Thursday 30 November 2017

Nous sommes désolés

The young and symmetrical Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau has been apologising on behalf of the State for oppressing The Gays through the second half of the 20thC. Inclusivity is in the air, and Trudeau said sorry for how LGBTQ2 Canadians were treated before he himself reached adulthood - he was born in 1971. I am trying to keep track of the fragmentation of gender identity and got as far as LGBTQ last Tuesday. Super-trendy Trudeau has stolen a march on me with his ABCDE2.  It stands for Two-spirit which has been appropriated by some of the First Nations to describe their citizens who don't fit a M and F dichotomy. I gather that it would be an impertinence for white folks to so describe themselves because their white privilege prevents them from experiencing the oppression meted out on Native North Americans, let alone NNA2s. Heck m Canuck, I bet NNA is now no longer acceptable in polite company, in the same way as the demonym for dark Americans changes so often as to wrong-foot almost everybody. When first encountered by French trappers, two-spirit folk were called berdache but you want to be really careful using that term outside of historical anthropology texts. Tim Minchin on the language of prejudice for minorities.

You may be sure that whatever the state of Canadian Law, different people are subject still to all sorts of prejudice and discrimination across the provinces of Canada.  The first step is to sort out the current situation and Canada has not been behind-hand in legislating for equality. Apologising for the sins of our fathers only works if you absolutely believe in the sincerity of the person uttering the words. I think I believed Gordon Brown British Prime Minister when, in 2009, he uttered a similar apology for the shameful treatment of Alan Turing 50 years earlier when Brown himself was still in diapers. I would not have believed his predecessor Tony Blair who was far to conscious of the cameras. What stuck in my craw about Turing was several years of political grand-standing that eventually secured Turing a retrospective pardon for his crimes and misdemeanors. Rewriting history with its whiff of whitewash is not the same as a sincere apology. The pardon allowed for a preening smugness and a delusion that those who secured it for Turing would have behaved better than their ancestors at that place and time. An apology otoh looks forward and carries the intention, however poorly executed in reality to do better in future with living people.  There is even talk of a compensation package as if ruined lives and lost pension rights (it was mostly public servants who were directly financially affected). That could be unseemly: do the surviving dependents get a claim; how much can money heal emotional wounds etc.
Catching the wave of Canadian right-on-ness on Metafilter led me to another sorry-fest from young Trudeau just after he was elected the second youngest Canadian PM in 2015.  That was flagged on MeFi as "The real value in the apology lies in a re-examination" and was about the shabby treatment of a shipful of immigrants from India to Canada who, in 1914 aboard the Komogata Maru, were held in limbo in Vancouver for 2 months before being sent back to India. On arrival back in the Subcontinent, they expressed their dismay and dissatisfaction at being unable to travel within the British Empire. In the ensuing riot, 19 of the landed passengers were killed by security forces. Trudeau apologised for a too nice application of the Law as it stood back then and for the series of unfortunate consequences of that legal stance.
I liked very much that fact that Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, was sitting directly behind Trudeau in his trademark bright red turban. Doubtless Trudeau, who is very much Optics-aware, made sure of the seating arrangements. When CBC cameras cut to split-screen Trudeau's continuing bilingual apology with grainy monochrome footage of turbaned chaps on the Komogata Maru [see above for screen-scrape], there was Bains as the bright proof that Sikhs and other minorities and immigrants have a sky's-the-limit future in Canada. That should give hope to all the Syrian paediatricians who are living tents somewhere. That bright red slash of colour may remind you of another symbol of hope: The Girl in the Red Dress from Schindler's List.  If you haven't had enough already of Trudeau fils, you might check his 2000 eulogy for Trudeau père.

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