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Ottawa to apologize for racist treatment of all-Black First World War battalion in 2022

Members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion that was formed in Pictou, N.S. in 1916. No.2 Construction Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force website

The federal government of Canada said it will officially formalize an apology for the racist treatment of members of Canada’s only Black military unit, which served in the First World War, in person next year.

Members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, formed in Pictou, N.S. in 1916, were turned away from the Canadian Expeditionary Force because they were Black, and after years of fighting for the right to serve, were given non-combat support roles overseas.

Deployed to France in 1917, they built roads, railways and bridges, ensuring lumber could be transported where it was needed.

READ MORE: ‘Long overdue’: Ottawa will apologize for racist treatment of all-Black First World War battalion

Minister of National Defence Harjit S. Sajjan said in a virtual address that the government and community will hopefully be able to gather safely in Nova Scotia to honour and remember the No. 2 Construction Battalion once COVID-19 restrictions are eased,

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Sajjan was present at the 29th Annual Honour & Remembrance Tribute Ceremony for the No. 2 Construction Battalion, which was hosted virtually by the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia on Saturday morning.

In recognition of the 105th anniversary of the establishment of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia and the Department of National Defence working Committee has launched a website dedicated to the memory and history of the battalion.

Click to play video: 'Local reaction to planned apology for treatment of No. 2 Construction Battalion members'
Local reaction to planned apology for treatment of No. 2 Construction Battalion members

“They too felt the fervor. They too felt the desire to stand for this country, but they were told ‘This is not your war’. They were told, ‘This is a white man’s war,'” said Douglas Ruck, Black Battalion Memorial Committee Co-Chair.

On March 28, 2021, 104 years after the No. 2 Construction Battalion deployed overseas, the canadian minister of national defence announced that Canada would apologize for the treatment that the men in this Battalion faced.

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At the time, he said the apology will come after meaningful consultation with their descendants and the Black community.

“More than one hundred years after the No.2 Construction Battalion was disbanded, we are ever grateful for their bravery and resilience in the face of hate and adversity,” said Sajjan.

“But more than our gratitude, we owe these members, their families, and their community an apology for the racism and discrimination they endured in their service to our country,” he added.

-With files from Elizabeth McSheffrey 

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