12/08/2011 06:24 EST | Updated 02/07/2012 05:12 EST

Japan Prisoner Of War Apology: 'Heartfelt Apology' To Canadian Veterans

OTTAWA - Japan's apology to the Canadian veterans who suffered brutal treatment in prisoner of war camps during the Second World War is too late to be of significant meaning, veterans said Thursday.

Officials gathered in Tokyo for a ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong, a disastrous campaign in which hundreds of Canadian soldiers were killed or wounded.

Japan's parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs Toshiyuki Kato apologized for the mistreatment of those soldiers who survived the battle and spent years toiling in labour camps.

The declaration, delivered to an audience that included Canada's Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, missed the mark for one of its intended targets.

Phil Doddridge, who spent nearly four years between two prisoner of war camps, said the apology would never have come about without political pressure from Canada and doesn't have the ring of truth.

"The apology is a little bit hollow. I'm not sure how sincere it is," the 89-year-old said in a telephone interview from New Richmond, Que. "I'm sure that if they hadn't been badgered about it, they wouldn't have done it. Although I appreciate all the work that's gone into this, I've been able to get along without it for 70 years. I could have done without it."

A spokesman for Veterans Affairs Canada said efforts to seek an apology from Japan had been under way for some time, but did not provide further details.

Doddridge said the apology would have been more meaningful in the years after the war when veterans were still healing from the physical and psychological abuse they suffered.

"If it had come in 1947 . . . or even in 1952 when the Canadian government absolved the Japanese of any financial responsibility, that would have been OK then," he said.

Claire Hachey, whose father survived labour camps, agreed the apology was too long in coming. Dean Hachey lived 33 years after returning from Hong Kong and would have had to survive 33 more to hear the Japanese government take responsibility, she said.

Still, she said she believes he would have joined the rest of his family in welcoming the apology and forgiving the past, she said.

"I don't think that we can hold the people today accountable for what happened 70 years ago," she said. "A lot of them are not even taught what happened 70 years ago, probably because of shame. . . . I do not feel anything bad towards the Japanese."

Blaney characterized the apology as an attempt to move forward in the present without ignoring the atrocities of the past.

"This important gesture is a crucial step in ongoing reconciliation and a significant milestone in the lives of all prisoners of war," he said in a statement. "It acknowledges their suffering while honouring their sacrifices and courage."

Some 1,975 Canadian troops were hastily sent to reinforce Allied troops defending Hong Kong, a British colony on China