John Brewin, interviewed by Pam Sugiman, 20 January 2016

John Brewin, interviewed by Pam Sugiman, 20 January 2016

Abstract
John Brewin begins the interview by explaining his family demographics and what it was like growing up with his mother and father who were two very prominent political and religious figures in their communities. He then goes on to provide details of his father, Andrew Brewin’s, political involvement with the CCF and how the alignment of the party’s core beliefs with that of the Christian principle of treating every human being as equals prompted Andrew Brewin to join their ranks. John describes his father’s involvement in advocating on the behalf of Japanese-Canadians as possibly stemming from a similar position held by the church he attended. Highlighting the positive impact that his father had on the Japanese-Canadian community, John speaks of the row of elderly Japanese-Canadian women who attended his father’s funeral and later gave thanks for all the work that he had done. He then recalls some of his personal encounters with the negative anti-Japanese-Canadian attitudes held by some of the persons who he had met as a provincial electoral candidate in British Columbia. Near the end of the interview, John reflects on the redress movement and the settlement which resulted from that historical event.
00:00:00.000
Pamela Sugiman (PS)
And that is on.
PS
I won't actually use a, questionnaire or a, even a rough interview vibe. Because I just like the conversation to flow.
JB
Good.
PS
But what I do is ask you some basic demographic information first.
JB
Sure
PS
About family, about where you grew up, when you grew up, just so we have that context. JOHN Okay. So what question do I start with?
PS
You were telling me that you had, was it three sisters?
JB
I have three sisters living now, four to start with and one died in her early fifties so there were four of us plus myself growing up. We had one youngest brother who died a quick death at age six so there are six in the family altogether. We grew up born in Toronto and in my case in September 14, 1936 as the eldest in the family. Pam laughs. Yeah, I ran into somebody the other day who, in Chapters, wanted to know whether I was eligible for the senior discount. You had to be sixty five. I said, “can I give you a big hug?” laughs.
PS
I actually at Shoppers Drug Mart was asked, the other week, if I want a senior's discount and I said “please don't say ...” laughs with John. Soon but not yet
JB
Yeah, she was probably about eighteen, the person who was asking the question.
JB
Okay so then, Toronto, I grew up in Toronto and so that's the start. You ask whatever other things you need to know about the demographics.
PS
So you grew up in Toronto. The time you were a child what was your father's political involvement?
JB
Well, my parents both joined the CCF in about 1935 just ... the CCF was founded in 1933 so they weren't there at the very beginning. I'll go back half a step. My father, as your research may know, is born in 1907. He was born in England. His mother was Canadian and his father was English. My grandfather was an Anglican priest and they came to Canada when my father was about four around 1910-1911. My grandfather's first church that he served in was in Woodstock and then he went to Ottawa and then to Toronto. When they were in Ottawa my father went to school in Ottawa at, uh, it's a private school now the name just went out of my head, but he was the eldest son and my grandparents thought it was important that he got a proper education I guess so when he got to the ripe age around twelve they sent him off to an English public school, Radley (?) , where he was there for about five years. His high school, in our thinking, was in England and his public school. He then came back. Meanwhile my grandfather had moved to Toronto, the Saint Simon's Church on Bloor Street. My father came back to that setting and that was when he did law. In those days you could go to law without university. It was a six year program at Osgoode Hall. He completed that and was called to the bar in around 1930 and has practiced in Toronto. He articled and juniored with the lawyer who became Chief Justice Mcruer and who wrote the head of this Royal Commission on Human Rights which was widely known at the time as the Mcruer Commission for obvious reasons. He was an insurance lawyer, essentially. He acted for insurance companies defending them against people who were trying to make claims against the insurance companies.
00:04:49.000
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JB
My father learned how to be a good appeal court lawyer, civil litigator, and that was the nature of his practice. Him and my mother married in 1935. They'd met at Saint Simon's. My father, as a young adult, was very interested in politics and, as I'd said, he'd joined the CCF in 1935 and was active in it after that.
PS
And your mother, she was active in the CCF?
JB
Yes, she was. Very much. She ran as a candidate once for school board but other than that her role was ... she was actually interesting in how she developed her role as a political spouse. That's a topic we've often witnessed and the most prominent case is that being First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama and all that but each one being the different. My mother had her particular style about it. Her working career was in the home as opposed to jobs outside the home but she was very active both in church issues and in politics.
PS
It must have been very rare for a woman to run for political office.
JB
Not entirely. We're into the '40s and women were running and the first woman elected was Agnes MacPhail in 1921 into the federal house but it was a minority. The school board was one area where it was widely accepted, partly because, often, the initial draw into it was work in, what is now known as parent teacher's association work as a parent in the school. That led into, for some people, into political office.
PS
So what was life like in the Brewin family household as you were growing up with two very strong ...
JB
Well, they were good strong personalities and they had a happy marriage and one that lasted until they both ... well my father died first in '83 and my mother a number of years later in '91. No, it was lively and interesting. We basically had five kids and two parents. My father worked as a lawyer and had a pretty traditional work life which, um ... but it would include the work intruded on the household. We lived in Toronto, all of the time in the center of Toronto; what was then the center of Toronto we thought of, on Cottingham and Rathnelly which is between Avenue Road and Popper Plain south of Saint Clair and North of Dupont. That kind of area at the foot of the Avenue road hill there. My father's work intruded in the sense that he would often bring files home and be preparing for a case the next day sitting in the living room while all hell is going on around him. He would talk about some of his cases. Phone calls would come in for him and I remember one that some woman was in the middle of a divorce proceeding and my voice had changed by then and she thought I was him and I was hearing some stories about her marital life that really weren't appropriate for me before I could stop her laughs. So there were bits and pieces but my father was somebody who would take the time to, particularly on weekends, outdoors type, I mean we'd ski in the winter and skate. His parents bought a cottage at Stony Lake North of Peterborough so we had two months in the summer up at the cottage. My father would, in those days the courts were virtually shut down in the summer and he would spend one month working in Toronto and another month at Stony. The month working he would come up to the cottage by train and bus on Friday nights and would go back down on Sunday nights which was quite a traditional way of middleclass lawyer types organizing their lives.
