SEDAI: The Japanese Canadian Legacy Project

Sharing the unique history and experiences of Canadians of Japanese ancestry

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

City of Vancouver Apology – September 25, 2013

This article originally appeared in the Bulletin, reappearing here with permission from the author.

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by Lorene Oikawa

Japanese Canadian seniors were sitting in the packed City of Vancouver council chambers on the morning of September 25, 2013 to hear a long overdue apology.

“With humility and respect, the City of Vancouver formally apologizes for its complicity, its inaction, and for failing to protect her residents of Japanese descent.”

Mayor Gregor Robertson read the new motion which was passed unanimously 71 years after a previous racist motion was passed by the then Vancouver City Council. The 1942 motion which was moved by Alderman Halford Wilson, seconded by Alderman George Price, and passed unanimously called for the “removal of the enemy alien population from the Pacific coast to central parts of Canada.” The new motion points out that the target was “specifically anyone of Japanese descent without any consideration for place of birth or citizenship.”

About 22,000 men, women and children were forcibly removed from the west coast and had their homes, businesses, and personal property taken away. Their lives were also tragically disrupted by the forced separation of some families.

The forced removal was noted in the motion as well as the fact that “residents of Japanese descent were unable to return to the City of Vancouver until April 1, 1949, four years after the end of the Second World War.”

After the reading of the motion, several speakers addressed the council including respected members of the Japanese Canadian community: Judy Hanazawa, Grace Eiko Thomson, Mary Kitagawa, and Ken Noma.

Ken Noma, president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians, observed that 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the historic redress agreement with the federal government and the NAJC. He thanked the City of Vancouver for an inclusive apology and said, “British Columbia is the spiritual home for all Japanese Canadians. This [motion] is a victory not just for the Japanese Canadians, but for all Canadians.” He added, “…when we accepted the redress apology in 1988 we also accepted a tacit responsibility that we speak on behalf of other Canadians whose human rights and citizenship have been violated. I think the challenges faced by our First peoples here in Canada must be a priority not just of the NAJC but of all Canadians.”

Judy Hanazawa, chair of the JCCA Human Rights Committee, provided information about the 1942 detention of Japanese Canadians in Hastings Park and shared some remembrances of the families who lived there. Mary O’Hara was just 12 years old and had mumps and she was “placed in isolation with younger sick children in a dungeon like basement area of the livestock building.”

Grace Eiko Thomson shared childhood memories of attending the Vancouver Japanese Language School on Alexander Street, borrowing books at Carnegie Library, and saying goodbye to her friends at Strathcona Elementary School. “I did not know where I was going. I was too young to understand the reason for leaving.”

Mary Kitagawa shared her three and a half year journey to get UBC to honour the 76 Japanese Canadian UBC students who were wrongfully expelled in 1942. She also noted it was last year during the time of the convocation for the students when she and her husband Tosh talked to Councillor Kerry Jang about the racist 1942 motion and Jang pledged to make an apology.

The racist motion could not be simply rescinded because the person who submitted the motion would have to be alive and this wasn’t the case. Jang and Lara Honrado from the City of Vancouver worked with representatives of the JCCA Human Rights committee, Mary Kitagawa, Tosh Kitagawa, Vivian Rygnestad, Lorene Oikawa, and Grace Eiko Thomson, to produce a meaningful apology.

After the speakers finished, the City of Vancouver council chose to take a standing vote, and unanimously passed the motion.

In the evening, a reception for the public took place at the Vancouver Japanese Language School in the Downtown Eastside, the former Japantown. The language school survived the 1907 Anti-Asian riot and the 1942 uprooting of the Japanese Canadian community, and it used to house the JCCA office. It was also the place where the Vancouver Redress committee began their work in 1984 and it was where the vision of a community centre and museum and senior care complex, what is now the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, and Nikkei Home and New Sakura-so, was first imagined.

The reception honoured the Japanese Canadian elders and reiterated the City of Vancouver’s pledge in the motion “to do all it can to ensure such injustices will not happen again to any of its residents, thereby upholding the principles of human rights, justice and equality now and in the future.”

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