Apology by Minister of National Defence Anita Anand to the descendants of No. 2 Construction Battalion
Truro, N.S. – July 9, 2022
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families of the Number 2 Construction Battalion,
members of the Canadian Armed Forces,
fellow members of Parliament and MLAs,
Good afternoon. Bonjour. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your time with us.
Last night, I had the privilege of spending time with descendants of the Number 2 Construction Battalion, many of whom are here today with us. What a night it was. It was a night of solemn acknowledgement and it was also a night of gratitude.
I have learned so much from you about the brave service of your family members and about the unacceptable racism that your parents, your grandparents, your uncles and loved ones endured.
I also had the pleasure of spending time with members of the National Advisory Committee, the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia and members of our Canadian Armed Forces.
And I am so, so grateful to join you all here today. I am a proud daughter of Nova Scotia. I was born and grew up just a few hours from here in Kentville, in the beautiful Annapolis Valley. It is great to be back home.
I love history. It was my minor in university and I devoured history courses in grade school too. And I remember very clearly being in class and learning about the brave military history of our province and our country.
And yet, throughout my life, these history lessons never once included the story of the dedicated members of the Number 2 Construction Battalion. In fact, I knew nothing about the battalion until I became Minister of National Defence in November.
What I learned today just before coming on the stage is that two members, indeed brothers, of Number 2 were from Kentville. Their names were Frederick and James Lindsay. Lindsay Road still exists in Kentville at the site of Camp Aldershot, which is just kilometres from where I lived and grew up.
And so, it is this glaring omission which really speaks to why we’re here today. This apology is a century in the making.
At the beginning of the First World War, Black Canadians tried to volunteer to serve.
In July of 1916, the Canadian government finally agreed to create a battalion of Black soldiers, but these men faced prejudice and anti black racism.
It’s unbelievable that they pleaded to serve but they were denied the ability to do so. And when they formed their battalion, they were responsible for construction of roads and railways which were, as the Prime Minister so eloquently said, so very important to the war effort itself.
As one battalion member recalled, “The Army let us join, but they wouldn’t let us fight. They gave us shovels, not rifles.”
When they came home, they were denied the recognition that they so deserved for their service.
So today it is my honour to be here with you to express how deeply sorry we are to all the battalion’s descendants gathered here today, to descendants watching from home, and to members of the battalion who are no longer with us.
We are sorry. I am sorry. Nous sommes désolés. Je suis désolée.
The road to today has been a long and meaningful one and I am so thankful for the hard work of Russell and Barry, and Number 2 Construction Battalion descendants, and the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia and, of course, the National Advisory Committee.
Meeting with you all over the last number of months and seeing your deep commitment to making Canada and our military more inclusive and to honouring the legacy of Number 2 inspires me every single day.
Your work has been tireless, your efforts relentless, your commitment far reaching.
Let me share just one example. Recently, I was in Peterborough, Ontario visiting the Black Honey Bakery and Café. After the visit, the owner let me know that she was actually the daughter of one of the direct descendants of the battalion.
And when she learned about these efforts to bring forward the apology, she explained just how important it is to ensure that direct descendants meaningfully participate and attend in person—including her relatives who are here with us today.
And so I want to thank Russell and Barry again because you and your team made this happen. You wanted to make sure that anyone and everyone who was affiliated and connected with the Number 2 would be able to be with us today on this glorious day in Truro, Nova Scotia. Thank you so much for being here.
Our conversation last night was so meaningful to me. It was the smiles, the hugs, the stories we exchanged that are etched in my memory and will live forever in my heart.
The goose bumps have not left me but they motivate me to continue with our important collaboration, because we have learned, we have heard, we know about the historical significance of the Number 2 Construction Battalion. And now, we are apologizing for the egregious injustices that they faced.
Let’s move on to the future.
Now, it’s time to ask, what is our path forward to honouring this legacy and ensuring that such discrimination never recurs, particularly for the newest, youngest and future members of our Canadian Armed Forces?
When you, the members of the Advisory Committee recently presented your report to me, I was so impressed by your thoughtful and thorough recommendations, how much care you took to make today meaningful and to ensure that our collective work does not stop after July 9th.
Your work has led to our gathering here today and specifically to hearing from our Prime Minister, who has delivered a heartfelt and meaningful apology.
Indeed, after many discussions with Barry and Russell and the Committee, I heard first-hand, Prime Minister, how important it is that you be here today. And so I want to thank you for your presence, which means so much to all of us.
These recommendations give me the responsibility to ensure that the history of the battalion guides our efforts to improve the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces.
And the report recommends that we come together as a country to honour the Number 2 Construction Battalion because it is a history of national significance.
And the presence of each one of you shows your commitment to joining in this effort.
This effort will continue well after today as our Canadian Armed Forces take further steps to honour and remember this battalion.
For example, the battalion has now been awarded the France and Flanders 1917-1918 Battle Honour. This Battle Honour recognizes and pays tribute to their brave service in the Great War. The Battle Honour will proudly be displayed at the 4 Engineer Support Regiment in Gagetown, New Brunswick.
The 4 Engineer Support Regiment has also been tasked with preserving the memory of the Number 2 Construction Battalion so that future generations can honour and remember these men in the Canadian Armed Forces and in this incredible country.
Now, the Advisory Committee offered other critical recommendations that serve as guide posts for the way forward. I welcome and I agree with these recommendations and I’ve instructed my department to incorporate them into our ongoing efforts right away.
I commit today to continuing our ongoing initiatives that are consistent with many of the panel’s recommendations and to working with you to implement your recommendations in the weeks and the months to come.
Today, I am committed to continuing our initiatives already under way, which align with many of the panel’s recommendations, and I have asked the Department of National Defence to continue or begin working on these recommendations now.
As Canada’s Minister of National Defence, I am committed to learning from the mistakes of our past so that we never again repeat them.
I am committed to taking concrete action to change the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces so that it is more inclusive, it is more diverse and it is representative of Canada’s diverse population.
I am committed to eliminating systemic racism so that the discrimination faced by the Number 2 Construction Battalion and those who followed never happens again.
And I am committed to celebrating and honouring the immense contributions of the Number 2 and all Black Canadians who have served our country in uniform, and the many Black Canadians who continue to do so today.
I believe today’s apology is a significant step forward in honouring the memory of the Number 2 Construction Battalion.
May today help recognize every Black Canadian who bravely served this country in times of war and in the pursuit of peace.
And may today contribute to building a Canada that lives up to the ideals that the members of Number 2 fought bravely to protect.
My dear friends, we have more road to travel. But make no mistake, we will keep walking that road together until we get this right.
Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.
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