00:10:09.000
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JB
So, I mean I put it in that paper I did, my father had a small c conservative attitudes and a culture. It was an Anglican upper-middleclass culture that was a small c conservative culture. Yet his politics were relatively ... I mean to be NDP now is mainstream compared to what it was to be CCF in the '30s and '40s. Most of his friends thought he was crazy. They certainly didn't understand but they liked him. They knew all the so called 'top people.' My mother had gone to Havenglow College and my father is a member of the ... The kind of practice he had was an upper-middleclass practice. Although, when he moved to become CCF, and this begins to lead perhaps into the other basic topic of your interest in him, his clientele shifted, at least a good deal of it. This is the really early stages of the labour movement broadening out to being significant in Canada was in the '30s and '40s. So he had union clients and lots of charitable or pro-bono kind of cases, people who needed his help, and he was quick to do that. He and my mother were both very involved with the church and that, in fact, was probably the early and formative involvement they had that directly led into the political involvement. He maintained an interest in both throughout their lives. They never lost anything as if they want from church to politics. They went to church and then added politics and they saw the two as seamless. Although they knew that half the people in political life did not share their views on religion. So there was that kind of connection.
PS
In what way would they have seen the connection between church and politics?
JB
Well, this is the subject of ... I teach a course, at least have been, I haven't done it for the last few years at UofT on the Canadian Political Theologies. We originally called it Canadian Political Theology of the Twentieth Century. So I thought quite a lot about some of these things. It was a bit the focus of the paper that I wrote, my masters paper. But the short version is that in, particularly in the first half of the twentieth century with all kinds of roots back into the nineteenth century the mainline churches were all predominantly progressive in political terms and there were various streams of this including the social gospel which was predominantly a Methodist United Church of Canada version of a political theology that ... So many people in the United Church saw working in the political field as direct consequence of their view of Christianity and how it worked. So in the Anglican Church the British term for it was Christian Socialism but it had the same basic approach. Within the Roman Catholic tradition it was sometimes referred to as social theology and there are various encyclicals starting in 1891 and so forth. The churches in the first half of the twentieth century were very infused by this idea that it wasn't enough to think of the kingdom of heaven as some place up there but the whole impulse, a proper impulse, a proper view of religion and in particular Christianity but there were the same traditions in Judaism and within Islam. But these historical theologies all had the incarnation idea, the core of the Christmas story, all of which said what really matters is what we do with our Christianity and our religious understanding.
00:15:16.000
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JB
What we do now in this world and in this life and that became translated into ... there's a critique of society that it is unchristian to have a society based on greed. A society which does not recognize the true equality of all human beings that is recognized in all of the mainstream religions. So, you've got to try and build a society which is based on collective principles of equality and so forth and that translated itself in the Western world into forms of socialism. It wasn't so much the Marxist form of socialism. That tended to be overtly secular. So communism as we came to understand it was seen as a rival to Christianity by the Roman Catholic Church for sure but within Central Northern Europe and North America the total compatibility between democratic socialism and mainstream Christian understanding of what the gospel is all about. So for my parents and for that whole generation that was the connection and that was what drew them into politics.
PS
Why the CCF specifically?
JB
Well, there were other choices to answer the question but I would say this, that the CCF first of all was a kind of a moderate form of socialism. It wasn't built around the concept of revolution, certainly not violent revolution. It was overtly and expressly ... It's main concept of the CCF emerged from the religious centered theologies like social gospel and Christian socialism and so forth. The leadership of that party was often clergy. The first leader was J. S. Woodsworth who was the Methodist minister before the United Church came along. A number of the other leaders understood their politics as a form of their working out their religious beliefs and expressions. That's what made it attractive. I think that the critique of the other parties, of the Liberal and Conservatives as basically business parties which couldn't be counted on, the critique was one that they shared. That those parties were actually parties of the status quo and the status quo was unchristian as they would actually express it. After a while it became they wouldn't express it that way but that's how they felt that it was unchristian to do a lot of the things that the Liberals and Conservatives did in office. My father was also heavily influenced by his British roots and his experience in England where the labour party was growing and it actually formed a government in the '20s and then again in 1930, or participated in the government in the '30s. He saw the CCF as going to inevitably grow into the government of Canada. This wasn't the quixotic little party. It started off small but it was going to grow, they thought basically inevitably. It was not a radical thing from their perspective at all.
PS
Did he talk about how he became specifically involved with the Japanese Canadians and the CCJC?
00:19:37.000
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JB
Well, he may have but if he did the detail I don't remember him ever coming ... the detail of it and how he specifically ... how the first connection came about. I have a sort of more general perspective on that question which goes something like this: the churches again, were on the whole, quick to be on side with the Japanese Canadians and not happy with what was happening to them and certainly the leadership of the churches may be a better way of putting it and a very little bit across the country. I experienced twenty-five years in B.C. and was surprised when I ran into, even in the '70s '80s and '90s, an anti-Japanese-Canadian attitude because I had not grown up with any of that and nor was I conscious of the community around me. Conservative or liberal though it was anti-Japanese growing up in Toronto and I ran into that but certainly the national churches were, in my impression, was they were very vocal in support of Japanese-Canadians so I would always assume that my father's first interest in that issue emerged from ... because he would have been on national bodies of the church whether he was exactly at what time, I'm not sure, but he was certainly involved by then. We're talking after he'd be called to the bar in the 1930s so we were into the early '40s. So he'd been practicing law for more than ten years, he'd been ... And so I think it would be a natural thing, I always thought, for him to become involved. Again the CCF ... my impression was that on the whole the CCF did generally support the Japanese-Canadians and was critical of the governments, it certainly became that way. I learned from my time in B.C that it wasn't universally that in the CCF but predominantly a number of CCF members of parliament in my received memory of history were, at some political cost, stood up on behalf of the Japanese-Canadians and were critical of the government when it was not popular in their constituencies to do so. I never did hear that it was particularly unpopular for the CCF in Ontario to be supportive of the Japanese-Canadians but maybe it was but certainly, even if it had been, as my father and others in the CCF demonstrated later in the 1970s in the War Measures Act and stuff that that didn't stop them just because they were going to be unpopular they were not born to worry about that much. Generally speaking, it was consistent with the CCF's position although also the churches, people that my father influenced the CCF to become progressive on the issue. Which started the chicken or the egg? I'm not quite sure but it was some out of that mix that bore my father's interest and connection. My guess is there were to be some prominent church people who were early in the work on the Japanese-Canadian issue and were supportive and it would have been natural to have been in touch with my father as a lawyer, beginning to be a relatively senior lawyer, who certainly knew his way around the higher levels of the court and appealed stuff and all the rest of it. My father would have been open to volunteering a lot of his time to the cause so it was a natural fit. That's how I understood it because by now I was beginning to be like, in the mid '40s I'm eight and nine years old, and I'm paying attention to some of the stuff that's talked about at home so I was aware that my father was involved but the details no.
