Canada: The Importance Of Apologies For Sexual Abuse


Written by Elizabeth K.P. Grace, Anna Matas
August 2015

As reported in a recent CBC News story, the Anglican Church of Canada apologized recently for failing – for over 20 years – to make public a confession of sexual misconduct by one of its priests. Gordan Nakayama, father of well-known Canadian writer Joy Kogawa, confessed his crimes to the church in writing in 1994. In reference to his “sexual bad behaviour”, Nakayama said he was “sincerely sorry [for] what [he] did to so many people.”

It is hard to predict what impact this apology might have had on Nakayama’s many victims, had it been made sooner. Victims of sexual abuse often struggle with guilt, shame, anger, and fear. In cases where the abuser was a powerful or trusted community figure, like a priest, victims are often too scared to come forward. Historically, victims who did come forward were frequently disbelieved and shamed back into silence. Acknowledgment of the wrong inflicted upon them by the perpetrator of their harms, or an institution like a church that may be vicariously liable for their harms, can be of enormous psychological value to those whose lives have been impacted by sexual abuse. Those who work in mental health often speak of the significant health benefits associated with earlier intervention and support. Delays often result in more entrenched harms and injuries, which make healing more difficult.

The Apology Act, 2009 is an Ontario law that protects from liability in civil lawsuits and other proceedings those who apologize for wrongs they have committed or allowed to occur. Under this legislation, an “apology” is “an expression of sympathy or regret, a statement that a person is sorry or any other words or actions indicating contrition or commiseration, whether or not the words or actions admit fault or liability or imply an admission of fault or liability in connection with the matter to which the words or actions relate.”

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