Should governments apologize to ethnic groups for historical wrongs?

Andy Radia
Canada Politics

It's become somewhat in vogue in this country for governments to 'right historic wrongs' with public apologies.

In 1988, then-prime minister Brian Mulroney apologized to Japanese- Canadians for their mass removal and incarceration during World War II.

In June of 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the Chinese head-tax. In 2008, he apologized for the Komagata Maru tragedy, an incident from 1914 in which a ship with 374 South Asians — mostly Sikhs — were denied entry into Canada.

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Now, in British Columbia, the Christy Clark government is preparing to offer a provincial apology to Chinese-Canadians.

According to the Globe and Mail, the formal expression of regret is expected to be announced this Spring, will encompass more than just the head-tax and will likely have all-party support.

In an op-ed column written for the Georgia Straight newspaper, B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix claims that he's actually identified a whopping 89 racist or discriminatory pieces of legislation — against the Chinese — in the province's history.

A “White Man’s Province” was more than a slogan, a political excess. It was a primary feature of B.C. government policy for seven decades after B.C. joined Canada in 1871, with Chinese Canadians a constant target of hostile action by their provincial government and legislature. British Columbia passed an avalanche of discriminatory legislation in this period—a record not matched in any other Canadian province.

Dix goes on to say that a formal apology is necessary and offers several reasons why: He notes that redresses can lead to healing and reconciliation and they help us understand who we are and where we've come from. He also concludes that apologies can influence future laws and suggests that discriminatory policies still exist today.

"At its core, Canada and B.C.’s policies toward Chinese Canadians, Japanese Canadians and South Asians, were to deny any path to citizenship for workers brought to our country to work," Dix writes.

"In the present day, a majority of immigrants to Canada are Temporary Foreign Workers, who are denied, should they wish it, any path to citizenship. TFWs regularly work under threat of deportation, a fact that undermines the enforcement of even basic employment standards."

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Interestingly, one of Dix's predecessors recently spoke out against government apologies.

Last month, former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh told Postmedia News that, despite his support for them in the past, he now believes apologies are "the wrong thing to do" and don't help.

"This kind of apologizing doesn't allow people into the mainstream. In fact, it has the opposite effect, because it strengthens the urge for identity politics. Identity politics at the end of the day isn't the kind of politics that brings cohesion to any society," Dosanjh said, according to Postmedia News.

"It is the worst form of pandering by politicians, and we've been doing it for a long time in this country. B.C. Liberals are simply repeating that sin. This holier-than-thou nonsense that I hear from other politicians or from individuals from so-called ethnic communities is nauseating. For heaven's sake, we're all ethnic."

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To be fair to the politicians, in many of these cases, governments are simply responding to the lobbying of 'ethnic' groups who have publicly sought-out apologies and, in some cases, financial reparations for what happened decades ago.

But are we getting carried away with these apologies and more importantly are they beneficial?

What do you think? Are apologies to ethnic groups for historic wrongs the right thing to do?

Let us know in the comment section below.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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