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A Canadian First: Judge Maryka Omatsu wins prestigious Senator Daniel K. Inouye NAPABA Trailblazer Award presented by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

On November 8, 2013 Judge Maryka Omatsu became the first Canadian to receive the prestigious Senator Daniel K. Inouye NAPABA Trailblazer Award presented by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) at its annual convention in Kansas City, Missouri. NAPABA represents over 40,000 Asian lawyers and judges in the U.S. and 800 Asian lawyers, judges and students in Canada, through the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL). NAPABA has been at the forefront of civil rights reform and, as a member of the Coalition of Bar Associations of Color, of combating racism.

Judge Omatsu became Canada’s first woman of East Asian origin appointed to the bench when she was appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice in 1993. Prior to her appointment, Judge Omatsu practised criminal, environmental and human rights law, defended Aboriginal rights, and served as Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Appeals Tribunal.

NAPABA honoured Judge Omatsu for being Canada’s first East Asian woman judge and for her role in the negotiation of the 1988 Japanese Canadian Redress settlement for the WWII internment, property confiscation and denial of that community’s human rights. The $400 Million dollar award brokered by the National Association of Japanese Canadians was the largest human rights award in Canadian history and continues to serve as a model for government reconciliation around the world. Her book, Bittersweet Passage: Redress and the Japanese Canadian Experience won the Prime Minister’s Award for the Best Manuscript to be Translated and the Laura Jamieson Award for Best Feminist Book by a Canadian Author Which Advances Knowledge and/or Understanding of Women’s experience.  Bittersweet Passage was translated and published in Japan. Judge Omatsu was a founder of FACL in Ontario in 2007 and BC in 2010.

After sitting for 20 years in Toronto, Judge Omatsu took early retirement and currently sits on a part time basis. She divides her time between Vancouver and Toronto.

The Award

The highest honour presented by NAPABA, formerly referred to as the NAPABA Trailblazer Award, this year it was announced that the award would be re-named to commemorate the achievements of U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye (1924-2012).

With a distinguished tenure of 49 years in the United States Senate, Senator Inouye was the second longest serving Senator in history, and, as third in line to the U.S. Presidency from 2010-2012, Senator Inouye was also the highest ranking public official of Asian descent in United States history.

As a member of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Senator Inouye lost his right arm in action during the Second World War and received the highest award for military valour in the United States, the Medal of Honor.

For his work in the Senate, Senator Inouye was widely respected for his commitment to bipartisan initiatives to enact meaningful legislation and for his commitment to the championing of peace, justice and equality issues.

Senator Inouye is said to have inspired confidence in all who knew him with his encouragement for all to pursue their dreams with a healthy dose of optimism for the future.