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The world recently mourned the tragic loss of Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history. He was assassinated on July 8 while giving a campaign speech for Liberal Democratic Party candidate Kei Satō outside Yamato-Saidaiji Station in Nara, Nara Prefecture.

The suspect is Tetsuya Yamagami, a former Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force sailor. What was the motive? According to reports, he claimed that he held a grudge against the Unification Church for causing his mother’s bankruptcy in 2002 after she had made several large donations. He believed Abe was close to this group (of which there’s no proof) and shot him in cold blood.

A terrible, and completely avoidable, situation.

World leaders, both present and past, provided wonderful tributes of Abe’s leadership and friendship. Here’s a small sampling:

“The world has lost a great man of vision, and Canada has lost a close friend.” — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

“His global leadership through unchartered times will be remembered by many.” — UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

“A great prime minister, who dedicated his life to his country and worked to bring balance to the world.” — French President Emmanuel Macron

“I send my condolences to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s family and the Japanese people. An act of terrorism during an election is a brutal attack against the very foundation of democracy.” — South Korean Yoon Suk Yeol  

“He was a champion of the Alliance between our nations and the friendship between our people.” — U.S. President Joe Biden 

“Former Prime Minister Abe was devoted to both the country he served and the extraordinary alliance between the United States and Japan.” — former U.S. President Barack Obama

“He was a true friend of mine, and much more importantly, America. This is a tremendous blow to the people of Japan, who loved and admired him so much.” — former U.S. President Donald Trump

They knew, like many others knew, that Abe’s lifelong commitment to public service had helped transform Japan, Asia and the world.

Abe was associated with the right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party for his entire career. He was a member of the House of Representatives from Oct. 20, 1996 to the day of his assassination. He served as Prime Minister of Japan from Sept. 26, 2006-Sept. 26, 2007, and again from Dec. 26, 2012-Sept. 16, 2020. He announced his retirement from politics due to escalating health issues caused by several bouts with ulcerative colitis.

With respect to his political leanings and leadership style, Abe was a small “c” conservative who respected the importance of small government, low taxes, private enterprise, free markets, personal liberties and freedoms, and so on.

He introduced an economic model called “Abenomics” when he returned to power in 2012. Japan had been hit hard due to the global economic crisis, and needed to find a way to rejuvenate its financial fortunes. Abe’s theory was to revive Japan with his “three arrows” of fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms. The Economist noted in a May 18, 2013 Leader/editorial that his plan was a “mix of reflation, government spending and a growth strategy designed to jolt the economy out of suspended animation that has gripped it for more than two decades.”

Abenomics helped make Japan more competitive, economically sound and fiscally prudent. It wasn’t a perfect economic model, by any means. The PM’s hope of achieving structural reforms, the third arrow, was less than successful. Abe also dabbled with some less than fiscally prudent strategies, including a sales tax and consumption tax hike. He was only stopped from implementing a sales tax increase after one of his key economic advisors, Etsuro Honda, set up a hastily-planned closed-door meeting with Nobel Prize-winning liberal economist Paul Krugman in November 2014.

Meanwhile, Abe modified Japan’s pacifist nature by reinterpreting its historical position on Article 9. Kazuhiko Togo, a friend and former senior diplomat, told the BBC on July 12 “he changed the interpretation of Article 9, so that if the United States is attacking in the vicinity of Japan then it’s as if Japan is attacked, and that would allow us to assert our right to collective self-defence. The implication is huge.”

On the foreign policy front, Abe proved to be a great ally, friend and trading partner of many western democracies. While some critics enjoyed painting him as a right-leaning nationalist, the reality is he understood the importance of working and succeeding in international relations and the global marketplace.

Relations with South Korea and China, which had been huge sticking points early in Abe’s leadership, gradually improved under his watch. He built formidable political and trade ties with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including the sale of Shinkansen (bullet train) technology to the latter as well as non-military nuclear technology. Abe also maintained strong relations and a focus on national and international security with three radically different U.S. presidents (Obama, Trump and Biden), fiercely defended a free and independent Hong Kong, and was an understood ally to Trudeau and his predecessor, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Shinzo Abe loved his country. Japan is in a more secure political and financial position today because of his leadership, policies and strategies. His legacy will continue for generations to come. RIP.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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“I know that I speak for Members on all sides of the House today in offering to Japanese Canadians the formal and sincere apology of this Parliament for those past injustices against them, against their families, and against their heritage, and our solemn commitment and undertaking to Canadians of every origin that such violations will never again in this country be countenanced or repeated.”

—part of a speech by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to the House of Commons in 1988

Vladimir Putin’s brazen war of conquest against Ukraine has conjured a visceral response from many Canadians. But obscured among our support for Ukrainians’ plight stirs a more sinister force: Russophobia. Numerous incidents of harassment against Canadians of Russian descent have been reported over the past fortnight. If the war continues to intensify, so too will torment against Russian Canadians. Keeping in mind the historical injustice of the internment of Japanese Canadians, we must not allow Putin’s despicable war to sow xenophobic division here in Canada, and should take proactive actions to halt such trends.

