Regina Japanese Canadian Club Inc.

April 14, 1988 - The Ottawa Redress Rally

The gathering of Japanese Canadians in Ottawa, organized around a Redress Forum, was set for April 1988, the historic month in 1949 when the restrictions were lifted and Japanese Canadians were finally free to return to the coast. This dignified and emotionally charged gathering became the turning point in the NAJC’s national campaign.

- Marching towards the Parliament Buildings. At the front of the line, from left to right: Mary Obata and Roger Obata, NAJC Vice-President, from Toronto; Mas Kawanami, from Calgary; Bill Kobayashi, President, NAJC Toronto Chapter, George Kadota, from Toronto; Kyoshi Shimizu, from Victoria; Charles Kadota, from Vancouver (Photo: Gordon King).

Just prior to the Ottawa rally, Gerry Weiner became the fourth Minister in the Conservatives’ four years in power to work on redress.In the same month, the US Senate ratified the American redress bill, a move that had not seemed possible the year before.Public opinion in the US had ultimately decided in favour of Japanese Americans.Japanese Canadians now had some reason to hope for a similar transformation of their government’s attitudes.

- Japanese Canadians chartered busses from Toronto. Getting off the bus are Ken Kishibe, editor of the Nikkei Voice, and Shirley Yamada. (Photo: Gordon King)

On April 14, 1988, busloads of senior Japanese Canadians from Montreal, Hamilton and Toronto converged on Parliament Hill, and were joined there by other Japanese Canadians from all across Canada who arrive by plane.An estimated 500, the vast majority of whom were victims of internment, had come o call on the government to finally resolve the redress issue through a negotiated settlement with the NAJC.Some carried placards with slogans, other carried “Ribbons of Hope,” containing names of Japanese Canadians who had not been able to attend but who had donated so that others could be there. As they marched past the House of Commons they chanted “Redress Now,” making their way to the Confederation Room in the West Block of the Parliament Buildings, where the Redress Forum took place.

- The marchers left placards and ribbons around the Peace Flame. (Photo: Gordon King)

As the speeches began, it became clear that Japanese Canadians were no longer alone in their struggle for justice.The National Coalition for Japanese Canadian Redress reflected the conscience of Canadians who had come to realize the importance of redress as a major human rights issue – and one that had to be resolved through direct negotiations with the Japanese Canadians whose rights had been violated in the 1940s.The speakers represented a wide spectrum of ethnic communities, politicians, civil rights organizations, and religious associations who supported the NAJC.

Surprisingly, the newly-appointed Minister of State for Multiculturalism, Gerry Weiner, attended to make his first statement on the issue.But the anticipation which had animated the crowd quickly dissipated, as his speech appeared simply to justify the old offers.For forty years governments had refused to acknowledge, much less redress the injustices, he said, and that insensitivity had carried through to Pierre Trudeau.He reviewed Crombie’s offer of an acknowledgement, legislative changes, and a $12 million community fund, but did not address the issue of what would be fair compensation.His reference to the Prime Minister’s deep feelings for human rights seemed empty, given that the NAJC had not been able to meet with the Prime Minister in three and a half years.

The only seed of home he offered was his willingness to reopen talks with the NAJC – a gesture that seemed, at the time, nothing more than a political formality so that his party could say they were “in discussion” when the next election was called.

- Redress postcards being spread out at the Ottawa Forum by Hide (Hyodo) Shimizu from Toronto. (Photo: Gordon King)

In front of the speakers’ podium lay piles of campaign postcards with some 15,000 signatures pf Canadians in support of the NAJC’s call for a negotiated settlement on them.Immediately after the rally speeches, these postcards were hand delivered to the Prime Minister’s office by three formerly interned Japanese Canadians.

- Harry Tsuchiya from Hamilton carrying a bag of redress postcards to the Prime Minister's office. Gerry Weiner later admitted to the NAJC Strategy Committee that he had reported to Cabinet how impressed he was by the speeches at the Ottawa Forum. When thousands of yellow postcards were scattered before the speaker's podium with a message for the Prime Minister to resolve "Redress Now," Weiner offered to escort the carriers to the Prime Minister's office directly. (Photo: Gordon King)

The Ottawa Rally was the high point in the NAJC’s campaign.Since Japanese Canadians had never before congregated so dramatically in Ottawa to challenge the government’s failure to settle redress in a just and honourable manner, the event received powerful media coverage. Senior Canadian citizens, the victims of the injustices, were enacting their democratic right to demand “justice in our time,” the title of the pamphlet distributed y the NAJC for the occasion.

In his opening speech, NAJC President Art Miki stressed the urgency of the redress issue in the Japanese Canadian community.Many seniors who were directly affected by the wartime injustices were passing away without seeing the issue resolved, despite the popular support for redress by Canadians.

“…We have many postcards right in front of us signed by Canadians from all walks of life who are interested in this justice issue, this human rights issue, and are saying let’s get it resolved, let’s not let it go any longer.For four or five years we’ve been pressing to get people to recognize that the history of our community needs to be told.

Through gatherings such as this, and rallies and forums across the country, we’re trying to educate Canadians that there’s a lesson to be learned for the future of our country in what happened to Japanese Canadians.”

- Justice in Our Time: The Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement. (1991). pp. 111, 118-119, 122-124.

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