Legacy of Redress Forum
Walking from table to table at the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association (GVJCCA) Legacy of Redress Forum, you could hear the ideas bubbling from the conversations – “Speaking truth to power.” “Everyone has a story.” “People waking up.”
The GVJCCA Human Rights Committee organized the Legacy of Redress Forum to bring together people, and share the history of the unfair attack against Canadians of Japanese descent in 1942 and the fight for recognition and reparations from the federal government, and to show the relevance of our history today.
The government used fear mongering and the War Measures Act to forcibly remove 22,000 Japanese Canadians from the BC Coast, incarcerate them, and take their property including land, businesses, vehicles, fishing boats, and personal property. In 1988, the federal government apologized and said it would never happen again.
The forum challenged us to consider what was happening in 2015 with the passing of Bill C-51, and the targeting of the Muslim community, indigenous peoples, and those speaking up for our rights and for our environment. Very few people spoke up in 1942. What could we do together to stop the attack on our rights now?
Participants had the opportunity to move to different tables to engage in conversations, hear from speakers, and develop a list of action items.
Speaker Itrath Syed, an instructor at Langara College and Kwantlen Polytechnic University, hopes that the forum participants “learned how our histories and our struggles are interconnected and how we must have understanding and solidarity with each other to move forward. I hope this will be just a beginning and we can continue to learn from each other and work together.”
Some of the actions identified by the participants included education, curriculum development for youth, having youth share our messages, and inclusive public dialogue to overcome ignorance, and opportunities for communities to come together and demonstrate solidarity.
Carolyn Nakagawa, a forum participant, agrees. “We often talk about how different instances of displacement and discrimination are all related in the abstract, but the speakers in the forum showed how true this is on the level of their own experiences. The conversations we had made solidarity with and among oppressed communities seem natural, easy, necessary, and powerful. Of course it doesn’t always feel natural and easy – I think this is a huge credit to the JCCA’s facilitation – but for me, our discussions were a reminder of what is possible and, hopefully, a starting point for more to come.”
Kai Nagata, a speaker at the forum, and Energy & Democracy Director at Dogwood Initiative, is a fourth generation Japanese Canadian. He sees the forum as “an invaluable opportunity to connect the injustices of the past to contemporary struggles for rights and freedom. Japanese Canadians have a responsibility to speak out on behalf of all who find themselves in the crosshairs of the federal government and the chance to share stories with First Nations and Muslim advocates was a powerful reminder of how we are stronger together.”
Learning from each other was another action item identified by participants. Syed said, “I think the Muslim community has a great deal to learn from the experiences of the Japanese community in Canada and the Redress Movement, in particular. Since 9/11 many members of the Japanese Canadian community have reached out and offered their solidarity and their understanding to Muslims in Canada and to Muslim Canadian organizations. This has been so important in the-se difficult times.”
Audrey Siegl sχɬemtəna:t gave a traditional Musqueam welcome and as a speaker, she also shared her experiences. “My job is to speak for those who can not speak for themselves and to represent for my ancestors…to carry on their work. I am proud to use my language, songs and truth to open hearts and minds so we can all re-connect and create better days for all.”
“Telling our own stories and controlling our narrative” was also identified in the list of actions. Participants described how language can be powerful in creating the narrative. “‘Relocation’ is a euphemism for forced uprooting.” Using food and music, grassroots organizing, and media and social media, we can “be fearless in our “opposition” & “resistance”” and “be empowered in our right to speak out.”
The forum took place before the federal election and voting was identified as a key action. There was also discussion about the work needed to get elected representation that reflects the community, and making sure voting is accessible such as having information in various languages. Legal challenges through our court system was also listed as an action, and in particular the Charter challenge of Bill C-51.
Ken McAteer, Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society (explorASIAN) president, summed up his experience in the forum, “The Legacy of Redress Forum was a significant event that helped us think of ways to avoid ever again having people endure loss of freedom, loss of assets and loss of respect as a result of fear and suspicion as was experienced by Canadians of Japanese descent during the Second World War.”