PS
Did you know, I mean, your eight or nine years old, there's only so much an eight or nine year old would absorb but do you remember what kind of knowledge you had of Japanese-Canadians living in Toronto?
JB
My awareness would have started with my father's involvement and I would have learned about what was going on that way as opposed to reading the newspapers about it although in some areas I was relatively precocious. I listened to election results when I was seven, on the radio, election night and stuff like that. What I would say is having learned from him I would have learned, generally, that the Japanese-Canadians were being interned in camps and that this was a terrible injustice on the basis of it. I was probably aware that in the end of the war of the deportation and the prospective deportations.
00:25:06.000
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JB
Not so much the confiscation of properties. That's something that was sort of on the edge of my memory and I'm not even sure how much of that would even be a direct memory or something I subsequently learned because I learned quite a lot more about it after the fact. But your question was what did I learn at the time and we began seeing and knowing Japanese-Canadians, some of them would be on the committee. I mean, they'd come to the home and sit around and strategize with my father and some of the Nakamuras and some of the other big names I would have met as a kid and maybe people on the street are beginning to move into Toronto. I'm trying to think, I have a faint memory of a Japanese-Canadian dentist or something like that and we would have ... My parents are perfectly capable and would have retained the services of people to help them develop their business. That would be consistent with the kind of thing they did but the detail is ...
PS
Yoriyama was a dentist. Was that his last name?
JB
You'd think I'd remember but I'm not sure. My sisters might remember better than me but I don't remember. It's there somewhere it might even pop out tomorrow.
PS
So you began to learn about what had been going on and it, of course, had been going on for years. Initially the rounding up of people and ...
JB
The detail of all of that I'm quite sure that I wasn't really conscious of and certainly the human cost of it was something that I was only faintly aware of. I'm sure if I'd grown up in the same stage and age in B.C and if my parents had been active in politics and the church in B.C I almost certainly believe that I would have a much more vivid knowledge of what people were going through but it was much more I learned later as opposed to being conscious at the time.
PS
What did your father, though limited ... What do you remember your father sharing within the family home? Bringing people in for meetings, Japanese-Canadians, discussing some issues ...
JB
Yeah, they were working on trying to get the government to change it's policies and do the right thing. Whether I ... I'm sure, at some point, it would have been explained to me. Again, because memories kind of merge with what actually then to what I learned later but I think I would have learned that the issues of the deportation and to some extent the confiscation of property and that. I think I probably would have learned it, let me rephrase that. My memory is that I saw the issues as legal and political. Yes, they were human issues but I saw it at a level of this was an important national issue in Canada that needed to be dealt with better than it was being dealt with. That was the kind of level as opposed to an intense personal story. The people I met, because my father also, remember, was a candidate starting in '43 provincially and then federal elections in 1945, '49, '53, '57, and '58 before he got elected in '62. As I grew older I became more and more involved in the election campaigns and that included knocking on doors and that included sitting either with him or on my own and that then involved meeting people including Japanese-Canadians who'd moved to Toronto. If I was working with my father as the candidate, whenever we came upon a Japanese-Canadian they were all over us. They were huge supporters of him for the role that he'd taken.
00:30:09.000
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JB
That was another source of my learning of the experience but I'm more learned about Japanese-Canadians than about the experience. My earliest impression was extremely positive of Japanese-Canadians. I didn't have to shift from a negative racist attitude, at least that I was ever conscious of, to a more positive. I always started off understanding Japanese-Canadians were great people, contributing citizens, smart, some great success in the professions right off the top so it was a natural evolution of that. When I went to B.C in my mid to late thirties I was a bit shocked that that wasn't the universal view that there was a negative attitude still remaining twenty-thirties years after the war.
PS
Can you describe one of those instances where you ...
JB
The negative?
PS
Yeah, to realize that ...
JB
Amongst the many things that I did when I was in B.C, I fundamentally practiced law, but I ran as a candidate in 1979 but I was to seek the NDP nomination in the constituency in the outskirts of Victoria. It was a hotly contested nomination and I got the support of a number of people and I could remember sitting down and having tea in somebody's home who were longstanding supporters of the NDP and we got into a bit of discussion. I can't remember how the topic came up and this otherwise very nice woman who was a solid NDPer started on about how difficult the Japanese-Canadians were. She came out of a fishing family and how they would take all our fish and a bunch of stuff which I knew, at the very least, was exaggerated and probably largely not true but I was now being exposed to a way in which racism develops. That is that there can be an economic challenge, or perceived economic challenge, by a group who appear to the home group as alien and that then certain attributes ascribed to the group and the myths and stuff all circulate around into a really negative and hateful attitude and all of that, in some sense, are learned from this reverse, almost, experience with Japanese-Canadians. I started off with extremely positive ... It wasn't as if what this woman was telling me changed anything for me but it did teach me how people who I could otherwise perceive to be broad minded and in favor of all the right things could acquire some unacceptable and negative things and do some terrible things often. Maybe it's all part of the general education for somebody like myself who was born just before the Second World War and was a kid during it learned about what happened in Germany and to the Jews in Germany, primarily, and many others in Germany, how that could happen to, again, otherwise probably reasonably decent people who could treat their friends and neighbours in a very kind way and yet could actively support and or quietly allow terrible terrible things to happen to other human beings. The education of the sources of racism came for someone like myself, that way I wasn't conscious of growing up with ... I mean, again, I was going to finish my sentence I guess with any noticeable racist attitudes myself.
00:35:07.000
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JB
I came from a home where we were conscious of racism and that it was a bad thing and needed to be resisted. I think I came to understand later in life that even with the best of effort, attitudes can creep in and you don't even know that you have them so we get into systemic racism and you've got to deal with this as well as overt racism and individual racism. That was a kind of a backwards experience. Starting off thinking that ... not really experiencing racism at all. I remember thinking that we had a range of people in the quire at Saint Simon's, which I was a member starting at seven years old. Not being conscious of any racism but then becoming aware later and that would apply to my relationship to the experience of Japanese-Canadians.
