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Wednesday, March 29, 2006 - Page updated at 08:27 AM


British Columbia bill would allow apologies without legal fallout

The Associated Press

VANCOUVER, B.C.– Sorry may soon no longer be so hard to say in British Columbia.

The provincial government on Tuesday became the first in Canada to propose legislation that would allow people and organizations to apologize without risking liability for damages or other penalties. Under the measure, evidence of an apology would not be admissible in legal proceedings.

"There are times when an apology is very important and appropriate, but the legal implications have long been uncertain," provincial Attorney General Wallace T. Oppal said in the legislature.

"The Apology Act is designed to promote the early and mutually beneficial resolution of disputes by allowing parties to express honest regret or remorse," Oppal said.

Jason B. Gratl, a lawyer who heads the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said the measure could be used in response to historical injustices, such as the Chinese head tax, or major losses such as the sinking of the Queen of the North ferry near Prince Rupert last week. Two passengers are missing and presumed dead and a lawsuit seeking damages for two survivors has been filed.

At present those in a position to apologize feel uncomfortable doing so out of concern that they could be held legally liable, Gratl said.

"Certainly we would like to see those responsible for British Columbia Ferries apologize generally for the ordeal of the passengers and those lost in that unfortunately incident," Gratl said. "This act effectively separates expression of apology or remorse from the acceptance of financial responsibility."

The measure had previously been proposed as a private bill, without formal backing from the Liberal party government, by Lorne Mayencourt, a Liberal legislator from Vancouver.

"It allows people to do what is natural, which is to say 'sorry' and get on with things," Mayencourt said, adding that similar laws have significantly reduced liability litigation in Australia and California. "You can't solve problems between two people without an apology."

The measure also was praised as "a very empowering piece of legislation" by acting British Columbia Ombudsman Howard Kushner.

In a report last month entitled "The Power of an Apology: Removing the Legal Barriers," Kushner wrote that apologies are especially in order when someone has been treated unfairly by a public agency.

"My experience as ombudsman has demonstrated to me the power of an apology in settling disputes," Kushner added in a news release. "However, too often I hear from public agencies that they will not apologize for fear that their apology will be used against them as acknowledgment of liability in any potential civil action."

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