The Sins of our Fathers
It has taken me a generation or so, but I am finally ready to admit that I agree with something said by former Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He said:
“I do not think the purpose of government is to right the past. It cannot rewrite history. It is our purpose to be just in our time”.
Obviously, this sentiment was not passed down from father to son because Justin Trudeau, our current Prime Minister, seems to enjoy his role as Canada’s Apologist-in-Chief.
There is no question that there are elements of our history for which there is no reason to be proud. Nation building is an incremental process where circumstances and ethical and moral standards have changed as generations evolved. Although unquestionably, serious mistakes were made along the way, we cannot change history and there are consequences for apologizing for the sins of our fathers.
There is a difference between regretting an action of others and apologizing for it. We can acknowledge that some parts of our history were wrong, without taking personal ownership of it. I do not believe you can apologize for the actions of someone else. In my view, an apology is personal. It means you take responsibility for an action, with all that this entails, including possible compensation. In many cases, it is also difficult to judge actions of a century or so ago, based on standards of today.
Since he became Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau has been an apologist for Canada. He has apologized for discrimination by former governments, of the LGBTQ community, for residential school survivors, for the execution of six First nations Chiefs, for public sector workers whose careers were destroyed due to their sexual orientation. He has apologized for turning away a shipload of immigrants from India in 1914 and he has recently said he intends to apologize on the floor of the House of Commons for a 1939 decision to turn away a ship and deny refugee status to 900 German Jews, some of whom subsequently became holocaust victims. And on it goes. All of this is a sad part of our history that cannot be changed with an apology.
Craig Oliver, a veteran political analyst, who often displays Liberal leanings, said on a news program today, that Trudeau is apologizing too much. I agree with him. An apology is much more than a photo-op or chance to win political favour with a particular group of people. As CTV’s Don Martin said recently, “Trudeau has raised the act of getting all misty-eyed and remorseful in front of the cameras to an art form.”
But apologies come with consequences. When you apologize, you accept responsibility and when you do that, you often end up in Court. It is inevitable that someone will seek damages. If you doubt that, just ask Omar Khadr who has ten million reasons to be happy with the apology he got from the Trudeau government.
Rather than constantly looking back at the muddy part of Canada’s past, and some of it is muddy indeed, surely it is much more important to look at who we are today. Canada is admired as one of the best places in the world to live. We prosper here, and for all of their flaws, we have much to thank our forefathers (and mothers) for that reality.
That is not to say that this generation is without our own flaws. We have much work to do to really ensure equality for all people regardless of their race or gender or sexuality. We live in turbulent times where racism, intolerance, and terrorism still exist. One wonders what future generations will say about us.
As for Mr. Trudeau, if he really wants to apologize, he might think about some of the actions of his own government; a deficit more than twice the size he promised, a trillion dollars in debt for future generations to pay and discrimination against people and organizations who do not hold the same views as his government on social issues, to name but a few.
We cannot rewrite history and we cannot undo the mistakes of the past no matter how much we apologize for them. What we can do, is to heed the words of Pierre Elliott Trudeau and make it our purpose to be just in our time.
Don’t miss out on Doppler! Sign up for our free newsletter here.