PS
Those were times of racial hysteria almost against Japanese-Canadians, certainly during the war years. Did you get taunted by kids at school because of your father's involvement or because maybe Nakamura came to your home for a meeting? Was there any of that?
JB
No, not that I was conscious of, and I would say that I would get some mild negative stuff about my father being a CCFer because that was the equivalent of being a communist. That was, at the very least, weird but that didn't get much. I'm sure in that sense led a completely sheltered life. I translated that into the proposition that in Toronto there ... let me rephrase. Let me get clear on it. I'm not sure in Toronto that there was mass hysteria about Japanese-Canadians in Canada or coming even, being dispersed into Ontario amongst other places and Toronto. I could make a distinction ... If I'd been pressed even at the time I would have said I wouldn't be surprised if one was as a Japanese Canadian in Toronto in 1944 or '45 or '46 even in the immediate postwar period that an individual Japanese-Canadian would not be subjected to instances of racism. I probably would have said even then that could well happen but it would tend to be a relatively isolated incidence and a product of an individual's ignorance rather than a mass hysteria. I suspect that I would have ... If that was true, what I just said is true, that there wasn't in a place like Toronto, mass hysteria it would be more because the number of Japanese-Canadians in Toronto is small. If the number of the Japanese-Canadian community, or any minority, is large I think all the studies, you're the student not me, but what I think I understand is that it's going to be much more significant. So you get the combination, if you get poverty amongst the home grown community and you get a relatively large number of a visible minority that's a much more explosive setting than if there's a handful of people who don't therefore represent a threat. Now, were the Japanese military and Japanese people viewed in a negative way? Of course. But how much that translated into an attitude in Toronto against Japanese-Canadians I certainly wasn't conscious of.
00:40:03.000
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PS
You said your father and his colleagues did suffer as a result of the political decisions they made.
JB
Well, suffer in a way but it wasn't brutal at all. My parents didn't suffer. My father's income would have been lower than if he'd worked for insurance companies but his satisfaction level for what he was doing would have been dramatically different. I mean, he enjoyed working on issues and causes that he thought were right. He was given an enormous amount of satisfaction and he thought that was what you're supposed to do. That wasn't painful for him. I remember reminding myself and then including it in my story of when my father went with a delegation to Ottawa to talk to Mackenzie King on the Japanese-Canadian issue, probably the deportation issue, and my father coming home and telling me the story of after the meeting was over with Mackenzie King. Mackenzie King asked my father to stay behind for a minute and when everybody else had left, Mackenzie King said to him something along the lines of “Brewin, can you explain to me what an able young man like you is doing wasting your time in the CCF and on these kinds of issues?” He may not have said the latter but it was certainly focused on “why are you wasting your time on the CCF because there's a lot of room for someone like you in the Liberal Party?” My father's reaction to the story was polite to Mackenzie King but he basically told the story with the punch-line that Mackenzie King just didn't get it, that he was the one doing the weird things. I mean, joining a political party that didn't stand for the things that you were for was the formula for an unhappy life and to work behind the causes and issues that had a purpose, a purpose that was deep in you, that was what you did. He and others like him were going to change the world so that people like Mackenzie King weren't in government anymore. That was his attitude to the story. So I would say that he didn't suffer because of the perspective he brought to the question. Yes, his income was less but it was still perfectly comfortable. He wasn't a person who accumulated great riches but he certainly had a house and all the other attributes of a middle-class life in Toronto. His practice shifted to, sometimes, people who couldn't pay any money but he still had enough clients who could. But he was more forgetful about billing people than he was deliberately ... and certainly I've heard no stories of my father being physically threatened or verbally threatened or assaulted because of the work he did.
PS
Your mother was in support of all of that?
JB
Very much, yeah. She was very proud of it and when my father died, he died when they were living out in B.C, but we had a memorial service for him in Toronto a few months later and one of the most moving parts of the whole thing was the last row or two of this big church full of people were filled with, I call them little old Japanese-Canadian ladies. They were all there and then they came up to us afterwards and said how much they appreciated what he had done etcetera etcetera. That was the highlight.
PS
I can imagine that. Did they share stories about what, specifically, he had done or was it just a more general appreciation?
00:44:53.000
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JB
Well, my memory, I'm sorry to say, is not full of the detail of any story they may well have told. But what was overwhelming for the son of Andrew Brewin was, now we're talking the mid '80s thirty years later, forty years later, the power of their feeling and respect that he had gained. I also know that at a certain level he would resist being praised for doing what he ought to do. He certainly didn't do it to get the praise. He got some prizes over the years. Joy Kogawa mentioned in her book that his participation is one of the highlights. There's stuff like that that he was certainly proud of and it made him feel good but we didn't hear a lot of detail. I remember, when I became a candidate myself in the provincial election in '67 as a candidate for Scarborough north. I was in my mid-twenties around thirties or something like that. Again, knocking on doors and being greeted by Japanese-Canadians. They would be very very supportive but then later, again in B.C particularly, when the next generation had run into the third generation of Japanese-Canadians they were thinking about Liberal. It would drive me crazy. How could you even think about doing that? Well, they were applying a different set of criteria to who they were going to vote for and then the of the stories had been lost. I began, almost, counting on the support of Japanese-Canadians because I was Andrew Brewin's son which was unreasonable in a logical sense but emotionally it's what I had gotten used to because there's also the bad part ... “I'm not going to vote for you because you're a crazy communist” but at least I thought we were going to get the support when push comes to shove of Japanese-Canadian families but it didn't happen with the next generation partly because they lost the history. It really irritated me laughs.
PS
In addition to that, that really poignant moment during your father's funeral did you have any contact with Japanese-Canadians?
JB
Over the years, sure. I mean, one of the Japanese-Canadian heroes is Tommy Shoyama and I had got to know him a little bit early on. Then he became a key figure in the Tommy Douglas government of Saskatchewan as his top senior civil servant. I don't know what his precise job was. And then I would have various occasions to bump into him over the years in his various roles but he ended up living in Victoria where I lived and I was the MP in Victoria for a term. In the election that I won Tommy put a nice big sign on his front lawn overlooking the straights of Georgia and stuff like that so, yeah, the connection was made and then I had the little connection with Joy Kogawa because she was spending about half her time, we're now into the '90s, in Vancouver and half her time in Toronto. She attended Saint Paul's Anglican Church occasionally in the West End of Vancouver, in the apartment district of Vancouver, that's where I was living. There's a relatively informal service at nine fifteen where we sat up in the choir stalls. This is the first time I'm aware that Joy had come to the church but I'm looking across but I didn't recognize her as Joy Kogawa.
