On Compensation for Canadian Prisoners of War in Hong Kong

The War Amputations of Canada’s (The War Amps) efforts for compensation for the Canadian Hong Kong prisoners of war was an ongoing process that was not resolved until 1998.[i] Archival material relating to John Peters Humphrey’s involvement in this issue spans the period of 1988 – 1991, during which time Humphrey represented the organization to the United Nations Commission for Human Rights in Geneva, and worked closely with Brian Forbes, the Association Solicitor for the War Amputations of Canada since 1975.

 

John Humphrey’s Involvement with the War Amputations of Canada

Humphrey was a co-drafter of the declaration presented by The War Amps to the commission and provided The War Amps with legal counsel as well as expertise on the workings of the U.N. In a letter dated 20 Jan, 1988, Forbes asks for Humphrey’s opinion on the current draft[ii] to which Humphrey suggests that an increased focus on Japan’s war crimes and crimes against humanity would help to bolster The War Amps’ claim.[iii] In his reply, Humphrey also reminds Forbes that other NGOs will offer support with the text when they meet in Geneva.[iv]

During their many trips to Geneva, Humphrey and Forbes met with NGOs such as The World Veterans Federation, The International Human Rights Service, The International Federation of Women Career Lawyers, and the International Commission of Health Professionals.[v] While they had initial difficulty in achieving official U.N recognition for their claim, they found that they had considerable success “lobbying in the corridors”[vi] with representatives of NGOs for support, an activity that seems to have played a large role in Humphrey’s involvement with The War Amps. His U.N networks and connections from his earlier career must have been an advantage in this respect; in preparation for a conference in Geneva, Forbes’ letter to Humphrey draws upon these connections, and asks him to review a list of participants to determine Humphrey’s “acquaintance with each of these individuals and whether we should focus on particular delegates”.[vii]

Humphrey’s mere connection to the project was in itself a significant contribution to the cause. In Forbes’ lobby letters to NGO representatives, Humphrey is invariably mentioned as lending his support, something Forbes valued highly. He explained Humphrey’s appeal in a letter to Humphrey himself, saying, “there is little question that your reputation is of extreme significance within the Human Rights community in Geneva”, and that “your name is ‘legend’ within the framework of the Human Rights Commission”.[viii] In a letter to H. Clifford Chadderton, the Chief Executive Officer of the War Amps, Forbes writes, “It goes without saying that Dr. Humphrey’s prominence as a former director of the Human Rights Division of the Human Rights Commission opened a number of doors for us as his significant influence within the human rights community of the United Nations enhanced the credibility of our overall position”.[ix]

 

Social Movement to Which the Subject Relates

The War Amps’ efforts to secure compensation from the Japanese Government for Canadian Hong Kong prisoners of war can be seen in the context of a developing conception of individual human rights, as it was often framed as a rights issue. In a luncheon speech at a conference on the Right to Compensation in 1989, Humphrey noted that although recent changes in international law had been “no less than revolutionary”, they still failed to “address the question of the right of the individual to compensation” in the face of gross violations.[x] It seems that Humphrey saw the War Amps’ project as a vehicle for change; his letters of 1990 repeatedly mention his hope that “I am particularly anxious that the compensation study becomes closely related with the U.N decade for the Development of International Law. It may well turn out that we have started something very important on the one”.[xi]

In the Canadian context, the War Amps’ project was linked to human rights as well. A major obstacle to the War Amps’ claim was the fact that a peace treaty had been signed in 1952 by the Canadian and Japanese governments in which Canada agreed not to ask Japan for further compensation for its World War II prisoners of war.[xii] The War Amps argued that this treaty obscured the individual rights of the veterans and that the Canadian government had come in violation of the Geneva Convention by effectively signing away the rights of the veterans in its effort to come to an agreement.[xiii] Later, in 1991, Humphrey and Forbes saw the Canadian government’s acceptance of an apology from Hong Kong to Canadian prisoners of war as a further negation of individual rights, as it did not oblige the Japanese government to pay reparations.[xiv]

Canadian government policy in the mid-20th century largely favoured state sovereignty over the rights of individuals, as exemplified by Canada’s hesitancy to accept the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[xv] Interestingly however, the plight of the Canadian PoWs during the war in Hong Kong required the Canadian government to at least consider the circumstances of a marginalized group within their own country.[xvi] During the war, the Canadian government was wary that any aggression towards the Japanese in Canada could jeopardize the situation of the PoWs in Hong Kong, and thus their interactions with Japan on the issue of the PoWs required a great deal of reciprocity.[xvii]

By the 1980s, Canadian government negotiations with Japanese-Canadians for redress took place almost simultaneously with the War Amps’ actions lobbying for compensation from the Japanese. This connection was used by the War Amps to lobby the reluctant Canadian government for support; a handwritten note to Humphrey from Howard Smith suggests using the Canadian government’s engagement in negotiations to argue that Canada is in a “new situation” regarding any previous agreements with Japan over additional compensation.[xviii] Further, in a letter from Chadderton to Prime Minister Mulroney, Chadderton also links the two issues rather than separates them, and explains that the government’s decision to provide grants to Japanese-Canadians “has once again raised the issue” of the Hong Kong veterans’ claim against Japan for war crimes against Canadian prisoners of war.[xix]

