Ronald, Roger and Redress
Anniversaries are for remembrances and there will be many as 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the historic Redress Settlement. The event is a sacred benchmark in the history of our people and I look forward to hearing of events organized by our members across Canada. We will do what we can to support our member organizations.
My wife and I were in Hawai’i on August 10, 1988 when news broke of President Regan‘s signing of the Redress Act Legislation HR 442 to compensate Japanese Americans. HR 442 was named in honour of the 442nd Japanese American “Go For Broke” Regimental Combat Team – the most decorated unit in the history of the American military. I recall saying to my wife that I now believed that redress for Japanese Canadians might soon be a reality. The only sour footnote during that historic day was an interview given by the late actor, Pat Morita, to a reporter from the Hawaiian television station, KIKU. Morita called the compensation ‘blood money.’ I can only rationalize this bizarre statement to his fear of an imagined racial backlash.
My prediction seemed to be accurate when Roger Obata and members of the NAJC Strategy Team were called to Ottawa soon after. Upon his return, Roger refused to talk to us about what had transpired at the meeting noting that he was sworn to secrecy and that he could not even tell his wife, Mary. I commented that it had to be good news since Roger – a man known to speak his mind – would have said something if it was otherwise; he looked at me and gave me that Obata smile. The formal Redress announcement was delayed until September 22nd in order to give the Mulroney government time to appease the Royal Canadian Legion and other opponents of the settlement. Later that same day, after Prime Minister Mulroney had delivered his historic apology in Parliament, a reception was held at Toronto’s Sutton Place Hotel with the Minister of Multiculturalism, Gerry Weiner. Behind the podium, a well meaning hotel staff member had placed the flag of Japan beside the Canadian Maple Leaf. It was hastily removed when choice expletives were uttered by the Nisei in attendance. I could not have been more proud of our elders than at that moment.
Years later at one of the Redress anniversary dinners, I saw Roger in an animated conversation with the guest of honour, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. I asked him afterwards about the conversation and he told me that he asked Mulroney if he had given our community the settlement only because the Americans had done so first. Mulroney told Roger that that was not the case. I asked him if he believed that and he replied ‘NO’ and we both smiled.
The anniversary will be an opportunity for us to remind all Canadians of the fragility of our civil rights and the need to be vigilant and to keep it safe. Sadly, history does tend to repeat itself. A chilling reminder took place in Toronto during the 2010 G20 Summit of June 26-27 that saw over 20,000 police, military and security personnel arrest 1118 people (800 released without charge). Criticism was directed at the abuse of police power; Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Public Works Protection Act (Regulation 233/10). Andre Martin, Ontario Ombudsman concluded that the secret security regulation, rather than protecting the public, ended up contributing to the large scale violations of civil rights.
Along with others, let me add my appreciation of Ron Nishimura who has decided to step down as the long-serving President of the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens Association due to personal health issues. Ron has worked tirelessly to ensure the viability of the JCCA and the Nikkei community. I take comfort in his promise that he will return. Take care of yourself Ron. You are a fine example of filial piety.
Readers of the venerable Bulletin will be in for a big surprise when they open the pages of the September issue; quoting the sleep-deprived Editor John Greenaway, “change is in the air.”