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:
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.