Canada’s defence minister has paid tribute Sunday to Canada’s only all-Black unit to serve during the First World War.
Harjit Sajjan has told a virtual event that the 600 members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion and their descendants are owed an apology for the racism and discrimination they faced despite their willingness to serve their country.
Sajjan says plans are in the works for a formal apology from the federal government, which will highlight the fact that hundreds of Black men in Canada were turned away when they volunteered to fight overseas in 1914.
After two years of protests, the Canadian military was given approval in 1916 to establish a segregated, non-combat battalion that would be tasked with building roads, railways and forestry operations as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Sajjan says members of the battalion continued to face hatred and racism while serving in the United Kingdom and in France, and he says their service received no recognition when they returned home.
The defence minister says Canada continues to struggle with systemic racism, but he insisted that the best way to deal with it is to recognize the failures of the past.