Vancouver formally apologizes to Japanese Canadians for internment

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      The City of Vancouver has issued a formal apology for its role in the 1942 internment of Japanese Canadians.

      Through a motion approved today (September 25), council agreed to take “full responsibility” for actions taken by the city that allowed the internment to happen.

      “With humility and respect, the City of Vancouver formally apologizes for its complicity, its inaction, and for failing to protect her residents of Japanese descent,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said as he read the motion.

      "The City of Vancouver pledges to do all it can to ensure such injustices will not happen again to any of its residents, thereby upholding the principles of human rights, justice and equality now and in the future."

      After hearing from a series of speakers, councillors stood to unanimously approve the motion, receiving a standing ovation from those gathered in city council chambers. 

      The apology was issued as the city marks the 71st year since the War Measures Act was invoked and all residents of Japanese descent were forcibly removed from the West Coast of B.C. 

      In 1942, Vancouver city council unanimously passed a motion calling for “the removal of the enemy alien population from the Pacific coast to central parts of Canada”.

      Robertson described the language of the motion, and the actions taken by the government of the day, as "shocking".

      "It was wrong, and we are sorry," he said. 

      Grace Eiko Thomson told city council that the life of her and her family, just like other Japanese Canadians living on the West Coast, came to an abrupt stop in 1942, when they were sent to internment camps in the interior of British Columbia.

      “We were uprooted from our homes with little notice,” she said. “Anyone who dissented was separated from their families and sent to prisoner of war camps in Ontario.”

      Eiko Thomson’s family was then removed to rural Manitoba in 1945, where she recalled “years of struggle to survive within a climate of discrimination, moving from town to town wherever my father could find work”.

      Ken Noma, the president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians, told councillors that “the emotional and psychological scars of that incarceration rung deep among the elders of our community”.

      He called today’s apology a victory “not just for Japanese Canadians who were expelled from Vancouver”, but for all Canadians.

      Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang, who worked on bringing the apology forward with members of the Japanese Canadian community, said it's been "an emotional process to go through".

      "It's up to us to tell those stories," he said. 

      "It's an important task we have to do, and it's really heartening when I see so many young folks share those stories and experiences."

      Noma echoed Jang's comments, describing today's event as an "opportunity to engage in discussions with our children".

      Eiko Thomson urged the city to listen to the communities of the Downtown Eastside that are living in what was once Japantown.

      “The next step for me is I really feel that we have to be vigilant about other people who are still living in this area, who at this moment are really socially and economically being excluded,” she said.

      The full text of council's apology can be viewed on the city's website. 




      Sep 25, 2013 at 2:34pm


      Sid Tan

      Sep 25, 2013 at 7:32pm

      Grace Eiko Thomson said the following at a media scrum after... I love this woman...

      "For me, an apology is not enough unless it is followed up. Not for us, it’s too late for us. Most of us are gone. Most of us who experienced the interment are gone.

      It is so important we remember that what happened to us can happen to others. That is why I raise the Downtown Eastside because that is where we use to live. That is where we were displaced from. And the original people were the Coast Salish first nations who were originally displaced.

      For me, I really feel we have to be vigilant about other people who are still living in this area at the moment who are still socially and economically being excluded, particularly with this big talk about gentrification. The developers are moving in, the price of land is going up.

      So what does this mean for the people that are living there? Does that mean they are going to be displaced again? I hope not. This is the most important thing to me right now, that this doesn’t happen to another group of people.

      This is a unique community with a unique history and there are still people living here who may be displaced depending on how the city decided to act on this area…”


      Sep 25, 2013 at 7:43pm

      My grandfather was a fisherman when the internment occurred. His boat, home and all belongings were taken away and he was put in an internment camp. He never got his boat or home back. He wasn't even allowed to return to Steveston for many years; either go east or go back to Japan, they told him...

      I remember only tidbits of this story from him but it was like extracting teeth. But I'm touched and proud of Vancouver this day. My grandparents would've shed a tear today.

      Alan Layton

      Sep 26, 2013 at 12:51pm

      Sid Tan, don't forget out the ordinary people and business owners that were displaced by the poverty industry that now runs the DTES. Or are they not considered worthy of a mention? The idea of entrenching a portion of a historically dynamic, ever-shifting part of our town is ridiculous. It's not going to happen and a 50 years from now the people living and working down there will be completely different than the much-maligned 'Gentrifiers' - whom I noticed are automatically labeled and 'rich' and therefore evil.

      Sid Tan

      Sep 26, 2013 at 2:21pm

      Bravo Grace Eiko Thomson and Randy Enomoto of the Japanese Canadian Citizens' Association.

      Grace at a media scrum yesterday on the City of Vancouver apology to Japanese Canadian linked the wartime displacement injustice to the present. Well informed source reports Randy followed up last night with Councillor Kerry Jang:

      "At the reception in the evening, Randy Enomoto spoke, and we held our breaths wondering if he will speak to the current issue, as he had been approached by both sides of the fence.

      One that is saying this event is a stand alone one, about the seniors, and the other saying, no, this is not just about the seniors, but about what is happening now, that apologies are useless if there is nothing following them.

      Randy ended his speech asking Kerry Jang if he can say no one will be displaced in DTES, and Kerry responded saying he is going back to City Hall,and that is exactly what is being discussed at that moment, and he promised that not one will be displaced!!!

      So I will hold my breath... "