An Ottawa Carleton District School Board’s (OCDSB) Indigenous Education Advisory Council debated whether making students sing O Canada at the start of the school day was distasteful or should be replaced. 

According to the October 21, 2021 meeting’s minutes, advisory council member and educational assistant Lili Miller and others raised issues about the national anthem and options for students who refuse to participate. 

“With respect to standing and singing of O Canada during opening exercises in school, Ms. Miller expressed the opinion that this practice is distasteful and should be replaced with something more healthy and positive,” the council meeting’s minutes describe. 

“Chair Manatch suggested that Indigenous students be permitted to sit and not participate in the singing of O Canada. Elder Dumont expressed the opinion that the government of Canada needs to hold people accountable for the deaths of students at residential schools.”

During the meeting, Shannon Smith, who is the Board’s Superintendent of Instruction, noted that schools are required by law to sing the national anthem. 

True North reached out to the OCDSB for clarification on the matter. 

“The singing of Oh Canada is a required component of schools’ opening exercise (Education Act, section 304 and Ontario Regulation 435/00). The Regulation states that a student does not need to sing Oh Canada if a parent/guardian, or an adult student, requests that the student be exempted from doing so. No explanation is required,” OCDSB Communications Coordinator Darcy Knoll told True North. 

According to the Education Act, “opening or closing exercises must include the singing of O Canada and may include the recitation of a pledge of citizenship in the form set out in the regulations.” 

Despite the requirements, students can be exempt from singing O Canada if they have parental permission or if they apply for an exemption should the student be over 18 years of age. 

The OCDSB has come under increased scrutiny over several recent measures. As first reported by True North in September, the Board removed the popular novel Lord of the Flies from its curriculum after a student activist complained it was about white supremacy. 

“Referencing The Lord of the Flies, (the student who wrote the article) noted that she does not need to learn more about White, male supremacy, which tells the story of a group of boys in a hierarchical order who fight for power and degrade one another,” the committee report explains. 

“(The article) led to the removal of ‘The Lord of the Flies’ from the OCDSB English curriculum.”