Pressure growing for apology from Crown for Acadian expulsion

ANCESTOR'S DEEDS: Acadian leaders see Queen Elizabeth's visit next fall as the perfect opportunity
for the British Crown to offer a voluntary apology.

CHRIS MORRIS, Times Globe-St.John, NB [1er octobre 2001]

FREDERICTON - Acadian leaders are hoping Queen Elizabeth will use her visit to New Brunswick next year to express regret - maybe even apologize - for the misdeeds of her royal ancestors almost 250 years ago.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip will visit Canada next fall on a Golden Jubilee tour marking the 50th anniversary of the Queen's coronation.

But the stop in New Brunswick could be especially significant because of a groundswell of francophone
support for an apology for the Acadian expulsion, a tragic chapter in Canadian history that began in 1755.

Stephane Bergeron, a Bloc Quebecois MP who is descended from expelled Acadians, has put forward a private member's motion in Parliament seeking all-party endorsement for a British apology for the deportation, which many Acadians regard as an early form of ethnic cleansing.

Mr. Bergeron says a voluntary apology by the Crown would be a welcome and considerate gesture.

"If the Crown gives its apology to the Acadian people without having to be asked by the House of Commons, that would be perfect," Mr. Bergeron said in an interview.

"Even if my motion is defeated in the House, maybe the Queen will understand the message from the Acadian community and maybe the Crown will finally give its apology, almost 250 years later. That could be one of the major points of her visit in New Brunswick."

Mr. Bergeron's motion, which goes to second reading this week, has been given a lukewarm reception by the governing Liberals in Ottawa. But there's growing support in Acadian regions for an acknowledgment of the trauma caused by Britain's long-ago decision.

The National Society of Acadians, which represents Acadians as far afield as Louisiana, is backing Mr. Bergeron's motion, along with the New Brunswick Society of Acadians; the Federation of Francophone Municipalities in New Brunswick; and Yvon Godin, the New Democrat MP for the New Brunswick riding of Acadie-Bathurst.

"If Canada can apologize to the Japanese for the internment camps, why can't the British apologize to Acadians for the expulsion?" Mr. Godin says.

"When people recognize they were wrong, they get lots of respect for it. It would be a very positive move."

Even Dyane Adam, Canada's Commissioner of Official Languages, has gone on record supporting an apology as an "important gesture."

"It's symbolic," she told reporters last week when she released her report on the state of bilingualism in Canada.

"It's something that is about respect of one's people."

Euclide Chiasson, president of the National Society of Acadians, says there are numerous precedents for the kind of apology or expression of regret being sought by Acadians.

The British Crown has made several mea culpas in recent years, including to the Maori people of New Zealand who lost vast tracks of territory to land-hungry settlers over 130 years ago.

It has also issued apologies relating to the Boer war; the Irish potato famine; and for Britain's role in the
1938 appeasement of Nazi Germany that led to the end of democracy in the Czech Republic, then part of Czechoslovakia.

As well, the British government recently offered "sincere regrets" for its home children policy under which
about 100,000 children, classed as orphans, were shipped from England to Canada between 1867 and 1939.

Mr. Chiasson's ancestors hid during the deportation, finally settling in Cheticamp, N.S., when the expulsion ended in 1763 with a peace treaty between France and Britain.

He says lingering pain from being an unwanted and expelled people haunts Acadians to this day. He says their history has made the Acadian people who they are today and he believes their contribution, and suffering, needs to be recognized.

"It's not a question of looking back," Mr. Chiasson says. "It's a question of looking forward and knowing who you are."

The decision by British governors to remove an entire ethnic population - the French-speaking Acadians -
from the colony of Nova Scotia had consequences that resonated for generations.

It's believed about 11,000 Acadians were deported from what is now the Maritimes between 1755 and 1758. It's estimated another 3,000 hid in the forests of Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

Others sailed south to Louisiana where, over the centuries, they lost their language and much of their culture in the huge U.S. melting pot.

There are now about 245,000 francophones, most of them Acadians, in New Brunswick, with another
34,000 Acadians in Nova Scotia and 5,500 in Prince Edward Island.