History of The Bulletin Part V
The dream of Redress for Japanese Canadians began to take shape during the 1977 Centennial year when, for the first time since the wartime dispersal, the community began to coalesce—to come together with common cause and purpose. It was a time of renewed pride and energy and it also marked the rise of the sansei as a force within the community. A generation removed from the internment experience and almost completely assimilated into mainstream society, many sansei had only a vague idea of what their parents and grandparents had been through. The Centennial year and the ensuing celebration and special projects helped serve as a catalyst for many sansei to begin exploring their roots. What they discovered instilled in them a sense of pride and identity, but also of outrage at the treatment the issei and nisei had endured at the hands of the Canadian government.
Inspired by the American civil rights movement and their more radicalized American peers, activists within the community—together with some of the more outspoken Nisei and a handful of postwar immigrants—began to talk openly about the concept of reparations for losses incurred by the forced relocation and the wholesale selling off of land, property and businesses by the government.
The first mention of Redress in The Bulletin was contained in a small article in the June 1978 issue. The piece begins, “The National JCCA has taken the first steps towards an organized Japanese Canadian stand on the matter of reparations and wartime losses suffered by the Japanese community in Canada during World War Two. Working through a sub-committee, the JCCA is distributing questionnaires and “fact-sheets” to discover just how Japanese Canadians feel about reparations. The results may lead to a demand from the JCCA for such compensation from the Canadian Government.”
In part IV of the Bulletin history (July 2008 issue), we looked at how the Redress issue played out on the pages of The Bulletin from January 1987 to its successful conclusion in September 1988. This month we look at the October and November 1988 issues of The Bulletin and the extensive coverage of the Redress settlement.
The cover of the October 1988 Bulletin carries the headline, Dream of Justice Achieved. After years of studies, petitions, public meetings, rallies, rhetoric, infighting, uncertainty, fundraising campaigns, guarded optimism, dashed hopes and innumerable road blocks, the announcement comes seemingly out of the blue. As most readers will have received the news of the settlement by way of mainstream media, the headline is not a surprise, but it is a chance for the community to read the details of the agreement and to hear from the primary architects of the final agreement.
As JCCA Redress Committee Chairperson Roy Miki reports, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney rose in the House of Commons at 11am on September 22, 1988, and issued an official acknowledgement of the injustices suffered by Japanese Canadians during and after World War II and announced the Redress Settlement reached with the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC). Writes Mike: It was both a solemn and joyful moment for the few Japanese Canadians who were fortunate enough to witness this climax to the years of struggle. Yes, we finally achieved our dream of justice in our time.
A companion piece outlines the terms of the agreement: In a dramatic change of policy, the Canadian government has negotiated a comprehensive Redress settlement with the NAJC, including the following terms:
* an official Acknowledgement that government policies during and after World War II were unjust and influenced by racist attitudes. The Acknowledgement “serves notice to all Canadians that the excesses of the past are condemned and that the principles of justice and equality in Canada are reaffirmed.”
* as symbolic Redress for those injustices, $21,000 to each Canadian of Japanese ancestry whose fundamental rights and freedoms were violated. A further $27 million goes to the Japanese Canadian community, consisting of a $12 million community fund, up to $3 million for the NAJC to help administer and implement the Redress settlement, and $12 million to establish a national foundation to fight racism, which will remain a permanent memorial for the internment of Japanese Canadians.
* an offer to expunge the records of those convicted under the War Measures Act.
* an offer of citizenship to those expelled from Canada, and their living descendants.
NAJC President Art Miki is quoted as saying, “We’re satisfied with the outcome of negotiations. Each component of the NAJC Redress Proposal submitted to the government in May 1986 has been considered. While certain amendments the NAJC proposed for the Emergencies Act were adopted, we will still continue to press for more reforms to make sure that individuals are protected from abuse because of their ethnic background.”
The following pieces are reprinted from the November 1988 Bulletin.
