HALIFAX -- It's an apology more than a century in the making.

At a virtual event on Sunday, the Government of Canada confirmed its intent to apologize for the treatment that more than 600 members of No. 2 Construction Battalion endured before, during, and after their service to Canada during the First World War.

“Today, more than 100 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. 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,” said Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence.

During Sunday’s virtual event, hosted by Sean Fraser, Member of Parliament for Central Nova, Sajjan addressed the need to make a meaningful and respectful apology for the racism and discrimination experienced by members of Canada’s only Black military unit.

At the outset of the First World War, many of the members of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, based in Pictou, Nova Scotia, had tried to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force, but were turned away because of the colour of their skin.

Despite this, they served their country as a segregated, non-combatant battalion of more than 600, formed in 1916.

The Battalion deployed overseas and to France, where they helped to construct and maintain roads, bridges, and railways to ensure that desperately needed lumber was transported to the Front.

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.

“The story of the No. 2 Construction Battalion is about courage and resilience, and shows us that racism and discrimination must be addressed at every level, because it has no place in our armed forces or in our society,” says Anita Vandenbeld, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence. “I am hopeful that our collaboration with the Black community in Nova Scotia will help raise awareness of this great story, the struggles of these members, and their sacrifices, so we can uphold their legacy of resilience and service in defence of Canada, its citizens, and its values.”  

The government says the apology and commemoration event is expected to take place following meaningful consultation with community members and descendants.