Last Tuesday, social media exploded with rage when The Tenors co-founder Remigio Pereira sang O’Canada before the Major League Baseball all-star game in San Diego.
No, he didn’t butcher it like Roseanne Barr did when she sang the U.S. national anthem in July 1990, but he did something many feel was worse; he changed the lyrics, and made it a political statement.
In front of the thousands at the stadium and the millions of Canadians watching at home, instead of singing the proper lyrics of, “With glowing hearts we see thee rise, the True North strong and free,” he sang, “We’re all brothers and sisters, all lives matter to the great.”
The reaction was immediate. Fans seethed with rage, baseball officials were shocked he made such a political statement, a scheduled concert appearance for Pereira in London, Ont., was canceled and the other three members of The Tenors took to Facebook, apologizing for his actions. They had no idea he was doing this, he acted as a “lone wolf” and would not be performing with them until “further notice.” In musician-speak, that basically means he is out of the band.
But why does this matter? Why should we care what this guy says or does? The answer is both simple and complex — because The Tenors are Canadians.
Formerly known as The Canadian Tenors, The Tenors members — with the exception of Pereira, who was born in the U.S. but grew up in Gatineau, Que. — Fraser Walters, Victor Micallef and Clifton Murray were all born in Canada. The group itself is based out of B.C., and have performed at the 2010 Olympics, 2011 Emmy Awards, the Tel Aviv Opera House and the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. The operatic pop group won a Juno in 2013 for Adult Contemporary Album of the Year, and have recorded several platinum albums. In short, they are Canadian celebrities, icons even, who in a way represent Canada at an international level.
And one of them made a political statement during our national anthem, in front of millions, in another country, held up a sign that said ‘All Lives Matter’ with ‘United We Stand’ written on the back, during a publicized event, and he did it with what some consider a racist term at that.
The ‘All Lives Matter’ term came around during the U.S. presidential campaign last year. The then democratic-nominee-hopeful Martin O’Malley said it during a debate on police shooting, over which he was booed and later apologized for. While some have viewed it as harmless, because of course everyone’s life matters, others have viewed it as an attempt to stop a critical conversation on police-related violence against African-Americans.
Since then, the phrase has been used by groups trying to counter the Black Lives Matter movement, whose response is yes, everyone matters, but this group of people is particularly vulnerable right now and that needs to change.
Pereira has since said in a Facebook post that he only had the best intentions, stating that “I’ve been so moved lately by the tragic loss of life and I hoped for a positive statement that would bring us ALL together. One Love. That was my singular motivation when I said all lives matter. I am disturbed that people would attribute anything other than the purist of intentions to my actions.”
As good as his intentions might have been, the fact remains he boycotted our anthem, and brought in what is currently seen as an American-driven topic to a song that is to celebrate the birth of a nation who is currently not directly embroiled in the controversy, although America’s influence on Canada looms large.
It is one thing to pass a bill to make O’Canada gender neutral which was influenced by our very own government, and seen as favourable in many circles. But when you use that treasured anthem as a platform for a political message focused outside Canadian borders, and a racist one at that as interpreted by many people, then we have a problem.
There is no way on earth that Pereira could not have know about the message that term would send. It has been circling the news for a year, and has been the rallying cry of many opposing Black Lives Matter. The Black Lives Matter movement is also embroiled in its own controversy surrounding its extremist members going to Twitter and not exactly showing any remorse or sadness to the recent police officer shooting deaths in Baton Rouge and Dallas.
If he wanted to send a message of love, Pereira could have used thousands of other more appropriate methods.
Although Canada has been hailed as a place of tolerance, we still need to address our own racism — the Black Lives Matter sit-in during the Toronto Pride Parade is proof enough that there needs to be a discussion.
With the recent fatal police shootings and the attacks on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the issue of racism is a particularly sensitive topic, with both sides of the equation saying you can’t be pro-black and pro-blue (police) lives at the same time. The all-lives term is seen as insensitive and disrespectful to many in both the U.S. and Canada, in marginalizing lives that have seen a lot more discrimination than others, and continue to do so.
Whenever a Canadian travels outside of our borders, they are representing Canada during that trip. How they act and behave reflect back on Canada, and the country they are visiting will have an opinion on Canadians based on how they act.
By hijacking O’Canada like that, he gave the impression that it is Canada’s viewpoint, and he disrespected us as a nation by doing so.
Pereira is free to voice his political views as an individual, but as a collective, one needs uniform agreement, and Remigio Pereira was not simply representing himself in The Tenors rendition of Canada’s national anthem. If he decided to post a video or actively spoke out about his personal views in the media — perhaps a few eyebrows may have been raised, but it likely wouldn’t have caused the same kind of backlash.
Pulling a whole nation into the social politics of another nation, there are far more appropriate, individual avenues for that.