Redress: 25 Years Later

Art Miki Photo web25th Anniversary Redress Celebration

Presented by Arthur K. Miki

September 21, 2013 – Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, Toronto

This evening we are here to reflect on the past. However, there are a number of people, Nisei, who are no longer here but played a pivotal role during the redress campaign and should not be forgotten. They encouraged us and gave us the benefit of their knowledge of the community and shared their experiences that helped put the importance of redress into perspective. Harold Hirose, Roger Obata, Wes Fujiwara, Norm Oikawa, George Kakuno from Kelowna, Amy Yamazaki and Gordon Hirabayashi come to mind for their dedication in seeing justice achieved.

Twenty-five years have elapsed since that historical day, September 22, 1988, when the Government of Canada acknowledged the injustices suffered by Japanese Canadians during and after World War II. I had the privilege to be in the House of Commons that day and it is one that I will always remember. The news was a pleasant but shocking surprise for most Japanese Canadians, but for those who had struggled through the campaign it was a dream come true. The signing of the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement was an extraordinary achievement and became the beginning of a healing and renewal process for the wartime victims. This settlement was of immense importance to the Japanese Canadian community and had a far-reaching impact nationally.

Looking back, there are many significant events during the redress campaign that I recall:

  • In January 1984 the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) officially adopted a position to seek redress on behalf of the Japanese Canadian (JC) Community. Prime Minister Trudeau rejected the notion of redress but Brian Mulroney as Opposition leader made a comment that would haunt him for the next four years, "If there was a Conservative Government, I can assure you we would be compensating Japanese Canadians". When his government was elected in the fall of 1984 the NAJC reminded him of this promise and we entered into an agreement to negotiate redress. We quickly found out there were no intentions to negotiate but rather to consult, and the government put forward their quantum. A $10 million foundation was offered but any notion to discuss individual compensation was rejected.
  • Jack Murta asked the question, "What did your community actually lose?" To strengthen our case for redress we had Price Waterhouse conduct an Economic Losses study that indicated minimum loss to Japanese Canadians was over $443 million in 1986 dollars. City councils from Toronto, Vancouver and Lethbridge contributed funds to help pay for the study. This information became an invaluable source for the media and editorial boards as they covered the campaign.
  • A community group critical of NAJC claimed that Japanese Canadians did not want individual compensation. We needed to find out what form of redress Japanese Canadians favoured. A survey of over 2000 respondents overwhelming endorsed support for both individual and community compensation and became part of the redress proposal.
  • We met with three consecutive Ministers of Multiculturalism – Hon. Jack Murta, Otto Jelinek and David Crombie but with very little headway. Finally, David Crombie met with NAJC in July 1986 with what he said was the "final offer" from the government, a community fund of $12 million. He said, "Take it or leave it". We rejected the offer and walked away from the negotiations process.
  • When the redress campaign reached an impasse in 1986, the NAJC decided to educate the public by rebranding: redress was a Canadian issue, a human rights issue. The Coalition for Japanese Canadian Redress was formed in 1987 by engaging the support of interested Canadians, organizations, unions and churches who wanted to see the wrongs of the past acknowledged and that negotiations by the government with NAJC be reinstated. Joy Kogawa who is present this evening invited people such as Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton and other writers to join. Major unions, civil liberties groups, major churches and many individuals wrote letters and signed postcards in support.
  • The Ottawa Rally in April 1988 brought to the attention of politicians the importance of redress now when some 300 senior internees, NAJC representatives and supporters paraded on Parliament Hill with placards and banners. The media coverage exposed the faces of the wartime victims to the Canadian public, a powerful image. The collective voices of the speakers from the Coalition sent a message to the Prime Minister that Canadians would not be satisfied until a redress agreement was reached with the NAJC. Hon. Jerry Weiner led a few of the supporters who carried bags of postcards to the Prime Minster's office.
  • That summer a number of factors emerged that was to change the course of history. Hon. George Hees, Minister of Veteran Affairs who was the strongest opponent of redress, took ill and resigned from Cabinet.
  • The Prime Minster was contemplating calling an election but was reminded by NAJC of his failed promise "to compensate Japanese Canadians". We urged him to fulfill his words.
  • In August 1988, President Reagan signed a Bill giving Japanese Americans compensation for their incarceration in concentration camps, a precedent for individual compensation that would become the cornerstone of our final agreement.
  • Prime Minister Mulroney agreed to resume discussions on redress. By late August, the NAJC Negotiations team met secretly with government officials led by Hon. Jerry Weiner, Multiculturalism Minister, in Montreal and reached a tentative agreement. Hon Lucien Bouchard was a surprise visitor and gave us assurance that they were serious. In fact he raised an offer of $15,000 individual compensation. In the end we settled on $21,000 as the individual amount as a symbolic gesture to recognize that the treatment of Japanese in Canada was much more severe than in the United States. The NAJC representatives were sworn to secrecy not to disclose this information to anyone as only four politicians were privy to this arrangement. They needed to convince the other Cabinet Ministers for support.
  • Finally on September 22, 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney spoke in the House of Commons while many members of the Japanese Canadian community looked on from the gallery:
    "Mr. Speaker, I know I speak for members of all sides of the House in offering Japanese Canadians the formal and sincere apology of Parliament for those past injustices against them, their families, and their heritage, and our solemn commitment to Canadians of every origin that they will never be countenanced or repeated."
  • Those words were music to our ears. The terms of the redress agreement were revealed at a press conference following the announcement. I met privately with the Prime Minister in his office before the signing the redress agreement. On the way down to the signing I mentioned to the Prime Minster that this day was a long time coming. He replied, "It has taken me this long to convince my colleagues that this was the right thing to do." The official agreement was signed by the Prime Minister and myself before the cameras and the press. What was interesting was that the final settlement cost approximately $440 million, very close to the amount cited in the Price Waterhouse Study.

