Japan apologized Thursday for the mistreatment of Canadian prisoners of war after the Battle of Hong Kong in World War II. It came on the 70th anniversary of Japan's invasion of Hong Kong in 1941.
Canadian Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney said Toshiyuki Kato, Japan's parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs, apologized in Tokyo to Canadian veterans in a private meeting.
"This important gesture is a crucial step in ongoing reconciliation and a significant milestone in the lives of all prisoners of war. It acknowledges their suffering while honoring their sacrifices and courage," Blaney said in a statement.
Blaney led the delegation of Canadian veterans to Japan for the apology and a commemorative ceremony. The group also visited the graves of Canadian soldiers at the British Commonwealth Cemetery in Yokohama.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement that the apology would help in healing the "terrible pain and heavy burden of the Second World War." Baird said it would allow both countries to move forward.
About 1,975 Canadian troops were sent to reinforce Allied troops defending Hong Kong, a British colony at the time, as Japanese forces massed near the border in 1941.
The Battle of Hong Kong began Dec. 8, 1941, and lasted until Christmas Day. The Allies surrendered after almost 18 days of brutal fighting during which 290 Canadians were killed and 493 wounded.
Those who survived were held prisoner in Hong Kong and Japan until Japan's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945. Aside from the battle casualties, an additional 267 captured men died in prison camps where they were subjected to what Canada calls "deliberate and systematic mistreatment at the hands of their captors."
According to the news release from Veteran Affairs Canada, the Canadian prisoners of war were "forced into backbreaking labor in construction sites, mines, shipyards and foundries, and were frequently beaten and starved."
Many of the POWs who survived and returned to Canada suffered serious disabilities as a result of their experiences in Hong Kong, and many died prematurely, said the statement.