POLITICS

Elizabeth May Takes On 'Cynics' Who Might Think Canada Has Apologized Enough

The Green leader quoted Martin Luther King Jr. after the LGBTQ2 apology.

11/29/2017 11:46 EST | Updated 11/29/2017 15:41 EST
Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Nov. 6, 2017.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has a message for Canadian "cynics" who might feel their government has been saying sorry a bit too much lately.

The apologies matter, she told the House of Commons Tuesday. And not just to the people who feel them most closely.

Like other opposition leaders, May rose in the House of Commons Tuesday to respond to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's historic apology to members of the LGBTQ2 community who faced decades of discrimination from their government.

The shameful purge of gay members from the military and federal public service was a decision born out of stupidity and blindness, she said, and one that both ostracized Canadians and deprived the country of leaders.

The moment came days after Trudeau apologized to survivors of residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador who were excluded from the offering of remorse made by the Conservative government nearly 10 years ago.

Last year, Trudeau also formally apologized for the Komagata Maru incident of 1914, in which hundreds of Indian passengers of a Japanese steamship, nearly all of them Sikhs, were barred entry to Canada.

It was reported in September that the government is planning a formal apology for the Canadian government's decision in 1939 to turn away the MS St. Louis, a ship carrying nearly 1,000 German Jews seeking refuge.

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In her five-minute address, May noted there might be some in Canada feeling a kind of apology fatigue or questioning what good they do to address the sins of the past.

"I think there are cynics among us who would say at one point that surely Canada's government has apologized enough," May said.

"We apologized for residential schools, we apologized for the Komagata Maru, and we will probably apologize for turning the St. Louis around in Halifax harbour. Somehow someone might think: do apologies matter?

"I just want to say clearly that I know they matter. They matter to the people who have suffered injustice, they matter to the families of those who have died who never got to hear this apology, they matter to all Canadians who know that we recognize that we have wronged our fellow citizens and that we will never do it again."

The remarks sparked a standing ovation.

Somehow someone might think: do apologies matter? I just want to say clearly that I know they matter.Elizabeth May

May ended her speech by quoting Martin Luther King Jr.'s refrain that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

Trudeau's emotional apology was also seen as a call to action from other leaders in the House.

Guy Caron, the NDP's parliamentary leader, used the occasion to call on the prime minister to finally scrap a "discriminatory" policy that restricts gay men from donating blood.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, meanwhile, urged the government to defend human rights in countries that target members of the LGBTQ2 community, such as Iran and Russia.

But Scheer's Conservatives have also cautioned against the idea of apologizing too much for Canada's past. In particular, Tories took exception to Trudeau's speech to the United Nations in September in which the prime minister opened up at length about Canada's history of "humiliation, neglect, and abuse" towards Indigenous people.

Tories criticized Trudeau's UN speech


Tories sent a fundraising letter earlier this month referencing Trudeau's UN speech and accusing him of denigrating Canada before the world. "Are you tired of people apologizing for our country's rich history?" the letter asked supporters.

The letter included a clip of Scheer's remarks to the House weeks ago to mark the 150th anniversary of Canada's Parliament. In his speech, Scheer acknowledged it is "fashionable to look down at the past" and miss the "beautiful story" of a country that is constantly bettering itself.

"To those who deny we have anything to be proud of as a country, I would pose a simple question: 'Where else would you have rather lived for the last 150 years?'" Scheer asked.

With a file from The Canadian Press