Michael Taube: Do We Really Need a Committee for a National Apology in Canada?

Michael Taube: Do We Really Need a Committee for a National Apology in Canada?
Defence Minister Anita Anand rises during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on April 5, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)
Michael Taube

Canadian governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have initiated groups, subgroups, and committees that don’t receive a lot of media attention. That’s not surprising, but a committee specifically dedicated to helping craft a national apology would seem to be an unlikely candidate for inclusion.

If you ever felt this way, think again.

On June 23, National Defence Minister Anita Anand tweeted out a thread containing the following, “Today, I met with the co-chairs of the National Apology Advisory Committee to discuss the upcoming No. 2 Construction Battalion Apology. We discussed the Committee’s Final Report and its recommendations for a meaningful apology and lasting legacy for the Battalion.”
As of this writing, Anand’s first tweet—which was designed to capture the most attention on social media—has only been retweeted 21 times and liked 76 times. That’s almost invisible, when you think about it. There are 109 quote tweets, but this can be attributed to Quillette senior editor Jonathan Kay having noticed it just after the stroke of midnight on June 24.

My first thought? “What on earth is the National Apology Advisory Committee?”

According to a March 28 press release, the NAAC “was established in June 2021 as a consulting arm to the Government of Canada in the shaping of the upcoming official apology” related to the No. 2 Construction Battalion. There are 22 committee members “comprised of community leaders, historians and No. 2 descendants serving as volunteers.” It’s co-chaired by Lt. Col. Barry Pitcher and Russell Grosse, executive director of the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.

These two groups, in conjunction with the Canadian Army, have apparently led “four Canada-wide consultations to inform the apology and related events” between December 2021 and March 2022. Two further consultations were planned for April.

How many people were aware of the “Canada-wide consultations?” Not many, it appears.

The NAAC has operated mostly below the radar. The press release mentioned a Facebook site it created for the apology, but it’s a private group with only 116 members.  Media coverage has also been slim. The CBC published a few articles in 2021 and 2022, which were primarily buried in Nova Scotia-based news. The Lookout Newspaper for CFB Esquimalt in Victoria, B.C., reprinted a piece by Trident Newspaper’s Joanie Veitch on April 27. There’s not much more.
I knew about the No. 2 Construction Battalion. There’s plenty of resources about this all-black unit with roots going back to the American Revolution and War of 1812. Many members wanted to enlist in World War I to help defend Canada, but were refused due to the colour of their skin. Instead, the Battalion was used in a non-combat role to build roads, clear trees, and maintain railway tracks. A plaque was dedicated in their honour in the Ontario legislature on July 5, 1920, and the unit’s creation became a national historic event in 1992, but time has largely forgotten about them.

There’s nothing wrong with honouring the battalion. Their members were treated poorly and faced racism, but they acted with valour and honour. An apology is certainly warranted, and their historical legacy should be preserved.

Nevertheless, did the Liberals really need to form a large-scale committee to deal with a straightforward apology?

When I worked in the Harper PMO, one speechwriter would typically be designated for events like national apologies. This person would write and rewrite materials until it was finished, and worked directly with the bureaucracy. If it was necessary to speak to someone for historical background, he or she would set up meetings and phone calls.

The NAAC has 22 members, and is linked with several organizations. As important as the battalion apology is, this is overkill and a waste of time and resources. It’s another example of this Liberal government showering themselves with glory to gain approval from every corner of the country—a fairly common tactic by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau since the blackface controversy sullied his public image.

It’s also worth pointing out that while Anand is front and centre on this issue, she’s been nearly invisible on matters involving the Canadian military. That’s the primary duty of her role in cabinet, lest we forget.

The national apology to the No. 2 Construction Battalion will take place on July 9 in Truro, Nova Scotia. The Liberals will bring out plenty of pomp and circumstance. The PM will attempt to resume the role of martyr he relishes so deeply. But when you consider all that we now know—and largely didn’t know—about this event, it seems to resemble more of a sad trombone than a magnificent symphony.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.