00:49:43.000
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JB
Maybe I should have but I didn't, but at the end of the service we were hanging around at the back of the church and sort of one thing fairly quickly led to another and I introduced myself as John Brewin and she lit up like a Christmas tree and she's Joy Kogawa and I lit up like a Christmas tree, you know, and we had had quite a good relationship since. I haven't seen her last, little bit, my wife more than me but not for any reason other than she's, I think become, a little more reclusive than she had been but she could get me to do whatever she wanted to do like I was very involved in a couple of her projects. So those connections come from my father's participation in the work in the '40s.
PS
Is this outlook shared by your siblings as well?
JB
Oh, yeah. They occasionally talk about that, maybe to a greater or lesser degree. My sister Martha, she went through law school in Toronto and then ended up, fairly quickly, in Ottawa and had a good career in the federal civil service. She's retired now and in the course of that career she's had various connections and experiences including, I think, with Tommy Shoyama. So, yeah. I would say they would all say pretty similar things. They might have different stories. One of the occasions that I remember was that the, I guess it was right at the end of the war, my father had two cases with the Privy Council. One was the deportation, or the orders in council and then another was for the government of Saskatchewan. I think the government of Saskatchewan thing is in '48 so it would have been the one in 1945. The war was just ending and he went over by steamship to argue the case at the Privy Council which I think in the end was lost. Well, I know the case was officially lost but Mackenzie King had basically encouraged them to pursue the litigation because that would delay things and allow public opinion to change. A view of how to govern, my father just despised the idea that you could make people suffer and lingered just to let public opinion change until it was safe for you to move again. So even in the last federal election a lot of progressive people were tearing their hair out choosing between the NDP and the Liberals. It would drive me crazy that people would think of voting Liberal. It's an emotional reaction more than a studied one because my perception of the Liberal party was always heavily coloured by the way in which they dealt with these issues generally of which one of the most prominent ones was the treatment of Japanese-Canadians in the war. It was just despicable. That was my received wisdom and I had never saw any reason to change it.
PS
That really tore apart a lot of Japanese-Canadian families. The whole issue of repatriation and deportation.
JB
The more I've learned about it, as hearing, I've learned about it more second hand as I went through life in various ways and occasions to learn about it. Well, you get a little bit of a flavor of it every so often with yet another refugee type crisis of how people can be inhumane to others but the particular aspects of the treatment of Japanese-Canadians and the carelessness with which the society would hurt people, just without apparent care or thinking, and the terrible terrible stuff to do ... and then the flip side is, I guess I don't know if it's fair, but my impression is of the resilience of the victims of it. The capacity to somehow not get broken by it and retain a spirit in some sense and even to learn something from it and push passed it is pretty amazing.
00:55:00.000
00:55:00.000
PS
That is remarkable.
JB
I'm sure there has got to be some resentment laughs. But it doesn't seem to destroy people. Maybe it does and I just haven't seen enough of it and maybe there are, particularly the first generation that went through it, there will be examples of people who will be completely broken by it and maybe Joy Kogawa's father would be an example. So there probably was a lot of damage done but what I saw probably more was the second generation and where the dispersion across the country enabled people to build a new life. At a certain level I suppose the experience with most immigrant groups is the second and third generations are different from the first and they ... integration is the wrong term for it I think but its close ... Becoming a new person whose roots are both cultures and both places and then change the receiving culture to something different than it was so, thus, English born Canadians of the second and third generation would be different than if the families had stayed in England. So it's an interesting thing to think about.
PS
During all of this, would you say that your father and your mother were primarily motivated by the principles of politics, maybe it's difficult to distinguish one from the other just, humanity, friendships with Japanese-Canadians, or was it all?
JB
I think at a certain level obviously it's all but I did have a chance to think about a version of this in doing this paper on my father for Vancouver's school of theology and I remember the first thing I, I presume that you experience this when you start off on a book, article, or project, and you have one set of ideas by the time you get to the end of it it's somewhat different. It doesn't automatically reinforce what you started off with in the first place. In my case, addressing the question of why did my father become a socialist and the sub question of why did my mother, in part my understanding of that would feed the answer to your question. The first thing that I really began becoming more aware of as I worked on the project was the cultural analysis. What makes culture? What are individuals' culture and what contributes to it? There are so many different streams some of which are big and broad and long like being British, but what produces that and then you begin breaking it down and say well “every individual has got a slightly different culture and they got a slightly different ...” Even, you start at the simplistic level of some are Scottish and some are English and you start writing class into it and you've got to do all the other bits and pieces that add up. So when you start taking that then what was my father's received culture? Well, it owed a lot to upper middleclass English nineteenth century and early twentieth century norms and those were heavily influenced by a number of things, not the least of which was the Anglican version of Christianity, that was important, and that had in Britain a political expression and was an important element of the formation of the labour party. There's the trade union and a whole bunch of other things. Half the bishops in the Anglican church of England at the turn of the nineteenth century to the twentieth century, half of them were members of something called the Christian Social Union which was a mild socialist organization of Christians.
01:00:04.000
01:00:04.000
JB
So my father absorbed all of that and he had to go to church at least twice on Sundays for the first half of his life and then the second half was once every Sunday. The received wisdom of what that meant in terms of what we would call political understanding was significant in the formation of that. So, all of that meant that as he actually began getting into it and doing it knocking on doors as a candidate, working with the national committee, and meeting people and hearing their stories, my view would be that reinforced and gave energy and life to what he learned in church from a sermon or the social gospel. The set of values that he received in that sense that was reinforced by meeting people and working with people. I think that's how you come to be who you are.
PS
And he had the privilege, as you say, to be able to advocate on their behalf through all those principles.
