"A Glimpse of Reconciliation" Receives End Racism Award from B.C. Government

By Tatsuo Kage, Member, JCCA Human Rights Committee

The joint project by BC ALPHA (Association for Learning & Preserving the History of World War II in Asia) and the JCCA Human Rights Committee received the award on March l9 from Mr. Ujjal Dosanjh, Attorney-General and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism, Human Rights and Immigration.

The joint project was an educational event to learn about war time atrocities committed by the Japanese Army Germ Warfare Unit 73l in China, and about the movement to obtain compensation for the victims. (Four decades ago on March 2l, l960, police in South Africa killed 69 peaceful apartheid protesters. March 21 is now the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.)

"A Glimpse of Reconciliation" included both a Witnessing Forum and a Photo Exhibit; both were unique and powerful. In addition to Japanese and Chinese groups in Canada, four other ethnic groups, namely the Dutch, Filipino, Jewish and Korean communities were involved. Six groups in Canada together with the delegation from Japan demonstrated that concerns on the issue of social justice and human rights transcend national borders, racial and cultural backgrounds. In July 1998 the Witnessing Forum at the Vancouver Public Library was visited by over 500 people and visitors to a week long exhibit totaled 3000.

On behalf of organizations supporting the project, Ms. Thekla Lit, President of BC ALPHA, spoke at the End Racism Awards giving ceremony held at the Empire Landmark Hotel in Vancouver: "... an educational and humanity approach is important in the process to heal wounds of history and to seek reconciliation. This approach is particularly meaningful in the light that the Japanese government has been reluctant to apologize and accept responsibility for the crimes against humanity committed by its Imperial Army."

The JCCA Human Rights Committee felt honored that our work on this project was given official recognition through the award. In Human Rights work we sometimes have to deal with facts and issues which may be difficult and uncomfortable. But people in Asia were abused under Japan's military and colonial authorities. War crimes and atrocities by the Japanese Military and inhuman treatments committed by the colonial government are taught and remembered by people in Asian and Pacific regions and also by Canadians of Asian Pacific origin. Yet in Japan and also here in Canada, the Asian Holocaust is hardly known and has not been taught. Therefore, a few years ago we were involved in supporting the campaign for Professor Ienaga's History School Textbook lawsuit in Japan. And last year we believed that inviting and supporting Germ Warfare Unit 731 Forum and Exhibit together with ALPHA, were of great educational value for ourselves and the Canadian public.

We hear opinions that what happened during World War II in China is not our issue because it was a war between two foreign countries. Was it truly so? If we ask our Chinese, Korean or Filipino fellow-Canadians about the impacts of World War II on their families, they usually have a lot to say about it. In Asian Pacific countries, these events have been told at home and taught in schools so that younger generations learn about the tragedies their parents and grandparents experienced. These unresolved issues still impact on the present.

Our Human Rights Committee's mandate derives from the JCCA constitution, stipulating " to protect and promote the past, present and future legal rights and democratic freedoms of all persons in Canada regardless of race, religion, status or sex." Looking back, we think that community members firmly believed in our mandate and saw it as universal in nature when they initiated efforts to achieve Redress for Japanese Canadians and indeed, our efforts were supported by many Canadians of various backgrounds including the First Nations and Chinese and other Asian Canadians.

It was unfortunate that our national organization, the NAJC, declined our request for endorsing the project of "Unit 731 Forum and Exhibit." For some Japanese Canadians it seems to be more important not to offend the Japanese government and big business than to affirm their Canadian Citizenship by standing with victims of past injustices and supporting their demand for apology and compensation. "On and Giri", the Japanese traditional virtue of obligation, often mentioned by Nisei elders, seems to be conveniently forgotten when other people's rights become an issue.

In Human Rights work we need to transcend conventional notions of national boundary. We could benefit from insight, imagination and leadership in our community. A vision or dream is an important, perhaps a crucial dimension of community organizations, including the JCCA and NAJC. I suggest that our vision as a community needs to include human values that extend to others beyond ourselves. Let us reconnect with the roots of our name , the JCCA. "Japanese Canadian" defines who we are - we are Canadians with origins in Japan. "Citizens' Association" places us clearly within the context of the wider civic national community, which is itself part of the global community of nations on the planet, increasingly interconnected at every level.