The perils and politics of apologizing and bending backwards

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Pradip Rodrigues

It is often pointed out that Canadians are polite to a fault. The average Canadian says sorry at least a dozen times a day for things that really isn’t anything to be sorry about in the real sense of the word, so like ‘friends’ after Facebook, the word ‘sorry’ has lost a bit of its meaning.

And official apologies seem to be going in the same direction. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered yet a another mea culpa this week, this time it was to the LGBT community that suffered discrimination at the hands of the Canadian government over alleged state-sanctioned persecution for their sexual orientation in the 50s and 60s. A class action lawsuit is also in the process of being settled.

Residential school survivors have received a government apology, so have BC’s South Asian community who apparently are still very upset over the Komagata Maru incident which happened 102 years ago. Hopefully the traumatized individuals will start to heal and move on.

The B.C. government has apologized for its part in the internment of 22,000 Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.

Our PM has acknowledged Canadian wrong-doing in its role of colonization of the country and the plight of our own indigenous population at the UN General Assembly, a forum which includes members guilty of far worse even today.

Many thinking Canadians believe apologizing for historical sins committed by past generations is just a pointless formality. It is harder and more costly to apologies for wrong-doings committed in living memory. Especially if there are survivors who will not accept an apology unless it is accompanied by a multi-million dollar cheque. Governments have and will continue to make mistakes but the fact is no government at any given time makes a decision knowing that it was a mistake, there is often an ethical and practical justification made for any course of action and there are unintended consequences.

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If any Canadian government decided to list the number of times past governments have made decisions that have negatively impacted individuals and and communities over the past 50 years alone, they’d need a new Ministry of Apologies. I’d say someone like MP Ruby Sahota or MP Raj Grewal could be prime candidates to head the ministry.

I can think of half a dozen potential decisions that deserve apologies, one that baffles me is why no Canadian government has apologized for turning away the MS St. Louis in 1939. The 907 European Jews aboard, fleeing Hitler, were eventually forced to return to Europe after several other countries barred them, 254 of them were eventually murdered in the Holocaust. But then maybe the Jews have other bigger issues to deal with than spending their time and energy trying to to get an apology after that ship as sailed away quite literally. It speaks of the maturity of a community when it picks its battles.

TDSB’s decision to scrap the SRO program

When communities or individuals constantly play the victim card, eventually society develops a sort of victim fatigue. Initially it is easy to induce white guilt for racism and institutionalized racism but at some point activists end up pushing the envelope too far and gradually they lose the wide support and sympathy of well meaning Canadians who genuinely want to right the wrongs.
Last week the TDSB, or Toronto District School Board scrapped the controversial School Resource Officer (SRO) program which saw police officers deployed at 45 of its high schools. It was an effort to improve safety and perceptions of police. The program was implemented in 2008 following the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners at C. W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute the previous year.

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In a survey about the SRO program, a majority of those surveyed reported having a positive impression of the program and felt having the police in schools situated in troubled neighborhoods helped make the timid feel secure. Furthermore, the program has been credited with keeping a good number of young people out of the justice system. But 10 per cent disagreed. A small number of students felt uncomfortable with police presence in school, saying they felt surveiled.

Black Lives Matter Toronto, Latinx, Afro-Latin-America, Abya Yala Education Network (LAEN), and Education Not Incarceration got together and vociferously protested the program and so despite support for the program by a majority of parents and students, the TDSB deferred to the minority.

If this sort of logic was applied in other spheres, the police should consider cutting back on their patrols of racialized neighborhoods because there will be some residents who may feel threatened or uncomfortable seeing police on patrol. We can’t have that now, can we?

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Last year some well-meaning activists wanted to have the Canadian International Air Show cancelled because the low flying war planes made terrifying sounds presumably traumatize refugees from war zones living in Toronto. After all these refugees often took cover at the sight of a warplane dropping bombs over their neighborhoods.

In any system of government there will be laws and decisions made with good intentions that could have terrible consequences down the road or a positive outcome. I can think of many decisions being made today by our current government that could go either way down the road like the Anti-Islamophobia Motion, Bill-103 which has aroused passionate arguments and divisions or for example increasing the number of immigrants and refugees into the country. Economists and social liberals think this is the panacea for all that plagues Canada and the world, but only time will tell if these decisions will help make Canada a better place.

Will future governments be apologizing for Bill-103 if it ends up being blamed for more Islamophobia? Or will there be an apology followed by a class action lawsuit settlement from unemployed and disgruntled immigrants who found themselves jobless and miserable in the Maritimes after being lured there by government programs? Well, time will tell.

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