The prime minister and the national defence minister delivered an apology on behalf of the government for the systemic anti-Black racism members of No. 2 Construction Battalion experienced before, during, and after the First World War.
Justin Trudeau, joined by Anita Anand and Armed Forces officials, made the apology at a ceremony in Truro, Nova Scotia on Saturday.
“For the blatant anti-Black hate and systemic racism that denied these men dignity in life and in death, we are sorry. Only when the truths of the past are acknowledged can we begin to dress the wounds they created and build a better, more inclusive Canada for all,” Trudeau said in a statement.
“I would like to thank the descendants of No.2 Construction Battalion, members of the National Apology Advisory Committee, and members of Black communities in Nova Scotia and across Canada for their important advocacy which was instrumental in bringing this day forward,” Trudeau continues to say. “The story of No. 2 Construction Battalion, and the stories of bravery, honour, and sacrifice of many other trailblazing Canadians, will play an important role in ensuring this horrible treatment never occurs again.”
The move follows consultations with descendants of the 600 members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, described as heroes by Defence Minister Anita Anand when she announced plans for the apology in March.
Hundreds of Black men in Canada were turned away when they volunteered to fight overseas in 1914 because they weren’t wanted in what was considered a white man’s war.
Following two years of protests, the Canadian military was granted approval in 1916 to establish the segregated, non-combat battalion, and more than 300 of those who enlisted were from Nova Scotia.
Only a few of its members would see combat, mainly because the battalion was repeatedly told its help wasn’t wanted on the front lines, and they received no public recognition when they returned home.
“We are deeply sorry to all of the Battalion’s descendants, and to the members of the Battalion who are no longer with us today,” Anand said. “I hope that today’s apology will help recognize every Black Canadian who bravely served this country in times of war, and in the pursuit of peace. May today contribute to building a Canada that lives up to the ideals that the members of the Battalion fought so bravely to protect. We have more road to travel but we will keep walking that road together until we get this right.”
The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have said the systemic racism endured by the men of No. 2 Construction Battalion qualifies as hateful conduct.