An apology for Acadians? Non merci


National Post, [le 5 décembre 2003]

We should be thankful, too, That the planned proclamation stops short of apologizing for a decision taken in wartime by the remote predecessors of our government. Victimized ethnic groups are forever trying to make politicians grovel, and some have powerful claims on our sympathy. But their activity is founded upon the superstition that governments can arbitrate historical truth. It's a form of the totalitarian conceit that the state can change the past. Do I exaggerate? An Acadian complained in another newspaper's pages Thursday that "People are always revising history and undermining certain events." He said the proclamation "makes [the expulsion] a reality. "

One feels sorrow that any Acadian would feel the need to have his people's experience confirmed as a "reality." Such a person is seeking dignity by debasing himself. It is all the uglier in this case, because transplanted and repatriated Acadians have been a successful, proud people, one whose history should not be narrowed to a single period of tribulation. Moreover, the Acadians of 1755 do not merit the stamp of victimhood some of their descendants desire. It is not for me to say that Evangeline's brethren would disapprove of what their offspring are playing at, but I strongly suspect it.

What was the 1755 expulsion, after all, but the endpoint of a process of democratic resistance to a military government? The Acadians were uprooted from Nova Scotia because they would not consent to become British subjects on the same terms as other conquered peoples. Their position became an issue with the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), which confirmed Britain's possession of Nova Scotia. The King of France extracted a promise from the British that the Acadians could stay put if they were willing to swear loyalty to the British Crôwn. The Acadians did so in 1729 and 1730, but received an oral exemption from the requirement for adult males to perform military service.

In 1749, with Franco-British hostilities flaring up and a French presence next door on Cape Breton, the British authorities renewed pressure on the Acadians to pledge their arms to Britain's cause. The answer from the Acadians was explicit: They would rather leave Nova Scotia than aid the fight against the French, who were their compatriots, and the French-allied Indians, who tortured captives and killed women and children. (The Indians are, of course, forgotten among contemporary Acadian protestations that they were driven off "their" land).

Now we wish to emasculate them by fiat, turn Governor Lawrence into a cardboard Darth Vader, and rewrite a legitimate tragedy as a cheap little robbery. But historians are stubborn, too. They will go on pursuing and debating the facts in their starry complexity, whatever the instructions from the officious masters of "heritage"