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The Far East PoW Claim Backgrounder

  • Approximately 2,100 Canadians were held captive by the Japanese in World War II. The bulk of these were from the Canadian Forces, sent to defend the British Colony of Hong Kong; the remainder were personnel of the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Navy or other British Forces.
  • The Canadian Army troops totalled 1,972 all ranks, comprising primarily the Winnipeg Grenadiers and the Royal Rifles of Canada, drawn mainly from the Eastern Townships of Québec.
  • This group -- known collectively as the Hong Kong veterans -- sailed from Canada on October 27, 1941. They reached Hong Kong on November 16th.
  • Japan attacked the Hong Kong garrison on December 7, 1941. The battle lasted seventeen and a half days, ending on Christmas Day, 1941.
  • The Canadians lost 286 killed or murdered by their captors and they underwent 44 months of imprisonment either in Hong Kong or Japan. One hundred and thirty-three Canadian soldiers died in the Hong Kong PoW camps. Another 136 died in camps in Japan.
  • In 1948 the International Military Tribunal implicated the Japanese for war crimes.
  • Upon their return to Canada, the Far East PoWs underwent many years during which their disabilities were either undetected or callously ignored by officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • In 1971, after exhaustive studies, including a report from the Committee to Survey the Work of the Organization of the Canadian Pension Commission (Wood's Committee), the Far East PoWs were granted a basic 50% pension for undetermined disabilities. In addition, on an individual basis, they were able to claim for a supplementary pension, of which some claims are still outstanding.
  • There exists lengthy evidence about maltreatment and gross violations of human rights at the hands of the Japanese. A report commissioned by The War Amputations of Canada and conducted by the late Dr. Gustave Gingras, identified pre-aging and some 19 other medical conditions not found among Canadian men of the same age group.
  • Concerning disabilities adequate pensions (in most cases) have been granted by the Canadian Pension Commission (an agency of Veterans Affairs Canada).
  • Concerning maltreatment, the Far East PoWs have been granted an amount equal to $1.50 a day for their time in imprisonment.
  • The claim being made today, however, concerns payment for slave labour, based on the provisions of the Geneva Convention; such payment being the responsibility of the Japanese Government. No payment for slave labour has ever been made.
  • This case was first taken up by The War Amputations of Canada, using its NGO (non-governmental organization status) in a claim before the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations in Geneva in mid-1987.
  • A sub-commission studied the claim. It was vigorously opposed by the Japanese Government. The sub-commission found that there were grave breaches of the Geneva Convention committed by the Japanese in connection with the slave labour forced upon these Canadians who were their captors.
  • The Sub-Commission agreed that there was no moratorium on war crimes. The Sub-Commission also agreed that there had been gross violations of human rights. Notwithstanding, the Sub-Commission concluded that it had no jurisdiction to deal with the compensation issue.
  • It was the subsequent decision of The War Amps that it should proceed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights -- an instrument to which the Canadian Government was a signatory.
  • Under the provisions of this International Covenant, The War Amps took the claim before the Human Rights Committee (a lesser agency of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva).
  • The claim of The War Amps, acting on behalf of the Far East Prisoners of War, was to the effect that Canada was in violation of the Geneva Convention in that such states clearly that no signing party can extinguish the rights of its citizens under the convention.
  • The War Amps argued, secondly, that Canada was in violation of the International Covenant by failing to protect the rights of the Far East Prisoners of War, particularly in regard to the claim for compensation for slave labour.
  • The finding of the Human Rights Committee was to the effect that it could not consider the matter, in that the claimants had not exhausted their domestic remedies. Subsequently, The War Amps asked the Canadian Government to reconsider the matter and eventually the Minister of Justice, replying on behalf of the Canadian Government, stated that Canada was not in violation of any International Covenants.
  • Accordingly, The War Amps in a letter to the Honourable David Collenette, former Minister of National Defence and Veterans Affairs, requested a Hearing before a Parliamentary Committee. This was granted and was held in November, 1996.
  • The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House passed a unanimous resolution in December 1997 requesting the government to pay the claim and seek reimbursement from Japan.

For more information

Danita Chisholm
Executive Director, Communications 
1 877 606-3342