Bloc leader apologizes for candidates’ Islamophobic and racist social media posts

Of note (pro forma apologies):

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet apologized Thursday after media outlets uncovered a number of Islamophobic and racist social media posts by candidates running for the sovereigntist party.

“They all regret having shared in the past videos or messages containing inappropriate comments,” Blanchet said in an emailed statement.

“They apologized. As leader of the Bloc Québécois, I add my apologies on their behalf to the entire population of Quebec.”

Blanchet’s statement does not name any of the candidates, though it indicates he has spoken to five individuals — four women and one man.

The apology is almost certainly in response to articles published Wednesday in the Globe and Mail and Thursday in the Journal de Montréal that documented numerous posts, tweets and shared links on Facebook and Twitter by: Caroline Desbiens, a candidate in the Beauport riding; Lizabel Nitoi, running in Marc-Aurèle-Fortin; Valérie Tremblay in Chicoutimi–Le Fjord; and Claude Forgues in Sherbrooke.

The four candidates named in the Globe and Mail and Journal de Montreal articles. (Radio-Canada)

The fifth candidate is likely Nicole Morin, a Bloc candidate in Saint-Maurice–Champlain who was found to have shared a video by the far-right group La Meute.

The four Bloc candidates cited in the Journal article issued identical statements of apology on social media Thursday. The apologies note that Le Journal “considers” the messages Islamophobic, but the authors don’t state whether they agree with the assessment.

Desbiens’ remarks were in a publication promoting a law on secularism in 2013. She said she worried that women would soon be forced to either wear a veil to go grocery shopping or be thrown in jail. She also praised France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Nitoi shared a groundless article about the intelligence of Muslims. Tremblay has shared several anti-Islam messages and conspiracy theories on Twitter since 2016, the Journal de Montreal reported.

Forgues shared a video on Facebook that states “Islam is a disease” and contained other intolerant remarks about Muslims, according to the Journal.

The boilerplate apologies, written in the first person, all say that the candidates did not mean to offend.

The four candidates go on to affirm in their statements their “total and complete support for the values and program of the Bloc Québécois … which in no way advocates measures that go against some communities, whether cultural or religious.”

The controversy lands ahead of the second French-language debate, set for Thursday.

The Bloc Québécois has been building momentum ever since the first French-language debate last week. Polls suggest Blanchet was the big winner of that contest and that the Bloc’s support levels have increased as a result.

Source: Bloc leader apologizes for candidates’ Islamophobic and racist social media posts

Sunstein: In Politics, Apologies Are for Losers

Discouraging:

Suppose that a public figure has said or done something that many people consider offensive, outrageous or despicable — for example, lied about his military service or insulted people’s religious convictions. Should he apologize?

Let’s assume that his goal is not to be a good person, but only to improve his standing — to increase the chance that he will be elected, get confirmed by the Senate or keep his job.

Recent evidence converges on a simple answer: An apology is a risky strategy.

A case in point, now receiving reconsideration as a result of recent reporting in The New Yorker about the allegations against Al Franken. In response to claims of inappropriate physical contact with several women, Mr. Franken, then a member of the Senate, publicly apologized. But the apology did not appear to do him much good, and it might have fanned some flames. Soon after apologizing, he was forced to resign.

Mr. Franken’s post-apology experience may not be so exceptional. According to recent surveys that I have conducted, apologies do not increase support for people who have said or done offensive things.

ICYMI – Emma Teitel: Formal apologies may be most useful not for the oppressed, but for the clueless

Valid argument:

Since its release in 1970, many people (married ones especially) have taken issue with the signature line from the hit movie Love Story: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But I imagine the person most constitutionally averse to this notion is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a man who says sorry more often than a Canadian tourist in a crowded airport.

Where his Prime Minister father, the late Pierre Trudeau, wasn’t a fan of state-issued apologies, our rueful leader appears quite comfortable doling them out.

The PM has made a series of official apologies addressing various historical wrongs since he took office in 2015. Two years ago, for example, he issued an apology for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which hundreds of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu passengers were unjustly turned away at the Canadian border. Their Japanese steamship returned to India, where 19 passengers were shot and killed upon arrival and many others imprisoned.

