WALLENBERG-SUGIHARA CIVIL COURAGE SOCIETY
          WALLENBERG-SUGIHARA CIVIL COURAGE SOCIETY

Speeches

Welcome (Alan Le Fevre)

My name is Alan Le Fevre, and it is my honour to welcome you to the 14th Vancouver Raoul Wallenberg Day.  On behalf of the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society I would like to welcome distinguished guests including City of Vancouver Deputy Mayor, Pete Fry, the Deputy Consul General of Japan, Masayo Tada, and The Honorary Consul of Sweden, Thomas Gradin.

We would like to thank our supporters, listed on the back of the program, and volunteers here today for your valued help in making this event possible.  We could not do this without you.

And now I invite City of Vancouver Deputy Mayor Pete Fry to read the Proclamation.

Deputy Mayor…

________________________________________

City of Vancouver Proclamation
(Deputy Mayor, Pete Fry)

I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, Stó:lō and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

(Read Proclamation)

________________________________________

Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society
(Judith Anderson)

Thank you Alan and Deputy Mayor Fry.

Good afternoon.  Today, we are pleased to recognize Mary Kitagawa, Order of British Columbia, as a leader in the effort to raise awareness of the injustices suffered by Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.  Overcoming indifference and discrimination, she has helped to ensure that this history is recognized and taught to future generations.  Her persistent efforts persuaded UBC, in 2012, to make amends to all the Japanese-Canadian students who were forcibly relocated in 1942 and prevented from completing their degrees.

Before Ms. Kitagawa is introduced, I’d like to take a moment to give you some background about our society and the concept of civil courage.

Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat and humanitarian, became Sweden’s special envoy to Hungary in the summer of 1944, several months after the Nazi deportation of Hungarian Jews began.  He issued protective passports and sheltered people in buildings designated as Swedish territory.  In so doing, he saved tens of thousands of Jews from deportation and death.  He disappeared on January 17, 1945 into Soviet captivity, and was never seen again.  Wallenberg has been made an honorary citizen of Canada, the US, Hungary, Australia, and Israel.  In 2000, the Canadian Government proclaimed that January 17th is officially recognized as Raoul Wallenberg Day.

Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat who served as vice consul in Lithuania for the Japanese Empire during World War II.  He chose to act in direct violation of the Japanese government, at professional and personal risk to himself and his family, and issued transit visas that allowed approximately 6,000 Jews from Poland and Lithuania to escape certain death.

Both Wallenberg and Sugihara have been designated by the State of Israel as Righteous Among the Nations.

In 2006, the former Honorary Swedish Consul to Vancouver, Anders Neumuller, began our annual commemoration of Wallenberg Day.  He later envisaged a non-profit society dedicated to honouring acts of civil courage.  And so the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society was formed in 2013 by members of the Swedish and Jewish communities in Vancouver.  We presented the first Civil Courage award at the 2015 Wallenberg Day.

We define civil courage as an action which entails personal risk or sacrifice, intended to improve or save the lives of others who suffer from unjust laws, norms or conventions – wrongs that may stem from any social context ranging from nations to peer groups.

Our Society has three main goals:

  1. to honour the legacy of the two courageous diplomats from whom we take our name;
  2. to recognize and remember those who have acted with similar civil courage in both the recent and the distant past; and
  3. to encourage and promote acts of civil courage in our midst.

To that end, each year, we present the Civil Courage Award to a living person connected to British Columbia who has displayed civil courage.  We also screen a film intended to get the audience thinking about injustice and how people respond.

We are a small organization with big aspirations.  We encourage you to visit our website and suggest nominations for next year’s Civil Courage Award, and we hope that some of you might enjoy joining us as volunteers.  We look forward to chatting with you all at the reception following the film.

As our group has deliberated about the Civil Courage Award, we have noted that the actions of potential award recipients often are better described as somewhat understated, rather than breathtakingly bold.  I would like to emphasize three aspects of this more subtle civil courage that are especially relevant to life in Canada today.

First, civil courage is important in a peaceful society just as in times of serious conflict – but in peacetime it is usually less characterized by dramatic risk.  Today, in British Columbia, thank goodness, there are few opportunities to oppose lethal injustice such as Wallenberg and Sugihara encountered.  Instead, people like Mary exhibit civil courage through:

  • hard-won persistence
  • resistance to pain from within and hostility from without
  • willingness to sacrifice a lot of time and energy in a struggle that is often lonely
  • and daring to speak truth to power – you have to speak just loudly enough to risk public failure and condemnation, and you have to speak just softly enough that the powerful happily take ownership of the truth and run with it.

