Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pardon me?

What's worse than one of those institutional apologies? An institutional pardon.

The Nova Scotia government is preparing to "pardon" Viola Desmond, a Black woman arrested and jailed in 1946 for sitting in the whites-only section of a movie house in New Glasgow.

Desmond's niece has the right idea:

"If the justice minister had come to Viola and said, 'We want to pardon you,' she would have laughed and said, 'Pardon me for what? I didn't do anything wrong.'

Meanwhile, Ringo Starr has the right idea as well. The Vatican, in its infinite mercy, has "forgiven" the Beatles, and called them, perhaps a little creepily, a "precious jewel." Ringo isn't having that:

"Didn't the Vatican say we were satanic or possibly satanic? And they've still forgiven us?" the 69-year-old said yesterday.

In an apparent reference to the scandal over paedophile priests that has shaken the Catholic Church worldwide, he added: "I think the Vatican, they've got more to talk about than the Beatles."

Amen to that.

UPDATE: (April 16)
As it turns out, I was too quick to judge. The posthumous pardon granted by the Nova Scotia government to Viola Desmond was a rare "free pardon," which is an admission on the part of the Crown that she was innocent of any wrongdoing, rather than the more usual official forgiveness for a wrong. And it came with an official apology as well. Desmond's surviving sister was reportedly "numb with joy."

There may even be a designated special day to recognize Desmond and her part in breaking the former Nova Scotia colour bar. I hope that comes to pass. My frustration with official apologies is the lack of accompanying action: too often they appear merely pro forma. In this case, it is hard to imagine anything more that could be done.

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