One of the highlights was the trip to Japan with delegates from the NAJC and Government to publicize the agreement and hold meetings where victims could fill out their application for redress. At the Fukuoka meeting I met Hank Nakamura, who wanted most of all the return of his Canadian citizenship. We met with top government officials from External Affairs in the Japanese government who told us "Japan would never be able to admit that they did something wrong, it takes a mature country to do that." I was proud to be Canadian.

The support of the media was crucial as they helped keep the redress campaign alive even when it appeared that there was very little or no progress. Our history and experiences came to light through media coverage, television documentaries, radio talk shows and other means of communications. It was through the media that Canadians learned about the forced removal from the West Coast, the internment and finally, dispersal across Canada. Whenever we were in Ottawa, the media were anxious to interview us.

Politicians should not be forgotten because in the end it took courage to acknowledge past mistakes. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Lucien Bouchard, Gerry Weiner, John Fraser, Speaker of the House, Ed Broadbent, Sergio Marchi and Ernie Epp to name a few are to be commended.

How has redress impacted upon the community? For many individuals redress helped them come to terms about their identity and their heritage. One person remarked,"Since redress, my awareness has grown and also my sense of myself. I feel that it's easier to walk tall and talk about my culture." Other people remarked that they now feel as if they are Canadian. The guilt that they felt, as if they had done something wrong, was finally lifted with the government's admission that it was at fault.

I find that Japanese Canadians are now more willing to talk about the past and share their stories with the younger generation and with other Canadians. Pride in Japanese heritage and identity is more evident amongst Japanese Canadians.

Much has transpired within the Japanese Canadian community. The $12 million community fund, administered by the Japanese Canadian Redress Foundation, contributed tremendously to the revitalization and stimulation of the Japanese Canadian community. Capital projects such as cultural centres, quality seniors housing and health care facilities received support from the Foundation. The increased level of participation at cultural centres demonstrates that there is renewed interest in Japanese Canadian culture and in being Japanese. Programs and activities are being accessed by other Canadians as well.

The funds were also used to preserve our history and promote Japanese Canadian culture through museum projects, books, films, theatre, dance and music. This support has enabled younger Japanese Canadians to develop artistically. Many have gained prominence and recognition nationally.

The establishment of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) was an important component of the agreement. The CRRF has now been in operation since 1997 with the mandate to be a national voice of change for the elimination of all forms of racism and the promotion of a more harmonious Canada. Albert Lo, the Chair, members of the Board and staff are present this evening. The CRRF office is now located in the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. Take a look at the CRRF website to see information on Japanese Canadian redress.

The face of the Japanese Canadian community is changing. The forced relocation has resulted in a generation of Japanese Canadians, the majority of whom are of multiple ethnicities, now making up 40 percent of the Japanese Canadian population and increasing each year.

Community leaders need to encourage youth participation and create leadership opportunities when they are engaged in activities at the local centres. The inclusion of younger adults is crucial if we are to maintain an active community. These are the challenges for local and national organizations.

Today the NAJC through the Human Rights Committee continues to monitor and speak out against human rights violations. This organization is just as necessary today as it was 25 years ago because there continues to be inequality, racism and discrimination in Canadian society.

I believe that the most important contribution that we, through the NAJC, have made is to offer support and strategies to assist other groups to resolve past injustices. Recently, the government's apology and compensation for the Chinese Head Tax (2006), the Ukrainian Canadian internment during World War I, the redress to Aboriginal veterans' and for the victims of the residential schools (2008) were modelled after the Japanese Canadian redress settlement. The redress precedent is evidence of the important role that NAJC has played in Canadian society. Our achievement has had a positive influence for other Canadians and is the legacy that we as Japanese Canadians can be proud of.

Thank you to the many volunteers and local leaders who assisted in the mobilization of the Japanese Canadian community and dedicated their time and effort to support NAJC's pursuit for redress, and also to the work of the NAJC Negotiations Team and the local Redress Committees across the country for organizing meetings, conferences, media coverage and stories for the media. Maryka Omatsu and Bryce Kanbara, two members of the team are present this evening.

Events such as this celebration are important milestones in our community's history – the opportunity to remember the past. We need to find ways to encourage our youth to become more politically motivated and take greater responsibility to ensure what happened to Japanese Canadians will never happen again.

In closing I would like to thank Ken Noma, president, and NAJC for hosting this fantastic celebration this evening. It brought back vivid memories of the redress campaign and settlement and the wonderful people I met.

Related Resources

The 25th anniversary of the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement

Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement

Award for Lifetime Achievement – March 2, 2014

The History Behind the Establishment of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation – by Art Miki (1997)

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