Second, civil courage now, in British Columbia, is less likely to defend people whose lives are in danger, but rather to go to bat for something more abstract – a human right or a mainstay of democracy that is threatened with neglect or erosion.  For example, vigilance in defence of education as a human right is spot-on for our times.  Mary, an educator herself, took on the defence of this right in her dealings with UBC, which had been derelict in its duty to Japanese-Canadian students in 1942 and had continued that negligence for decades thereafter.

Finally, acts of civil courage today often have to deal with the long-term outcomes of historic wrongs that have been simmering on the back burner for a long time.  The resulting “injustice soup” can look quite different from the raw ingredients that went into it originally.  Fixing the soup requires a deep understanding of both the bad ingredients and the intervening history.  The incarceration and dispossession of Japanese-Canadians occurred during wartime – and no one knew then how the war would turn out.  Who dared to publicly support Japanese-Canadians back then, when Pearl Harbor brought to a boil fears of a fifth column in British Columbia?  Well, a few people did dare, and Mary’s efforts partially complete the just outcome that critics of government policy were unable to accomplish at the time.  I’d like to mention two prominent UBC professors who did publicly oppose the mistreatment of Japanese-Canadians during WWII, and who would rejoice to hear about Mary’s work if they were here today.

Henry Angus was a lawyer and professor of political science and sociology at UBC.  During the war years, he worked with External Affairs in Ottawa, and along with his fellow British Columbian, Hugh Keenleyside, he protested the plans to incarcerate and dispossess Japanese Canadians.

He bluntly told Prime Minister King that these policies were contrary to British principles of justice, comparable to the Nazi Nuremberg laws, and “unjustifiable on any basis of decency or humanity”.  Angus was politically sidelined and ignored, but his efforts are a sterling example of civil courage.

Ellis H Morrow was a professor of Commerce, also at UBC.  He maintained a continuing interest in all his students, including six Japanese-Canadians who were just graduating in the spring of 1942.  Though they were abruptly forced to move from Vancouver, Morrow went to great lengths to keep in touch with them and advance their careers with letters of recommendation to his connections in the business world east of the Rockies.  Despite wartime prejudices and the incarceration of their families, Morrow’s Japanese Canadian students all found their way in business.  One of these young men wrote to Morrow, “I would like to thank you for your kindness shown to us Japanese as you did likewise to the other Canadian boys... I feel that you were like a father to us.”

People like Wallenberg, Sugihara, and the Civil Courage Award recipients deserve to be honoured. These special people see injustice, make up their minds, and work beyond the call of duty to make it right.  They inspire us to do the same and help to make a better world.

________________________________________

Award Presentation (Alan Le Fevre)

Thank you Judith.

And now we come to the award presentation.  We are presenting the 2019 Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Award to an extraordinary British Columbia educator and diligent pursuer of human rights, Mary Kitagawa.  Mary developed a strong sense of justice early on, guided by her parents who said that when you see something you don’t think is right, you have to speak up.  This strong sense of right and wrong coupled with her perseverance has made her a powerful advocate.

In the winter of 1942 right after Pearl Harbour when the federal government ordered all Japanese-Canadians to be relocated from the coast, those at UBC were included.  However, UBC did nothing to help its students and this blatant disregard continued for over 60 years.  Mary had the strength of character to challenge UBC’s academic indifference to this injustice.

Imagine a graduation ceremony, typically with many young and eager graduates.  Now, picture a different kind of graduation ceremony: in 2012 at the Chan Centre, a group of elderly Japanese-Canadians, some frail, received honorary degrees from UBC in recognition of programs they had begun about 70 years earlier!

UBC granted special honorary degrees to all the 76 students, living and posthumous, who had been enrolled and were denied the completion of their education.  21 of those students, then aged 89 to 96, were honoured with their degrees in person.  There were many happy faces and tears of joy.

This special graduation ceremony is only one of Mary’s many accomplishments as a leader in the Japanese-Canadian community.  Other fine initiatives include the renaming of the Douglas Jung building downtown, preservation of Hastings Park as a historic site, and educational programs both at universities and in the community.  These achievements would not have been possible without the strength and dedication of our guest today, Mary Kitagawa.

(Read and present plaque)

Mary Kitagawa…

________________________________________

Remarks (Mary Kitagawa)

Good afternoon.

