|Ann Gomer Sunahara, B.Sc., M.A., L.L.B., is the author of The Politics of Racism, published by James Lorimer and Company in 1981. Sunahara’s book was one of a number of texts that was pivotal in the successful campaign for redress. In Sunahara’s own words, the book was intended as a “neutral, historical work,” (Bulletin interview) and was vital for educating the wider Canadian public about the injustices suffered by Japanese Canadians in World War II. Sunahara is of English and Anglo-Irish descent. She is the second of six children (five girls and a boy) born to a Royal Canadian Air Force veteran and his English-Irish war-bride in 1946. Her parents met while her mother, a Catholic, was a radar operator and her father, an Anglican, was a radar technician for the RAF. She grew up in Mississauga, Ontario in the 1950s and early 1960s. The only Japanese Canadian whom she had contact with growing up was Bev Oda, the Company Leader of her Girl Guide troop. In 1965, her Grade 13 history teacher, Mr. Fullerton mentioned experiences of Japanese Canadians during his lecture on African American history.|
She volunteered for CUSO (Canadian University Students Overseas) after her older sister, Mary, had volunteered with the organization in Zambia. There, she taught Second Form Science and English in Malaysia, and met David Sunahara. She left the program after a year as she was the victim of an assault. Additionally, she had discovered that there were local teachers who were unemployed because of the presence of volunteers. She then moved to London, Ontario after she returned from Malaysia in September 1970 at David Sunahara’s invitation. She found work as a laboratory technician at the Chemistry department at UWO (University of Western Ontario).
She started researching Japanese Canadian history after Pierre Trudeau had invoked the War Measures Act to combat the Quebec Liberation Front (FLQ) in October 1970. David’s family were interned in Slocan during the Second World War, and as the FLQ crisis unfolded, he mentioned to her that the same actions had been used against Japanese Canadians. She began taking history courses at University of Western Ontario part-time while David Sunahara was getting his MA. In 1975 David started a PhD program in Sociology at the University of Alberta and she began a MA in History at the University of Calgary. The university’s faculty provided her a research grant while studying and a travel grant to do research at the National Archives in Ottawa; government documents pertaining to Japanese Canadian internment had just become available under the 30-year access rules that were then in place. Self-funded visits to David Sunahara’s sister in Vancouver also allowed her to complete research at the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver City Archives. David and Ann worked at the “Learned Societies” events, which gave Ann the scholarly credentials to see archival material unavailable to the general public – including personal materials that cannot be accessed today under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act due to privacy concerns. The Learned Societies events are where she met Gordon Hirabayashi and other Japanese-Canadian sociologists. Gordon was on the faculty of the department where David Sunahara was studying. She was also helped by a thesis supervisor, Howard Palmer, and by Roger Daniels, an expert on the Japanese American experience, who had a sabbatical at the University of Calgary while she was doing her studies. When she completed her thesis, she realized it mainly consisted of government documents from Ottawa, and resources from the Japanese Canadian community were missing from her analysis.
She applied for, and received, a Canada Council Explorations Grant and spent six months travelling across Canada interviewing Japanese Canadians and researching archives in 1976 (and 1977). During her research, she met influential Japanese Canadians such as Thomas Shoyama, Kay Shimizu, Gordon Hirabayashi, George and Kinzie Tanaka, and other various long-time Japanese Canadian Citizens' Association members. She then worked at a variety of jobs in historical research and government before publishing The Politics of Racism in 1981. After writing her book, she went to law school for her legal education. Her book was published at the beginning of her second year in law.
In 1984, she became an articling student at the Alberta Court of Appeal and with an Edmonton law firm. By the early 1990s, she was working at Justice Canada in the Acts and Regulations division. Although she requested not to be assigned to the Gulf War emergency draft team, her supervisor asked that she provide the drafters with a copy of The Politics of Racism and National Association of Japanese Canadians materials to prepare the team for recognizing problematic laws.
Sunahara obtained the publishing rights to The Politics of Racism in the late 1980s, after Lorimer went bankrupt. After purchasing the remaining 25 copies and the publishing contract, she created a copy with an updated chapter on redress for online access. The book can be viewed at www.japanesecanadianhistory.ca. She also intended to donate copyright of the book and the website to the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre in 2016.
As Sunahara was not Japanese Canadian herself, she refrained from giving an opinion on what compensation should include during the redress campaign. However, she was active in the movement to replace the War Measures Act. In 1987, she tested the government’s proposed new act, the Emergencies Act, and produced a report from which the government adopted 65 amendments before enacting the new law. In 1988, after redress was achieved, Sunahara was employed by Justice Canada in Ottawa. There she specialized in health protection and consumer safety law. She retired in 2007.
David Sunahara completed his doctorate in sociology at the University of Alberta in 1980. He was then employed by the Law Enforcement Division of the Alberta Solicitor General as a researcher and policy analyst. In 1989, he left to become a civilian member of the RCMP. He then became a research officer at the Canadian Police College. He has published numerous articles on police ethics, strategic planning, alternate dispute resolution, and Japanese Canadian history. Throughout their marriage, David has actively supported Ann’s research and work for the NAJC.
This biographical sketch adapted its materials from a two-parts interview (June 23 and July 14, 2016) of the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens Association’s The Bulletin and the Canada-Japan Society of Ottawa’s membership biography.