Back in the mists of time, 1960 to be exact, or prehistory to Millennials, Brenda Lee had a monster hit called “I’m Sorry”. One of the lines was: “I’m sorry, so sorry; please accept my apology.” With some slight modifications, it could have been the theme song for Canadian governments for the past 20 years or so.
Here’s the curve ball; I think apologies are okay, and even helpful if done sincerely, and properly contextualized.
In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney apologized to Japanese Canadians for their internment during World War II, and paid a symbolic redress. Japanese Canadians were wronged, although in the context of World War II, and with Japanese advances throughout the Pacific and even into the Aleutian Islands, paranoia was understandable, if not excusable.
In the 1800s, Chinese laborers/navvies were brought to Canada, and the United States, to build canals and railways. When the projects were completed, the Chinese men naturally wanted to bring their families to join them. In Canada they were faced with a $50 per person poll tax, which was raised to $100, and then $500. For decades, that tax successfully minimized Chinese immigration. In 2006, the Harper government apologized, and gave a token compensation to Chinese Canadians, or their descendants, for their mistreatment.
More recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has apologized to aboriginal Canadians who were abused in Newfoundland/Labrador residential schools. I believe it was appropriate, as long as we remember the context.
Not all aboriginal Canadians look back on the residential school as unremittingly negative. It also must be remembered, that in the context of the times, transportation from isolated communities was extremely difficult. Furthermore, it was sincerely, and to some extent, justifiably believed, that assimilation into white society would provide a better future for native children.
Obviously, the program went too far, and just as obviously, not enough care was taken to weed out the sadists and perverts that managed to insinuate themselves into the system.
Most recently, Prime Minister Trudeau has apologized to those members of the LGBTQ community who were abused under Canadian law, by the Canadian government. I happen to agree with that apology as well.
In 1963, at age 19, I moved to Calgary, from the tiny community of Consul Saskatchewan, where homosexuality was regarded – at least by me – as a myth. Being a hard-working farm boy, I soon got a job, and I made some friends among my colleagues. After about five months of wondering why Jack never wanted to go on a double date with me, the penny dropped, and I realized that homosexuality was real, and that Jack was homosexual. (The word gay had yet to be co-opted)
On a visit back to the farm, I told my dad about Jack. He was pretty sanguine about it, and said that he had known some homosexuals in the Air Force. He seemed to regard them as mostly regular people who had a significant psychological disorder, and I accepted that. I haven’t changed my mind.
But 55 years ago, disdain and abuse were part of everyday life for homosexuals. One Saturday evening, another buddy and I were out looking for something to do and we bumped into a group of three or four fellows our age. They suggested: “Let’s go to Memorial Park and beat up some fags.”
I didn’t understand them at first and when they explained what they were suggesting, I said: “Why would we do that? They have enough problems already.” My buddy and I went one direction; I don’t know where the other guys went. But reporting them to the police wouldn’t have accomplished anything; back then the police might’ve gone along for the entertainment, or even have joined in.
It got even worse, and I hate to say this, but I was talking about homosexuality to an older “Christian” man one day, and he said: “In my opinion, they should all be taken out and shot.” I was appalled, and I asked if he thought that would be Jesus’ attitude. I don’t remember his answer, but I’m still sickened at the memory of the conversation.
55 years ago, homosexuals who were quietly living their lives could be arrested and locked up. So when Pierre Trudeau said: “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation,” I agreed with him. But the fact is, that for years, the Canadian government did aid and abet and practice, indefensible abuse of what we now call the LGBTQ community. An apology for that was not out of line; it was the right thing to do.
But of course, there’s a ditch on both sides of the road, and we’ve gone from horribly abusing homosexuals, to mindlessly normalizing every sexual disorder imaginable, and insisting that it be celebrated. That’s intellectually and scientifically and socially dishonest, and if I do have a phobia, it’s about the intellectual dishonesty which itself has become normalized.
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I’m Dave Reesor