Negotiating the Redress Settlement
by Roy Miki, Chairperson, JCCA Redress Committee
Well, some of the gala and excitement of September 22nd has subsided, but I’m sure many of you are still dazed, hardly believing that the NAJC negotiated an acceptable Redress settlement with the government. I certainly am. The years of struggle—of dreams, of hopes, of fears—can’t be erased that easily. Even in the midst of victory, it’s impossible to forget the times of uncertainty and the threat of failure.
On September 22nd, I was deeply grateful for the privilege of being present in the House of Commons when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, speaking on behalf of all Canadians, arose and read the official acknowledgement of the injustices suffered by Japanese Canadians during and after World War II. What words to hear, and what a sense of pride to be Japanese Canadian at this time in the history of our country! While the Prime Minister spoke, my mind momentarily drifted back to childhood days in the Winnipeg of the 1940s—the poverty, the bitterness, the humiliation, the heavy burden of internment—as I thought about the turbulent phases of the Redress dream leading, finally, to this moment of profound fulfillment.
Trying to piece together the key facets of the Redress movement would take much more thought and space than my brief report can handle, but some of the signposts on the road to September 22nd are worth remembering, if only to remind ourselves of the distances crossed.
In the fall of 1987, we saw the formation of the National Coalition for Japanese Canadian Redress. The Coalition, made up as it was of prominent individuals, civil rights organizations, religious and ethnic groups across Canada, was ample proof that our Redress struggle had captured the hearts and minds of thinking Canadians. As it gathered momentum in the early months of 1988, the NAJC mounted rallies in selected NAJC centres across Canada, including our own Vancouver JCCA rally in March, which both provided a national forum for our struggle and reconfirmed the growing support for the NAJC’s struggle. This part of the campaign culminated in April at the NAJC’s Ottawa Rally. In a dramatic demonstration of commitment to Redress, some 500 Japanese Canadians, of all ages, from all over Canada converged on Parliament Hill to call on Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to resolve Redress through negotiations with the NAJC.
We were fortunate that the Honourable Gerry Weiner, the fourth Minister of Multiculturalism to handle Redress (he had just replaced Mr. David Crombie) was present at the rally to say he was willing to meet with the NAJC in a final attempt to resolve Redress. The NAJC had reached a severe impasse with Mr. Crombie who had taken an inflexible position against compensation to individual Japanese Canadians directly affected by the injustices of the 1940s.
The first meeting between Mr. Weiner and the NAJC occurred in Winnipeg in June. There we maintained our position that an acceptable settlement must affirm the principle of individual compensation. It was the individual, we argued, whose rights were violated on the basis of ancestry, so Redress must acknowledge the individuals affected. We pointed to the American Redress bill as a model to follow. At that time, the U.S. Senate, following the House of Representatives, had recently passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1987, offering $20,000 compensation to each of the estimated 60,000 Japanese American survivors of the wartime internment, along with a $50 million educational fund.
The Winnipeg meeting with Mr. Weiner was candid and open, and we were pleased by his apparent sympathy for the NAJC’s views. He even talked about the possibility of an arbitration process for individual compensation, with perhaps a commissioner being appointed to come up with a figure. Mr. Weiner concluded by stating that he would report back to Prime Minister Mulroney on our position on individual compensation and that he would meet with the NAJC again.
Then began a nervous period of waiting as the follow-up meeting with Mr. Weiner kept being postponed. Not surprisingly, I was plagued by the uneasy thought that the government could be stalling once again, putting off a meeting for as long as necessary to defuse the NAJC’s campaign before the election was called.
As July passed into August, though, a major event happened in the United States: against the prediction of many, President Reagan on August 5th endorsed the American Civil Liberties Act of 1987 and brought to a close the Japanese American Redress movement. The victory by Japanese Americans clearly gave a boost to our cause.
By August the NAJC was receiving some tentative signs that the government was considering an arbitration process, along the lines suggested by Mr. Weiner in Winnipeg. For reasons unknown, but probably because of the major precedent established in the U.S., the government did not move further in this direction.
