A Humanist Canada response to Japanese Canadian internment

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 itstill 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.

Fuck religion.

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A Humanist Canada response to Japanese Canadian internment by Indi in the Wired is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

5 Responses to A Humanist Canada response to Japanese Canadian internment

  1. Great parody! However, this passage is not parody but fact:

    “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.”

    I don’t give a shit that the RCC says t”hey do not have a national organization.” WTF do they call the Vatican?

    • The Catholic Church isn’t more guilty than others (if anything the Anglicans & United Churches probably ran more schools) – they’re just the only ones to not offer an national apology because there is no one to. The Pope should, and the TRC calls for him to (<a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/pope-expresses-sorrow-for-abuse-at-residential-schools-1.778019"he sort of did in 2009 and more recently).
      Semantics aside, I don’t know if a parody has to satirise every line perfectly.

      • The Catholic Church isn’t more guilty than others (if anything the Anglicans & United Churches probably ran more schools)

        Actually, I think the Catholic churches did run the majority of the schools. I think I read they ran 60% or more.

        As I understand what happened, when it came time to portion out blame, the other three religions all had national organizations, so they issued their apologies, and paid up.

        But when they tried to lay the blame on the Catholic doorstep, the Catholics said they didn’t have a national organization, and the Vatican itself had simply never been involved – everything was laid at the feet of local dioceses and small nunneries. They all duly apologized, but since they’re all small, broke-ass little groups, they have had a hell of a time scraping together the cash for their share of the compensation. But the Canadian government has been hard on their asses, so, they’re still working on it.

        It would certainly be nice for the Vatican to show some actual moral leadership, and supply the cash for the compensation payments – the little groups may not have pennies to scratch together, but we all know the Vatican itself has plenty. But to be fair, they don’t really have a legal or logical obligation to. *They* never ran a residential school, and likely never even had a clue about them, other than as vague entities in some distant north-western colony.

        Semantics aside, I don’t know if a parody has to satirise every line perfectly.

        Why thank you! What can I say? When you’re satirizing pedants, your satire will tend to be pedantic. ^_^;

    • You know, you really shouldn’t take parody too seriously. ^_^; Or you risk becoming it yourself.

      Take that bit you quoted, for example. The bit “… all Christian denominations are equally guilty. But the Roman Catholic Church is more guilty than others.” is actually a reference to Orwell. I just put it in because I thought it was funny.

      But if you really want a serious assessment of the satire… alright, I’m game.

      The point of that paragraph you quoted was threefold.

