Cross Country Checkup

Is there value in saying sorry for an historic wrong?

This week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized in the House of Commons on the behalf of the Government of Canada for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident. Is there value in saying sorry for something that happened over a century ago? With host Susan McReynolds.
On May 18, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed an apology on behalf of the government of Canada, for the nation's role in the Komagata Maru incident. The incident was a stand-off between Canada and a ship of 376 Sikh, Punjab, and Hindu passengers, in 1914. The passengers were British subjects, which entitled them to immigration to Canada, but were refused on the basis of an exclusionary immigration policy. (Vancouver Public Library 13157)
Listen to the full episode1:52:59

This week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized in the House of Commons on the behalf of the Government of Canada for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident. There's more than a bit of irony here, because apologizing for historical wrongs is something Justin Trudeau's father, Pierre Trudeau, refused to do as prime minister. 

Despite that, there are in Canada today many descendants of the people who were turned away on the Komagata Maru and those people still feel the sting of that discrimination and rejection. It has been a stain on their adopted country's history, and they're applauding the formal recognition by Prime Minister Trudeau this week.  

But history is full of incidents and periods for which people with the sensibilities of today can be ashamed. What is the value of such an apology? Does it highlight despicable behaviour that we ought not to forget? Or is it a distraction from the challenges that face us today? Is it something that lets us all move forward with a clearer sense of what is right, or as some say, has it become a convenient political strategy because there are so many things done throughout history that later generations come to reject? 

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Guests

Sukhi Ghuman's great grandfather, Harnam Singh Sohi, was on board the Komagata Maru. 

Nimrat Randhawa is the great-great granddaughter of Gurdit Singh, who commissioned the Komagata Maru. 

Ujjal Dosanjh is a former NDP premier of British Columbia, and a former federal Liberal cabinet minister.

Mitch Miyagawa is a filmmaker whose film, A Sorry State, is about his family who has received three separate apologies from the Canadian government.

Patrick Anderson teaches politics and world religions in Toronto.