That a humble Address be presented to Her Excellency praying that, following the steps already taken by the Société Nationale de l'Acadie, she will intercede with Her Majesty to cause the British Crown to recognize officially the wrongs done to the Acadian people in its name between 1755 and 1763.
As a result of procedural circumstances, I am once again in a position where I have to initiate debate on Motion No. 382.
Following the unexpected events of last December, when Her Excellency signed a royal proclamation creating a National Acadian Day commemorating the deportation of Acadians, I pondered for a long what should become of this motion.
I talked about the issue with several individuals and I must say that not everyone was of the same opinion about this. However, I have to recognize that the fate of this motion does not rest with me alone, but with all the members of this House.
That is why I have launched a series of consultations with colleagues to settle the issue, because clearly, the problem is now quite different from what it was when we first wrote the motion.
These consultations are continuing and will, I am absolutely certain, enable us to reach consensus before the motion is put to a vote. Perhaps we will be able to finally write an ending to this troubling chapter of our collective history.
As you probably aware, right before the holiday period, December 9 of last year to be precise, the previous government unexpectedly made public a royal proclamation. It established July 28 each year as “A Day of Commemoration of the Great Upheaval”.
The proclamation is to take effect on September 6, 2004, and the day will be commemorated for the first time on July 28, 2005. I was totally amazed to learn that the former heritage minister and the former intergovernmental affairs minister had taken this initiative with their colleagues in order to achieve this reversal. It was as unexpected as it was spectacular.
It is regrettable that so much time and energy was required to get my Liberal colleagues to finally take the necessary steps to achieve formal acknowledgment of these tragic events. These are the same people who, not so long ago, were fighting tooth and nail to defend their categorical refusal to do such a thing. They spared no sarcasm in their remarks to me, claiming that looking back into the past was futile and the Acadians would gain nothing from it.
I must admit that I have always known, deep down in my heart, that the time would come when truth and justice would prevail. This action by my Liberal colleagues was all the more remarkable and praiseworthy. Although the date of July 28 is not unanimously accepted by the community of historians and specialists in Acadian history, I am still extremely pleased that the federal government has finally decided to have a day to commemorate the deportation of the Acadians. In this way, the Governor General, on behalf of the Crown of Canada, henceforth recognizes the suffering inflicted upon the Acadians by the Great Upheaval.
There is no doubt whatsoever that such a gesture of major historical significance has a symbolic value that cannot be denied or downplayed. From now on, the Great Upheaval can no longer be considered a non-event or a myth, believed by some never to have occurred.
For the first time in the history of Canada, we have official acknowledgment that the Acadians were the victims of a great tragedy which changed the face of Acadia and Canada forever.
The deportation is now acknowledged to be an undeniable historical fact, as stated in the Royal Proclamation, which reads:
We (the Governor General) acknowledge these historical facts and the trials and suffering experienced by the Acadian people during the Great Upheaval.
As Mr. Euclide Chiasson, President of the Société Nationale de l'Acadie, said on December 10 in a speech in Ottawa:
What we are celebrating today is not a rewriting of history nor a revision of history. What we are celebrating is the validation of a chapter in our history. The royal proclamation, ratified by the cabinet on December 2, simply attests to the universally recognized historical facts.
I would be remiss in not mentioning the enormous amount of work done by the Société Nationale de l'Acadie, which took on this cause and unflaggingly sought recognition by the British Crown of the wrongs done to the Acadian people during the Great Upheaval.
Having said that, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the clear, frank, direct and uncompromising wording of the proclamation's preamble. When I first heard vague rumours that such a proclamation was being secretly prepared in the back rooms of government, I suspected trickery, bad faith and machinations.
Considering the acrimonious tenor of the debate to that point, I feared that they would try to cloud the issue by resorting to the convenient euphemism of the Great Upheaval, and limit themselves to sickeningly inoffensive generalities.
But that is not the case, indeed it is quite the opposite. The text of the proclamation spells out the story of the deportation and the considerable suffering caused to the Acadian people. The proclamation even goes so far as to recognize that the decision to deport the Acadians was not made by the colonial authorities in Nova Scotia, Massachusetts and Maine alone, as some have claimed even in this House, but in fact by the Crown itself.
Even for that reason alone, we must recognize that this is an unprecedented gesture. Still, the reasons for rejoicing and satisfaction end there. While it is undoubtedly a significant step forward, the proclamation does not deal with the root of the problem, which remains untouched, because this is the Crown of Canada recognizing the facts of the deportation. The British Crown, which ought at least to assume moral responsibility for these tragic events, has not yet officially recognized them.
It may seem like a subtle distinction, but it is not. The fact that the Crown of Canada, like that of Australia or even New Zealand, followed suit and did what the legislative assemblies in Louisiana and Maine have done, is certainly very comforting and nice, but nothing can replace recognition directly from the British Crown.
The Crown of Canada should not have to recognize wrongs for which it bears no responsibility, and should certainly not have to do instead of an entity that still exists, namely the British Crown.
It is very clear to me, and I believe I have demonstrated this many times in this House, that the Crown was not only well aware of what was afoot in Acadia, but was at the heart of the operation that had been brewing for a number of years to allow British and American settlers to occupy fertile Acadian lands.