Last year, the PM issued an apology to survivors of Canada’s residential schools. He also asked the Pope himself to apologize for the church’s role in operating the notoriously exploitative, abusive institutions. (Unfortunately, the pope declined).

And just this week the PM announced plans to formally apologize on behalf of the Canadian government, in the House of Commons, for the tragic incident of the MS St. Louis in 1939, when Canada refused asylum to the more than 900 Jewish German refugees on board. The MS St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, where 254 of its passengers were later murdered in the Holocaust.

“When Canada denied asylum to the 907 German Jews on board the MS St. Louis,” Trudeau said in a recent statement, “we failed not only those passengers, but also their descendants and community. It is our collective responsibility to acknowledge this difficult truth, learn from this story, and continue to fight against anti-Semitism every day, as we give meaning to the solemn vow: ‘Never again.’ I look forward to offering this apology on the floor of the House.”

Unfortunately, not everybody is looking forward to hearing it.

Many critics of the Prime Minister, some of them Jewish, are a little annoyed by the prospect of a staged mea culpa that will address a tragic event whose victims are, by and large, not around to receive it. Some of these formal apologies are, after all, rather bizarre, because the people saying “I’m sorry” are so rarely the wrongdoers and the people saying “I forgive you” are rarely the wronged. As a result, they can come off as cheap and hollow, even to the ears of the people you think might appreciate them most.

Here’s Sally Zerker, whose Jewish, Polish ancestors were denied visas to Canada in the 1930’s, writing about the prospect of a government apology for the MS. St. Louis tragedy in the Canadian Jewish News last year:

“It will not bring back my relatives, or offer me any solace. Instead, it will whitewash a government that did nothing to help the Jews who were fleeing the Nazis and ignored the type of anti-Semitism that was endemic in Canada until the 1970s. Ultimately, it is nothing but a shallow, empty, meaningless act. An apology can’t right this wrong.”

But it can publicize it. And this is where I disagree with Zerker and other critics of government apologies. We’re living in a world where the United States government appears allergic to facts and routinely winks at white supremacists. A world where the leaders of the women’s march, arguably the largest feminist movement on the continent, can pal around with horrendous anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan and retain their status as heroines of an intersectional movement.

A world where, according to the Anti Defamation League, anti-Semitic hate crimes — from violent assaults, to Jewish kids being harassed at school, to vandalism of synagogues — surged 57 per cent last year. Meanwhile, according to a survey released on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27) this year, 22 per cent of American millennials haven’t heard of the Holocaust or are unsure of what it is, and two-thirds do not know what Auschwitz is.

All of this is to say that while I agree with Trudeau’s critics that formal apologies are sometimes silly and performative — and perhaps lacking in meaning for some victims and their families — they are also factual and newsworthy. They breathe new life into old wrongs and in doing so they bring awareness to those wrongs.

It’s for this reason that I find it difficult to object to a perfectly harmless government statement that might, even if it doesn’t heal any wounds, inspire an uninformed Canadian to Google “MS St. Louis.”

It’s a sorry thing to say, but formal apologies may be most useful not for the oppressed, but for the clueless.

Source: Emma Teitel: Formal apologies may be most useful not for the oppressed, but for the clueless

Canada’s new ‘dark chapter’: So many national apologies for past injustice, they’ve become insincere

An overly cynical take on apologies and recognition by the academic Angie Wong of York. They are meaningful to many in the affected communities and the use of the same or similar language does not necessarily diminish their impact. And in all cases, this was driven by pressure from the communities themselves, as was the Historical Recognition Program under the Harper government:

In their 2007 book How To Be A Canadian (Even If You Already Are One), the humourists Ian and Will Ferguson suggested there are 12 versions of the Canadian “sorry.”

They are: simple, essential, occupational, subservient, aristocratic, demonstrative, libidinous, ostentatious, mythical, unrepentant, sympathetic and authentic.

But according to research presented at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Regina, there is another kind of Canadian apology that is becoming both a “spectacle” and a “trend,” and there is nothing funny about it at all.

This is the national apology, delivered in sombre tones by the Prime Minister, as the rest of the House of Commons nods along in communal contrition for some historical outrage.