JB
Yeah, to get up in front of the Privy Council and argue that case in the Privy Council. We played golf and would hang out together and drive to the golf course and discuss our days on the way back, there were cases for that. I would hear a number of stories. One of the things he said was, he figured out fairly early that rich people had no trouble finding lawyers. It's those who aren't that have a harder time. He may as well be their lawyer because anybody can be a rich person's lawyer. It's more interesting and its more fulfilling because, again, the kind of concepts like they get pounded in day after day about sacrifice in Christian terms and the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus getting nailed to the cross by the Romans. That elevates the idea of service and if you take it seriously ... I remember his law partner said “well, the reason he's a socialist is because he took his religion seriously.” Which this guy regarded as a bit bizarre to take religion that seriously but my father would give him points for doing that but that's he was explained to his contemporaries and I think it stands to reason. I think collectively, most of the people who were non-Japanese-Canadians who were involved in the cause that would be the starting point in their motivation. It could be also, you could reach that point in a secular way or you might be second generation religious Jew who, by the time they got there it's secular and now I think we see that all the time. The people who are humanitarian probably are second, third, or fourth generation. People who were progressive religious people and those values and stories get sent down. They may not know where the story comes from or what the Old Testament prophets were preaching about because they had never read it but it's in the genes.
PS
I hadn't really thought much about, or probably wasn't aware of that relationship between the church, especially the Anglican Church the United Church and Japanese-Canadians. I recently came across an interview that was done years and years ago that was done with Grace Tucker. It was remarkable. She spoke with such compassion and then I just did a bit more investigating and found more about her life. Did your father ever encounter her?
01:05:08.000
01:05:08.000
JB
Probably, but I don't remember him talking about that. But I would think that a lot of the, we'll call them European-Canadians, who worked in the actual camps were of a religious persuasion in the United and Anglican Church of all sizes and shapes. Most of the people who worked in the camps were providing support services of various kinds would have been church people.
PS
Yeah, and they maintained friendships long after the war?
JB
Yeah, and my father did too with the Nakamuras is one I particularly remember. Thomas Yan was a slightly different thing because he was politically connected over the years in different ways that that would have maintained that relationship, then there would be others but ... I don't believe in following the Keiko Nakamura, who's the chief executive officer of Good Will where they shut down all these things. She's thinking ... She's had a niece when I was talking to her because she was also Toronto Community Housing too when I was ... Great person.
PS
I've been following the Good Will story but I didn't know that ...
JB
Didn't make that little connection there.
PS
So what has it been like to be the son of Andrew Brewin?
JB
Well, great. Obviously, it's nice to have a father who's generally regarded for his good works, who had a good career in the ... and when I became the member of parliament in '88 he was still remembered. Me and my mother both at Parliament Hill, the people who drove the green little busses that grow around asked out for my mother and stuff like that. So, yeah, no, it's a very powerful pole too. I look back at my own career and how many things I've done that clearly, in retrospect, were me trying to duplicate some of the things my father did. So, I think parents can always be formative, in that sense he formed some of the things that I did. I also know that my move to B.C had in it an element of escape so that I could be my own person because in B.C most people know nothing about what happens on this side of the mountains. My grandson is named Andrew Brewin and he had an experience of going to Saskatchewan when he was in high school for a conference or something in the summer for high school students or whatever. When he was in Saskatchewan he was always being asked, and this was twelve, fifteen years after my father had been in parliament. He was always being asked by people in Saskatchewan if he had any relation to Andrew Brewin the former MP whereas in B.C he never got asked. So, for me to go to B.C meant that I kind of had a chance to figure out who I would be without the reputation of my father, pro and con. In court, when I was here, I practiced law for a bit a here before, I would almost always get always from a judge “your father is very proud of you, blah blah blah.” I have a friend or an acquaintance to this day will introduce me as Andrew Brewin's son which is now very rare. It's a strong personality in your life but obviously a positive one and one I can be proud of and, yet, the fact that I become proud of those things pulls me along.
PS
You said you spent a fair bit of time in your life trying to replicate, or follow a path that your father set. Can you think of any examples of what you did?
01:09:52.000
01:09:52.000
JB
Well, sure. Not only being a lawyer, that's the first thing but being really interested in electoral politics being very active in the NDP, the CCF before that and then the NDP, ultimately getting elected. I had one term in parliament from '88 to '93 and my father was in from '62 to '79 but even in the five years I was there I ended up being defense critic and he'd been defense critic. The kind of way I patterned my work as an MP was clearly heavily influenced by him. The kind of approach I took to the job and the working of committees. Yeah, even in the church I became involved in the church, particularly after I finished being an MP in '93 and that's when I took the theology degree but then I was active in the councils of the church. In that I would see a duplicate of sorts to what he did.
PS
Those are many examples. Have you talked to your children about the legacy of your father and then your own legacy and what happened to Japanese-Canadians?
JB
A bit, but I find they're not extremely interested in my legacy although that's not true. It's my grandchildren now who I try to get interested in some of this stuff. I recognize the kind of the old guy's syndrome of wanting to tell your grandchildren stuff and hoping they'll pay attention and then being frustrated when they don't and knowing that after I'm gone and then they'll think “well, oh God, we should have talked to granddad about that stuff” but they mostly don't. But if they did, it's more to humour me more than out of real interest. Yeah, they're aware of different degrees of that particular aspect of my father's inheritance and the work that he did.
PS
How did they receive it? What are their views?
JB
Um, well I think it's told to them in a way that they receive it as a good news story. I mean, that this is something that they should be proud of. This is part of their heritage they should be proud of this, and this is the way what you should do and as a result they're all doing stuff, it isn't just my father's story, in particular with the story of Japanese-Canadians. My eldest daughter is in Ethiopia, she and her husband are working with Save the Children and other organizations to make things better for the people in Ethiopia. My son has done a lot of that kind of work. My next daughter is in theatre, very progressive. My youngest daughter is with West Coast Leaf and worked in the community and so that's who they are and so it's all part of their heritage some of which they picked up directly through stories like this. Most of them, all my kids would be aware of my father's involvement and participation in the war and see and understand that to be, very much, a good thing and see it that way. Something that they should be proud of.
PS
When I used to do research in the archives in Ottawa I'd come across the Andrew Brewin papers. Did your mother donate them? How did they get there?
