Don Martin: Sorry is never the hardest word for Justin Trudeau
OTTAWA -- I’m sorry, but enough with the apologies Justin Trudeau.
The sorriest prime minister (as in apologetic quantity not leadership quality) in our history was at it again Thursday, ignoring his father’s political advice to ‘live in our time’ as he dredged up some more sad Canadian history for his signature retroactive reckoning.
In his eighth official apology for historic wrongs as prime minister, Trudeau delivered a collective mea culpa to about 600 Italian Canadians, none of them still alive, for being interned in camps at the outbreak of the Second World War.
The opposition party leaders dutifully parroted his solemn regret.
Most of Trudeau’s official apologies have obvious merit – to residential school survivors, for decades of LGBTQ discrimination, and for turning away Jews fleeing Nazi Germany to name but a few.
But the sheer volume of his apologies is watering down their significance into political grandstanding or even opportunism.
And this mistake in particular doesn’t quite rank up there as being among the defining errors of our past.
Taken in context, Canada declared war against Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in June 1940 and immediately invoked the War Measures Act to apprehend fascist elements operating inside the country.
Historians have documented agitators and sympathizers acting for Mussolini here, some even promoting and provoking violence against anti-fascist organizations.
The RCMP created their list and went to work arresting and relocating suspects to internment camps in Ontario and Alberta without a trial or even a hearing.
To be clear, many internees didn’t have the slightest connection to fascism. But some did.
Perhaps the greater wrong, which was a secondary part of Trudeau’s apology, was the McCarthyesque move to designate 31,000 Italians as ‘enemy aliens’ and subjecting them to monthly reporting for doing something as benign as donating to the Italian Red Cross. That was an outrage.
But actions which would justify mass protests for being brutally excessive today undoubtedly sounded very different to politicians deafened by the drums of an oncoming global war.
Which begs the question: Does taking the wartime precaution of putting those the RCMP (rightly and wrongly) alleged to have fascist links into temporary confinement at the outbreak of hostilities against a fascist regime rate an official government apology 80 years later?
Sorry, but compared to the multi-generational trauma Trudeau’s other apologies have covered, it seems a bit of a stretch.
Always-enlightening Michael Petrou, an adjunct history professor at Carleton University, argues this apology represents “a false, overly-broad narrative of ethnic victimhood” which taints the heroics of Italians who ‘recognized fascism for what it was and stood against it” by fighting for Canada in the war.
So perhaps it’s time to stop apologizing for acts deemed acceptable in the moment which have been transformed by passing time into historic wrongdoings.
After all, what’s next?
Perhaps an apology for the 500 Quebecers rounded up and arbitrarily detained during the FLQ crisis on Pierre Trudeau’s orders?
If this Trudeau wants to grovel in his time, how about apologizing to First Nations children who have lived with underfunded social services for generations? That’s an oft-repeated conclusion by the Human Rights Tribunal which this government has actively challenged and obstructed.
Cynics might see this Trudeau apology as a symbolic pre-election move to bolster Liberal support in Italian communities.
That seems unlikely. He relishes bringing closure and compensation to injustices because it polishes his empathetic all-inclusive brand. It’s also worth admitting he’s damn good at reading the scripts.
But the list of made-in-Canada human rights horrors which merit this sort of historic parliamentary apology is clearly nearing an end.
It’s time Justin Trudeau took some fatherly advice and only apologized for current political mistakes, of which there are many.
He has been a sorry prime minister long enough.
That’s the bottom line.