 

Short and Long Term Impact

John Peters Humphrey provided The War Amps with drafting assistance, legal counsel, knowledge of the workings of the U.N, and a wide network of personal connections, but did not live to see the final outcome of his actions with the War Amps by the time he died in 1995. Despite the constant efforts of this organization, the outcome turned out to be “bittersweet”, as The War Amputations of Canada did not end up achieving financial compensation from the Japanese government.[xx]  But Humphrey was aware that this project was by nature a difficult claim, noting that “there is even controversy as to what compensation means – certainly in law”.[xxi] In the end, The War Amps’ claim was financially realized in 1998 when the Canadian government announced that it would foot the bill for a compensation package and give $24,000 to each surviving veteran or their widow.[xxii] Later, in 2011, Japan issued a formal apology to Canadian veterans of Hong Kong on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong, but by this time, only 59 veterans survived to hear it.[xxiii]

 

Endnotes

[i] CBC Digital Archives, Canadians captured in Hong Kong receive compensation, Online video, 2:38, 1998, http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/war-conflict/veterans/continuing-the-fight-canadas-veterans/canadians-captured-in-hong-kong-receive-compensation.html.

[ii] Letter from Forbes to Humphrey, 20 January 1988, The War Amputations of Canada – Correspondence; 1988-1989, Box 16, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[iii] Letter from Forbes to Humphrey, 10 February 1988, The War Amputations of Canada – Correspondence; 1988-1989, Box 16, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[iv] Letter from Humphrey to Forbes, 27 January 1988, The War Amputations of Canada – Correspondence; 1988-1989, Box 16, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[v] Letter from Forbes to H. Clifford Chadderton, 7 April 1988, The War Amputations of Canada – Correspondence; 1988-1989, Box 16, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Letter from Forbes to Humphrey, 15 June 1988, The War Amputations of Canada – Correspondence; 1988-1989, Box 16, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[viii] Letter from Forbes to Humphrey, Jan 20, 1988, The War Amputations of Canada – Correspondence; 1988-1989, Box 16, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[ix] Letter from Forbes to H. Clifford Chadderton, 7 April 1988, The War Amputations of Canada – Correspondence; 1988-1989, Box 16, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[x] Luncheon Speech: Conference on the Right to Compensation, 1989, Speeches – 1989, Box 18, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[xi] Letter from Humphrey to Forbes, 21 August 1990, The War Amputations of Canada – Correspondence; 1990-1991, Box 16, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[xii] CBC Digital Archives, Canadians captured in Hong Kong receive compensation, Online video, 2:38, 1998, http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/war-conflict/veterans/continuing-the-fight-canadas-veterans/canadians-captured-in-hong-kong-receive-compensation.html.

[xiii] “Government Failure to Protect PoWs in Japan Consistent from 1941 to Date,” The War Amps Newsroom Archives, last modified November 19 1996, http://www.waramps.ca/newsroom/archives/hongkong/1996-11-19.html

[xiv] Letter from Forbes to Humphrey, 12 June 1991, The War Amputations of Canada – Correspondence; 1990-1991, Box 16, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[xv] Dominique Clément, “Human Rights in Domestic and Foreign Politics: From ‘Niggardly Acceptance’ to Enthusiastic Embrace,” Human Rights Quarterly 34 no. 3 (2012): 769, DOI: 10.1353/hrq.2012.0044

[xvi] Jonathan F. Vance, Objects of Concern: Canadian Prisoners of War Through the Twentieth Century, (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1994), 185.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Letter from Howard Smith to Humphrey, 19 July 1988, The War Amputations of Canada – Correspondence; 1988-1989, Box 16, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[xix] Letter from H. Clifford Chadderton to Brian Mulroney, 23 Sept, 1988, The War Amputations of Canada – Correspondence; 1988-1989, Box 16, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[xx] CBC Digital Archives, Canadians captured in Hong Kong receive compensation, Online video, 2:38, 1998, http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/war-conflict/veterans/continuing-the-fight-canadas-veterans/canadians-captured-in-hong-kong-receive-compensation.html.

[xxi] Luncheon Speech: Conference on the Right to Compensation, 1989, Speeches – 1989, Box 18, John Peters Humphrey Fonds, McGill University Archives.

[xxii] “War Amps Acknowledges Importance of Japan Finally Apologizing to Canada’s Hong Kong Veterans,” The War Amps Newsroom Archives, December 8 2011, http://www.waramps.ca/newsroom/archives/hongkong/2011-12-08.html ; CBC Digital Archives, Canadians captured in Hong Kong receive compensation, Online video, 2:38, 1998, http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/war-conflict/veterans/continuing-the-fight-canadas-veterans/canadians-captured-in-hong-kong-receive-compensation.html.

[xxiii] “War Amps Acknowledges Importance of Japan Finally Apologizing to Canada’s Hong Kong Veterans,” The War Amps Newsroom Archives, December 8 2011, http://www.waramps.ca/newsroom/archives/hongkong/2011-12-08.html.

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