Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday February 25, 2010
More than 40 years after the last home in Africville was bulldozed, the City of Halifax said sorry Wednesday for destroying a north-end community that stands as a symbol of the strained relations between Nova Scotia’s blacks and whites.
As Mayor Peter Kelly delivered a formal apology and promised $3 million to build a replica church and interpretive centre, some blacks in the crowd yelled, “Give it back!” “Compensation!” and “You forgot the people!” (Toronto Star)
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized Wednesday for a government program instituted in the 19th century that sent poor children from London’s slums overseas to do hard labour in British colonies, including Canada.
“To all those former child migrants and their families, to those here with us today and those across the world, to each and every one, I say we are truly sorry,” Brown said in Parliament. (CBC)
Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the founder of the world’s largest automaker, and Yoshimi Inaba, the company’s North American president, appeared Wednesday before the House oversight committee to offer an apology and explanation for the defects that have caused their vehicles to sometimes accelerate out of control.
In words and gestures, they were nothing if not contrite. Throughout hours of testimony, Toyoda and Inaba used words such as “shameful” when describing past events, and “modestly” and “humbly” to describe how they will approach their responsibility for safety in the future.
Toyoda reminded the committee that he is in some ways the human embodiment of the car company, and that he, more than anyone, would want to repair the damage. (Washington Post)
The occasion of a public apology is, for me anyway, almost always a trigger to cause me to wince. No matter who it comes from, a politician, athlete (Tiger Woods last week), or entertainer saying sorry for cheating on a spouse, or found guilty for drunk driving, or a national leader giving a formal apology to a hushed legislature over a past misdeed which might’ve affected millions, nothing, no matter how passionate the blubbing appears before a camera can move me enough to take seriously.
I can see the merits of saying sorry if one is seeking forgiveness. That’s the way it works on a person to person level. The problem with giving an apology to a camera is that the camera can’t accept your apology. The people watching from behind the camera can’t exactly indicate their acceptance either. One thing is clear, no apology, no matter how much money is included, is going to be received with 100 % acceptance which pretty much makes any public statement of sorrow ring hollow.
When a leader offers an apology on behalf of a state they aren’t exactly speaking on behalf of 100% of the population. The apology for the razing of Africville 40 years ago in Halifax, for example, has been argued by some to this day as a necessary (albeit it, brutal) means to control dangerous living conditions and pestilence.
Apologies can only be done on face-to-face personal terms. When it comes to a politician apologizing on behalf of his government for something a previous government did to people many generations ago I’m one to think that it’s worse than being hollow, it’s simply an insulting trivial move designed more to score points for a political legacy or a reelection campaign.