America Blazes Trail for Canadian Redress Movement

           Two neighboring countries share a hauntingly object-shadow relationship as American redress movements and results drag the unwilling Canadian government along behind them. Ironically, the redress movements share a strikingly similar and at times almost parallel timeline. It is clear that American movements lead the way in a very different atmosphere while Canada emulates what works while struggling to achieve at times different goals, and at other times similar goals. Japanese Canadians are fighting a government with strong racist legislature that first must be changed before addressing the issues at hand. Progress occurs in leaps and bounds. On the other hand, American redress wades through a swamp of bureaucracy at a slow and steady pace.

           A key factor in the American redress movement leading the way is that they had the prerequisite legal framework for people to demand redress. Japanese Americans were still protected by their constitutional rights. The executive order overrode those rights at the time, but once the utility of the order passed despite strong public anti-Japanese sentiment, they were freed and had legal rights. On the other hand, the War Measures Act remained in play after its use, and Japanese Canadians already were not viewed as equals under the law. In 1895, a federal act made it so that even naturalized Japanese citizens could not vote.[1] Canada had a legal framework that enforced discrimination by race. This sentiment was not unheard of in the United States; case in point, the California immigration laws.[2] Even if states could pass Anti-Alien bills, the country itself offered protection. Canadians did not have any meaningful constitution-like document until 1982, giving them a very late start. Even then, we are all aware of the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, similar to the War Measures Act, it can override protection in offers.[3] The American government was able to release the interned by the end of the war, unlike the Canadian government that seemed unwilling until 4 years after the American lead. From the starting blocks, the Canadians are behind and still are not on equal legal footings to go toe to toe with the government.

           The meaningful stages of redress for both groups started in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Canadian groups were working on appealing the War Measures Act so others do not suffer like they did[4], using the same reasons behind the Charter and ending their internment in 1949. There was a strong focus on preventing the wrongs and worrying about the suffering in the Canadian redress movement’s public demands. Unfortunately for them, it was not a very effective strategy to win over a government. The Canadian government has been very proactive in keeping Asian populations out of politics and denying them legal rights. Thankfully for them, Americans had a different situation entirely and could focus on legal issues to win over the government. Their leadership said “don’t emphasize your own pain, because no one cares about the pain of the Japanese-Americans. You have toemphasize the pain and wrong to the country.”[5] This was easy to say and do when there were five Japanese senators, four ready to fight for redress, and a community that spent 25 years burning for a redress movement via legal means. The crux of the argument was that they were Japanese Americans and betraying them was a danger to all citizens. They had two groups pushing for redress: one going at a legislative fix backed by senators, and the other going at a court case suing the government for monetary compensation and apology. Both groups pushed simultaneously and ended up having a synergistic effect.[6] Ironically, similar Canadian Japanese redress had two groups that undermined each other and did not end up going far.[7] While Canadian redress floundered, they had to “look outside for allies”[8] towards a strong American movement really setting precedent.

           After successfully encouraging a government report on Wartime Relocation and Internment, both groups of the Japanese American redress movement worked together to gather evidence which resulted in the passing of a bill in senate. The passing of the bill was followed by the signing of an act. Once it passed, they negotiated all the nitpicky details; a process that took well over a year.[9] At the same time, Canadian redress was negotiating directly the details of the bill without any report and only some historical evidence.[10] The contract is vivid; Japanese Canadian redress was being road blocked until the passing of the American bill. Forty-one days after the American bill was passed, Canada signed their own “stunningly similar” redress agreement.[11] They kept with the trend of following behind the American’s decisions in an attempt to avoid losing face.

           Canada simply had a preexisting racist framework that did not serve to empower Japanese redress movements. Nor did this legal atmosphere allow Japanese communities to reach the same levels of organization as American groups. The Canadian groups did not have the political clout to make an impact on a strong government. Without the American redress movements and parallel set of events, Japanese Canadians probably would have waited until decades later to hear anything.

           [1] Daniels, Roger, Sandra C. Taylor, Harry H. L. Kitano, and Leonard J. Arrington. Japanese Americans, from relocation to redress. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1986. 139.

           [2] Daniels. 1986. 139.

           [3] “Afterward: Redress.” The Politics of Racism:. http://www.japanesecanadianhistory.ca/Afterward.html#seven (accessed March 4, 2014).

           [4] “Afterward: Redress.”

           [5] Torpey, John. Making whole what has been smashed: on reparations politics. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006. 87.

           [6] Japanese American National Museum

           [7] “Afterward: Redress.” The Politics of Racism

           [8] Torpey, John. Making whole what has been smashed: on reparations politics. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006. 87.

           [9] Japanese American National Museum

           [10] “Afterward: Redress.”

           [11] McClain, Charles J.. The mass internment of Japanese Americans and the quest for legal redress. New York: Garland, 1994.