The Apology

This CBC News clip discusses Japanese internment in the Second World War and discusses redress. Prime Minister Mulroney is also shown in the House of Commons apologizing on behalf of Canada (courtesy CBC Television).

In 1942, Roy Miki was born on a sugar beet farm in Manitoba, typical of the work projects where Japanese families were sent during their internment. In his adult years, Roy, a writer and poet who would win the Governor General's Award for poetry in 2002, was at the forefront of a movement for redress for the Japanese. Success came in September 1988. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who made good on an election promise, issued a government apology and announced compensation to each surviving internee of $21,000. One month earlier, President Ronald Reagan had announced a similar program. By then, of the 22,000 interned in Canada, 13,000 were still living.

The issue of redress was not without controversy. As opposition leader, Mulroney had argued for it, but then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was opposed. "I do not see how I can apologize for some historic event to which we… were not a party," he said, asking where claims for compensation would end. Certainly, other groups, citing the Japanese redress as compensation, later sought the same from the government for racially motivated policies, including the head tax against the Chinese and internment of Germans and Italians during the First World War. None were successful.

Like Roy Miki, many saw redress not as a matter of payment for property confiscated, but of human rights. Some said it healed the sense of shame they had about being of Japanese descent. In 1981, Joy Kogawa published her groundbreaking novel, Obasan, about the dislocation of a Japanese family interned in Canada during the Second World War, a story mirroring her own experience. The novel has been a part of Canadian mainstream literature ever since.

Learn more: Japanese Canadian Internment