Each one by itself – whether it is the apology for residential schools, the Chinese head tax, or the refusal to let the Komagata Maru dock in Vancouver — can be seen as a unique moment of reconciliation, decades in the making. But when they are taken together, and compared using theories of rhetorical discourse analysis, some worrying patterns emerge.

Most obviously, they often repeat the same language and phraseology, especially the overworked literary cliché about a “dark chapter” in Canada’s history, according to Angie Wong, a PhD candidate at York University in Toronto.

The effect is not only that these apologies come across as ambiguous and suspicious, but that they are creating what Wong calls “a new cultural dynamic of apologism in Canadian politics.”

“I see this as a long trend of political scramble or crisis management,” said Wong in an interview. These national apologies are one of many political tactics that reinforce Canada’s 20th century turn toward being more “convivial,” “hospitable,” and “benevolent” towards marginalized groups, as compared to its colonial past.

In the case of the Chinese head tax — a racist and exclusionary law that penalized newcomers from China, for which Stephen Harper apologized in 2006 – Wong relates it to the new sense of alliance between China and the West as result of China’s victory over Japan in the Second World War.

It was not the first time old grievances from that war were dredged up for modern political atonement. Brian Mulroney, for example, apologized in 1988 for the wartime internment of Japanese Canadians. But something had changed with the Chinese head tax apology. It “appeared to ignite a larger trend of state apologies extended to other once-marginalized Canadians,” Wong said. Before long, the government was apologizing for relocating Inuit, discriminating against gays in the civil service, and entertaining requests for more apologies, such as the forthcoming one to the Jewish community for refusing to accept the refugees on the St. Louis ocean liner in 1939.

“In other words, the issuing of apology for historical injustice symbolically became vital to the political performances that welcomed certain marginalized peoples into the body politic, while simultaneously relegating the actions and policies of the state to a distant past,” she writes in a paper to be presented at the Congress.

“Since the early 2000s, Canada has fallen into a trend of performing national apologies to historically oppressed groups and peoples, including Indigenous and First Nations peoples, the Chinese and South Asians,” she writes. “In the liberal push for political correctness and in the challenges that social justice cultural workers continue pose to the Canadian government regarding redress, reparations, and belonging, national apologies are increasingly ambiguous and suspicious in their purpose.”

The effect of this self-serving performance of penance is to “inauthentically absolve the state for historical injustice.”

The source of that inauthenticity is not that the apologizers do not mean it. Rather, it comes from the pose the government takes by apologizing for things the current office holders did not do, with the presumption that these injustices are no longer happening. The message seems to be that the time has come to at least forgive the long dead offenders, if not forget their crimes and the lingering effects. Harper, for example, called the Chinese head tax “a product of a profoundly different time.”

“It’s a little bit problematic because if we’re thinking about asking for authentic or genuine gestures of forgiveness, then we need to think about how to relate these apologies so that they speak to the people who are essentially giving forgiveness,” Wong said. “But in the reproduction of this phraseology of “this has been a dark chapter in Canadian history,” it kind of reads to me that they’re a regurgitation, or at least a reproduction process that puts all of these historical injustices in the same realm of recognition or acknowledgment, which is that they are things that happened in the past, there is no contemporary or current present continuation of these injustices.”

Source: Canada’s new ‘dark chapter’: So many national apologies for past injustice, they’ve become insincere

Two different takes -John Ivison: With another apology, Trudeau tries to right — and rewrite — the past, Emma Teitel: Formal apologies may be most useful not for the oppressed, but for the clueless

Interesting contrast between Ivison, going back to Pierre Trudeau’s position, and Emma Teitel’s greater recognition of the value. Starting with Ivison:

In the early 1940s, Pierre Elliott Trudeau flirted with politics that, in the words of his esteemed biographer John English, were “not only anti-war and anti-Liberal, but also clandestine, highly nationalist and, at least momentarily, separatist and even violent.”

In a speech in support of a nationalist candidate in a Montreal by-election, Trudeau minimized the German threat and, according to Le Devoir, said he feared “the peaceful invasion of immigrants more than the armed invasion of the enemy.

“Bring on the revolution,” he concluded.

It should be noted the immigrants he feared in Montreal in those days were mainly Jews.

