Sorry to be alive

Many Canadians like to believe the myth that theirs is the most polite nation on earth. That’s why they love apologising for sins committed by their forefathers, ooops, sorry for that, by their foreparents.

The idea is somehow misguided (stupid would be the proper word, but we’d risk that someone would demand that we apologise for telling the truth).

Why is it a problem?

Because those who demand (and more often than not receive) official apologies are either judging the past by today’s standards, or they are loud enough to drown facts in their cries for redress.

Such as: the official line notwithstanding, the so-called residential schools were supposed to bring Canada’s native inhabitants from Stone Age into the 19th (and 20th) century. Living primitive nomadic lifestyles, applying extensive use of nature, unaware of the steps forward humanity has made while they weren’t looking, these schools taught their students skills that could help them share in the progress.

Physical punishment was part of the curriculum. Based on the spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child dictum that today’s educators have ditched to their students’ detriment, they may have overdone it here and there, but saying that the system was wrong because of the occasional mistake now and then shows perfect illiteracy. That’s the optimistic view. The realistic view holds that those crying crocodile tears the bitterest have figured the white newcomers’ weakness and are now trying to continue milking the cow until she runs dry.

It’s the same thing with the hoax named mass graves.

Canada now has a federal agency called National Apology Advisory Committee. Some stuff that’s forthcoming: an apology for the racism faced by the No. 2 Construction Battalion, an all-black First World War military unit.

Next in line: saying so frightfully sorry for what those who stand to benefit call injustices experienced by LGBTQ2 individuals, their families, partners, and communities as a result of federal legislation, policies, and programs.

Our buffoon-in-chief even has a Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ2 issues. Randy Boissonnault, MP, is the official Eitzesgeber on this occasion, and his committee consists of members of the LGBTQ2 only: heterosexuals need not apply.

More about some history

Let’s go back all the way to 1914: a shipload of migrants from India was turned away from Vancouver in the so-called Komagata Maru incident. The idea that every country should have the right to decide whom to accept as a new future citizen seems to appal those who are still calling for heads to roll for a controversy more than a century old.

Or how about the people of Japanese origin detained during World War II? Their country part of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan axis, and Canada part of the war effort against that military and political association, authorities at the time viewed them with suspicion, not fully convinced in the knowledge where their allegiances lay.

Yes, it may have broken their basic human rights. But let’s be more specific here: war as such and by definition suspends basic human rights. Besides, it was Japan who declared war on North America (Pearl Harbour, anyone?).

And yes, too, rejecting entry to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s is and will remain a stain on Canada’s history, and no apologies will ever change that (neither they should).

On the other hand, allowing Nazi war criminals into Canada (some of them would become then-Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s personal friends) has been part of the country’s past, too.

Canadians apologised for the Chilcotin war not once but twice.

B.C. prospectors used to ignore what today’s historian describe as the “rights of the Indians and their claims upon us.”

Here’s what happened that fateful April of 1864: a crew had been building a road through Tsilhqot’in land to get to gold-rich Williams Creek. In a sudden dawn attack, 12 of their number were killed as they lay sleeping in their tents.

Not that the situation has improved much since: B.C. Indians claim that most of the province had been built atop untreatied land. Considering that adding up all of the claims would come to more than 115 per cent of B.C. was owned by Indians who, before the “whities” had come, weren’t even aware of the concept of “ownership,” this issue would have been a farce, if everybody weren’t quoting it as if happened yesterday.

Recent headlines

As if trying to make sure we don’t forget him, Justin Trudeau announced from Rwanda’s Kigali that his government have put together a task force to find out why Canadians have to wait for their federal government’s services in lines longer than the circumference of the Earth at the equator.

So, the existence of the National Apology Advisory Committee shouldn’t surprise anybody.

The National Post newspaper has come up with a (incomplete but illustrative) list of Canada’s apologies in recent decades.

  • 1988
    Sept. 22
    : Prime Minister Brian Mulroney formally apologises in the House of Commons for the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.
  • 1990
    Nov. 4
    : Mulroney offers an apology to Italian-Canadians declared “enemy aliens” when Italy declared war on Canada in 1940 and detained during the Second World War.
  • 2001
    Dec. 11
    : Ron Duhamel, the minister of Veteran affairs, apologises in the House of Commons for the executions of 23 Canadian soldiers during the First World War and says their names will be added to the country’s book of remembrance.
  • 2006
    June 22
    : Then-prime minister Stephen Harper apologises in the House of Commons for the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants between 1885 and 1923.
  • 2008
    May 9
    : The federal government announces a $10-million education grant to recognise the internment of Ukrainian-Canadians during the First World War, but stops short of an official apology.
  • June 11: Harper apologises in the House of Commons for Canada’s residential-schools system, which more than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children attended from the 1840s to 1996.
  • Aug. 3: At an event in B.C., Harper apologises for the Komagata Maru incident, in which a shipload of migrants from India was turned away from Vancouver in 1914, but organisers immediately demand an official apology in the House of Commons.
  • 2016
    May 18
    : Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologises in the House of Commons for the Komagata Maru incident.
  • 2017
    Nov. 24
    : Trudeau apologises in Goose Bay, N.L., for abuse and cultural losses at residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador: the gesture “is part of recognising ‘hard truths’ Canada must confront as a society.”
  • Nov. 28: Trudeau apologises in the House of Commons for past state-sanctioned discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirited people in Canada that he said cost people their “livelihoods and in some cases, their lives.”
  • 2018
    Nov. 2
    : Trudeau apologises and exonerates six Tsilhqot’in chiefs invited by colonial officials for peace talks more than 150 years ago only to be arrested, tried and hanged, saying the incident was a “betrayal of trust” and “an injustice.”
  • Nov. 7: Trudeau apologises in the House of Commons for Canada’s decision in 1939 to reject an asylum request from more than 900 German Jews, 254 of whom died in the Holocaust — a fate Trudeau says could have been avoided.
  • 2019
    March 8
    : Trudeau apologises in Iqaluit for the way Inuit in northern Canada were treated for tuberculosis in the mid-20th century, calling the policies colonial and misguided.
  • May 23: Trudeau exonerates Chief Poundmaker in the community that bears his name — the Poundmaker Cree Nation — and apologises for the chief’s unjust conviction for treason more than 130 years ago.

And, by the way, if you have ever felt slighted by Canada’s federal government, you can reach the National Apology Advisory Committee by e-mail:

Operators are standing by, as the old commercials used to say.

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