Redress Rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 14, 1988. Photo courtesy: JCCC archives.
On the morning of Sept. 21, while I was waking up, it hit me suddenly: Tomorrow would be Sept. 22, the 30th anniversary of the redress settlement.
How could I forget something as important as that? I may be a senior in my 90s, but my memory is usually OK. That’s why I can write about different past happenings in my Nikkei Voice columns. I also credit my ability to hold onto my memory to journalism career techniques that emphasize remembering. Plus, if it’s Japanese Canadian history, my book collection is quite extensive, including most of the basics, beginning with Ken Adachi’s The Enemy That Never Was.
So my temporary forgetfulness must have been for another reason.
Maybe because although Sept. 22 is the actual anniversary date of the historic redress triumph, the main Toronto celebration is planned for Nov. 8. The 30th Anniversary Redress Gala Reception organized by the Toronto chapter of the National Association of Japanese Canadians will take place at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Art Miki of Winnipeg—who as NAJC president led the successful redress strategy team—is to be among those taking part.
The redress settlement took place on Sept. 22, 1988, after a long and often frustrating campaign by prewar Niseis and Sanseis across Canada during the 1980s. Being involved in the activities myself, that day was very memorable. We got the news that the strategy team led by Art Miki would be in Ottawa to attend the settlement announcement by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the House of Commons.
In places like Toronto, we planned to watch the ceremony on live TV, and then the strategy team would leave Ottawa and join us at our celebrations. That special event was held at the Sutton Place Hotel by the Government of Ontario’s main offices. Joining the throngs of Japanese Canadians were representatives of other Canadian ethnic organizations whose own fights against racism influenced them to support the JC redress campaign.
The only not-so-good happening in this happy celebration included the decorations for the event at the hotel. There were national flags including, of course, Canada’s, but alongside was another flag, the Hinomaru, the Japanese flag. Aiko Murakami, who I’ve known since my 1943 stay in Kaslo working for The New Canadian, pointed out this shameful error to me, and the hotel staff was ordered to remove that flag which had no connection with the political celebration being held there that night.
Maryka Omatsu, a Hamilton-born Sansei lawyer at the time, who is now a semi-retired provincial judge, was a member of the redress strategy team. She has written about the Sept. 22 celebration in Toronto in her book, Bittersweet Passage, which focuses on the redress campaign and what brought it about. Having arrived from Ottawa and the historic meeting with the prime minister, she recalls in her book: “Wanting to savour our success and enjoy our victory, I found myself sticking to my own. “For once in our one-hundred-and-ten-year history in this country, Japanese Canadians had reason to be proud and to celebrate. During the next hour, I must have embraced at least half of the several hundred Japanese-Canadian supporters in the room.”
The members of the NAJC strategy team in addition to Art Miki and Maryka Omatsu—were Roger Obata, Roy Inouye, Cassandra Kobayashi, Bryce Kanbara, Roy Miki, Audrey Kobayashi, and adviser Harold Hirose.
Other Japanese Canadians supporting the NAJC redress campaign team across Canada must have numbered into the hundreds, and I was part of the Toronto gang. My postwar career opportunities kept me too busy to do more Japanese-Canadian activities except occasionally write about them in The New Canadian.
When I became an Ontario government civil servant in 1968, I had to be discreet about making any political comments in publications. But in the early 1980s, I got another job which turned out to be the last before retirement. I left government work after 12-plus years to teach journalism at Centennial College in Toronto. It turned out to be a busy but satisfying job for me, being a magazine and newspaper veteran.
When the redress attempts began, I was able to join in. In 1983, one unit created by the local NAJC group was SodanKai, whose main goal was spreading information about redress progress from the Canadian government. It was formed by Sansei lawyers Shin Imai, Marcia Matsui and Maryka Omatsu—and included lawyer Connie Sugiyama, writers Joy Kogawa and me, and civil servant Ron Shimizu. My role was contributing to the NAJC newsletters which were mainly about the redress campaign and MCing at information meetings held in Toronto. When the attendance of Isseis at those meetings demanded even more nihongo than I had, as co-chair we got young lawyer, Shin Imai, to handle the more difficult translations. My connection with Shin was a solid one. He was born in Japan and son of Toronto’s Japanese Anglican church rector, the late Reverend (later Canon) Imai.
In 1969, when I set up a language and culture training school for Ontario Pavilion staffers to work at Expo 70 in Osaka, Shin had been one of three Japanese Canadians on the pavilion staff. The others—Kim Morishita and Judy Kobayashi—were both Canadian-born. After Expo, Shin went to an American university on a scholarship, and then returned to Canada to become a lawyer. For redress campaigning purposes he was the ideal person to explain things to the Isseis who wanted to learn about what was happening. For me, involvement in the redress campaign meant not only working together with Nisei friends that I knew well, but making many new friends, particularly Sanseis, who had taken advantage of the much fairer world that they had grown up in. I was also happily impressed about how willing many Canadian Niseis and Sanseis were to learn and achieve things that matter to all of us.
So the successful redress campaign was led by Sansei-assisted, as in the final strategy committee, two experienced Nisei leaders, Roger Obata from Toronto and Harold Hirose from Winnipeg. On a side note, Roger and Harold were both Second World War veterans, as well.
By the way, for younger readers who would like to learn more about the historic redress campaign and also for older ones who want to be reminded, there are two books that I strongly recommend if you can get hold of a copy. Maryka Omatsu’s Bittersweet Passage (1992) is the best bet, because she is great in providing essential details. I have quoted some of her words in this column. Jennifer Hashimoto’s Nikkei Books was waiting for some copies from the publisher (in later September when I was writing this). That seems to be the only way you can buy a copy to enjoy and share. Unfortunately Toronto’s JCCC doesn’t have any. Bittersweet Passage is also available for loan from the Toronto Public Library branches. At the Toronto Reference Library you can use the reference copy there but you can’t borrow the book.
As well, Justice In Our Time, by Roy Miki and Cassandra Kobayashi (1991) covers the successful redress settlement. Roy Miki, a Fraser University professor, was on the strategy committee led by his brother, Art, as was Cassandra Kobayashi, a Vancouver lawyer.
The format of their book is large with many appropriate photos. It’s coverage of the April 14, 1988, Redress Rally in Ottawa includes extracts from all of the 10 speakers which included Japanese Canadians, David Suzuki and Roy Miki. At that rally, which seems to have contributed strongly to the final settlement months later, the most unforgettable comment I heard that day in Parliament Hill’s West Block was the speech by civil rights lawyer Alan Borovoy in his attempt to inspire the redress campaigners:
“We know that we cannot adequately guarantee tomorrow, but we do want to do whatever we can do. That’s why you have our support,” he said. “Because it’s the only way we know how to say to ourselves, to say to you, to say to each other, to say to posterity, never again, never again. This will bloody well never happen again.”
When leaving that ceremony in Ottawa to return by bus to Toronto, Borovoy’s, “never again, never again” kept repeating itself in my head and had me agreeing strongly “never again” to the unfair mistreatment of Japanese Canadians in the 1940s, was the right thing to believe then and to never forget.