None of the above reflects well on the current Prime Minister’s father. But as English noted, Trudeau was party to the kind of half-baked plotting that was common in the basements of middle-class houses in Montreal — plots that no-one ever dreamed of acting on. “This was the spirit of the age,” said English, in his peerless book Citizen of the World.

Perhaps at some future date Trudeau’s actions will be used as a pretext to remove his name from Montreal’s airport or from the high school in Markham, Ont., that bears his name. The spirit of today’s age is a revisionism that never ends — the application of today’s mores to periods in history when ethics and standards were very different.

In isolation, Trudeau senior’s comments are shocking. But thankfully they do not stand in isolation. Separatism, revolutionary politics and racism were not his legacies. Quite the contrary.

His comments were made in the context of the time and place in which they were made — and they were decidedly unexceptional for the era.

Yet the current Liberal government is encouraging this impulse toward “presentism” — by changing the name of the Langevin Block that houses the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa (named after Hector-Louis Langevin, a Father of Confederation and strong proponent of the residential school system) and through its apparent attempt to break the world record for official apologies.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that he looks forward to offering a formal apology on the floor of the House of Commons for the turning away of a boat full of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 — the result of a “discriminatory ‘none is too many’ immigration policy.”

Make no mistake, the decision to turn away the MS St. Louis, with its 907 German Jewish passengers, is a stain on Canada’s history. A historic injustice was done and it should be held in the collective memory to guard against a revival in anti-Semitic sentiment.

But does a formal apology really ensure those mistakes are not repeated?

Arguably, an apology allows the government to turn the page and hope everyone forgets the inconvenient past.

Are they sincere? At one point during question period on Wednesday, Trudeau blustered that he would not apologize for Canada “swaggering” on the world stage. That would seem to be about the only thing for which he is not apologizing.

The MS St. Louis mea culpa will be the fourth delivered by this prime minister. We have already had formal apologies for the Komagata Maru incident, in which another ship carrying Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus was denied entry to Canada in 1914 because of the immigration laws at the time; to residential school students in Newfoundland and Labrador; and to members of the military and federal public service who were persecuted because of their sexual orientation.

It is hard to escape the feeling that political expediency is at work for the Liberals; each apology was targeted at a key political constituency — Sikh, LGBTQ, Indigenous and Jewish Canadians.

That is not a partisan point — Stephen Harper made apologies to Canada’s Chinese community for the imposition of a head tax, which looked electorally motivated, and to its Indigenous population for residential schools, which was perhaps less so.

History exists in context and should not be rewritten or tampered with to suit political ends.

This was recognized by the current prime minister’s father, who in 1984 resisted pressures to apologize to, and compensate, Japanese Canadians who were interned and stripped of their property during the Second World War.

“I do not think the purpose of a government is to right the past. It cannot rewrite history. It is our purpose to be just in our time,” he told the House of Commons.

Prophetically, he worried that once the government started down the path, there would be no end to the apologies and the compensation demanded.

“I know we’d have to go back a great length of time in our history and look at all the injustices,” he said.

Pierre Trudeau, more than most, appreciated that it is often the spirit of the age that is responsible for injustice — and that apologies do not erase iniquity.

Source: John Ivison: With another apology, Trudeau tries to right — and rewrite — the past

Teitel focusses on the educational value of such apologies:

Since its release in 1970, many people (married ones especially) have taken issue with the signature line from the hit movie Love Story: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But I imagine the person most constitutionally averse to this notion is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a man who says sorry more often than a Canadian tourist in a crowded airport.

Where his Prime Minister father, the late Pierre Trudeau, wasn’t a fan of state-issued apologies, our rueful leader appears quite comfortable doling them out.

The PM has made a series of official apologies addressing various historical wrongs since he took office in 2015. Two years ago, for example, he issued an apology for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which hundreds of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu passengers were unjustly turned away at the Canadian border. Their Japanese steamship returned to India, where 19 passengers were shot and killed upon arrival and many others imprisoned.

Last year, the PM issued an apology to survivors of Canada’s residential schools. He also asked the Pope himself to apologize for the church’s role in operating the notoriously exploitative, abusive institutions. (Unfortunately, the pope declined).