Until then, Acadians were allowed to stay on their land so that they would not pack up their belongings and livestock and increase the ranks of the French settled on Ile Royale, further strengthening the influence of the Fortress of Louisbourg in the region. That is why Acadian neutrality suited the British so well. But then again, they took exception to it many times and in the end they used it as an excuse to justify the Deportation.
However, in 1720, the Governor-in-chief of Nova Scotia, Colonel Philipps, taking into consideration these military and economic imperatives, expressed a wish in a letter to London:
—a plan needs to be made in the motherland to populate this land with people from Great Britain... Until then, the inhabitants will not even think about leaving, ...until I have received your new instructions.
At the end of that year, Philipps received a response from the Bureau des colonies:
—The French in Nova Scotia will never become good subjects of His Majesty... That is why they should be expelled as soon as the forces we plan to send you arrive in Nova Scotia...Do not yourself undertake such an expulsion without a specific order from His Majesty to that effect.
A few years later, in 1747 to be more precise, the governor of Massachusetts, William Shirley, assured Acadians that they could remain peacefully on their own land, while he was negotiating with London to have them deported. In response to a proposal from him to that effect, the Secretary of State said:
Although the removal of these inhabitants from the province is desirable, His Majesty has decided that it would be better to postpone this project. However, His Majesty requests that you examine how such a project could be carried out at a suitable time.
Then, in 1753, Charles Lawrence was appointed governor of Nova Scotia. A year later, he would send a letter to London about Acadians, in which he said:
Their land holdings are the largest and the richest in the province. As long as that situation remains, no settlement would be successful--
Soon after Vice-Admiral Boscawen arrived from England, on July 8, 1755, with “secret instructions signed by His Majesty”, the decision was finally made, and on the 28th of the same month, the removal of Acadians was carried out.
Since there is no longer any doubt in my mind about the direct involvement of the British Crown in this upheaval, there is a questionable and quite surprising substitution in the proclamation issued in December. To follow up on a point the Liberals have used recently to criticize my initiative, the proclamation stipulates that Canada is a sovereign state and that, with regard to Canada, the Crown in right of Canada and of the provinces succeeded to the powers and prerogatives of the Crown in right of the United Kingdom.
Need I remind the House that the Crown in right of Canada and Canada itself, as we know it today, did not exist in 1775.
Moreover, as Université de Moncton professor Kamel Khiari pointed out, in crimes such as this great upheaval that could be compared to the ethnic cleansing occurring these days, responsibility cannot be transferred to the successor state but remains in perpetuity with the predecessor state. If the predecessor state still exists, it is responsible for those crimes.
Also, the Canadian royal proclamation only affects, so to speak, Acadians in Canada. Although it is not trivial, this action has officially no effect on Acadians in Louisiana or in Belle-Île-en-Mer, for example. Indeed, it is not the federal government, or the Société nationale de l'Acadie, or even this Bloc member that started this whole saga to seek official recognition of the wrongs done to the Acadian people during the deportation, but a lawyer from Louisiana, Warren Perrin, to whom I want to pay tribute today.
I suggest that the argument that it was incumbent upon the Canadian government, and not the British Crown, to take formal action to recognize the facts surrounding the deportation was only a legal and constitutional manoeuvre to set the process in motion for what appears to several people as a rather surprising flip flop by a faction that was heretofore vehemently opposed to such an action.
I recognize that, under the circumstances, this was a fair political manoeuvre and the government now had to oppose the very mechanism provided in the wording of the motion. In this regard, I want to say that the motion was initially written with the cooperation of the clerk of the House and his staff, following thorough research on relevant precedents.
The Canadian government understood well the limits of the action that it took, since it announced at the same time that an “unofficial” invitation had been extended to Her Majesty so that she could personally read this proclamation in Grand-Pré, a highly symbolic place for the Acadian people.
It would be very sad to try to lead the Acadian people to believe that, by this proclamation, the page has definitely been turned and this saga is finally over. I sincerely believe that this royal proclamation would only be truly meaningful if Her Majesty herself would read it. The Canadian government even provided for this possibility in the proclamation.
This historic event could take place next September 5, during the celebrations surrounding the 400th anniversary of the foundation of Acadia, or on July 28, 2005, which will be the first Day of the Commemoration of the Great Upheaval. The reading of the proclamation by Her Majesty would have the effect, to paraphrase the president of the Société Nationale de l'Acadie, of “crowning” the representations made to seek official recognition of the wrongs done to the Acadian people during the deportation.
This action by Her Majesty, who embodies the authority of the two Crowns, could then be interpreted as a de facto recognition, by the British Crown, of the terms of the proclamation signed by the Canadian Crown.
So, the House of Commons must support the December 9 royal proclamation and formally invite Her Majesty to come and read this proclamation in Canada, preferably in Acadia, in a place and at a time to be determined by Buckingham Palace, the Canadian government and the Société Nationale de l'Acadie. We could then put closure on the parliamentary aspect of this saga, which has already had a very positive impact.
It is my hope that, this time, we will leave partisanship aside and think about the best interests of the Acadian people, and that all of us will gather here in this House to salute and applaud the action taken by the government in December, and will join our voices to that of the government to formally invite Her Majesty to come to read the proclamation.