Canada’s ongoing, often painful, attempts at national reconciliation involving Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities have been held up as an example for other Commonwealth countries to consider, as many of the 54 nations come to terms with their own past.
The words of praise came from Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne who recently toured Canada and said he left deeply touched by those engaged in the reconciliation process.
He spoke on Friday at the opening session of the first Commonwealth leaders’ meeting in four years, being held in Rwanda, a country still struggling to come to terms with the horrific genocide of the Tutsi minority in the spring and in the summer of 1994 – an ethnically inspired bloodshed that took the lives of 800,000 people.
In his speech, Prince Charles reflected on both the future and the past of the Commonwealth, urging nations to reflect on what is happening in Canada.
Acknowledge past wrongs
“To unleash the power of our shared future, we must also acknowledge the wrongs that have shaped our past,” the Prince of Wales said. “Many of these wrongs belong to an earlier age with different and, in some ways, lesser values.”
Charles and his wife Camilla spent three days in Canada last month, a tour to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, and he said the ongoing national conversation in the country was an attempt to “honestly and openly reflect one of the darkest aspects of history”. “
This is something other nations should take note of, he said.
“As difficult as this conversation may be, people across Canada are approaching it with courage and unwavering commitment, determined to lay the foundations of respect and understanding on which a better future can be built,” said Charles.
“It seems to me that there are lessons to be learned from this for our Commonwealth family.”
The remarks are important, especially as some Commonwealth countries – notably Jamaica and Australia – are considering cutting their own ties with the monarchy and becoming republics – what Charles says is up to them.
“I want to make it clear, as I have said before, that the constitutional arrangement of each member, whether as a republic or a monarchy, is solely for the decision of each member country,” the prince said.
“The benefit of a long life brings me the experience that arrangements like these can change calmly and without hard feelings.”
When speaking in Barbados after his relationship with the monarchy officially ended, Charles said that ‘the close and trusted partnership between the members of the Commonwealth, our common values and our shared goals’ must never be forgotten.
“As we fight together for peace, prosperity and democracy, I want to recognize that the roots of our contemporary association have sunk deep into the most painful time in our history,” Charles said. “I cannot describe the depth of my personal grief at the suffering of so many people.”
Whether the message will resonate remains to be seen, as several former British colonies – and separately the host country – struggle with human rights and criticism from defenders.
And there were notable absences
Leaders from South Africa, Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand are not in Kigali for the meeting. India’s Narendra Modi – leader of the Commonwealth’s most populous nation – also raises no questions about the organization’s relevance to these countries.