And just this week the PM announced plans to formally apologize on behalf of the Canadian government, in the House of Commons, for the tragic incident of the MS St. Louis in 1939, when Canada refused asylum to the more than 900 Jewish German refugees on board. The MS St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, where 254 of its passengers were later murdered in the Holocaust.

“When Canada denied asylum to the 907 German Jews on board the MS St. Louis,” Trudeau said in a recent statement, “we failed not only those passengers, but also their descendants and community. It is our collective responsibility to acknowledge this difficult truth, learn from this story, and continue to fight against anti-Semitism every day, as we give meaning to the solemn vow: ‘Never again.’ I look forward to offering this apology on the floor of the House.”

Unfortunately, not everybody is looking forward to hearing it.

Many critics of the Prime Minister, some of them Jewish, are a little annoyed by the prospect of a staged mea culpa that will address a tragic event whose victims are, by and large, not around to receive it. Some of these formal apologies are, after all, rather bizarre, because the people saying “I’m sorry” are so rarely the wrongdoers and the people saying “I forgive you” are rarely the wronged. As a result, they can come off as cheap and hollow, even to the ears of the people you think might appreciate them most.

Here’s Sally Zerker, whose Jewish, Polish ancestors were denied visas to Canada in the 1930’s, writing about the prospect of a government apology for the MS. St. Louis tragedy in the Canadian Jewish News last year:

“It will not bring back my relatives, or offer me any solace. Instead, it will whitewash a government that did nothing to help the Jews who were fleeing the Nazis and ignored the type of anti-Semitism that was endemic in Canada until the 1970s. Ultimately, it is nothing but a shallow, empty, meaningless act. An apology can’t right this wrong.”

But it can publicize it. And this is where I disagree with Zerker and other critics of government apologies. We’re living in a world where the United States government appears allergic to facts and routinely winks at white supremacists. A world where the leaders of the women’s march, arguably the largest feminist movement on the continent, can pal around with horrendous anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan and retain their status as heroines of an intersectional movement.

A world where, according to the Anti Defamation League, anti-Semitic hate crimes — from violent assaults, to Jewish kids being harassed at school, to vandalism of synagogues — surged 57 per cent last year. Meanwhile, according to a survey released on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27) this year, 22 per cent of American millennials haven’t heard of the Holocaust or are unsure of what it is, and two-thirds do not know what Auschwitz is.

All of this is to say that while I agree with Trudeau’s critics that formal apologies are sometimes silly and performative — and perhaps lacking in meaning for some victims and their families — they are also factual and newsworthy. They breathe new life into old wrongs and in doing so they bring awareness to those wrongs.

It’s for this reason that I find it difficult to object to a perfectly harmless government statement that might, even if it doesn’t heal any wounds, inspire an uninformed Canadian to Google “MS St. Louis.”

It’s a sorry thing to say, but formal apologies may be most useful not for the oppressed, but for the clueless.

Source: Emma Teitel: Formal apologies may be most useful not for the oppressed, but for the clueless

You can’t drink an apology

A somewhat cynical column by Scott Gilmore on apologies. While I agree that an apology by itself may not address (or redress) historic injustices, their symbolic value should not be discounted:

Canadian parliamentarians are so chronically petty and partisan they typically cannot agree on the colour of the sky. Yet, all but 10 were able to agree on one seemingly important issue yesterday. They voted in favor of an apology for the now infamous residential school system.

Our political leaders have already made two previous apologies for the residential schools. A decade ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons to express our collective regret and then nine years later his successor Justin Trudeau repeated the apology, this time while in Newfoundland. For this third time they’ve opted to kick it upstairs to a higher authority, the Pope.

Our MPs were unified in believing that since we’ve already done our bit and apologized, and given that the corrosive legacy of the residential schools continues to persist, obviously it’s now someone else’s turn to sort this thing out. Amen.

It has been theorized that there are 12 different types of Canadian “sorries,” including the “sympathetic,” the “ostentatious,” and even the “libidinous.” There is, in fact, a thirteenth type: the “political.”

Abroad, we have the reputation for being chronic apologizers. Compared to our politicians, though, the average Canadian looks callously unrepentant. An incomplete list of their official apologies includes Acadians for being deported in the 1700s, Japanese-Canadians for interment during World War Two, Chinese-Canadians for imposing a head tax, Sikh-Canadians for turning away migrants, and gay and lesbian Canadians for discrimination.