As a megalomaniac intent on empire-building, Putin has illustrated wanton disregard for national sovereignty and international law. But far worse is his callous indifference to human life, indiscriminately bombing Ukrainian residences simply to propagate terror among the population, an action that undoubtedly constitutes a war crime.

No surprise, then, that Canadians and much of the international community are expressing empathy for Ukrainians, along with outrage at the Russian state for such heinous atrocities.

Unfortunately, anger at Russia’s despot-led government often manifests itself abroad as harassment of the Russian diaspora. Here in Canada, Russian churches have been vandalized, while Russian businesses such as restaurants are targeted with threatening phone calls or adverse online reviews. A teenage hockey player was also allegedly the victim of a racial slur from an opposing player.

It’s worth emphasizing that many Canadians of Russian descent were born here. Of those who emigrated, plenty of them fled repression – either Soviet or Putin’s modern variety. Russo-Canadians are much more likely to have been victims of the Russian state rather than its overseas cheerleaders. The thought of re-victimizing these people is repugnant. And numerous Russian-themed businesses here in Canada have gone out of their way to express support for Ukraine – including actively fundraising – while denouncing Putin.

Attempting to categorize Canadian immigrants and their descendants as having either a “Ukrainian” or “Russian” identity – as if it were a simplistic binary – is often a futile task, as many Canadians share ancestry from both countries. Several of the “Russians” in Canada who have been targeted for abuse are also of Ukrainian lineage. How is harassing them meant to help war-torn families in Kyiv? When we seek convenient scapegoats, we quickly appreciate the world is a complex tapestry. Only one person deserves our scorn for the war, and he certainly doesn’t live in Canada.

Thus far, most incidents of harassment against Russo-Canadians have been typically Canadian: that is, passive-aggressive. Thankfully there have not yet been any reported physical assaults. But if the war escalates – and it almost certainly will – it’s likely that violence will become a weapon brandished by xenophobic Canadians. We may even witness demagogic politicians attempt to exploit the division for their selfish ends.

The Russophobia fomenting over the past two weeks serves as a disturbing reminder of a dark chapter from Canada’s history: the forcible internment of British Columbians of Japanese descent during the Second World War. 22,000 such people – most of whom were born in Canada and thus Canadian citizens – were detained and relocated to British Columbia’s Interior, accused of being a threat to national security. In Vancouver, 8,000 women and children were temporarily sent to live in livestock pens – among animal feces and bugs, and without toilets – before being relocated away from the Pacific coast. Men were compelled to labour in road camps. Property and possessions of these Japanese Canadians were sold without their consent, purportedly to pay for the costs of internment.

War brings out the worst in human beings. Our nature is instinctively tribal, and during difficult times, good-versus-evil caricatures of “others” are often readily accepted without adequate scrutiny or critical thinking. This, of course, plays into Putin’s attempts to sow social division in the West, every bit as effective as his army of Twitter bots and trolls that aim to ruffle political feathers.

As citizens of a country that has formally embraced multiculturalism, It’s important that Canadians are regularly reminded that an entire ethnicity cannot be “bad” or “good”, as well as of the consequences of demonizing groups of people, especially during wartime. Education is perhaps the best long-term solution, ideally beginning at a young age. British Columbia and Ontario include Japanese Canadian internment in their elementary school curricula, but unfortunately many other provinces – including Alberta – do not.

With a war unfolding abroad and xenophobia against Russian Canadians currently increasing, we also need immediate remedies.

Just as Canada possesses a moral obligation to assist Ukrainians being attacked by a baleful dictator, so too must we protect our fellow Canadians from any harm arising from wartime xenophobia. We shouldn’t merely scold and tut after incidents come to light – instead, we must proactively remind Canadians of the harm caused by racism. The Canadian government should run advertisements stressing the need to be extra kind to Russo-Canadians during this conflict, and that if we turn against each other, Putin ultimately wins.

“We must make these people feel at home among us. We will secure their loyalty by fairness and kindness …”

—part of a speech by Angus MacInnis, Vancouver-Kingsway MP, to the House of Commons in 1941

 

Resources for learning about the historical internment of Japanese Canadians:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxVZtQULIMQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUGM7EfwwU8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8TQTuMqM9g

Obasan (by Joy Kogawa; Penguin Random House Canada, 2017 [originally published in 1981])

The Three Pleasures (by Terry Watada; Anvil Press, 2017)

Naomi’s Road (by Joy Kogawa, illustrated by Ruth Ohi; Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2005 [originally published in 1986])

On Being Yukiko (by Jeff Chiba Stearns and Lillian Michiko Blakey; Sandhill Book Marketing Ltd., 2021)

Stealing Home (by J. Torres, illustrated by David Namisato; Kids Can Press, 2021)

Toshiko (by Michael Kluckner; Midtown Press, 2015)

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.