We Canadians have a reputation for apologizing a lot, and I’m not ashamed to admit there’s some truth to that cliché. Last year the government even set up a national advisory committee on apologies.
A Canadian Forces press release in March said the committee was “established in June 2021 as the Canadian government’s advisory arm in shaping the forthcoming official apology” for the all-black No. 2 Construction Battalion. The Canadian Army established No. 2 in Nova Scotia during World War I. Its members, disqualified from combat service because of their race, were assigned to help build roads, clear trees, and maintain railroad tracks—duties they performed with bravery and honor.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized on July 9: “We are sorry for the apparent hatred against black people and the systemic racism that has denied these men dignity in life and death.”
Plans for the apology received surprisingly little attention. Some articles on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. website were buried under the news from Nova Scotia. I only found out about this last month when a reader asked me for a 23rd tweet by National Defense Minister Anita Anand, who “had met with the co-chairs of the National Apology Advisory Committee.”
Perhaps the low profile was because Canada had already made some official amends. The Ontario legislature dedicated a plaque to the battalion in 1920, and the national government declared its creation a national historic event in 1992. Or maybe it was because Mr. Trudeau weakened the currency of national apologies by issuing so many of them.
This list is not exhaustive: he apologized for the incident on the Komagata Maru in 1914, in which a ship carrying mainly Sikhs was turned away and sent back to India. He apologized for turning away the MS St. Louis in 1939, dooming hundreds of Jewish refugees after Cuba and the US also refused entry. He apologized to the Italian Canadians for their internment during World War II. He has issued multiple apologies to Indigenous Canadians. He apologized to “LGBTQ2 communities” – the numeral stands for “two mind identities” – for previous discrimination. In June 2020, he knelt at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Ottawa.
His admission of his own mistakes is rather reluctant. He said he regrets “deeply, deeply” that he wore blackface three times as a student and young teacher and “made a mistake” when he elbowed a female MP during a vote in 2016. He also called it a “mistake” to take a surfing vacation to British Columbia last September instead of attending a ceremony marking the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, a public holiday for Indigenous victims of boarding schools. He said he was “sorry” for a breach of ethics after a family trip to the Aga Khan’s private island.
As for the National Apology Advisory Committee, “this pertains only to the issue at hand,” a spokesman for the National Defense Department told the National Post. “It’s not for any excuses.” Maybe it should be.
Mr. Taube, a columnist for Troy Media and Loonie Politics, was a speechwriter for former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
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Appeared in the print edition on July 13, 2022.
https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-national-apology-advisory-committee-canada-justin-trudeau-armed-forces-systemic-racism-discrimination-11657656307 The National Apology Advisory Committee