Internees at work road-building, near Castle Mountain internment camp, Alberta (Photo from the G.W.H. Millican Collection, courtesy of the Glenbow Museum)
Minister of State Gerry Weiner is dreaming in technicolor if he thinks the compensation package for Japanese Canadians doesn't set a precedent.
What happened to Japanese Canadians between 1942 and 1949 was "unique and unparalleled," Mr. Weiner insists. Tragic and unfair that treatment undoubtedly was; unique and unparalleled it most certainly wasn't.
You can certainly make a case for the compensation of Japanese Canadians since what they suffered during the war was grievous. True, in the wake of Pearl Harbor all menacing things seemed possible, but that the government of the day overreacted seems incontestable.
But the actions of the government of the day were not unique, as Mr. Weiner pretends. In announcing a compensation package of nearly $300-million, including payments to individual Japanese Canadians, the government has merely whetted the appetites and reaffirmed the determination of other aggrieved groups. And, having seen the success of the Japanese Canadians' lobby, they will not relent until some government, some day, applies the Japanese Canadian precedent to them.
Already spokesmen for the Ukrainian Canadian Committee are drawing attention to Ukrainian Canadians interned during the First World War. Those speaking for the Chinese Canadian National Council will be repeating their claim for compensation at a news conference this week. They will remind us of the "head tax" imposed on Chinese people who settled in Canada in the last century and the early part of this one.
And what about those interned under the War Measures Act in Quebec? We now know that the invocation of that Act was based on grossly inadequate information and widespread panic. No "apprehended insurrection" could be discovered at the time, nor have the subsequent years provided any reasonable evidence that an insurrection was imminent. Should the government not apologize publicly,therefore, if we are now deeply into the game of post-facto rectification of bad or injurious government decisions?
And what about native Canadians who, as Father Rene Fumoleau reminded us in that splendid and passionate book As Long As This Land Shall Last, signed iniquitous treaties under duress or in ignorance of their consequences for their rights and futures?
Just as in law there is something called a statute of limitations, so in these cases there might be something similar. In other words, any injustice done before a certain point in time either doesn't count, or at least won't require the current government -- and therefore living and future Canadians -- to recant for the wrongs of their forbears. Without such a time cut-off, what could stop the Acadians, who were brutally uprooted and deported with the loss of all their possessions, from claiming compensation? Or what about the Irish who arrived in the last century and were treated like an abominable underclass by Canadians?
Reductio ad absurdum, you say. Perhaps. But try yourself defining at what historical point injustices need not be recompensed. Then try selling that point to a particular aggrieved group.
Once the Americans moved to compensate Japanese Americans, it became highly probable that the Canadian government would provide similar treatment for Japanese Canadians, if for no other reason than to avoid an invidious comparison. Clearly, if the decision had rested with the Conservative caucus no financial compensation would have been offered, only an apology and perhaps money for a heritage institute. But this decision was taken over the heads of the caucus, and with an election in the air.
The game of historical atonement has its noble aspects. It is also a tricky exercise which plays on the deepest emotions and conjures up spirits everywhere.
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Document URL: http://www.infoukes.com/history/internment/booklet02/doc-015.html
Copyright © 1994 Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Copyright © 1994 Lubomyr Luciuk
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Originally Composed: Sunday September 22nd 1996.
Date last modified: Thursday October 30th 1997.