City of Vancouver apologizes for 1942 internment of Japanese Canadians

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The City of Vancouver issued a much-anticipated apology for the city’s role in the 1942 internment of Canadians of Japanese descent.

“We’re the third order of government to issue the apology,” city councillor Kerry Jang said. “Federal government did it about 25 years ago with compensation.”

“The provincial government did it as a bit of a surprise last year. Think it was part of their ethnic outreach strategy.”

Genuine and honest words, not publicity

Jang said, “We wanted the motion and the apology to be meaningful and sincere so we had the Japanese community write it. Write most of the words in the motion and we’re happy to support it.”

He said this was very important to write because it’s not different from what happened in the Chinese community.

“These are Canadians, born and raised here, been part of our communities for years and all of a sudden, because of the action of few in Imperial Japan, they became the enemy. People had forgotten who they were.

“That type of thinking has to end,” he said.

Jang hopes the motion encourages others to accept people for who they are and not just by the colour of their skin.

City fostering a positive relationship with communities

Stephen Phillips, political science instructor at Langara College, said B.C. institutions were slower than the federal government in responding considering the B.C. politicians and government of the time were in the forefront, demanding the federal government to intern the Japanese into the interior.

“It reflects a reluctance by those most responsible in a sense to come to terms with that reality but society has changed,” Phillips said.

“Various communities and minority groups that have suffered persecution in the past have become more assertive in their identity and their desire to see justice.”

He added the apology is one of the ways to establish a new and healthier relationship between the ethnocultural communities and the government, helping everyone to move forward. It helps integrate the younger generations into an “equal place in society.”

Forgive but never forget

Mary Kitagawa, a member of the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association Human Rights Committee, was one of five people who helped write the city’s apology. The other four people were Tosh Kitagawa, Grace Thomson, Vivian Rygnestad and Judy Hanazawa.

Kitagawa said, “The elders were very happy. Most of them were in their 90s and no one questioned the sincerity.”

The apology and action to move forward may be a sign of different times. She mentioned today’s city council is a “mixed bag” with three Asians. “Before, there were more non-whites.”

“The young people are very happy this went through,” she said. They may have not lived through the experience of an internment camp but they know someone who has.

“It still affects them. They’re thinking about their grandparents and their parents.”

Kitagawa went into the camps when she was seven years old and “lived without freedom for seven years.”

Even though she lost her childhood, she learned to be strong and to be proud of who she is. Her parents told her to “never be the face of a victim” and encouraged her to forgive but not forget. They said that she had to “forgive or be stuck in a hole.”

The city’s apology is part of her forgiveness.

Reported by Angela Holubowich and Deanna Cheng

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  1. 2nd gen says

    and i still didn’t hear a sorry…

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