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 here...to 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.