One common stereotype about Canadians is that we apologize a lot. According to observers like journalists Terry Glavin and Rex Murphy, and former federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s gone too far with the many apologies he’s made, to the point that he’s begun ‘tearing down Canada.’ Some of Trudeau’s apologies include an apology to Indian Canadians for the Canadian government’s turning away migrants coming from India aboard the Komagata Maru in 1914, to Jewish Canadians for the Canadian government’s refusal to take in Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939, to LGBTQ+ Canadians for federal discrimination against the gay community, and to the descendants of the all-Black No. 2 Construction Battalion for the racism the Battalion’s members suffered during their military service in the First World War. Trudeau also formally exonerated the Cree leader Poundmaker and the Tsilhqot’in chiefs who were all executed for ‘treason’ in the 19th century.
On the surface, it might seem like Glavin, Murphy and O’Toole are right about Trudeau. He’s definitely made the news for the number of apologies he’s made. But if we’re going to blame our leaders for apologizing on behalf of the societies they lead, why don’t we start with our Conservative prime ministers?
A timeline of federal apologies published in the National Post found that Brian Mulroney really got the ball rolling in 1988 when he apologized to Japanese Canadians for the way many of them were forcibly imprisoned and their property stolen in the Second World War. Mulroney continued this in 1990 when he apologized to Italian Canadians for their being declared ‘enemy aliens’ when Italy declared war on us in 1940.
When Stephen Harper became Prime Minister in 2006, he apologised to Chinese Canadians for the ‘head tax’ they were forced to pay to immigrate to Canada between 1885 and 1923. In 2008, Harper created a $10 million educational fund for Ukrainian Canadians for their internment during the First World War, and informally apologized for the Komagata Maru incident. Most notably, he issued a formal apology for the residential school system.
Before Trudeau got elected, the Conservatives were the ones more likely to be apologizing for Canada’s historic sins than the Liberals. If anything, the Liberals are just catching up under Trudeau, so why is he the only one getting grief for it?
These apologies, whether they’re made by Liberal or Conservative leaders, aren’t just about political correctness anyway. Ideally, they’re about recognizing the darker parts of our history, and learning why many things have turned out the way they did. It’s also a way to try and make things right with the goal of doing better.
If you’re familiar with my writings in the Gazette, you’ll know I’m as big on taking pride in Canada and its history as anyone. Recognizing its past wrongs doesn’t mean one hates it and wants to tear it down — it can mean one wants to do better.
If anything, these apologies, whether by Mulroney, Harper or Trudeau, are an act of patriotism.