Our breakthrough came suddenly. With only 24 hours notice, a meeting with Mr. Weiner was set for Montreal, late Thursday afternoon, on August 24th. At this point, though, no one in the NAJC knew what would happen. Despite the favourable overtures coming from the government, we were understandably suspicious that yet another unacceptable offer may be forced upon us.
Accompanying Mr. Weiner, at the beginning of the meeting, was the Honourable Lucien Bouchard, Minister of State, as well as a personal friend of the Prime Minister. He was introduced as a minister who wanted to work with Mr. Weiner to achieve a settlement with the NAJC. For this reason, his presence implied that the government finally did want to resolve the Redress issue before the next election. In attendance for the NAJC Strategy Committee were President Art Miki, and besides Cassandra Kobayashi and myself from Vancouver, Roger Obata and Maryka Omatsu from Toronto, Audrey Kobayashi from Montreal, and lawyer Don Rosenbloom from Vancouver.
Once we began talking with Mr. Weiner, Mr. Bouchard, and government advisors in attendance from Secretary of State and the Department of Justice, it became obvious that we had indeed begun the negotiation process. And when we finished the session Thursday evening, we knew the government wanted to negotiate the elements of the NAJC’s Redress Proposal, including the crucial issue of individual compensation. Negotiations continued on Friday morning and straight on into the evening. After 17 hours, at 10:56 p.m. (according to my notes), we reached the agreement that became the settlement package announced by Prime Minister Mulroney on September 22nd.
Once the agreement was struck, members of the NAJC Strategy Committee were bound to the government’s code of secrecy—which meant that we could not divulge any information about the agreement before it was announced in the House of Commons by Prime Minister Mulroney. At the time, we were led to believe that this event would take place the following week. Unfortunately, when other matters took precedence (the debate on free trade, for instance), a delay set in. As days dragged into a week, then into two and three weeks, there were many moments I thought the settlement could somehow fall through. What a nerve-wracking time that was! But at last the phone did ring, and Cassandra and I were given 24 hours notice to fly to Ottawa.
Here in Vancouver on September 22nd a spontaneous celebration broke out at the Japanese Language School where a jubilant press conference was hastily arranged. Nancy Knickerbocker’s article on the press conference conveys the excitement, the joy, and the spirit of that event. Nancy has written numerous informative and clear-sighted pieces on Redress over the past 3-4 years, so we’re especially grateful to her for taking time from her busy schedule to contribute to our special section on Redress news.
On behalf of the Vancouver JCCA Redress Committee, I want to thank all who kept the faith, who believed that justice would be done, and who stood by the dream of Redress. Let us now begin building a future that will honour and grow out of the high ideals of our struggle.
Some random thoughts that ran through my mind during speeches by Mr. Weiner, Minister of Multiculturalism, Dr. Miki and others at a gathering to celebrate the resolution of the redress issue . . . About 50 years ago, a small number of people occupying influential positions engineered the forced evacuation of thousands of innocent Japanese-Canadians from their homes. The redress issue was also likely resolved by the actions of a relatively small number of dedicated people who sought to right a wrong. To these latter few, whether they be politicians or leaders from our own community, thousands of Japanese-Canadians owe a deep debt of gratitude . . . Sad to think of the thousands of internees, largely Isseis, who could not share the joy, pride and satisfaction of the moment because it came too late for them.
What a difference a generation makes. The Sanseis are a different “breed of cats” from the Niseis. Seems like the Sanseis know who they are, but we Niseis have a real identity problem; we don’t really know who we are, generally speaking.
Having expressed their opinions and their opposition to the question of individual compensation on the redress issue, what are these individuals going to do? Apply and accept the compensation gracefully and then perhaps donate all or part of it to some charitable organization such as church groups, the Japanese Canadian Health Care Society of B.C., Tonari Gumi, etc. Nice gesture, if so . . .