The Cynicism of Apology

April 17, 2013 at 5:09 am

by Terry Watada

On Monday, May 7, 2012, the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia acknowledged the role of the BC government in the Federal decision to intern Japanese Canadians during World War II. Long awaited and richly welcomed. Kudos to Tosh Suzuki who tenaciously led the effort to gain an apology through the office of the Minister of Advanced Education Naomi Yamamoto. Though the provincial government seemed to be stonewalling the initiative, Suzuki persisted and success was had due in no small part to the efforts of the Minister.

That of course is now common knowledge. What is strange is the alacrity of the apology’s promulgation. As Suzuki said, “There was no official announcement of the pending apology.” There was no time to forewarn Japanese Canadian community members, the media and other appropriate outlets. It just happened with whomever Suzuki could contact in the interim. Members of the Greater Vancouver JCCA Human Rights Committee commented on the situation: “We find it disappointing and disrespectful that there was no effort made by government to include the Japanese Canadians in the lead-up to the apology motion.”

On the other hand, Suzuki marveled at the efficiency and speed of the process. “I was ecstatic that my campaign for an apology progressed relatively smoothly and was realized in less than six months. It actually took only two months after my proposal was officially acknowledged by the government in early March. It is amazing what can sometimes be achieved by an individual through email.”

It was indeed amazing that democracy was so efficient. Unfortunately, recent events may have coloured the democratic process. The NDP in BC released in February 2013 documents dated January 2012 involving the Premier’s Office, the Ministry of Multiculturalism, the Liberal Government Caucus and the Liberal Party itself that proposed an “outreach plan” to gain the “ethnic vote.” It is today referred to as the Multicultural Outreach Strategic Plan. There is after all a provincial election coming in May 2013 and the Liberals are at this point far behind in the polls.

The objective was as follows: “improve our chances of winning swing ridings by better engaging supporters from ethnic communities and getting them involved at the riding level.” The required actions included “(a) identify supporters from target communities who can serve as ethnic chairs on relevant executives, (b) enhance WIN 2013 software so it can support a highly-effective ethnic database with the ability to create useful ethnic lists, and (c) hire three ethnic organizers on a six-month trial basis to contact targeted ethnic groups around the swings to build robust contact lists with email, names, phone, cell and addresses – as well as notes about likely support to be updated regularly.” An interesting section is simply called “Quick Wins.” It contains imperatives like “(a) identify and advance government initiatives and projects that would be resonant in ethnic communities” and “(b) identify and correct ‘historical wrongs’, i.e. Komagata Maru apology in the House.”

Fallout has been swift. First of all Premier Christy Clark wrote a letter of apology, which was read during Question Period though she herself was not present. It was dismissed as being “too little, too late.” More than 100 Liberal party members have since called for the Premier’s resignation. Liberal Caucus members have resigned.

Various community representatives have also weighed in on the controversy. Members of Vancouver’s Chinese Canadian community have called the strategy “immoral.” There was allegedly a plan to apologize for the Head Tax. Dave Hayer, an Indo-Canadian Liberal MLA, was outraged. He stated, “This proposed outreach plan was insulting to the intended targeted communities and was, when I found out about it, insulting to me and to all other MLAs who believe in doing things properly, fairly and within the rules and laws of the legislature.” Many BC pundits and critics wonder how a government in all good conscience could exploit a community’s deepest pain for partisan purposes.

In any case, what does this have to do with the Japanese Canadians? The apology was appreciated, perhaps even cherished, savoured, and enjoyed. Minister Yamamoto, though herself lagging in the polls at the time of this writing, should be applauded for her efforts. And certainly the Japanese Canadian community was not mentioned in the Multicultural Strategy. Still the very existence of it and the rushed timing of the apology beg the question of sincerity. Makes the entire apology seem rather cynical on the part of the government.