Madam Speaker, it is with regret that I will vote against Motion No.382. My reasons for doing so are twofold.
One, I feel that this motion is based on a faulty premise, namely that guilt can be collective and can be passed on from one generation to the next.
Two, despite the good intentions of those who drafted it, the motion seems to attribute ultimate responsibility for the expulsion of the Acadians to the Crown, which is not an accurate reading of the events of 1755. A more historically accurate reading would lay blame with the colonial governors of New England and the pioneers they represented.
I will begin with the historical argument and come back later to the philosophical one.
Many of the facts surrounding the deportation of the Acadians are unchallenged. In 1755, the colonial authorities began a process of uprooting and deporting that part of the Acadian population which had settled on British lands, beginning with the centre of the Acadian colony along the east shore of the Bay of Fundy.
Nova Scotia's Governor Lawrence, and Governor Shirley, commander in chief of the British forces in New England, began by seizing colonists' firearms to prevent them from using force to resist. Then they took a large number of adult males hostage in order to guarantee the docility of their families at the time of deportation.
In the years that followed, approximately three quarters of the total Acadian population, or 13,000 people, were deported. Some of these people were sent to New England, others to Louisiana, and still others were returned to France.
Although we know with certainty the degree of suffering caused by the deportations between 1755 and 1763, it is much more difficult to pin down historic responsibility for them. One thing is certain and that is that governors Lawrence and Shirley were at the heart of the decision making and must bear ultimate responsibility. But nothing proves that they acted with the approval of the Parliament of Westminster. According to the most commonly accepted version of events, Lawrence acted with the authorization of the local council in Nova Scotia, and parliament and King George did not take part in the planning of the deportations.
Nonetheless, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II recently chose to address this issue, deferring a decision on any apology to the Canadian cabinet. As we are all aware, cabinet recently dealt with this issue and, in December 2003, the Governor General signed a royal proclamation regarding this issue. Excerpts from the proclamation read as follows:
Whereas the deportation of the Acadian people, commonly known as the Great Upheaval, continued until 1763 and had tragic consequences, including the deaths of many thousands of Acadians—
Therefore, Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, directs—
—that a Proclamation do issue designating July 28 of every year, beginning in 2005, as “A Day of Commemoration of the Great Upheaval”.
I commend the decision of the government to issue this proclamation, one which seems entirely appropriate to me. I believe there is a legitimate expectation that all participants in the public life of a civilized society should adopt a moral attitude toward the past. A moral attitude involves recognizing and embracing those past actions which are regarded as good and just, and rejecting those which are regarded as unjust or monstrous. The acknowledgement of the “trials and suffering experienced by the Acadian people” and the designation of an annual day to commemorate this unfortunate chapter in our history is an appropriate way to address this unfortunate episode.
In contrast to the proclamation issued by the Crown, the motion before the House explicitly requests an apology for this historical wrong.
This is a very different concept based on the idea that guilt for a past injustice can be passed on, institutionally and collectively, in precisely the same way that the residual effects of that wrong continue to have some impact on the descendants of those who suffered the initial wrong. This is simply untrue.
I do not accept the notion that an institution can maintain a heritage of collective guilt which is imposed upon successive generations of those who become members of that institution or who fall under its protection. An attitude of collective guilt or responsibility, or worse yet, of expecting others to assume a mantle of guilt or responsibility for acts in which they themselves did not take part, strikes me as being of no utility at all.
A debate similar to the one taking place today took place in this House 20 years ago on Pierre Trudeau's last day as Prime Minister. He was asked by Brian Mulroney in oral question period to issue an apology for the wartime internment of Canadians of Japanese descent. Trudeau's response revealed a subtle grasp of the distinction that I am attempting to draw here today.
Mr. Trudeau said:
I do not see how I can apologize for some historic event to which we... were not a party. We can regret that it happened. But why... say that an apology is much better than an expression of regret?
I do not think that it is the purpose of a government to right the past. It cannot re-write history. It is our purpose to be just in our time—
I agree with this reasoning. With regard to the great upheaval, the parties who suffered such discrimination died long ago, as did those responsible. The British Empire, in whose name these wrongs were perpetrated, no longer exists, and the mercantilism on which it was founded was firmly and totally rejected by the crown and the British state. However, the most important factor to be considered is perhaps that the British colonies in New England, in whose name the wrongs were committed, ceased to exist as political entities over 200 years ago, when the United States claimed its independence.
Consequently, there is no one or no organization that can honestly recognize its guilt or suffer the justified indignation of others.
This does not excuse us from a responsibility to adopt a moral attitude of condemnation toward this great wrong any more than we can adopt an attitude of moral neutrality toward the monstrous evils of more recent times. As moral actors, we need to recognize the existence of these past wrongs, to identify them to our fellow citizens and to do all that we can to ensure that no modern version of this wrong can occur. In this respect, I would like to applaud the sincere efforts of the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes, whose aim is to perpetuate the memory of this tragic episode in our history.
Nevertheless, I believe that the recent royal proclamation, which recognizes the issue without making an official apology, is sufficient to express our sorrow over this past wrong and allows us, without condemning others, to indicate our determination that no such wrong will ever in the future be tolerated on Canadian soil.
Consequently, I must vote against this motion and encourage my colleagues to do the same.