Reflecting on the Canadian government’s apology to Japanese-Canadians | Paul Kariya

28 years after, Kariya, one of the negotiators for the apology, reflects:

What heinous crime was committed that necessitated such harsh treatment with no recourse to justice?  The War Measures Act was employed to infringe human rights and property title and brand these people enemy aliens.  Although the cloak of national security was used to justify the government actions, no evidence has ever been found of sabotage or espionage on the part of any Japanese-Canadian.

 Canada was at war with Japan, Italy and Germany. But the same actions were not taken against all residents of Italian and German descent.  Why Japanese-Canadians?  The instigation and motivation was racism and economic opportunism led by a small number of politicians and other interest groups who used the Second World War as a cover to whip up hysteria and manipulate government to destroy a vibrant, peaceful and contributing community.

Only a few institutions of society opposed the mass uprooting, suggesting it was wrong and unjust.  Municipal governments, political parties, labour unions, service clubs and mainstream churches either led the charge or passively stood by.  Only the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation Party and some evangelical churches said it was wrong.

Could this happen again?  I don’t think so. The Japanese-Canadian community helped draft the emergency Measures Act (successor to the War Measures Act) and today we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  But as we see in the current U.S. election campaign, the ugliness of racism can emerge in seemingly legitimate circumstances.

The only other group of people treated racially in this manner in B.C. with far more devastating impacts and horrors were First Nations peoples.  And despite progress in health, education and economic development, are we really dealing with the very difficult fundamental subject that a past mentor, the late James Gosnell, Nisga’a leader, named 40 years ago, as “the Land Question.”

My father and mother never got their house, fishing boat or possessions back.  The Custodian of Enemy Alien Property was supposed to keep all confiscated private properties in trust for later return, but instead these were almost all immediately sold off.  It was heart breaking to have my father point out to a twelve year old me, “that boat named Marine K used to be ours.”

In 1988 symbolic individual compensation of $21,000 was awarded to surviving internees. But of course, title, property, possessions, lives and communities could not be returned.

I expect reconciliation with First Nations in B.C. will not see all former lands and resources returned. But we can pick up the pace to resolve the injustices through negotiation.

Let me say, I have never felt prouder to be a Canadian than when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney turned to us in the House of Commons Gallery that September day in 1988 and introduced us Japanese-Canadians and then proceeded to read the government’s apology.

Source: Reflecting on the Canadian government’s apology to Japanese-Canadians | Vancouver Sun

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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