From a political philosophy viewpoint, an apology is an ethical act by which the perpetrator admits responsibility for a heinous act, transfers shame from the victim to the perpetrator, restores the victim’s dignity, demonstrates the perpetrator’s commitment to a renewed ethical relationship of respect between the self and other which restores social harmony and reflects social justice. An apology from a psychological point of view, one that will provide the victim with closure and restored dignity, is timely, sincere and appropriate. In the adversarial legal system, an apology is an admission of guilt. This pits the moral imperative of the victims’ right to closure and healing against the legal imperative, the perpetrator’s right to self-defense. See Alter (1999:22).

In spite of the dramatic findings of the RCAP (1995), the federal government citing the legal imperative, hesitated to apologize for wrongdoings to protect the accused offenders’ rights to be presumed innocent.

There was great disappointment in January 1998 when the Minister responsible for Aboriginal affairs not the Prime Minister of Canada, delivered the Statement of Reconciliation on behalf of the Government of Canada to Aboriginal survivors of Residential Schools.

“Jean Chrétien …was not present when his government issued a formal apology to Canada’s aboriginal peoples last week. Chrétien’s absence was not lost on some chiefs, who grumbled that the apology lacked prime ministerial weight, was weakly worded and was not broad enough.” (Wallace 1998:111:3).

In June 2008 Prime Minister Harper delivered a formal apology that seemed to set aside concern for the legal imperative of guilty parties involved in the abusive residential schools and to focus on the moral imperative of survivors to closure and healing.

Selected webliography and bibliography

Alter, Susan. 1999. Apologising for Serious Wrongdoing: Social, Psychological and Legal Considerations. Law Commission of Canada.
2008-06-11. “We’re sorry,’ Harper says.” The Star. Toronto, ON.

Howard-Hassman, Rhoda E. 2002. “Moral Integrity and Reparations to Africa“. Untitled. G. Ulrich, L. Lindholt and L. Krabbe, Kluwer Law Publications: 39.

Wallace, B. 1998. “The Politics of Apology.” Maclean‘s 111:3. January 19.