My Last Word on Redress
On September 21, 2013, the NAJC and the Japanese Canadian community in Toronto celebrated the 25th anniversary of the redress settlement. The banquet (one of several events) took place at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre and was hosted by the Toronto Chapter. Many VIPs attended: Jason Kenney, Minister for Multiculturalism; Gerry Weiner, former Minister of State for Multiculturalism; Justice Maryka Omatsu; and Tom Nishio to name a few.
What was truly wonderful was seeing old friends, comrades and adversaries mingling and remembering. It was great to see Van Hori, Terez Hyodo and Tak Ariga. Enduring the struggle for redress drew us close together then and reminded us of the importance of redress today.
The politicians all gave speeches. Just try and keep one away from the microphone. They were eloquent if not a tad long-winded. Each was careful to congratulate the Japanese Canadians for the anniversary, most included as many of the other affected groups that received redress as a result of the Japanese Canadian campaign, most talked about their own trials with racism, especially Gerry Weiner and his community. A great sense of compassion and sympathy rose in the auditorium. Unfortunately, none of the politicians mentioned the on-going negotiations and unfinished business with the Native Canadians. Quite telling since Chief Harry Nyce of the Nisga’a Nation sat in the front row. Ken Noma, President of the National NAJC, was the only one to emphasize the organization’s continued support of the Native peoples of Canada. And really, did Jason Kenney have to refer to the JC campaign as the “Japanese Project to Redress”? At the Sutton Place Hotel in downtown Toronto back in September 1988, someone had draped a Japanese flag alongside the Canadian flag. It stood as a dark insult to the Canadians in the room. We are Canadians, not Japanese. Kenney prior to that remark was very careful (as were the other politicians) to include everyone at the banquet as Canadians, but failed with that slip of the tongue.
The highlight of the dinner was perhaps Art Miki, President of the NAJC during the campaign, but not so much for his retelling of the redress negotiations. The time he spent recognizing and commemorating those who had worked for redress and who are no longer with us was touching, nostalgic and above all else loving. His heartfelt words were a fitting tribute to people like Roger Obata, Wes Fujiwara, Harold Hirose and Norman Oikawa to name but four of those he mentioned.
What struck me however was the failure of most of the speakers (with the exception of Art) to bring a human element to the proceedings. Redress was, after all, a very human issue. I thought of my late brother who in a rare moment of candour told me of the night in early 1942 our father was taken away by the Mounties.
It was around midnight in Vancouver when a vicious knock came at the front door. The Mounties had come at that ungodly hour to insure that their target was at home. They bluntly explained that they came for my father, a lumberjack. They didn’t say why he had to go, where he was going, how long he was going for, or how he could communicate with his family. He could not pack a bag or put on his coat. He would simply disappear into the night.
Still, my father, mother and brother knew what was happening. They were not the first after all. My brother stood in the hallway begging my father not to go. Dad being the compassionate parent that he was bent down to his ten-year-old son and in tears put his arms around him. He told him not to worry, it’s all a mistake and that he would be back shortly. My brother knew otherwise but drew some comfort from Otosan’s strength. And then just like that, Dad fell into the black tide of night.
Born in a time of prosperity, I never saw my father cry but my brother did, just once. Thus that sense of betrayal, of confusion and of the absolute lack of self-esteem was planted in the ten-year-old’s mind until the day he died some 69 years later. That is the true meaning of redress: a gesture of compensation for a lifetime of hurt and shame. Certainly, some of that came out in Art Miki’s tribute to the fallen Champions of Redress, but the invited politicians did what they did: they pandered to the audience. Certainly not appropriate on such an occasion. The anniversary was a time of remembrance, celebration and sadness too. And that is my last word about it.