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Federal government to apologize for treatment of No. 2 Construction Battalion members – CBC.ca

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The Canadian government plans to formally apologize to members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion — the country’s first and only segregated military unit — for the treatment they endured during and following their service in the First World War.

Many Black men were rejected from enlisting during the First World War because of their skin colour, so Canada allowed them to form the No. 2 Construction Battalion in 1916. Nearly half of the battalion’s 600 members came from Nova Scotia.

The announcement of the intent to apologize in a “meaningful and respectful way” happened at a virtual event on Sunday afternoon in collaboration with the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia in Cherry Brook, N.S..

“Our country is still struggling with the insidious effects of racism,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in his virtual address. “More than 100 years later, we can combat it by recognizing the failures of our past and working to correct them.”

WATCH | Daughter of battalion member hopes Ottawa commits to making real change:

The federal government says it’s planning an apology to the No. 2 Construction Battalion, an all-Black battalion that served in the First World War. A woman whose father served in the battalion says while the announcement is emotional, she hopes the government commits to making real change. 9:24

Sajjan took time in his address to recognize the late Capt. George Borden, who spent years promoting the history of Black Canadians in the military. Borden died last year.

“His leadership in Nova Scotia’s Black community was inspiring. We remember and honour his contributions to our country, and we will uphold his legacy and ensure these stories are told and heard,” Sajjan said.

A virtual event was held on Sunday afternoon to announce the federal government’s intent to apologize for how members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion were treated. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)

Douglas Ruck, co-chair of the Black Battalion Historical Marker Society, was one of the speakers at the event.

“I’m very pleased to be here but it’s sad because of those who could not be here. Family members of the battalion, my father [former senator Calvin Ruck], Capt. George [Borden], they’re no longer with us,” Ruck said.

“They should be sitting in these seats, they should be online listening to this, they should be part of it. And because of that, we must take this, we must take the pride in it, and we must continue with this message.”

Ruck’s father is credited with bringing the battalion’s story to prominence after writing The Black Battalion 1916-1920: Canada’s Best Kept Military Secret about the members’ struggles.

Douglas Ruck is pictured at Sunday’s event. His father, late senator Calvin Ruck, wrote a book about the battalion’s struggles. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)

“Unfortunately, that title still applies in many ways today…. If it hadn’t been for that book my father wrote back in 1987, I say to you now, with pride, they would have been forgotten,” Ruck said.

Borden also wrote about the No. 2 Construction Battalion, penning the poem The Black Soldier’s Lament which is often read during Remembrance Day ceremonies in Preston, N.S.

Borden had been pushing for an apology to the No. 2 Construction Battalion for years before his death. In 2018, he wrote an open letter to the Canadian military demanding an apology to members and descendents.

‘We pick up the mantle’

“I think it helps to keep the memory of the No. 2 alive as well, that people are hearing about it in a number of different ways and so it may resonate with Canadians in different fashions,” said RCMP Sgt. Craig Smith, Borden’s nephew, who attended the event.

Smith’s great-great-grandfather, George Whalen, served in the No. 2 Construction Battalion. Smith met several other battalion members when he was younger because the African Nova Scotian community is small and tight-knit.

But none of the battalion members lived to see today’s announcement.

“All that really means is the rest of us that are here, the descendants that are here, we pick up the mantle for our grandfathers, for our uncles, for those relatives who were members, and we carry it forward proudly,” he said.

RCMP Sgt. Craig Smith’s great-great-grandfather was a member of the No. 2 Construction Battalion. Smith says it’s crucial to educate Canadians about the battalion’s story. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

While having a relative who served in the battalion makes the announcement “all the more special” to Smith, he emphasized that breathing life into these stories is crucial for Canadians to learn about these lesser-known parts of their country’s history.

“For me now, it’s really, what does an apology look like? How do you put in place mechanisms that ensure that, number one, this won’t happen again. But number two, that you really try to lift up the memory of who the Black battalion was,” he said.

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin, who spoke virtually at the event, called the news of the apology “long overdue.”

The event was closed to the public due to gathering limits. Descendants of the people who served in the No. 2 Construction Battalion, as well as members of the Black Battalion Historical Maker Society and the Black Cultural Society, were invited to attend.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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Factbox-Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus

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(Reuters) -A recent surge in COVID-19 cases could see major parts of Japan slide back into states of emergency with authorities in Tokyo and Osaka looking at renewed curbs, while quarantine-free travel started between Australia and New Zealand for the first time in more than a year.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS * Eikon users, see COVID-19: MacroVitals https://apac1.apps.cp.thomsonreuters.com/cms/?navid=1592404098 for a case tracker and summary of news.

EUROPE

* The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care units in France edged up on Sunday, amid a nationwide lockdown to try to stem a third wave of infections.

* British scientists launched a trial which will deliberately expose participants who have already had COVID-19 to the coronavirus again to examine immune responses and see if people get reinfected.