It is an honour for me to stand here today to receive this award.  Knowing that this award is in remembrance of two brave and compassionate men who sacrificed their safety to save thousands of Jews from being sent to Hitler’s death camps, I feel very humble.  With humility, I will accept this award in memory of my parents Katsuyori and Kimiko Murakami.  Along with the 22,000 Canadians of Japanese descent, they were uprooted, dispossessed, dispersed, enslaved, deported and imprisoned for seven long years.  This happened because those in power forgot that Canada was a democratic country sending her men and women to war to preserve freedom.  The excuse they used for incarcerating us was that we were a security risk.  However, if you read all of the newspaper headlines of the 1930s and 40s, you will find that the BC politicians’ hatred of Japanese Canadians was deep and abiding.  They wanted to ethnically cleanse this one small group of people from the province.  In the July 8, 1942 meeting called “the Japanese Problem” held in Ottawa, one BC delegate confessed to Lieutenant Colonial Maurice Pope who was representing the navy, that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a heaven sent gift to rid BC of the Japanese economic menace for ever more.

My family was swept away from our home in this storm of hatred.  Father was torn away from us, not to surface again for six months.  We feared that he was being taken away to be shot.  Our journey through incarceration was brutal and dehumanizing.  As an adult I appreciated the lessons that my parents taught me and my siblings during this time.  We were allowed to be part of their discussions because they valued our opinions.  They taught us to be proud of who we are and to never let others define us.  They taught us never to quietly accept the cruel onslaught of racial hatred and never to act like victims, but always show a proud face to the world – never a face of defeat.  They taught us to speak up for individuals or groups who were being victimized or had been in the past.  To them, being a silent bystander was the same as being complicit with the victimizer.  In other words, face challenges with courage and never give up until the goal you aspire to, is reached.

It has been said that our grandparents and parents were part of the so called “silent” generation.  They never spoke about their suffering during the incarceration of seven years under the War Measure Act in Canada.  They did not wish to pass on the pain they suffered to their children.  Some felt ashamed to have been victimized.  They feared that if they spoke out about their experience, they would be incarcerated again.  However, my parents were different.  They were never silent.  They never hid from the public, the journey that they were forced to take.  We, the children were always aware because our parents included us in their conversations.  In 2006, it became evident to me how important those conversations were.  I recognized the name of Howard Charles Green right away because I heard it so often in our family conversations.  On September 13, 2006 I read in the Vancouver Sun that a Federal building on 401 Burrard Street in Vancouver was being named to honour Howard Green.  Immediately, I knew that I had to have that name erased from that building.  To me, no person who helped to destroy my parents’ dream and made them suffer so egregiously, was going to be so honoured.  In exactly one year after I wrote my first letter to the government, Green’s name was replaced with that of Douglas Jung, the first Chinese Canadian Member of Parliament in Canada.

I found early on that whatever challenges that one encounters, he/she must depend on the support of others who believe in your cause.  The strength of their support is crucial to turn the tide of refusal to acceptance.  Such was the case when after four years; UBC finally accepted her failure to support the 76 Japanese Canadian students who were expelled in 1942.  The years it took for them to come to that conclusion was not all in vain for us.  We had the good fortune of having the media on our side that helped to educate the public about our JC history.  The outcome was happily all positive.

How did my family feel about their experience in losing all that they worked for?  It wasn’t just the material things that they lost.  They lost their dream for the future that they had planned, their community, opportunities, education for their children, their friends, their youth, their culture, language, and heirlooms but never their pride nor their dignity.  My parents believed in forgiveness.  Like Nelson Mandela, they believed that forgiveness liberates the soul.  They refused to look back in anger; instead they chose to continue to move forward with the same resolve that helped them survive their experience.  In the two part CBC TV documentary broadcast in 1997, you will hear my mother say, “I forgive but I cannot forget”.  Her portrait by photographer Barbara Woodley, hangs in the permanent collection in the Archives in Ottawa.

My parents were my role models.  They are the architect of who I am today.  They taught me to have courage to speak up for others.  To honour their memory and sacrifice, I must continue their legacy while I still can.  With dignity and courage, they brought the family through some terrible, terrible times in our journey through life and ensured that our family prevailed.

I would like to close by reciting a haiku poem that my grandson Michael Bennett wrote when he was 14 years old.

The eagle soars high

Above the cares of the world

With wings of justice

________________________________________

Question period (Mary Kitagawa)

________________________________________

Film Introduction (Alan Le Fevre)

And now we will show the film The War Between Us.  The story takes place during World War II in the interior of British Columbia and deals with the effects of the Canadian Government’s policy of internment on the West Coast Japanese community.  Two women become unlikely friends under extraordinary and tragic circumstances.  Peg, a wife and mother struggling to keep the wolf from the door, and Aya, a young middle class Japanese Canadian woman from Vancouver, grapple with their situation, as a frontier town becomes a Japanese community overnight.  The film has won many awards and was the highest rated film on Canadian TV in 1995.

The film is 1 hour 33 minutes long.  Please check your phones are turned off now.

And finally, there will be a reception with light refreshments in the Ray Whittick Lounge, just outside the door.  Our volunteers will show you to the room.

Print Print | Sitemap
© Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society