Those who helped Japanese Canadians to be thanked at church

Posted on August 29, 2019

By Stuart Mann

Author and social justice activist Joy Kogawa is organizing an event at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square on Oct. 5 to express gratitude to the men and women who helped Japanese Canadians during their “times of trial” during and after the Second World War.

Ms. Kogawa, who was one of about 21,000 Japanese Canadians who were sent to internment camps during the war and forced to disperse across the country afterwards, says it is important to remember the people who supported them and fought for redress.

Joy Kogawa, photographed at Holy Trinity Church, Trinity Square. Photo by Michael Hudson

“I think it’s incumbent on people who have experienced victimization to remember that there are things for which to be grateful,” she says. “There is always somebody who will stand with you in the midst of whatever your community is going through. This celebration is to acknowledge that there were good people.”

Several of those people were Anglican, says Ms. Kogawa, including missionaries Grace Tucker and the Rev. Dr. Cyril Powles and MP Andrew Brewin, who spoke out in defence of Japanese Canadians during and after the war and fought to get compensation for their losses.

Holy Trinity, Trinity Square played an important role in helping Japanese Canadians seek redress in the post-war years, says Ms. Kogawa, who is a member of the church. A committee that included Dr. Powles, the Rev. Dan Heap, Alice Heap and the Rev. Michael Creal worked tirelessly for the cause, and the first public meeting on redress was held there.

The work of those at Holy Trinity and others across the country came to fruition in 1988 when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the wrongs it committed against Japanese Canadians during wartime. The apology came with symbolic redress payments to individuals and to community funds.

Ms. Kogawa says she isn’t bitter about what happened to her and other Japanese Canadians during and after the war. “We got dispossessed and dispersed and our community was destroyed, but out of that there is still gratitude for a good country that was able to acknowledge what it had done wrong. I’m so proud of this country for that.”  

She says the event on Oct. 5 could be a model for other groups that have been and continue to be victimized. “If their hearts can look and see where there is a cause for thanksgiving, I think they can gain strength from gratitude.”

The event on Oct. 5 is called “Remembering Redress by Those Who Were There.” Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent will be the keynote speaker. Shin Imai, a human rights lawyer and the son of an Anglican cleric who served Japanese Canadian Anglicans worshipping at Holy Trinity in the 1950s, will be the Master of Ceremonies. Former MP John Brewin, son of the late Andrew Brewin, will speak, as will Justice Maryka Omatsu, co-chair of the B.C. Redress Steering Committee, and Ms. Kogawa.

The event will include a potluck supper, live music and a selection of books by Japanese Canadian authors for sale. The event is from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. (doors open at 5 p.m.). All are invited. The church is located at 19 Trinity Square, Toronto, near the Eaton Centre.

Register online for the Oct. 5 event.