PLEASE NOTE: this letter is intended to represent voices within our communities. If you identify in part or full as Japanese, Japanese Canadian, or Nikkei, or if you are active and invested in Japanese Canadian communities, we encourage you to add your name to the list of signatories.
Dear National Executive Board members,
It has recently come to our attention that the National Association of Japanese Canadians and several of its local chapters have taken an official stance against Bill 79 (An Act to proclaim the Nanjing Massacre Commemorative Day) in the Ontario provincial legislature. As Japanese, Japanese Canadian, and Nikkei-identified people, we are profoundly disturbed and disappointed by our Association’s opposition to Bill 79.
The NAJC claims to be inclusive of, and therefore to represent, both “established” and “post-war” Japanese communities in Canada. Our communities and organisations have prioritised the integration of post-war “imin” or “ijuusha” (immigrants) from Japan, and have also worked closely with organisations based in post-war Japan, including the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The NAJC’s insistence, then, that this issue is a “foreign” one, and that Japanese Canadian communities should not be “associated” with “the Japanese who carried out military operations in Asia,” conveniently ignores how our communities are already connected to, inclusive of, and benefitting from the Japanese inheritors of legacies of war in Asia. Such selective moral reasoning is wholly contradictory to the NAJC’s commitment to maintain “a strong public voice and profile on human rights issues.”
What is most disturbing about the NAJC’s opposition to Bill 79, however, is its use of the rhetoric of marginalisation to silence others in their struggles for justice. By arguing that Bill 79 will “promote intolerance” against Japanese Canadians, the NAJC misleadingly characterises justice as a zero sum game, a politically hopeless scenario where the demands of one marginalised group can only be met at the expense of another’s. Likewise, calls to “[celebrate] accomplishments” and “reject all violence and wars” instead of supporting Bill 79 echo the kind of politically vague and deflective sentiments that the NAJC itself faced while demanding redress for internment. These tactics are being used to undermine the efforts of a broad coalition of groups calling for justice—a coalition that includes, at its core, the women who bear the brunt of the legacy of Japanese wartime sexual violence throughout Asia. Can we imagine if other groups had successfully used similar tactics and rhetoric to derail the NAJC’s movement for redress?
In fact, the history of redress urgently reminds us, as Japanese Canadians, of our responsibility to join with others in their struggles for justice. Part of the rationale for the NAJC’s present commitment to “supporting groups still seeking resolution of historic wrongs” has been the crucial support that the NAJC received from other groups during the redress movement. One of those groups, the Korean Canadian Cultural Association, has recently indicated its full support for Bill 79, reflecting many Korean Canadians’ personal and communal memories of atrocities and sexual violence under Japanese occupation. If the NAJC cannot now stand in support of redress-era allies like the KCCA in their own moments of political struggle, then it has lost all moral legitimacy as a force for justice and right relations in our society.
We understand that the issues at play here are complex, and that being associated with the pain and trauma of others is uncomfortable—especially in light of our own painful and traumatic histories. We accordingly do not imagine a simple solution. A first step might be to engage in sincere conversations with other community and advocacy groups about how legacies of war implicate our diverse communities, without giving in to the temptation to flatten real differences across experiences of injustice. Such conversations may engender new understanding, creating opportunities for reconciliation and shared struggle for justice. But none of this can begin while the NAJC aligns itself so wholly and unjustifiably against those with whom it needs to be in dialogue. We therefore urge you to withdraw your opposition to Bill 79, and to commit to the difficult but necessary work of reconciliation that lies ahead.
With deep concern and abiding hope,