When you receive this edition of the Bulletin / Geppo, we will be within a couple of weeks of making a decision about who will be our government and what path our country will take. Unless you’ve been out of the country or ignore all media, you will know that there is a federal election coming up. If you know that Election Day is on October 19 and you have already voted or plan to vote then kudos to you, and please take a friend, family member or neighbour to the polls.
Only 61 percent of eligible voters in the last federal election voted. There are a myriad of excuses including the oft-repeated, “what difference does my vote make.” Well, if the 7.5 million people who did not vote actually voted we would have seen significant differences.
Those we put in power make the decisions that affect every aspect of our lives including whether our public health care continues, affordability of housing, accessibility of post-secondary education, protection of our environment, safety of our food, availability of decent jobs, and the liveability of our communities. Also, those who are elected make decisions about whether we have a safe, inclusive country for women, aboriginal and racialized peoples, LGBT, people with physical or mental challenges, those in poverty, seniors, and some of the most vulnerable members of society.
As citizens we all have a duty to participate in our democracy. We owe it to those who fought to protect our democracy and to those who fought for our rights and freedoms. Japanese Canadians did not always have the rights we enjoy today.
We could not vote until 1949, four years after the Second World War ended. It was also when the ban was lifted and Japanese Canadians were allowed to return to the BC coast. The federal government used the War Measures Act in 1942 to forcibly remove 22,000 Canadians of Japanese ancestry from the west coast under the guise of security. The act allowed them to take the property (including land, businesses, farms, homes, vehicles, fishing boats, and personal possessions) from Japanese Canadians and imprison them, and even send some to Japan. The government called it deporting, but that is incorrect because you can’t deport your own citizens to a foreign country.
We fought for recognition and reparations for the unjust incarceration, and in 1988, we won redress.
But, it seems that the giant step forward has been forgotten, and we’re now fighting against taking steps backwards. This was the emerging theme coming from the Legacy of Redress forum organized by the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association (GVJCC) Human Rights Committee. The forum brought members of the community together with former members of the redress committee to learn about internment, redress, and to hear the perspective of Aboriginal peoples, Muslims, environmentalists, and others who are seeing the erosion of rights and laws won after hard-fought battles.
For example, reminiscent of the War Measures Act is Bill C51 which was introduced by the current Conservative government and passed with the support of the Liberal MPs. It’s a massive bill which gives sweeping powers to the government with no increase in oversight. The broad wording of C51 allows the government to spy, arrest, and detain anyone challenging its economic, environmental, and social policies. C51 puts a big chill on freedom of speech, and can easily be used to target groups, and used against anyone who would speak out against the targeting.
The interactive sessions at the forum allowed for some deep discussions and we found out how much we have in common, more than we think, and how much power we have when we work together and participate in our democracy. Thanks to our wonderful speakers and all those who participated.
One of the takeaways from the forum was the importance of finding out about how to participate. The current federal government made changes to the Elections Act including restricting communication from the Chief Electoral Officer. You can no longer use the voter identification card as identification and there are changes to the riding boundaries. For more information check out the Elections Canada website at elections.ca or call 1-800-463-6868 (toll-free in Canada and the USA). For anyone elsewhere in the world they can call 613-993-2975. Did you know you can actually vote by mail if you are out of the country, and you can vote at any Elections Canada office (before October 13) and at advance polling stations on October 9, 10, 11 and 12? Please vote and make a difference for now, and for our future.
One of the duties I enjoy as president is the opportunity to attend events and meet up with our elders. I always find it fascinating to hear their stories, and I learn so much from them. At the Nikkei Place Community Awards dinner, we celebrated Thomas Shoyama through the award that is named after him. Thomas Shoyama helped create our public health care system with NDP Premier Tommy Douglas.
On social media, I posted a comment about Thomas Shoyama and received about 158 likes, reposts, and a few comments from people who said they learned something. Arthur Hara, the recipient of the award, spoke about his friendship with Thomas Shoyama, and about the work of the GVJCCA in the 1960s. I met with him later in the evening and let him know that I would like to hear more. He agreed to share some stories which I will add to a file, a future project on the history of the JCCA.
And I was also pleased to gain some insights into the life of a fisher during my conversation with Kiyo Goto who was a great table mate at the dinner.
Thank you everyone for the opportunity to learn about our Japanese Canadian history, and for your support to preserve and share our stories.