JB
That's an interesting question because I looked at them too for purposes of doing my paper. I suspect that the national archives were after them even before my father died but I might be wrong about that. He retired as an MP in '79 and the national archives then was somewhat more vigorous than it is now in terms of pursuing, they may have had more money to do it or maybe their focus was a bit different then. But, getting MPs' papers, and then my father in addition to being an MP had a legal career that was also important, it would have been natural for them to take the initiative of going after them and then precisely how that was done ... I'm sure my mother would have cooperated entirely with it thinking that it was important. So, at what point the papers were actually transferred over she would have undoubtedly had to sign something off at some point.
01:15:09.000
01:15:09.000
JB
So it would have been a natural ... In fact I remember finding my ... I found a lot of the letters because those were the days where they didn't really keep letters very well, certainly ones they wrote. My father went off to London in 1945 ... in the archives a lot of the letters he wrote home but most of them were kind of personal as “I saw Betsey had tea with them” and whatever, that kind of stuff and how they had to wait around and wait around and wait around but it's a different age. But, yeah, they were there. I probably had a lot of the other references to the case because I think they got hold of some of his law office files, so probably ... I don't know if you looked into the legal papers.
PS
Not really, it's been so long since I've been there. It's probably about ten years since I've been to the national archives. I'd have to go back and look through them. There's one final question that I have about the redress settlement. Did they come to you or ... Your father died in ...
JB
'83. When was redress? No, they wouldn't come to my father but they might have come to my mother but I don't recall. My sister Martha being in Ottawa acted, to some extent, as custodian of some of those kinds of things. I mean, she would have been a natural contact or my mother would have suggested to somebody “well, go see Martha.” But, when I'm talking to her I'll ask her if she has any specific memories of that but I don't. I mean, I watched in the sense that I followed the event but I didn't participate in it or anything.
PS
What did you think of the settlement?
JB
Well, I guess I would have said if the representatives of the Japanese-Canadian community were okay with it then I would be okay with it. So in that sense I didn't judge them for accepting this level of redress and I would be understanding of it. I guess this is a bit the lawyer in me also, that I'm fully aware that damages can never compensate for what is done and there's a level of injustice that is probably unavoidable in having relatively equal compensation for everybody because everybody's hurt is different. The complexities of trying to figure out how to vary it to meet the case, I mean, we're seeing bit of that in the residential schools stuff. There was a very elaborate process for assessing those things, people make a claim and then somebody hears it and makes a determination. So I guess those are some of my thoughts at the time and that it should have eventually happened. Maybe this is the Anglican in me too, the idea that what in church or religious terms is a sacrament, an outer symbol of an inner truth, the idea of sacrament that there's something sacramental about apology and redress that is real and significant but is it adequate? It's adequate if it does the job I suppose but money can never satisfy what was done and reverse history and when it's done it's done but you have to do something.
01:20:11.000
01:20:11.000
JB
Eventually we got around to do something and it's to Mulroney's credit on that side of the equation that he was willing and helped that. Normally I'm not particularly partisan but it's interesting that the Liberals can never find a way to do that, to me, that's just the partisan side of me thinking. The much maligned Conservatives ... Mulroney was much better on South Africa than the successive Liberal governments were in the case of Apartheid and so forth. So the Conservatives have from time to time in their history actually been more progressive than the Liberals. In committees I noticed in my five years in the house of commons, even the most reactionary of Conservatives, there's certainly a number of them, this is not to let Harper off the hook, but the Progressive Conservatives with Mulroney, they had a side to them that showed up occasionally in these kinds of things so I can give them a bit of credit for that.
PS
I don't think it would be fair to ask you this but what do you think Andrew Brewin would have thought of the settlement and the politics around it?
JB
I wouldn't be at all surprised if his reactions are similar to mine because I suspect mine really was a product of absorbing his attitude to that particular set of events and to things in general. In that sense I'm his son. I think I would see the events through the same prism through which he had a lot to do with forming. So I would imagine his reaction would be just as I've expressed it. That it's a good thing to have happened, it took too long, can't compensate completely, accepting of those who were given the responsibility of making the decision and how that should be and to be supportive of them because it's a difficult thing to do and probably the best thing to do is to do what they did. I think he'd tend to be biased in that way rather than second guess and certainly not publicly. I mean, if they came to him and said “what should we do?” he might offer some thoughts but basically I think he'd be supportive.
PS
Did your mother talk about any of what happened later on in life?
JB
Oh, sure. This was a big event and things for her but it was a lot my father's role in it and her role. She knew the major players and the ones who came to the house and she might well sit in from time to time as they are talking and other times she wouldn't so she followed it intensely. She was interested in all these kinds of things and had views, had passion about them. I mean, she might express herself more passionately than my father was prone to do about the thing. She made friends quickly so I think she was, that was her relationship to the issue.
PS
Is there anything you'd like to add?
JB
No, I think you've provoked me into covering most of it and as you can see I guess I feel a little that, like everything else, like I was just complaining about my grandchildren, but in retrospect I wish I had set my father down and asked a whole bunch of probing questions, but I didn't and I can't and I'm glad you're doing the project. It will probably help me figure out a lot of ... I mean, already some of the reading and bits of pieces I've done over the years and I've learned things from. I mean, it was probably of all the things that my father did one of the most important for him of all the things he did in his career and his life. With the capacities God gave him, and the education he got, and the experience he had as a lawyer, of all of those things, all the opportunities he had to use those for human beings, for human kind, I think the work he did with the Japanese-Canadians was probably the most important of all the things he did, for him.
01:25:20.000
01:25:20.000
JB
Certainly collectively, he often took individual cases which were important for people, immigration cases to help them come to Canada and things like that, and as an MP he had an opportunity to do things collectively but I think a combination of a lot of these things and the work that he was able to do and the importance of the work, it marked his life. I think the image of the little old Japanese ladies at the back of church really spoke to that, that this was really a symbol of his career in many ways and one he was very proud of, being able to do.
PS
It must have been very moving to see them there.
JB
Oh, yeah and in a strong sense meeting some very special people and working with some very special people and trying his best to correct a terrible injustice and contributing to that. I don't think he overrated his role and I suspect he would understand that sometimes merely performing it was a form of support that was important, let alone the results, just being able to be there in solidarity with people who were under attack in a terrible way was a good place to be.
PS
I imagine his name gave a considerable amount of legitimacy to the claims and the resistance.
