Last month, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
wrapped up its work looking into the Indian Residential School System. They released a comprehensive report
that amazingly managed to be at times both horrifying – with tales of aboriginal children forced to eat their own vomit – and inspiring. Its closing call for reconciliation as an act of ongoing education, communication and cooperating is beautiful. And supremely humanist.
Yet Humanist Canada’s official response to the report was tragically misguided. Completely missing the entire point of the report and its recommendations, they managed to not only reduce it to a condemnation of a handful of churches, but to shockingly turn around and blame the report for not putting a positive enough spin on the residential school system.
Even after these and other failings were pointed out to Humanist Canada, their directors have stepped up to defend it… still completely missing the point. It seems more drastic measures are necessary to get through to them.
Since I’ve been told that closed-minded people can’t handle too many words, I decided that instead of an essay going in depth into the wrongheadedness of Humanist Canada’s response, I need to try something else. I need to speak Humanist Canada’s language. Since their behaviour the last few years has shown them to be a bit of a joke, perhaps humour is the best way to reach them.
The following “press release” is a parody of Humanist Canada’s press release about the TRC report, using the World War ⅠⅠ internment of Japanese Canadians rather than the residential school system. I felt using the current topic (residential schools) would too easily allow Humanist Canada’s board members to dismiss the critique with yet another example of the point-missing pedantry they seem to like to engage in. At the same time, I felt using a completely fictional atrocity would blunt the impact. I did take extensive liberties with the historical facts of the internment, but I hope you will indulge me the inaccuracies for the sake of the point I’m making.
It is not my intention to belittle what survivors of either internment camps or residential schools went through. My goal is only to shine a light on Humanist Canada’s clueless self-absorption, and to graphically demonstrate the wrong way for a humanist to approach tragedy and atrocity.
A Humanist Canada response to Japanese Canadian internment
Humanist Canada welcomes the release of the final report of the National Association of Japanese Canadians. We agree that Canada’s internment of Japanese Canadians represented a shameful chapter in the country’s history, because it included forced religious proselytization. We call on our government to join with the majority of the world’s nations in signing the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which should fix everything.
More importantly, we believe that the National Association of Japanese Canadians paid insufficient attention to the culpability of Canada’s churches in this improperly executed endeavour. It is well known that the government of Canada handed over the day-to-day management of these camps to religious groups. Although the government of Canada wished for, planned, ordered, implemented, legislated, funded, enforced, and defended internment camps – as part of their own explicitly stated and long pursued policy to single out and stigmatize Canadians with Japanese heritage, and ultimately eliminate them entirely as an identity from the Canadian landscape – the fact that churches were involved is tragic.
Much of the suffering in internment was due to the fact the government of Canada did not provide enough funding to run the camps. Detainees often paid for this shortfall with poor health flowing from insufficient rations and inadequate health care. This was obviously a failing of the churches, for not getting enough funding from the federal government. When a report pointed out the failings due to lack of funding, the churches successfully pressured the government to do something about it. Thus, the churches got more funding from the federal government. This was another failing of the churches.
We wish to reiterate that all Christian denominations are equally guilty. But the Roman Catholic Church is more guilty than others. Unlike the others, their national organization has failed to offer an apology or to pay reparations. This is because unlike the others, they do not have a national organization, which is another failure on their part. Although we are not Japanese Canadians ourselves, we have decided to not accept the numerous apologies of the various local dioceses on their behalf. We call on the federal government to force the Catholic Church to create a national organization, assign it blame for the involvement it didn’t have in running the internment camps, and then make them apologize. We will pass the apology on to Japanese Canadians.
We are disappointed that the National Association of Japanese Canadians failed to report on Japanese Canadians who had good internment camp experiences, as reconciliation cannot be achieved without balanced reporting. The need for balanced reporting is why we have taken such great pains in our response to balance the blame we are handing out for the internment camps created by the Canadian government and run by the churches; the blame we dispense is balanced equally among each of the churches involved.
We also believe the NAJC could have provided greater insight into why some Japanese Canadians wanted to keep the camps open. We know a guy who knows a guy who said the internment camp wasn’t all that bad, and that some of the people did actually deserve to be there, as they were, in fact, of Japanese descent. Some of the detainees wished to stay in the camps rather than be released penniless and alone into a society that hated and feared them; without the NAJC providing more insight into this phenomenon, it will surely remain a mystery. We also note that instances of physical and sexual abuse happened in those schools and suggest that if there were any Japanese Canadians in positions of power at these internship camps, they should be punished; perhaps by forcibly removing them from their homes, confiscating their possessions, stripping them of their citizenship, and sending them to some kind of temporary incarceration facility.
Finally, the report introduced the term “spiritual violence”, which we don’t really know what it means, but we think it means that religions are to blame. And if that’s so, we are deeply troubled by the fact that the report uses language of reconciliation that seems to suggest we can’t take advantage of this horrifying situation to criticize religion. We consider this potential abrogation of our right to criticize religion the most important human rights violation related to the report.
The internment of Japanese Canadians was a black mark on Canadian history, which – we must remind – was all religion’s fault. But we must never forget the real victims of this atrocity: people who don’t like religion. Those of us who live today reaping the benefits of the shameful institution of internment are forced to live with the fact that we must thank the churches who ran the camps for those benefits. We face now the challenge of enjoying our privilege while it is tainted by the memory that the churches did something awful.
But the churches alone do not bear responsibility for the inhumane institution of Japanese Canadian internment camps. We must not forget that some Japanese Canadians were also complicit. It is only by highlighting and calling attention to the culpability of the churches and the victims of the internment camps, that the rest of us can move forward without guilt.
We thank you for taking the time to read this release.