I’m Sorry Isn’t Mea Culpa in Ontario Anymore, or Tort Reform, Canadian-Style

The Ontario government has introduced legistlation which would allow all-too-human authorities everywhere the freedom to express their rich emotional lives in the face of tragedy without finding themselves the subject of litigation having de jure admitted guilt or culpability by making an apology.  ‘We’re so fucking sorry here at Widgets-R-Us that our prestidigitizer flew apart and took your wife’s head clean off’.  Natural sentiment like that, at present, costs business, medicine and lots of everyday people dearly.

I’m keen to know what exactly constitutes an ‘apology’ in the Apologies Act, but in any case, I’m awfully amused by these changes to the meanings of language by fiat.  Or I guess it might be argued that this is a kind of social engineering in reverse: we Canadians are a people famously polite who will apologize for just about anything to which others might take umbrage, even things that aren’t our fault.  What civil law has done is turn that into culpability.  Implied in that is a kind of causation that we naturally understand isn’t always at work: “I’m sorry” means “I’m at fault” but might also mean “I’m offering my condolences.”***  But in law, “I’m sorry” has been reduced to an additional consequence of the actions of the apologizer or whom the apologizer legally represents.

I’ve got a better idea.  As a student of religions based upon karma, I can conceive of causation and moral responsibility modelled much more on a spider web or net than on billiards: a cause producing direct effects all throughout a system as opposed to a cause producing a chain of effects that may or may not extend through a whole system.  I can imagine an act of atonement as a complex of multiple causes and multiple effects.

And so, I say let’s leave I’m Sorry = Mea Culpa.  Instead, let everyone inclined to apology simply choose a method of good old-fashioned self-flagellation and carry it out in front of the party or parties to whom apologies might be owed.  So, when little Jimmy gets his organs all harvested instead of the mere appendectomy he went in for, his Dr., the other Dr., the hospital CEO, or any administrator might approach Jimmy’s family stripped to the waist, flogging him/herself all the way, and then simply relate the events leading to Jimmy’s death matter-of-factly, though I guess this would be accompanied by a lot of weeping and bleeding to great effect.  Anyway, I’d be even be ok with a hospital employing a VP of Self-flagellation or setting up a whole Dept. of SF.  (Though I’d proabably like to see the Labour Relations Act and other law amended to ensure that this doesn’t turn into some minimum-wage-earning occupation or some vocation which kids take up after a two year diploma programme at a community college, though Self-flagellation Worker, or SFW, has a ring to it.) 

Karmically, this is win-win.  For karmically, atonement by proxy is just as legit and just as effective, all the way around; in fact this would be more effective, since tearing a strip off one’s own back has got to be more karmically consequential than tearing a stripe off one’s ephemeral conscience.  The flagellator (or flagellatrix) takes on the bad karma of the actual wrong-doer, atones for it (forces it to bear fruit by an act of asceticism), thus the actually responsible party is freed of his or her karmic debt, and parties to whom wrong is done get an expression of contrition plus really sincere atonement.

Then, if there’s blood money to be paid on top of that, that’s a matter for the courts. But since actual blood has already been made in down payment, cash settlements will surely be less than they tend to be now.  So the results of my plan will be the same as what the government is hoping for by their change to the legal definition of apology.  For, as the Toronto Star reports, Attorney General Chris Bentley got the idea for this bit of legislation from his caucus-mate MPP David Orazietti, “who said statistics show similar laws cut court awards, court time and legal bills in other jurisdictions.”

And there you have it.  Plain old courtesy buys an awful lot in this country. 

Wreckless disregard for the health and well-being of employees, patients, customers, and others: no more cash than you’ve got in your ass-pants pocket. 

Playing on the decency of the injured and bereaved and placating them with apologies dripping with corporate weasel mendacity? 

Or, since I’m up to my eyeballs with Paul ATM, the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Self-flagellation Workers? 


***Apologies are , of course, also often merely performative.  My sense of decorum certainly is such that I don’t think anybuddy should be held accountable for an insincere apology.

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