All these official “sorries” have two things in common, which explains why our politicians are so eagerly remorseful. First, the official apology is the least expensive thing they can do. In many of these cases the legacy of the original sin is so vast and pervasive there would not be enough money in the federal treasury to fully repair the damages done to the victims or their descendants. By comparison, apologies are cheap and in full supply. Here, have another.

Second, these statements of regret are for sins committed almost entirely by white, male, straight Canadians. We, as a group, have done very well over the last few centuries. And while our position of power and wealth is no longer unassailable, we’re still on top and would like to stay there. When public values shift, and we are forced to acknowledge that our previous behavior was utterly criminal, we really don’t want to do anything too dramatic.

In light of this, and the low cost, it is obvious why our political leaders like to apologize so often. But it’s well past time we recognized these rituals for what they are: distractions. The politicians making the apology (or telling the Pope he should), are probably genuinely remorseful for the sins of the past. But sincerity will not right past wrongs. Even worse, it just reduces the pressure to prevent future ones.

Consider the fact that just hours after the House voted on the Pope’s apology, the Prime Minister was across the river in Gatineau speaking at the Assembly of First Nations. There he pledged (again) to fix the water problems plaguing Canadian reserves for decades. There are currently 76 Indigenous communities without clean drinking water. Since coming to office, the Liberal government has managed to remove 61 communities off that list, but another 32 were added.

If the people of Rosedale or Westmount woke up this morning to discover they had to boil their tap water, the problem would be fixed by the end of the day.

Given this indisputable truth, standing in front of a room of Indigenous leaders to promise yet again that we are eventually going to fix this should be so unbearably humiliating that it would render Trudeau speechless from shame. Instead, he walked up to the podium with a smile. He had just voted for another apology (via the Pope). That’s something. It’s a step in the right direction. Sure, you can’t drink an apology, but it’s progress. Right?

Source: You can’t drink an apology

Sorry has been the hardest word for governments

Good overview by Evan Dyer.

When working on the Canadian Historical Recognition Program and some of the apologies then under consideration, all these issues came up. The article’s comment that lawyers “hate apologies” (given legal risks) brings back memories of many meetings.

And as noted, Conservative governments have been more open to apologies and recognition programs (Japanese wartime internment, Chinese head tax etc, residential school system):

Canada’s next official apology is already in the works.

The country, through its prime minister, is expected to express contrition for the historic cruelty of turning away the St. Louis, a ship carrying Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism in 1939.

The passengers had already been refused entry by Cuban and U.S. authorities. Rejected and dejected, they would return to a Europe on the brink of war. Many would die in Nazi concentration camps.

A statement of regret, 80 years after the fact, will fit firmly into the Canadian government’s record of official apology.

Until Tuesday’s LGBTQ2 apology — and leaving aside apologies to individuals such as Maher Arar — Canada had atoned for three types of wrongs: those related to the Indian Residential School system, wrongs related to immigration, such as the Chinese head tax or the Komagata Maru incident, and wrongs it perpetrated during the two world wars, such as the internment of Japanese-Canadians and the executions of Canadian soldiers during the First World War.

The St. Louis incident checks two of those three boxes.

Some in the Jewish community have fought for years to make the government acknowledge that its decision was heartless and tainted by anti-Semitism.

Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis attempt to communicate with friends and relatives in Cuba, June 3, 1939. The ship’s passengers were later refused entry to Canada and many died in the Holocaust. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum/National Archives and Records)

Others are less keen. Sally Zerker, whose Polish-Jewish family members on the St. Louis were turned away, wrote in Canadian Jewish News that an apology now would be “nothing but a shallow, empty, meaningless act.”

“It will not bring back my relatives, or offer me any solace. Instead, it will whitewash a government that did nothing to help the Jews who were fleeing the Nazis and ignored the type of anti-Semitism that was endemic in Canada until the 1970s.”

But Zerker’s reaction is not typical. Though panned by some critics as “virtue-signalling” and gesture politics, apologies often mean a lot to the people to whom they’re directed.

