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Click on the below link to listen to: Public Apology: Good Pr or Powerful Healing?


Public Apology: Good Pr or Powerful Healing?

When faced with having made a mistake and causing harm to an individual or an identifiable group, governments and other public institutions, doctors and private companies were often advised to deny, deny, deny.

They were motivated by a fear of legal liability and costly reparations. But that strategy has now changed. Saying “I’m sorry” has become almost commonplace.

Canada's Apology to First Nations
Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine watches as Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially apologizes for more than a century of abuse and cultural loss involving residential schools. June 2008. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Canada is one of many countries around the world that has taken great steps to make amends for past injustices by paying reparations, creating human rights tribunals and reconciliation commissions.

Some have called the 20th century the, “age of apology”. So during this age have these apologies been effective.

This was the topic for debate at a recent community seminar co-sponsored by the Calgary Institute for the Humanities and IDEAS.

Three panelists were on hand to discuss community justice, mediation, negotiation and reconciliation as well as the consequences of apology:

Barbara Benoliel is a mediator, and President of Preferred Solutions, a Conflict Management company. She is a faculty member at York University’s Alternative Dispute Resolution program, and at Walden University’s program in Criminal Justice in Minneapolis Minnesota. Her research is in the area of apology and remorse. One of her recent articles in the ADR Journal is titled: Apologies in Mediation: Who’s Sorry Now.

David Gustafson is the Co-Director of the Fraser Region Community Justice Initiative Association in Langley, BC and also an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University at the Centre for Restorative Justice. David is a therapist and clinical counsellor whose professional context involves working with a victim/offender reconciliation program in British Columbia. His graduate degree is in counselling/peace & conflict studies.

Michael Ross is a professor in the Psychology department at the University of Waterloo. He is a social psychologist with interests in conflict, culture and memory. His research has included studying apologies and reparations offered by political leaders for government sanctioned prejudice and cruelty towards minorities that occurred decades or even centuries earlier.



Blatz, C.W., Schumann, K. & Ross, M. (2009). Government apologies for historical injustices. Political Psychology, 30, 219-241.

Starzyk, K.B., Blatz, C.W. & Ross, M. (2009). Acknowledging and redressing historial injustices. In Jost, J., Kay, A. C., & Thorisdottir, H. Social and psychological bases of ideology and system justification (p. 463-479). New York: Oxford University Press.

Nicholas Tavuchis. Mea Culpa: A Sociology of Apology and Reconciliation. Stanford University of Press.

Michael McCullough. Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct. Publisher: John Wiley and Sons.

Martha Minow. Between Vengeance and Forgiveness. Beacon Press.

Avishai Margalit. The Decent Society. Harvard University Press.

John Kador
. Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust. Published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Related Websites

Conflict, Culture and Memory Lab - University of Waterloo. Find public apologies offered by government, churches, and other parties in their Public Apology Database.

The Power of Apology in Mediation by Carl Schneider, (

Doctors Say 'I'm Sorry' Before 'See You In Court', by Kevin Sack. The New York Times.

Mea Culpa!: A Course in Public Apology by Barbara Kellerman, Harvard Business School.

Austrailia's Apology to Aborigines for past mistreatment of the country's Aboriginal population. Full text,

Canada's Apology to First Nations people for more than a century of abuse and cultural loss involving residential schools: Truth and Reconciliation: Stolen Children,




A crisis is a turning point.

Anne Lindthorst

Mediation is the facilitation of negotiation.

Norman R. Page



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