Hon. Gerry Weiner On The 25th Anniversary of the Japanese-Canadian Redress Settlement

By Pace Law | September 24, 2013

The following is from a speech made by the Hon. Gerry Weiner in Toronto, on the 25th Anniversary of the Japanese-Canadian Redress Settlement. Gerry Weiner is the former Canadian minister of immigration, and is an adviser to Pace Law Firm.

Thank you very much for your kind words of introduction.

Distinguished guests, colleagues, old friends, ladies and gentlemen.

It is my privilege to be with you today to mark this 25th anniversary of an acknowledged milestone in the history of our country, and in the history of the exercise of human rights, the occasion of the signing of the Japanese-Canadian Redress Settlement a quarter of a century ago.

You will note that I did not open my remarks by indicating that we should celebrate. No- rather, we should mark this event, remembering its significance for all Canadians, while soberly taking note that the circumstances and beliefs that led to the inhuman treatment meted out to Canadian citizens in their own country some 70 years ago, remain deeply rooted in the consciousness of some in this country, even today.

The short hand of journalistic history, and the 24 hr. news cycle that has evolved in the last quarter century, has shortened the Japanese-Canadian Redress Settlement down to several lines.

“Japanese Canadians, many of them citizens, were incarcerated during World War II, their property taken from them, and their liberty curtailed. Over 40 years later, the Federal Government apologized, and made a financial settlement. “

The Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement, ratified a quarter of a century ago, was more than just an apology and a cash payment.

That shorthand, does no justice, to the circumstances which befell fellow Canadians, whose sole wrong was to be different, whose dignity, was stripped from them, in the pursuit of fear-driven hatred, whose citizenship in some cases, was stolen from them, for no reason, other than the colour of their skin. And we must not forget that this was not the first time that Canadian governments attempted to restrict the liberty of Japanese Canadian people, Japanese Canadian citizens.

The Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement, ratified a quarter of a century ago, was more than just an apology and a cash payment.

Today, we may forget that much more was involved. The unanimous resolution of our Parliament signified a remembrance and a statement of contrition that goes far beyond just a simple bureaucratic press release, a return of dignity so wrongfully taken.

The commitment to actively seek out, those whose citizenship had been stolen from them, and to return it to them, with pride and respect must never be forgotten. The establishment of a foundation – the Canadian Race Relations Foundation – to be a perpetual witness to this inhumanity and to be a perpetual guardian of, and advocate for the exercise of our human rights – was, and remains a landmark commitment.

I would argue the Foundation and the Settlement should go down proudly in our history and should be clearly part of what is taught to our Canadian youth in their schools – about the Canadian journey, the Canadian experience – a mix of the hopeful and sometimes the dire.

Canada is an ongoing experiment, in building a society that demands equality of opportunity, and the right of participation to all. A country enriched by its diversity, where harmony does not demand homogeneity.

A little over 25 years ago, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, gave me the responsibility for negotiating a just settlement, with the members of the National Assn of Japanese Canadians. One of the proudest chapters of my life was to bring to Parliament for approval, an agreement that was negotiated, not an imposed settlement.

An agreement that would receive the unanimous support of all parties, and especially the members of the Japanese Canadian community.

Why was this agreement so important to me…

As a member of an ethnic community, that had suffered its own share of discrimination, and anti-semitism, The Holocaust, always being fresh in my mind, and the almost total obliteration of my community, I became an even more avid student of the history of the 20th.Century. The almost full century of discrimination against Japanese Canadians.

However we should not forget that our Japanese Canadian citizens, did not sit silently for over a third of a century from their release. They petitioned the Canadian courts – their courts -who turned a deaf ear to their plight, claiming jurisdictional issues. They appealed to the governments of the day, their governments, to be shunned aside abruptly, callously.

But let us remember that times in the past were not rosy, and that Japanese Canadians were not the only groups to be cast aside, or relegated to the shadows.

The Chinese Head Tax; The Discrimation against our Ukrainian citizens, the internment of Canadians of Italian and German origin. And who can forget the St. Louis, which was not permitted to dock, whose passengers were returned to Europe, where most of them perished.

Nearly 30 years ago, the landmark Parliamentary report “Equality Now” highlighted the degree to which racial discrimination was prevalent in Canada, seeping into all walks of life. Oh, yes, such a polite, subtle discrimination; but discrimination, prejudice, mistrust and fear, all the same.

It is now 31 years since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms became enshrined in our Constitution.

My Province, Quebec has its own Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

And today in our Canada, there is ample need for those of us of good
conscience and strong in spirit to reflect and to take action.