Apologies, left and right

It was Conservative Brian Mulroney who broke the ice in 1988, when he apologized for the internment of Japanese-Canadians (Ronald Reagan the same year signed a similar apology to Japanese-Americans who were interned). Stephen Harper followed suit in 2006 with an apology for the head tax that unfairly penalized Chinese immigrants from 1885 to 1923.

Harper also made what is probably Canada’s biggest apology to date for the residential school system. Justin Trudeau’s apology last week extended that apology to residential school survivors in Newfoundland and Labrador who had been excluded.

Then prime minister Stephen Harper shakes hands with Indigenous leaders on June 11, 2008, the day he formally apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the residential school system. The exclusion of schools in Newfoundland and Labrador led to another apology by Justin Trudeau last week. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Trudeau’s own father was no fan of saying sorry. When Mulroney first proposed an apology for Japanese-Canadians in 1984, Trudeau rebuffed him.

 “I do not think it is the purpose of a government to right the past,” Pierre Trudeau said. “It is our purpose to be just in our time.”

“My father might have a different perspective on it than I do,” Justin Trudeau said Monday, as he prepared to apologize for the persecution of LGBT Canadians.

“He came at it as an academic, as a constitutionalist. I come at it as a teacher, as someone who’s worked a lot in communities.”

Lawyers hate apologies

Trudeau could also have said his father came at it as a lawyer, which he was.

Lawyers routinely tell their clients that apologies can be construed as admissions of guilt or liability — and can carry a price tag.

Concerns about reparations long delayed an official U.S. government apology for slavery.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton condemned his country’s record on a visit to Senegal in 1998, but added the caveat: “We cannot push time backward through the door of no return. We have lived our history.”

Ten years would pass before the U.S. Congress would pass a resolution apologizing for more than 200 years of slavery and segregation of African-Americans.

But the Senate’s beautifully worded apology to African-Americans ends with this rather jarring clause: “Disclaimer: Nothing in this resolution  a) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or b) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

Limited liability

Slavery began in United States during colonial times, but it persisted long after the U.S. Declaration of Independence, as the Congressional apology acknowledged.

Should Canada’s responsibility for historic wrongs extend to pre-Confederation times?

Stephen Harper thought not, which is why he excluded Newfoundland and Labrador from his residential school apology in 2008. Trudeau has decided that the province’s pre-Confederation history (N.L. joined in 1949) was Canada’s history. And it’s a history with its own set of wrongs.

Relations between Newfoundland’s original inhabitants, the Beothuks, and its settlers were so bad that encounters between the two usually left one side dead. The last confirmed member of the Beothuk people died in 1829.

And the same British Crown that pacified Quebec by extending legal tolerance and equality to its Catholic majority showed a much harsher face in its Newfoundland colony. There, it imposed the same code of discrimination and persecution it operated in Ireland: the Penal Laws.

The policies enacted in a forlorn bid to prevent Irish people from settling Newfoundland included banning the Roman Catholic religion, hunting priests and nuns, burning homes and outbuildings and refusing the right of burial.

Official government correspondence of the era typically refers to the island’s Irish people as “idle, disorderly, useless men and women” and “disaffected, disloyal, disorderly, enured to drunkenness, debauchery, vices and felonies of all kinds.”

Irish people lived under absurd restrictions — for example, no two “Papist” men could spend the winter under the same roof unless they were servants of a Protestant master — and any infraction was an excuse for exile.

Sins of the Crown

Acadian family members place flowers at the base of a monument honouring the memory of Acadians who were deported 250 years ago, on the waterfront in Halifax in 2005. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

At least one of Canada’s pre-Confederation wrongs has already been addressed in a formal apology — from the Queen.

The expulsion of the Acadians in 1755 from what is now the Maritimes and Quebec was a historic transgression whose consequences are still felt by the exiles’ descendants (some of whom live in Louisiana rather than Nova Scotia, for one thing).

Queen Elizabeth apologized to the Acadians in 2003, signing a royal “Proclamation Designating 28 July of Every Year as A Day of Commemoration of the Great Upheaval.”

But she was careful to add a rider:

“Our present proclamation does not, under any circumstances, constitute a recognition of legal or financial responsibility by the Crown.”