      1. First, to highlight the rabidly anti-humanist thinking of HC for singling out that particular TRC recommendation. The TRC made *94* calls for action. Of those, HC singled out *2*. (Well, technically they touched on a third, when they objected to “spiritual violence”. So they mentioned *3*, but only 2 in support, and they *opposed* 1. Which kinda makes it even worse.) Granted, they had to keep it short, but if they only picked *2* recommendations to highlight, you have to figure they’d be the two recommendations most important to humanism, right? Right? The first one was for the government to “sign” the UN DRIP. Okay, sure, not bad. I mean… not perfect – the actual call to action was not for a mere show of solidarity, but to *fully* adopt *and* implement UN DRIP. But close enough. I can get on board with that. So which of the remaining 93 calls for action did HC think was important enough, as a national *humanist* organization to reiterate? Was it the one about fixing aboriginal child health or welfare services? Was it the one about eliminating the education gap? Was it the one about over-representation of aboriginal people in jails? Was it the one about opening up investigations into all the missing and murdered aboriginal women? No, the *one* other TRC recommendation they chose to repeat… the one that makes the Roman Catholic Church look bad!
      2. Second, to point out the bizarrely convoluted logic of what HC was asking for. They want the *government* to pressure the RCC to apologize? Ex-squeeze me? First, that really ain’t the government’s job. Second… and you really have to have *completely* missed the point of the TRC report to not realize this… the government really ain’t in a position where they have a *right* to demand apologies from the RCC. Or anyone, for that matter. I mean… did… HC not read the same TRC report that I did? The government of Canada don’t exactly come off as an innocent third party that would have moral standing to demand apologies of anyone else.
      3. Third, to underscore the gratuitous pointlessness of it all. For a group of people as big into pedantry as the HC directors seem to be, they’ve really missed the boat here. While it is true that the Pope may have provided *moral* encouragement for the local churches to run the schools in the way they did, the plain fact is that the Vatican never had any hand in managing the schools. (As for WTF they call the Vatican, I can assure you they *don’t* call it a “Canadian national organization”.) Even the courts concluded this. The Vatican did nothing wrong; they owe no compensation. The compensation is owed by a bunch of tiny, local Catholic dioceses, and they are struggling to pay it, but they are being chased down by the government – the Aboriginal Healing Foundation even said they were pleased with the way things were going (while bemoaning the fact that getting the money out of the poor-ass dioceses was tedious). What the TRC called for was for the Pope to offer a symbolic apology equivalent to one they gave to European (that is, non-aboriginal) victims of a similar atrocity – he apologized to Europeans, but not aboriginals, which is a bit of a dick move. They didn’t ask for any money from the Vatican. You can argue the Vatican has a *moral* obligation to chip in, but that’s a far cry from what the HC release has stated, where it falsely implies the RCC actually owes something and is refusing to pay. What the HC is calling for is just not reality. Their “call” is empty noise, like a dog baying at the moon.

      But the bottom line is the HC was so gosh-darned intent on pointing fingers and flinging mud at the churches that not only did they completely miss the actual *humanist* point of the TRC report – they flat out ignored aboriginal people *completely*, only using them as props to slam the churches – but their tactics are outright bizarre.

      Let me show you what I mean. Consider this question, and consider it seriously: Why do… *YOU*… care… whether the Catholic Church apologizes or not? Seriously, think about that. The way I see it, if the RCC apologizes to aboriginal people, that would be nice – I’d be happy for them because an apology would help them a bit on their path to healing. But if the RCC *doesn’t* apologize… so the fuck what? Seriously. If the RCC refuses to apologize for their role (even if it’s only as moral “inspiration”) in the residential schools, then all they’re doing is pissing away the chance at having a good relationship with aboriginal peoples. And you know what? I’m fine with that.

      See what I’m getting at? The Roman Catholic Church is UTTERLY IRRELEVANT. It doesn’t matter one squat whether they apologize or not. And I’m not saying this because I’m a fan, or because I think we should go easy on religion. Quite the opposite, I’m pointing out that we hurt the RCC… *more*… by *not* going after them in this situation. They’re already the assholes here, and aboriginal people damn well know it. The smart move is to stand quietly to the side and let them continue to demonstrate their assholery, while *we* focus on forming a good relationship with aboriginal communities.

      What went wrong here is the HC leadership were religion-haters first and humanists second… and they fucked the humanist cause just to score cheap points for the anti-religion cause. Their rabid fixation on attacking religion blinded them to the bigger picture. Humanists “win” either way, whether the Pope apologizes or not… … … *provided we are engaging with aboriginal people in humanist ways*. If we engage with aboriginal people – reach out them as we should, as humanists – we will be there as part of their journey toward healing whether the RCC makes that journey easier or not. Humanist Canada failed to engage with aboriginal people – they flat out fucking ignored them. In fact, they even went out of their way to try to pin some of the blame on them! In their blind rage against religion, Canada’s “national voice for humanism” just walked right over Canada’s aboriginal people, shitting on them as they passed, using them as mere stepping stones from which they could get a nice clean shot at religion.

      It was stupid, stupid, stupid. They let their hate blind them. They “won” cheap, short-term rhetorical points, but at both the expense of a longer campaign against religion *and* at the expense of humanism’s relationship with aboriginal people.

  2. “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.”

    Really? Please elaborate>

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