Today, the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and the Minister of National Defence, Anita Anand, delivered an apology on behalf of the Government of Canada for the systemic anti-Black racism that members of No. 2 Construction Battalion endured before, during, and long after the First World War.
The Prime Minister apologized at a ceremony in Truro, Nova Scotia, for the government’s appalling mistreatment of soldiers who served in the battalion, and to their families, descendants, and communities. For the blatant anti-Black hate and systemic racism that denied these men dignity in life and in death, we are sorry.
Prime Minister delivers apology to descendants of No. 2 Construction Battalion
Today in Nova Scotia, I offered an official apology to the descendants of these patriots. I apologized for the way they were treated, for the fact that they were denied the care and support they deserved, and for the failure to honour their contributions. We are sorry. pic.twitter.com/dF8252j0Z6
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) July 9, 2022
One the most selfless things a person can do is stand up and volunteer to fight for their country – it is an act of extraordinary bravery, honour, sacrifice, and loyalty. At the onset of the First World War, many Black volunteers were turned away when they offered to sacrifice their lives for us all.
No. 2 Construction Battalion was formed in 1916 as a segregated unit, since many Black service members were not permitted to fight alongside their white compatriots. It was the first and only all-Black battalion-sized formation in Canadian military history, formed only after Black communities across Canada put pressure on the government and military officials.
While the contributions of No. 2 Construction Battalion members to the war effort were invaluable – they cut the lumber that was used in the trenches, railways, and even aircraft – they faced systemic anti-Black racism throughout the war.
Following the end of the First World War, the unit was officially disbanded without recognition for their service or sacrifices on behalf of the Government of Canada.
During his speech, the Prime Minister acknowledged and apologized for these injustices. The story of No. 2 Construction Battalion is one of resilience, determination, and strength in the face of adversity. The men who served in the battalion are Canadian heroes.
Today, as we apologize for the overt anti-Black racism these brave men faced, we take every opportunity to learn from the past and build a better, more inclusive Canada for all. As we continue, as a country, to confront systemic racism, discrimination, and xenophobia in all its forms, the No. 2 Construction Battalion story will play an important role in ensuring this injustice never happens again.
“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. 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. 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 members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion were discriminated against before, during and after their service in the Great War. 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. 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 story of No. 2 Construction Battalion is remarkable in many ways; not least because its members stood up for Canada in a time when it did not offer them fair or equal treatment in return. This official apology is a necessary step in correcting the record and recognizing the significant legacy and contributions of No. 2 Construction Battalion members to the history of the Canadian Armed Forces. As we continue to work toward equity and justice for all, we must remember the courage and sacrifices of members of No. 2 Construction Battalion who played a vital part in the fight on the field, and the fight against racism.”
“The brave men of No. 2 Construction Battalion served with pride and valour, despite the harsh adversity they faced. These Black Canadians having a long-standing presence in our country felt the patriotic call at war time, but sadly faced obstacles due to the colour of their skin. Today, we can remember and honour their important legacy, as this is a step toward racial equality in our country.”
SOURCE Office of the Prime Minister of Canada