The CBC has apologized after a barrage of complaints about a Canadian history series that has been savaged in two provinces, criticized by the Premier of Quebec and now earned a failing grade from several historians.
The public broadcaster says it never meant to offend "anyone or any group" and did not intend to "diminish the importance" of stories that were left out of Canada: The Story of Us, which was meant as a marquee program to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the country.
"After the first two episodes, some people felt misrepresented and for that, we apologize," the CBC said in a statement released on Tuesday after a week of attacks.
In an unusual mea culpa, CBC president Hubert Lacroix went as far as to write a letter of regret to the Quebec government, after the province complained last week that the series failed to fairly reflect the French fact in Canada's history. "I know that the first episodes of the CBC series Canada: The Story of Us disappointed you," Mr. Lacroix wrote on Monday to Jean-Marc Fournier, Quebec's Canadian Relations Minister.
"It certainly wasn't our intention to offend anyone or pass judgment on the historic importance of one group over another."
The 10-part historical drama sparked an uproar in Quebec and the Maritimes. Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil formally complained to the CBC that the show omitted the role of the Acadians and Mi'kmaq and disregarded Port Royal as the place of the founding of Canada.
In Quebec, detractors said the series is an anglocentric take on history, and its depiction of the French in New France was stereotypical and insulting. Historical figures such as Samuel de Champlain are portrayed as poorly groomed and wearing filthy clothes even during diplomatic meetings, while British figures are clean and well-dressed.
The furor grew over the weekend as the province's Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard weighed in, saying the CBC should be held accountable for its choices.
"They deliberately chose to more or less highlight certain parts of history," he said on Saturday.
"The story of us – our history – should include all of us, and certainly the francophones of Canada and the history of New France, certainly the First Nations," Mr. Couillard said. "There's a gap there."
Trying to quell the controversy, the CBC will begin a weekly series of online "conversations" through Facebook Live after the next episode of the program airs on Sunday. The English and French forums are expected to include historians.
"The goal is to foster discussion and debate – in English and in French – about the series, its stories and generally, what's on the minds of Canadians when it comes to Canada's history," the CBC said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced the first episode of The Story of Us last month. The series was commissioned by the CBC and done for English-language audiences. Several French historical figures are played by anglophone actors.
The critiques of the program have not been limited to politicians. Historians have been hotly debating the series, and have not come away with favourable reviews so far.
"The general consensus among most Canadian historians was that this was a particularly poor representation of New France," said Robert Englebert, a historian at the University of Saskatchewan and expert on the French in North America. "It fits into very old anti-French stereotypes of the dirty Frenchman, which is problematic and highly offensive."
First Nations groups, meanwhile, are solely seen through European eyes, he added.
"It's still very much a Eurocentric story. Indigenous people are sort of an addendum," Dr. Englebert said, adding that it was "appropriate" for the CBC to apologize.
Others criticized the choice of modelling the program on a format used in the United States and other countries.
The show features five stories per instalment using dramatic recreations and computer-generated imagery, as well as Canadian celebrities commenting on major historical moments.
"Part of the problem is that the series tries to pour Canadian content into an American mold," said Jean-François Lozier, a historian at the University of Ottawa.
The first episodes misrepresent crucial details about New France, which "betrays the superficiality of knowledge" about the period, he said. "It's too bad that a television program seeking to unite people ended up dividing them in a way I've rarely seen," Dr. Lozier said. "It's a minor fiasco."
He said the uproar in Quebec may be partly due to lingering sensitivities over the portrayal of the province by journalist Andrew Potter in Maclean's magazine. The article arguing that Quebec was beset by low trust and alienation was condemned as misrepresenting the province and Mr. Potter resigned from his post as director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.
"Quebeckers were already sensitive about false representations made about them from some segments in English Canada," Dr. Lozier said. "Had the Potter affair not happened, I don't think the reaction [to the CBC series] would have been as virulent."