* Italy will ease curbs in many areas from April 26, warning caution was still needed to avoid any reversals in the reopening of many long-shuttered activities.

AMERICAS

* Just more than half of U.S. adults have now received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed on Sunday, with nearly 130 million people aged 18 years or more having received their first shot.

* Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday predicted that U.S. health regulators will end the temporary pause on distributing Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, adding he expects a decision could come as soon as Friday.

* Canada will present a budget with billions of dollars for pandemic recovery measures as COVID-19 infections skyrocket, C$2 billion ($1.6 billion) toward national childcare, and new taxes on luxury goods.

* The Canadian province of Ontario will begin offering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday to people turning 40 or older this year.

* Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday the government has made a second payment to the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative to access around 11 million COVID-19 vaccines.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* India’s capital New Delhi recorded 25,500 coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period, with about one in three people tested returning a positive result, its chief minister said, urging the federal government to provide more hospital beds to tackle the crisis.

* Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has agreed to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s request to supply additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine minister of Japan said on Sunday.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* The coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa can break through the protection provided by Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to some extent, a real-world data study in Israel found.

* Vaccination against COVID-19 is a requirement to perform the Umra pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi state TV said on Sunday, citing a government official.

* Tunisia on Saturday announced the closure of all schools until April 30, as well as restrictions on movement, to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine was 67% effective in preventing symptomatic infection, data from a huge real-world study in Chile has shown, a potential boost for the jab which has come under scrutiny over its level of protection against the virus.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* Asian shares hovered near 1-1/2 week highs on Monday, helped by expectations monetary policy will remain accommodative the world over, while COVID-19 vaccine rollouts help ease fears of another dangerous wave of coronavirus infections. [MKTS/GLOB]

(Compiled by Krishna Chandra Eluri, Devika Syamnath and Milla Nissi; Edited by William Maclean, Anil D’Silva and Subhranshu Sahu)

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New Zealand says ‘uncomfortable’ with expanding Five Eyes

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – New Zealand said it is “uncomfortable” with expanding the role of the Five Eyes, a post-war intelligence grouping which also includes the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, recently criticised by China.

China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner, and Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a speech that New Zealand sought a predictable diplomatic relationship.

New Zealand will find it necessary to speak out on issues where it does not agree with China, including developments in Hong Kong and the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, she said in a speech on Monday to the government-funded New Zealand China Council.

In later comments to media reported by New Zealand’s Newshub, Mahuta said New Zealand didn’t favour invoking the Five Eyes for “messaging out on a range of issues that really exist out of the remit of the Five Eyes”.

“We are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes,” she said.

China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly criticised the Five Eyes, after all members issued a joint statement about the treatment of Hong Kong pro-democracy legislators in November.

Last month, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said “the Five Eyes have taken coordinated steps to gang up on China”, after Australia and New Zealand issued a joint statement on Xinjiang.

Last year, the Five Eyes discussed cooperation beyond intelligence sharing, including on critical technology, Hong Kong, supply chains and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement by Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne in 2020.

Mahuta’s office told Reuters it couldn’t provide a copy of her comments on the Five Eyes.

Payne will travel to New Zealand on Wednesday for meetings with Mahuta and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the first diplomatic visit between the neighbouring countries since borders reopened both ways.

Canberra has recently endured a rockier relationship with Beijing than Wellington, with Australia’s trade minister unable to secure a call with his Chinese counterpart as exporters were hit with multiple trade sanctions from China.

A diplomatic dispute between China and Australia worsened in 2020 after Canberra lobbied for an international inquiry into the source of the coronavirus pandemic.

China and New Zealand upgraded a free trade agreement in January, when, Mahuta said, trade ministers had held a “constructive” call.

 

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Australia to hold inquiry to examine military suicides

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By Colin Packham

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia will hold a Royal Commission to examine suicides among serving and former military personnel, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, bowing to public pressure to find ways to stem a mounting toll.

More than 500 have died from suicide since 2001, government data shows, a statistic that has fuelled public anger, including among the prime minister’s own Liberal party.

“I think and I hope it will be a healing process,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra, as he announced his call for a commission to be set up.

“I hope it will be a process by which veterans and families can find some comfort, but it obviously can’t replace the loss.”

The issue became prominent in Australia following a high-profile campaign by Julie-Ann Finney, whose son David, a former naval petty officer, committed suicide in 2019 after he had earlier been deployed to Iraq, East Timor and Bougainville.

Australian troops have been involved in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and deployed for humanitarian missions in the Pacific.

The United States, Britain and Canada are also exploring ways to reduce suicide rates among serving and former military personnel.

Morrison said he hopes the Royal Commission will begin hearings later this year. Final recommendations are expected in 2023, he said. A permanent national commissioner will be tasked with ensuring the recommendations are enforced.

 

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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