An apology, 70 years in the coming, was finally given to Canadian prisoners of war held in brutal Japanese work camps during the Second World War.
The apology was delivered on Dec. 8, at 4:10 p.m. Japan time, by Toshiyuki Kato, Japan’s parliamentary vice-minister for Foreign Affairs, to a delegation of three surviving PoWs.
“Japan has apologized several times in the past, but it has always been for political reasons,” Derrill Henderson, the national secretary of the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association (HKVCA) told Legion Magazine. The association is made up of mostly children and grandchildren of the Hong Kong Veterans Association of Canada (HKVA) whose members were all prisoners. “The veterans didn’t want any Canadian politicians in the room. It was just the veterans and the minister.”
The veterans were part of a delegation, led by Canada’s Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, that attended 70th anniversary commemoration services in Hong Kong and then stopped over in Tokyo for the presentation of the apology. The three Canadian veterans were HKVA Vice-President George Peterson of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, Gerry Gerrard of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals and Ken Pifher of the Royal Rifles of Canada.
Kato said: “Thank you for coming to Japan. I want to express deep remorse and heartfelt apologies for the treatment received by former Canadian prisoners of war.”
In a detailed report to HKVCA members, Henderson wrote, “This was a face-to-face apology given without any Canadian politicians in the room. The veterans wanted no political overtones. This was to be an apology given to Canadians who suffered as PoWs, not to the Canadian government. Minister Kato did not read something written by an aide. He eloquently expressed his thoughts. This fact gave a credibility to the words that obviously impacted how they were received. He went one step further and requested acceptance from each of the Hong Kong veterans present separately.”
Henderson later said, “It is not for the commemorative association to accept the apology. The apology is to the veterans themselves and they can accept it or not.”
In a statement published after the meeting, Blaney said, “This important gesture is a crucial step in ongoing reconciliation and a significant milestone in the lives of all prisoners of war. It acknowledges their suffering while honouring their sacrifices and courage.”
The apology was given in four phases following international protocol:
- A verbal acknowledgement that Japan issued an apology;
- Hong Kong Veterans Association President Phil Doddridge received a written apology from Japan’s Ambassador to Canada, Kaoru Ishikawa;
- Deputy General for North America Affairs Bureau, Koji Tomita, gave veterans and their caregivers an apology acknowledging the atrocities of cruel punishment, malnutrition, withholding medicine and medical attention, and slave labour;
- And finally the apology was delivered by Minister Kato.
The Hong Kong Veterans Association of Canada began seeking an apology and compensation from Japan in 1947. While some compensation was paid to the veterans following a peace treaty negotiated in 1951-52, it amounted to about a dollar for each day of captivity.
With the help of Cliff Chadderton and the War Amputations of Canada, further compensation was sought from both the Canadian government and at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. The federal government maintained all compensation claims from Japan had been extinguished with the peace treaty.
Finally in 1998, the Canadian government agreed to compensation of about $24,000 for each prisoner or surviving spouse.
The Royal Canadian Legion had supported the Hong Kong veterans’ claim for support with resolutions passed at several dominion conventions and had been involved in the negotiations leading to the settlement. The Legion has said that it is pleased with the new apology from the Japanese.
There were 1,975 Canadians, mostly members of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada, involved in the fight for Hong Kong which ended in surrender on Christmas Day 1941. There were 290 killed in the 18 days of fighting and the rest became prisoners. A news release from the War Amps said about 59 of the former prisoners are surviving, the youngest being 89 years old.