The National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) is an organization representing the Japanese community in Canada. It was founded 1947 with its main objectives being the strengthening of the Japanese community and equality of human rights. The NAJC played a large role in getting the federal government to admit the wrongs committed against the Japanese Canadian community during and after World War II. This organization successfully unified Japanese Canadians in the fight for a common cause through an organized action plan. Despite conflicts within the NAJC, players at the forefront were committed to bringing the issue from a grassroots level to a national level. After redress, the NAJC’s mission remains focused on the emphasis of human rights for all ethnic minorities and the strengthening of the Japanese Canadian identity.
The campaign for redress by the NAJC began in 1984 and was based on three discoveries by Japanese Canadians. After the expiration of the 30 years’ Official Secrecies Act, it was exposed that the forced deportation of Japanese Canadians from the British Columbian coast was not for military security purposes; rather, it was based on racism. Also, the formation of a Japanese American redress campaign, for similar reasons, sparked interest among Japanese Canadians. In addition, the Japanese Canadian community that was spread thin across Canada had to unite, through the NAJC, to undertake such a campaign for redress. The NAJC would unite their claims through a common voice. As a result of these injustices, the NAJC was committed to obtain three specific pledges from the federal government. First, an apology would not be sufficient; instead, Japanese Canadians sought recognition for the injustices they were subjected to during and after World War II. Second, the NAJC was requesting a revision of the War Measures Act to ensure that no one would fall victim to any similar wrong doings. Third, the Japanese community wanted monetary compensation for the hardships faced.
A key factor that contributed to the success of the NAJC’s redress campaign was its structured vision and tactics used to bring forth their cause. The NAJC’s action plan consisted of advocating for the human rights of individuals. They stressed that it was not an ethnic organization but instead a human rights organization. Japanese Canadians used their experience to relate other injustices that were committed around the same time period. Through the use of media, the NAJC was able to voice their strong views on the issue of equality of human rights. By way of the organization, the voices of many Japanese Canadians were expressed at a local and national level. The NAJC also focused on maintaining good communication through creating networks connecting Japanese Canadians in different parts of Canada. In their efforts to create public awareness and involvement in the redress campaign, the NAJC suggested Japanese Canadians take various steps in order to help their cause.
The NAJC suggested that Japanese Canadians take the following measures:
- Write letters to the Prime Minister at the time, Brian Mulroney, local Members of Parliament, or Members of the National Assembly and other groups that might be willing to offer support.
- Encourage Canadians to get informed using the large amount of literature available on the issues. This was used to help the NAJC’s negotiation tactics as well as create awareness and gain more support for the fight for redress and human rights issues. Japanese Canadians were also encouraged to attend NAJC public meetings to create togetherness in the fight for a common goal.
- To spread the word to the general public by using their links to public systems (schools, churches and community groups).
- “Volunteer; raise funds; give money. No action [was] insignificant and no amount [was] too small in its contribution to a larger cause.”
Together, these suggestions aimed to forge alliances with different groups, raise awareness at the local and national level, and provide the NAJC with any connections that would be used in negotiation tactics. Overall, it was these measures and persistence that helped prioritize human rights for all.
Although the Japanese Canadian fight for redress seemed unified, tensions surfaced surrounding the issue and what kind of compensation the community should receive. When it came to redress, there was a split between NAJC and the National Redress Committee. The National Redress Committee (NRC) was blamed for choosing a political process that was not inclusive to all Japanese Canadians. Gordon Kadota and the NAJC accused George Imai’s National Redress Committee of trying to reach a settlement that did not involve individual compensation for the Japanese community, while the National Redress Committee held a conference trying to reveal the fault lines within the NAJC leadership. The battle between the NAJC and the National Redress Committee ended with the dissolution of the latter. Art Miki, president of the NAJC, was under attack by the National Redress Committee after its dissolution. In 1984, Vic Ogura, an NAJC delegate from Montreal, criticized Miki for not sending the Prime Minister a letter about a National Redress Committee meeting that Ogura had attended as an NRC member. Ogura saw the omission of this letter as a great loss in the redress campaign for the NRC. Overall, the conflict between the NAJC and the NRC led the NAJC to come out on top in the fight for redress.
The Japanese Canadian community was represented by the NAJC through Art Miki, the head of the organization at the time of redress. In order to make sure that Japanese Canadians were accounted for, Miki wrote letters to Prime Minister Mulroney and was present at important meetings, including the Meech Lake Accord Hearings. In a letter written almost a year before redress was achieved by Japanese Canadians, the NAJC expressed their disapproval concerning the ongoing negotiations presented by the Mulroney government. The NAJC tried to negotiate greater compensation for Japanese Canadians in refuting what the Mulroney government was presenting to them. They felt that the hardship the Japanese had suffered in internment camps was not being fully recognized. The recognition that Japanese Canadians wanted would come from answering more of their requests and addressing issues they deemed important. In addition, the NAJC was pressuring the Canadian government to bring up issues that the NAJC felt should be dealt with; one example of this is the War Measures Act. In the NAJC’s letter to the Mulroney government, the issue of the War Measures Act is brought up because the NAJC felt as though this was not properly addressed. Art Miki appeared at the Meech Lake Hearings on behalf of the NAJC. The main point Miki brought forth was the importance of individual rights, so that no other groups would be subject to the same situations as Japanese Canadians. The implication of the NAJC and its leaders, such as Art Miki, in important meetings and frequent correspondence with the Mulroney government show its attempts to apply pressure and gain redress for Japanese Canadians. Ultimately, it is these pressure tactics and constant negotiation by the NAJC which led to redress for the Japanese Canadian community.
Japanese Canadians received an apology and monetary compensation for their losses from the Mulroney government in 1988. The apology was seen as a major success for the NAJC and Japanese Canadians. In addition to the recognition by the federal government that their actions were in fact racist, Japanese Canadians were given funds to further develop a strong Japanese identity in Canada. Also, Japanese Canadians who refused to go to internment camps were released of their convictions. Survivors of the Japanese internment camps were given $21,000 each. Twelve million dollars was given to the Japanese Community Fund, along with 24 million dollars towards the creation of a Canadian Race Relations Foundation to ensure that similar injustices would never happen again.
Today, the NAJC is still focused on the unification of the Japanese Community and strives to protect minorities against human rights violations. For the NAJC, the redress campaign and its achievements are an important platform to build upon. The organization continues to provide leadership within the Japanese Canadian community and in Canada on minority and human rights issues. The NAJC has also placed importance on the integration of Japanese history into the Canadian education curriculum in order to inform future generations.