Minister says changes in progress after apology for racism faced by Black soldiers

Minister says changes in progress after apology for racism faced by Black soldiers
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Defence Minister Anita Anand looks on after making a keynote address at the CANSEC trade show, billed as North America’s largest multi-service defence event in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

Ottawa is continuing to implement recommendations brought forward as part of an apology for the systemic hate and racism experienced by an all-Black Canadian unit that served in the First World War, Defence Minister Anita Anand said on Sunday.

The apology issued one year ago to descendants of the No. 2 Construction battalion’s members included eight recommendations developed through community consultations.

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have been working “unceasingly” on implementing the recommendations, which are key to building a more inclusive culture free of racism, discrimination and biases, Anand said.

Three of the eight recommendations remain to be fully addressed, two are in progress and elements of another three will require what she described as sustained and everlasting efforts, she said.

“We are making headway and we will not stop until we become an organization where everyone can have a sense of belonging and know that their contribution to Canada’s defence goals will be recognized and valued,” Anand said in a statement.

Anand joined Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Truro, N.S., last July to apologize for the appalling treatment of the segregated, non-combatant unit — the first and only all-Black battalion in Canadian military history.

Hundreds of Black men in Canada were turned away when they volunteered to fight overseas in 1914 because they weren’t wanted in what was considered a white man’s war.

Following two years of protests, the Canadian military received approval in 1916 to establish a battalion of about 600 men. More than half of those who enlisted were from Nova Scotia.

Only a few of its members would see combat, mainly because the battalion was repeatedly told its help wasn’t wanted on the front lines, and they received no public recognition when they returned home.

The unit supported three major forestry operations while overseas, working at lumber mills and maintaining roads and railway equipment.

Meanwhile, a parade was also held on Sunday in Pictou, N.S., led by the 4 Engineer Support Regiment, based out of Gagetown, N.B., which retains the historical link with No. 2 Construction battalion, and the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2023.

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