pride. Not always.

In the U.S. they tried to deal with football players “taking a knee,” but that did not go very far.

Imagine if they were in China.

A new law there makes it a criminal offence to insult the national anthem, called March of the Volunteers. It could cost you HK$50,000 or three years in prison.

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This, after soccer fans repeatedly booed the anthem, highlighting the tense relations between China and Hong Kong.

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I’m reading in the South China Morning Post how it will be a criminal offence to alter the anthem’s lyrics or music, or to sing it in a derogatory or insulting manner, including, the article says, waving a middle finger.

This new law also requires students to be taught the history of the national anthem, how to voice it, and the proper deportment when singing it, although there is some controversy over this part of the law.

I’m guessing they won’t see anyone in China acting like some Canadians and refusing to sing the correct words, or acting like a few Americans and taking a knee.

Let me know what you think.

Bob Layton is the news manager of the Corus Edmonton group of radio stations and a commentator for Global News.