Japanese Canadians: Redress campaign

Japanese Canadian centennial celebration

In 1977, a scattered, silenced community drew together to mount a photo-history exhibit to celebrate the centenary of the arrival of Manzo Nagano in Canada. Entitled A Dream of Riches, the exhibit and book created a renewed sense of community. Speaking about the centennial, Roger Obata, Chairman of the Japanese Canadian centennial celebration, underscored the significance of 1977:

“The Centennial was a year to confirm our pride in our heritage, to celebrate our 100 years of history and contribution to Canada, and to re-establish our bond as a community.”

National Association of Japanese Canadians

In the early 1980s, community activists began organizing small social gatherings in private homes. Community members began to share their experiences of trauma and shame which flowed from the wartime internment. With the release of each story a grassroots Redress movement was born.

Led by the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) the movement sought to hold the Government of Canada accountable for the serious human rights violations suffered by the community between 1941 and 1949.

Two publications in 1981 galvanized community activism. The first, was Joy Kogawa’s wartime novel Obasan, which stirred the emotions of the Canadian public. The second, was Anne Gomer Sunahara’s history The Politics of Racism, which used the government’s own records held in the then National Archives of Canada to document federal wrongdoing.

Engaged by the NAJC, Price Waterhouse used the records of the Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property held in the National Archives to provide the NAJC with an estimate of the economic losses suffered by the community after 1941. Their estimate was a minimum of $443 million in 1986 dollars.

Image 1: Roger Obata. June 2, 1989. Copyright: Andrew Danson Mikan 4408559.

Image 2: Joy Kogawa. March 6, 1989. Copyright: Andrew Danson Mikan 4406677.

Image 3: Art Miki. Not dated. Copyright: Andrew Danson Mikan 4406601.

Image 4: Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney, March 1985. Mikan 3724784 .

Redress campaign

Between 1984 and 1988, the NAJC Strategy Committee, led by President Art Miki, lobbied and undertook negotiations with five federal Ministers: David Collenette, Jack Murta, Otto Jelinek, David Crombie and Gerry Weiner. A small Toronto faction argued vociferously against individual compensation and attempted to circumvent NAJC’s efforts. But, as the campaign progressed, it became clear that the NAJC represented the wishes of a majority of the community.

The Strategy Committee which included Audrey Kobayashi, Cassandra Kobayashi, Art and Roy Miki, Roger Obata and Maryka Omatsu, sought a negotiated Redress settlement, a formal acknowledgement of wrongdoing and individual compensation. It also sought the review and amendment of the War Measures Act and relevant sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms so that no Canadian would ever be subjected again to the wartime wrongs committed against the Japanese Canadians.

The NAJC built networks and coalitions with Indigenous, ethnic, religious and human rights groups - including journalists, unionists, writers, scientists, students, artists, homemakers and politicians. By 1986, an Environics poll indicated Redress was supported by at least 63% of Canadians, and of these, 71% supported individual compensation.

Campaign ends in 1988

The campaign culminated on April 14, 1988, when some 500 Japanese Canadians from across the country and coalition supporters marched on Parliament Hill.

In August, President Ronald Reagan approved the Civil Liberties’ Act which provided Redress payments to Japanese Americans who had suffered similar rights violations - but not as severe - Footnote1 during the Second World War.

On September 22, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney stood in the House of Commons and formally acknowledged the community’s wartime human rights violations. He announced an agreement with the NAJC which included symbolic, individual redress payments of $21,000 for each living Japanese Canadian who had been expelled from the coast in 1942 or who was born before April 1, 1949.

Canadian Race Relations Foundation

In addition, as part of the settlement, the Government created a community fund to undertake educational, social and cultural activities or programs that contributed to healing or the promotion of human rights. In addition, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation was created on behalf of Japanese Canadians and in commemoration of those community members who had suffered wartime injustices. Citizenship was restored to those Japanese Canadians who had lost it through deportation or revocation and convictions were cleared for infractions of war-related orders in council. The War Measures Act was repealed in 1988.

As Professor Roy Miki, one of the key NAJC negotiators, has observed:

“The redress agreement will remain a significant moment in the record of [the] late 20th century history [of Canada], an unusual achievement by a small group of citizens who, because of a nation’s violation of their citizenship rights, launched a movement to negotiate a settlement with the federal government.” Footnote2

And this historic settlement opened the door to redress and reconciliation for other communities –including the Chinese, the Ukrainians, Indigenous peoples and the LGBTQ2 community.

Ninety years after the arrival of Manzo Nagano, a revised immigration law opened the doors to immigrants who met language and education criteria.  A second wave of Japanese immigrants, the shinijusha (new immigrants) began arriving in 1967. Now, according to the 2016 Census Profile, out of the total visible minority population of Canada, 92,920 were of Japanese ancestry.

Date modified: