CANADA

RIGHTING HISTORY

FINALLY, OTTAWA OFFERS COMPENSATION TO JAPANESE CANADIANS FOR THEIR WARTIME HUMILIATION

BRUCE WALLACE October 3 1988
CANADA

RIGHTING HISTORY

FINALLY, OTTAWA OFFERS COMPENSATION TO JAPANESE CANADIANS FOR THEIR WARTIME HUMILIATION

BRUCE WALLACE October 3 1988

RIGHTING HISTORY

CANADA

FINALLY, OTTAWA OFFERS COMPENSATION TO JAPANESE CANADIANS FOR THEIR WARTIME HUMILIATION

Art Miki said that he noticed a change in the negotiating atmosphere the moment he arrived at a meeting at Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel last Aug. 24. A day earlier, Miki and his seven-member strategy committee of the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) had been summoned to the hotel to meet Gerald Weiner, then-minister of state for multiculturalism. The object: to break a long-standing impasse over demands by the Japanese-Canadian community to be compensated for the expropriation of their property and their internment in labor camps during the Second World War. At the hotel, Weiner introduced Miki to Secretary of State Lucien Bouchard—whom Weiner described as “a man who has the Prime Minister’s ear and who can get things done.” Recalled Miki last week: “In all of our earlier meetings, we kept having to give the officials a lesson in the history of our people. For the first time, they were prepared to sit down and do business.” And shortly before midnight the next day, after moving to a new hotel and working through meals of takeout sandwiches, the two sides agreed on the details of a historic settlement that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announced last week.

In making a dramatic statement to the House of Commons, Mulroney formally apologized to Japanese Canadians for “those past injustices against them, their families and their heritage.” In addition to the apology, the Canadian government will pay $21,000 to each of the estimated 12,000 surviving Canadians of Japanese heritage who were interned. Ottawa will also contribute $24 million to create a Canadian Race Relations Foundation and donate another $12 million to the national association, which Miki said would be used, in part, to build low-cost

housing for elderly Japanese Canadians. The association will also receive $3 million to implement and administer the compensation. For Mulroney, the agreement—expected to cost Canadians $291 million—fulfils one of his 1984 election campaign promises. But while opposition parties heralded the settlement, the agreement was also expected to encourage other aggrieved ethnic groups to press their own claims for redress.

The initiative to end the five years of of-

ten-bitter negotiations between the NAJC and Ottawa came last April when Mulroney appointed Bouchard, his trusted classmate from Laval law school, to assume control of the negotiations. Those discussions had lapsed after three successive Tory ministers had refused to consider paying compensation to individual survivors of the internment camps. Ever since the Japanese Canadians petitioned the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau in 1983, federal officials had opposed any such

scheme on the basis that it would set a legal and political precedent for claims by other groups. Trudeau himself adamantly opposed any individual compensation and refused to make a public apology. Said one former Liberal cabinet minister last week: “Philosophically, Trudeau believed that we should not be making value judgments about the actions of a previous government.”

As opposition leader in 1983, Mulroney criticized Trudeau’s stance and pledged that a Tory government would meet the associa-

tion’s demands for an apology and financial redress. But once in power, the Tories balked at paying compensation—not only because of the expense but also because some senior officials feared a backlash from veterans’ groups. As the stalemate dragged into this year, the NAJC laid plans to highlight the issue during the expected fall election campaign.

But Bouchard and Weiner were buoyed by studies including an April, 1985, poll that showed that Canadians strongly sympathized with the demands of Japanese Canadians.

Said a senior bureaucrat who helped to negotiate the deal: “Over time, public opinion has clearly come to support compensation. The challenge then became to arrive at a dollar figure which the public would also see as being fair.”

For negotiators on both sides, the Aug. 10 decision by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to sign a law that provided Japanese Americans with a $20,000 settlement provided a benchmark. Said Miki: “Unlike Japanese Americans, our property was not returned to us after the war. Because we were treated more harshly, we could not have presented our community with a worse deal than the Japanese Americans got.” At the Montreal meetings last August, the NAJC asked for $25,000 for each of the survivors of the internment. Ottawa’s initial offer, Maclean’s has learned, was $15,000. The two sides agreed to split the difference and add a symbolic $1,000 to ensure that the final figure was higher than the American settlement— although not when converted to U.S. funds.

Leaders of other groups said last week that the Japanese-Canadian settlement will give impetus to their drives to be compensated for the way they were treated by previous Canadian governments. Among those who insist they have a right to redress: Ukrainian Canadians, who were interned by Ottawa during the First World War, and Chinese Canadians who are demanding an apology and compensation for a “head tax” charged to Chinese settlers in Western Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Despite the redress agreement, the Japanese-Canadian community itself remains divided over the merits of the government paying compensation. Said Miki: “There is a generational split in the community. Many of the older members do not want to stir up bad memories or to be seen as greedy.” And some Japanese Canadians expressed unhappiness that the struggle for redress took so long. Said Toronto author Joy Kogawa: “Many of the hard-liners in our community will be cynical that an agreement was reached so suddenly and so easily on the eve of an election. They will ask, ‘Why now?’ ”

In fact, at an Ottawa news conference following the official signing ceremony, Miki noted pointedly that 2,000 of the Japanese a Canadians who were interned have died since g the Mulroney government was elected. But g for the remaining survivors of the internment 5 camps, last week’s apology removes the stain of shame they felt at being designated enemy aliens during the war. “I could not be overjoyed at winning money; it goes much deeper than that,” said Amy Yamasaki, 78, of Ottawa, who watched Mulroney’s apology from the House of Commons gallery. “Now I am a real Canadian. And from today on, I can hold my head up.” Among Japanese Canadians, Yamasaki was likely not alone in that sentiment.

BRUCE WALLACE in Ottawa with LISA VAN DÜSEN in Montreal

LISA VAN DUSEN