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Time to herald our northern coast?
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BUT . . .

Perhaps unbeknownst to those who want to change Canada's motto, "a mari usque ad mare" – or "from sea to sea" – is not a phrase that can be easily messed with.

It's a quotation from the Bible, Psalm 72:8, which states, "Et dominabitur a mari usque ad mare et a flumine usque ad terminos orbis terrarum."

In other words: "He shall have dominion (hence Dominion of Canada) from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth."

The danger is that "once you add anything to it, you change the quotation," says Michael Dewar, a professor of classics who specializes in Latin at the University of Toronto.

In addition, the "sea to sea" line is figurative, and indicates the whole of creation or universality. "So adding a third sea or ocean is superfluous," Dewar says.

And perhaps most importantly, we might have simply forgotten the fact that, well, Latin isn't English.

Advocates want to simply tag an "ad mare" on to the end of the motto. But if you spoke these words to a Roman, he would probably think you were stuttering.

"It sounds more than a bit lame," Dewar says, "sillier in Latin than English, not in terms of grammar but in terms of poetic usage."

You'd have to "up the ante" to make it sound right, he explains. Something like, he suggests, "a mari usque ad mare, tum usque ad mare tertium."

Which literally means, "from sea to sea, and then as far as the third sea."

Well ... it works in Latin!

Andrew Chung

Advocates say new words on Canada's coat of arms would help the cause of Arctic sovereignty
Oct 28, 2007 04:30 AM

Staff reporter

Is it time to see the third sea?

Not just see it, in fact, but recognize it, etch it into our national imagination, with a spot on our national emblem, the coat of arms of Canada?

Currently, the intricate arms, with its imperial crown, lion, gold-horned unicorn and maple leaves, has as its motto "a mari usque ad mare" running along a wavy blue ribbon at the bottom of the shield.

Proclaimed by King George V in 1921, it means "from sea to sea," which instantly captures an essence of Canada, with its two anchoring coasts, the Atlantic and Pacific.

But over the last few years, politicians have been proclaiming in their statements and speeches a version of their own, one that includes a third "sea," the Arctic.

And there's a movement to have our motto reflect this change.

"The symbolic nature of recognizing the Arctic in our motto is so important," says Dennis Bevington, NDP MP for the Western Arctic. "When the Russians planted their flag on the floor of the North Pole, the symbolic gesture was one that was received around the world. Many people felt they achieved a coup by doing that."

The movement is being driven by the fact that what was a frozen, impassable desert is now melting. The Arctic ice cap shrank more than ever in recorded history this past summer, including in Canada's claimed Northwest Passage.

In the process, northern countries such as Russia, Denmark and Canada are ratcheting up their efforts to claim parts of the Arctic and its rich natural resources for themselves.

"There's a strong desire for Canadians to express their sovereignty up there," Bevington says. "My feeling is that we are a Nordic country. Our imagery, our art, our printed word, our poetry – the Canadian heart is located firmly in the North."

Canada's motto became an issue in Parliament last year as a number of strong northern voices, including the premiers of all three northern territories, began agitating for the change. Then-Liberal leader Bill Graham raised the issue in Parliament, and later Bevington tabled a private member's motion calling for the addition of a third "sea."

The motion, however, is unlikely to get a hearing in Parliament since the random drawing for MPs to debate their private motions in the House of Commons put Bevington far down the list. Unless Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes up the cause, it might not come up for debate before his minority Conservative government falls.

According to Bevington, the government would not have to get the assent of Parliament to change it. A simple "order in council" is all that's needed. In other words, if the government said, "We're changing the motto," it would be done.

So far, the government says it's "not currently considering modifying" the coat of arms, but that it's aware there is interest in changing the motto.

The coat of arms may not seem front and centre in Canadians' lives. In fact, it's everywhere. It's on passports, government buildings, the 50-cent coin and all 1.43 billion banknotes in circulation. You could say that makes our motto, according to figures from the Bank of Canada, worth $48 billion.

If the government made the change, it would require the direct approval of the Queen. Then it would fall to the Canadian Heraldic Authority, within the Governor General's office, to redesign the arms. The effort itself would cost about $5,000.

The Department of Canadian Heritage says changes are incorporated into new deployments of the arms; old ones are not recalled.

The last time the arms changed was in 1994, when a second ribbon was added with the motto of the Order of Canada: "Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam" (they desire a better country).

While the Conservatives have placed Arctic sovereignty high on their political agenda, some experts say the change is necessary because it would better reflect reality. Arctic sovereignty expert Michael Byers points out that the Arctic coastline is by far our longest, and "it's seeing much higher levels of activity," including 11 transits of the Northwest Passage in 2006.

A motto change would "send a signal internationally as to Canada's commitment to its North, and to northern waters," Byers, who teaches international law at the University of British Columbia, says by email.

In the process, such a statement would pay tribute to the contribution of northerners to Canada's sovereignty. Byers explains that through the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, the Inuit specified that their use of the sea ice over the years supports Canada's sovereignty claims.

Adding another "sea" to the motto could put those claims in writing.

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