Earlier this week, in an act of either complete carelessness or abject stupidity, Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration called Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk “a complete and utter asshole” in an email and then hit “reply all,” sending the message to everyone in the federal Alberta caucus and to their assistants. The email, of course, stirred up speculation that ties are currently strained between the Conservative Party of Canada and the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party. That may indeed be true. What interests me, though, is the issue of the apology after the incident.
When the email was made public, Kenney refused repeatedly to apologize. He was pressured by the opposition parties to do so during question period in the House of Commons. New Democrat MP, Linda Duncan, openly challenged Kenney to apologize. “Given that his reprehensible comments are now public, will the minister of citizenship and immigration take this opportunity to apologize to Mr. Lukaszuk?” Liberal leader Bob Rae demanded to know, “Why will he not stand up and simply say that he is sorry? Why is that so hard?”
I don’t know why Kenney wouldn’t apologize. I don’t know if Lukaszuk really is an “asshole.” Neither of these answers is relevant to my point. My question is why anyone felt compelled to force Kenney to apologize in the first place. This incident highlights a point I have been making for some time now about the meaning of an apology. With so many politicians and bankers and executives committing crimes and misdemeanours of various kinds and then making tearful public requests for absolution, apologizing in our culture has begun to lose its meaning. It’s begun to be both an obligation and an escape clause. Nowadays, people think that you must apologize to them when they think you have done something wrong. The question of whether or not you think you have done something wrong has become irrelevant; an apology is expected. People also think that no matter what crime or misdemeanour they commit, all that is required to be let off the hook is to say “sorry.” Once the word is uttered, these people expect those they have wronged to accept the apology, forgive them for their sins and never mention the infraction again, in other words to “get over it.”
I say that an apology is neither an obligation nor an escape clause. A person should only say “sorry” if they truly are, if they feel they have done something wrong and truly feel sorrow for doing it. “Sorrow” is after all essential to the meaning of the word “sorry.” A person who apologizes should also realize that making the apology does not make the hurt or other consequences of the harmful actions go away and that an apology alone is not enough. The apologizer must realize that the apologizee may still have upset feelings about the incident. Beyond apologizing, the person who committed a wrong must take noticeable action to prevent a repeat of the incident; otherwise, “sorry” is just a meaningless word.
Which brings me back to Mr. Kenney and the apology pushers. Why did they want to force Kenny to apologize? What good does an apology do if it’s forced rather than sincere? Liberal leader Bob Rae asked why Kenny wouldn’t apologize, why he found that act so hard. I suspect it’s because he wasn’t sorry at all. Perhaps he really thinks Lukaszuk is an asshole and that an apology would make it falsely appear otherwise. No matter though, whatever his reasons for not apologizing, Jason Kenney should not have been forced to do so. Whether to apologize or not to apologize is his call not ours or our politicians. It doesn’t matter whether we think he was wrong for making the comment; it matters whether he thought so. Because it came under political duress, the apology Kenney eventually gave Lukaszuk this week by phone rings hollow.