January 30, 2004
It isn't everyday that a citizen of the United States opens his mail to find a proclamation issued and signed by the official Canadian representative of Queen Elizabeth the Second, but the circumstances that led to University of Maine at Fort Kent history professor Roger Paradis's recent receipt of the document are equally remarkable.
Paradis's original copy of the soon-to-be framed, bilingual document, signed by Adrienne Clarkson, the Governor General of Canada, acknowledges that on July 28, 1755 "the Crown made the decision to deport the Acadian people."
The senior faculty member and Acadian researcher's immediate reaction is one of "vindication".
"The accountability of the Crown was a point that I have argued for over a score of years," said Paradis.
Throughout the better part of the four and a half decades that the 68-year-old has been documenting and researching Acadian life, Paradis has consistently questioned and challenged the two common schools of thought on the deportation.
"I was the lonely voice crying in the academic wilderness,"said Paradis. "Until the publication of my research, the conventional wisdom among Francophone historians was that colonial officials, beginning with Lieutenant Governor Charles Lawrence of Nova Scotia, were ultimately responsible for the deportation."
He challenged this interpretation given the prodigious cost of the deportation, against the fact that the colonial government at Halifax had no revenue except what was appropriated by Parliament.
"Only John Bull had the deep pockets to finance such a grandiose enterprise." "Moreover," said Paradis, "if Lawrence acted on his own authority, this would have constituted usurpation of the royal prerogative and the penalty for treason was the Tower of London. On the contrary," he added, "Lawrence was promoted; even while the deportation was in progress."
The other common belief was that the Acadians brought tragedy on themselves by their inflexibility; rather than reject demands of the British, they should have subscribed to the unconditional Oath of Allegiance that was demanded of them by the government.
This theory argues the Acadians were too naïve and politically inexperienced to realize that their best interest would be served by becoming good British subjects, which was what the Oath was intended to achieve. The disloyal Acadians represented a calculated military risk that the government was no longer willing to take, especially with a rupture in relations with France being imminent.
According to Paradis, the Acadians had taken a qualified Oath of Fidelity, in 1730, from which they had not been released by the Crown. This Oath guaranteed them the freedom of religion, their estates, and the right to remain neutral in the event of an Anglo-French and Indian war.
"Those guarantees were all sanctioned by the law of nations," said Paradis. "The Acadians had been 'narrowly and consistently neutral' since the conquest in 1710, except for some twenty Acadians who collaborated with the French during King George's War, 1744-48. However, this represented only about .002% of the population, and "collective punishment" was and remains a violation of international law."
In 1982, Paradis presented a paper to the American Council for Quebec Studies, in Burlington, Vermont, where he asserted that "the paymaster of the deportation was the Home Government," because "only the Mother Metropolis could afford it."
The audience was "skeptical" he admits, but he was convinced and pressed on. In 1990, at St. Mary's University in Halifax, he presented additional evidence to shore-up his contention that the ethnic cleansing of Nova Scotia was, indeed, sanctioned by the Crown.
Then, in 1998, he published an essay in the preface of his 982 page Mercure Papers, with the suggestive title, "The Final Resolution." The title was a quotation from John Winslow's diary when he was the commander in charge of the embarkation at Minas Basin. There he told the people gathered at the Grand Pre Church that the deportation was on the King's "orders and commands."
Paradis's research created what he called a "prise de conscience" (an awakening) among the people. Four years later, he was invited on a speaking tour of the Maritimes where he further substantiated his findings.
The result was that the Societe Nationale de l'Acadie requested an acknowledgment from the Crown.
On December 6, 2003, "with the advice of our Privy Council of Canada," the Queen made the acknowledgment and proclaimed July 28, commencing in 2005, "A Day of Commemoration" of the Grand Derangement.
"Two-hundred and forty-nine years later, we hear the truth at last! I feel personally vindicated. Research does not often get validated in one's lifetime. It was a great satisfaction to know that my research played a role in producing this marvelous proclamation," said Paradis.
"I followed the money," he added, "and it led me to the Court of St. James."
He insists that he had no political motives to serve; only that "the truth will out." "After this," he added, "Acadian history will have to be revisited and rewritten."
"It took great courage and wisdom for the Queen to do what she did," said Paradis, "which is why I have always entertained the most profound respect for this grand lady and monarch." He noted, however, that the Proclamation was not an apology contrary to what was reported in the press. "It is only, but significantly, an acknowledgment of responsibility," said Paradis.
Paradis takes exception with the term "Grand Derangement" which he characterizes as "a polite euphemism for a crime against humanity."
"Worse still, is that this term has been translated into "great upheaval" which suggests some kind of insurrection. There was no such thing," Paradis insists. "The Acadians offered no resistance and they went to their doom quietly and some singing, other weeping, and all praying."
The UMFK professor is currently working on a monograph that will examine the role of colonial officials for the Acadian Deportation. He hopes to publish his research in 2005, on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the tragic event.
"It gives me great satisfaction, said Paradis, "that my research contributed to, and was validated by, the Queen's Proclamation."