Saturday, November 14, 2009

Q: How does a Canadian say hello? A: 'I'm sorry.'

Mitch Miyagawa is my colleague and student at the University of British Columbia. His family has now been thrice blessed with official government apologies. In this month's Walrus Magazine, Mitch canvasses Canada's strivings to be the Je M'excuse Capital of the entire universe:

"Penitential engagement is closer to reality than you’d think. The Japanese government has made at least forty “war apology statements” since 1950. All of Western Europe remembers German chancellor Willy Brandt’s famous Kniefall in 1970, when he fell to his knees on the steps of the Warsaw Memorial, in silent anguish for the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. During the past twenty years, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has apologized for the colonial occupation of Libya, South African president Frederik W. de Klerk has apologized for apartheid, and the Queen has issued a Royal Proclamation of regret to the Acadians in the Maritimes and Louisiana. In 1998, the Australian government began its annual National Sorry Day for the “stolen generations” of aboriginal children. In 2005, the US Senate apologized for its failure to enact federal anti-lynching legislation. And both houses of Congress have now passed apologies for slavery.

"At the 2001 UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, more than 100 countries called “on all those who have not yet contributed to restoring the dignity of the victims to find appropriate ways to do so and, to this end, appreciate those countries that have done so.” Working toward this goal is the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York, which “assists countries pursuing accountability for past mass atrocity or human rights abuse.” As if in response, jurisdictions across Australia, the United States, and Canada are passing apology acts designed to allow public officials to apologize without incurring legal liability.

"Concerned about our precious self-image as a peacemaking, multicultural country, Canada has been making every effort to lead the sorry parade. In addition to the residential school and Chinese head tax apologies, the federal government has also now said sorry for the Komagata Maru incident, when a ship full of immigrants from India was turned away from Vancouver Harbour, and established a historical recognition program “to recognize and commemorate the historical experiences and contributions of ethno-cultural communities affected by wartime measures and immigration restrictions applied in Canada.” And we became the first Western democracy to follow South Africa in establishing a truth and reconciliation commission, for the residential schools.

"Not surprisingly, other groups have come knocking on Ottawa’s door. . ."

Read it all.


Blogger Bill Metcalfe said...

A Canadian TV comedy group, and I don't remember which one because it was many years ago now, did a piece where the Americans were invading Canada and defeating Canadian soldiers on the lawn of the parliament buildings. Every time an American soldier knocked a Canadian to the ground, the Canadian said, "Sorry!"

4:24 PM  

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