November 2012

The Nobility of Failure – Reflection on Redress II

It is my belief that many of us involved in the struggle for Redress never expected success. The War Measures Act gave the government of the day, sweeping legal powers to seize, sell private property and to intern Japanese Canadians. The Liberal and Conservative governments were content to keep Japanese Canadian Redress an ‘ethnic’ issue and not until the NAJC changed strategy to make the internment of Japanese Canadians an inclusive issue around justice and human rights did they expand the base of support from the larger Canadian community.

As we gathered at the Sutton Place Hotel on the evening of September 22nd, 1988, and listened to Multiculturalism Minister, Gerry Weiner and the Nikkei leaders, I experienced a mixture of seemingly contradictory emotions of happiness, disbelief and a sense of emptiness. After so many years of fruitless negotiations, we had not expected this outcome and were not prepared emotionally for victory.

Gerry Weiner had followed a succession of Conservative Ministers of Multiculturalism who were not prepared to negotiate frankly and without hidden agendas. In 1985, Jack Murta (1984-85) tried to gather in Ottawa members of the ‘Shikataga-nai’ group (those opposed to the NAJC) and some western NAJC members to witness an orchestrated unilateral apology to Japanese Canadians to be given by Prime Minister Mulroney. Once the national press became aware of this plan, the government cancelled the event. Murata’s successor, Otto Jelinek (1985-86) tried the tactic of intimidation while David Crombie (1986-88), according to Gerry Weiner, never took the Redress negotiations to cabinet – according to Gerry Weiner.

No one could have predicted the domino effect that the American settlement would have here in Canada and this combined with the positive poll numbers of Canadians that supported the Redress settlement convinced the Mulroney government to push for a settlement in September. These and other factors were fortuitous and is a revelation of the fickle nature of political decision making and raises interesting questions about the government’s true motivations.

Perhaps my feelings of emptiness came from the realization that this small core of dedicated, Nisei and Sansei volunteers would disappear again into the larger community. Having achieved the unattainable, I believe that the Redress journey itself was as important as the goal. Belief in the justness of the cause empowered us. Contained within life’s failures are elements of nobility if it is coupled with, in the words of Ivan Morris, ‘purity of purpose’ (Morris, Nobility of Failure, xxii). By examining the tragic lives of such Japanese heroes as: Sugawara no Michizune, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, Kusunoki Masashige, Saigo Takamori and others, Morris believed that there was dignity in defeat. I believe that we were prepared for that outcome.

With the 25th anniversary of Redress in 2013, it will be a chance to honour those community leaders – current and past – as well as the small number of unheralded people whose efforts ensured our victory. The anniversary will be a year-long opportunity to educate our youth and the larger community of the challenges faced by Issei and Nisei and use this platform as an opportunity to remind everyone about the need to be ever vigilant in protecting our human rights.

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