I cannot overemphasize to you today the importance of our Charters as a touchstone to guide our way forward in the exercise of our basic freedoms. I will say today that the Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement had its roots in the hopes and dreams of that time 30 years ago, and in its immediate wake.

So today as we gather to discuss the implications of the Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement, it is important for us to see it in the broader historical context of the history of our nation, some parts which we uphold and cherish; and some for which we must soberly consider the consequences.

I opened my remarks with asking us not to view this 25th anniversary as a celebration but as an opportunity to reflect.

And today in our Canada, there is ample need for those of us of good conscience and strong in spirit to reflect and to take action. The injustices that beset our Japanese Canadian co-citizens may happen again and we, these very days, are witnessing the re-emergence of the multi-headed Hydra monster of fear, racism, intolerance and yes, I will say it, xenophobia.

I have never been able to understand, never wanted to understand, why many good people remained silent.

Silent when an entire community was being led away…

Silent when almost my entire community was eradicated.

No…We Must never remain silent again.

Martin Luther King Jr. said that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Destiny must have played a part in your inviting me to speak this evening. I have been very upset ever since the Quebec Government unveiled the Charter of Quebec Values.

The device proposes a new set of values to replace our existing values and our way of life. Instead of accepting and promoting Quebec’s minorities as part of the Quebec fabric, as we do now, the PQ government proposes to isolate them and ban their religious symbols in the workplace, thus implying they do not really belong here-that they are foreigners among us.

In the name of separation of church and state, the Charter presents the government with a way to abandon previous policy of tolerance and respect for minority communities that has been an integral part of Quebec for many decades.

Instead the Charter proposes a policy of uniformity, a policy of enforced assimilation, and a contempt for minority values-vilifying them as outsiders and not a part of their real Quebec.

The opposition parties must not allow it to happen; the Federal Government, and all political parties will not allow it to happen, and citizens from coast to coast must not let it happen.

It is time for all men and women of goodwill, to join in condemning this sinister attempt to blame minorities for the failing policies of the PQ government. What a crass method of gaining support among the population.

I am extremely worried that this device would have the ability of dividing our community, that it could strip away decades of building a caring society, of returning us to the Quebec of my youth filled with hate, discrimination, and indifference. It had taken many decades to become what we are today, with a wonderful quality of life. A Montreal that continues to draw us back from the world over.

As some in the English language press here in Toronto have remarked, it may be nothing but a cynical little ploy for a Premier to get a majority government, and as such will all blow over. No my friends, this is much deeper than a tawdry little ploy to gain a few seats in the National Assembly.

This might be the move to break up our Canada. I have spent a lifetime working in my community, and now that society could be placed at risk. I must not let it happen. We must never let it happen.

The ends, possibly political gain, do not justify the means encouraging intolerance.

It is racism by any other name.

Dr. Michael Shevell of Montreal will not let it happen…..

Alain Dubuc of LaPress will not let it happen..

We have also now seen how the Premier of Quebec clearly relishes the opportunity to play “the race card”; and to challenge anyone to take her government to the Supreme Court of Canada. Already she has said she will invoke the Notwithstanding Clause.

What this means very simply is that the Premier of Quebec intends to utilize a rarely called-upon instrument, one which was one of the chief concessions made to secure the repatriation of our Constitution, to in effect authorize racist behaviour – to give official sanction, to fear – the fear of someone different.

We here today, we all across Canada, need to take up the torch and to witness, in that biblical sense of the word, that this is unacceptable not just in Quebec but all across Canada.

This travesty of human rights and the values which make Canada our Canada, whatever its underlying motivations may be, cannot be accepted in a free and open democracy such as ours.

We cannot let this go unanswered.

Two days ago I was watching the news and saw a clip of a man on a bus in Montreal berating a woman who was wearing a headscarf, calling her the most abusive vile names. But what was more chilling for me was the fact that no one on the bus did a thing, including the driver. What does that tell us?

It tells us that the indolence, callousness and simple lack of concern for our fellow humans remain.

Few cried out to support the plight of their Japanese co-citizens during or, more tellingly, after World War II. No one cried out, no one was a witness for that woman in Montreal this week.

So as I conclude my remarks today, I will say how proud I was to be a member of a government, your Federal Government, during a time of promise and hope in our Canada.

It was a time when a Constitutional settlement was at hand which would have flummoxed the Separatists in our lifetime and likely in that of our children. It was that Government that ratified the comprehensive redress settlement.

But let us not look to the past. Let us not us not rest on what was achieved. Let us look forward in firm determination to continue to pursue the goal, the aspiration of the exercise of human rights for all in our Canada.