JB
Yeah, I think so. He had, by then, a really good reputation in my sense on a number of points. Not necessarily in this order but he had a reputation of being an especially good lawyer. The Ontario Advocates Society, they picked the top fifty lawyers in Ontario the twentieth century and he was one of them and it wasn't a complete fluke or something silly. He was widely regarded as an especially gifted lawyer. That reputation would have had begun to develop by the early 40s. So I think that there's that. I think the nature of Saint Simon's church was something of an establishment church in Toronto. It wasn't the fanciest of churches but it had a side of that. In fact it stars in one of Margaret Atwood's novel in that way. In the '30s and '40s a lot of the top people went to Saint Simon's. So being a prominent lawyer because he worked at the top level of the appeal court and the Supreme Court of Canada, even though he wasn't in a huge large firm, he was known. Having been through Osgoode Hall, it was a closer society then so people knew each other so he was known to a lot of the people as a person of integrity and somebody who was attractive in the sense as a human being and a person of integrity. In that sense he was a good choice and helped him be effective with the government and in the courts in presenting the case. He felt comfortable in that setting. He had been to an English public council so he went to Privy Council so it wasn't as if he was dealing in some tribunal that struck him with awe and terror. He'd seen Lord so and so put the pants on one leg at a time so he was of that class in a sense and yet he had devoted his career in a somewhat different direction. Without giving up even that lifestyle to some extent, it wasn't a rich wealthy lifestyle but it was still a lifestyle of the upper-middleclass of Toronto, the business community of the day and so he brought that to the aid of the case. I think that was helpful, I imagine.
PS
You've put it all very eloquently. Thank you for sharing.
JB
No, I enjoyed that. I look forward to ... And I suppose when you do a transcript I should probably get a transcript of it so I can stick it with some of my stuff.
01:30:50.000
01:30:50.000
PS
Yeah, we usually leave it up to the individual. Some people don't want to see the transcript.
JB
Well I don't expect to edit it, okay. I would be very surprised if I would want to do that. At this stage, I can't, I will never say absolute guarantee but I think that the chances of my wanting to do that would be close to zero, if not zero. If I thought of something else, I might really want to pass on or a particular if I talked to Martha or my sisters and they come up with some ideas or something, I will let you know and then you can decide whether you want to follow up with a, any kind of chat with them or whatever.
PS
I'm just going to make a note here, so I don't forget, to, one of our research assistants will transcribe and then I'll make sure they send you a copy.
JB
Yes, yeah that would be appreciated. I think that I should have that. Pause. It presumably it initially would be a completely unedited transcript so I, but that's okay, I don't expect anything more.
PS
You speak, you're very articulate.
JB
In complete sentences. Laughs.
PS
Some people, I'm doing it now. Laughs. A lot of umms and ahhs and we usually don't transcribe those.
JB
Yeah sure.
PS
Just because when they read it, they become quite self-conscious.
JB
When I read transcripts, I think I've been very clear and articulate and speak in complete paragraphs and then I read it and it doesn't look like that. So that's ok, when you're an MP, you have somebody writing down every word and everyday you get the answers and they do a bit of editing to make members sound a little more, coherent Laughs. then they might other wise sound. So I've have that experience a little bit, but even court transcripts, which I seldom go anywhere near a court, most of the work I do is labour arbitration work, so it's not transcribed, which is a happy thing on the whole. But what I do see, I thought I'd asked all the right questions or said the thing in the right way but anyway.
PS
I actually participated in this study someone else did, mothers and daughters in the internment. She sent, just as a matter of course to everyone transcripts. My mother never bothered to look at them I did and I thought, I didn't want to read past page 5. “Did I say that?”
JB
Yeah.
PS
It wasn't even answering her question.
JB
Yeah.
PS
It's an exercise in humility I think.
JB
Yeah, so where did, so was it your grandparents then, that were directly involved?
PS
My grandparents and my parents. My father was taken as a prisoner of war, he grew up in Vancouver, he was a young man when it happened. He, my father was a bit of a rebel and decided that he had no reason to go, leave his home, and when he was ordered to go, he stayed and so he was taken to Petawawa, to the prisoner of war camp there. My mother was, her family lived in Haney and they were interned in... Pause. I've said this and written about this so many times, it was the smallest internment site, in the Interior of BC. I don't why it's escaping me right now. In an hour it'll come back.
JB
Laughs. Yeah I know exactly the feeling.
PS
Rosebery. Rosebery.
JB
Rosebery okay. I don't think I can even tell you where that is. I've probably driven thought it or something.
PS
Near New Denver, not far from New Denver.
JB
Okay.
PS
Pause. I'd be glad to, I mean you don't have to, whether or not you read them is another matter, but I could send you a couple of articles that I've written...
JB
I'd love that actually.
PS
Give you a sense of the kind of work, I'm doing.
JB
Yeah, please do, please do. That's right, that'd be great.
PS
Do you have a card?
JB
I do.
PS
Well actually I don't need...
JB
You should have all that stuff. But I'll give it to ya anyways. If I can find it.
01:35:31.000

Metadata

Title

John Brewin, interviewed by Pam Sugiman, 20 January 2016

Abstract

John Brewin begins the interview by explaining his family demographics and what it was like growing up with his mother and father who were two very prominent political and religious figures in their communities. He then goes on to provide details of his father, Andrew Brewin’s, political involvement with the CCF and how the alignment of the party’s core beliefs with that of the Christian principle of treating every human being as equals prompted Andrew Brewin to join their ranks. John describes his father’s involvement in advocating on the behalf of Japanese-Canadians as possibly stemming from a similar position held by the church he attended. Highlighting the positive impact that his father had on the Japanese-Canadian community, John speaks of the row of elderly Japanese-Canadian women who attended his father’s funeral and later gave thanks for all the work that he had done. He then recalls some of his personal encounters with the negative anti-Japanese-Canadian attitudes held by some of the persons who he had met as a provincial electoral candidate in British Columbia. Near the end of the interview, John reflects on the redress movement and the settlement which resulted from that historical event.

Credits

Interviewer: Pam Sugiman
Interviewee: John Brewin
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Toronto
Keywords: CCF ; Osgoode Hall; Lawyer; Supreme Court of Canada; Appeal Court; Chief Justice McRuer; Catholic; Christian; Church; Theology; Redress ; Settlement; Racism; NDP; Liberal; Conservative; Government.; Politics; 1930s – 1980s

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.