Injustices suffered as a result of these policies fuelled a redress movement in the 1980s which coincided with a similar movement in the United States. These efforts, while not uniformly supported by the older Nikkei community, challenged Canada to consider and affirm the depth of its oft-stated commitment to a multicultural society. In 1988, 111 years after the first Japanese entered Canada; Prime Minister Brian Mulroney formally apologized to Japanese Canadians and authorized the provision of $21,000 (Cdn.) to each of the survivors of wartime detention.
Roy Ito, We Went to War. The Story of Japanese Canadians Who Served During the First and Second World Wars. 1984.
“The deep rooted fear and hatred of the Japanese that went back for half a century had climaxed in a manner that was perhaps inevitable. The animosity had been nurtured by many men, twisting facts and playing upon racial prejudice until the people of British Columbia perceived the distortions as the truth.”
Angus MacInnes, Member of Parliament from British Columbia, 1943.
“I see no reason why we should deal with the population of Japanese origin among us any differently from the way in which we deal with those of German and Italian extraction. If we deal with them differently – and we have done so – we do it an account of racial prejudice.”
Prime Minister Mackenzie King, House of Commons, 1944.
“The sound policy and the best policy for the Japanese Canadians themselves is to distribute widely as possible throughout the country where they will not create feelings of racial hostility.”
Kitagawa, Muriel. Letter to the Custodian of Enemy Property, 1943
“You, who deal in lifeless figures, files, and statistics, could never measure the depth of hurt and outrage dealt out to those of us who love this land. It is because we are Canadians that we protest the violation of our birthright.”
Kogawa, Joy. Naomi’s Road, 1986
“Every morning I wake up in a narrow bunk bed by the stove. I wish and wish we could go home. I don’t want to be in this house of the bears with newspaper walls. I want to be with Mommy and Daddy and my doll in our real house. I want to be in my own room where the picture bird sings above my head….But no matter how hard I wish, we don’t go home.”
Thomas Reid, Member of Parliament for New Westminster, January 15, 1942
“Take them back to Japan. They do not belong here, and here, and there is only one solution to the problem. They cannot be assimilated as Canadians for no matter how long the Japanese remain in Canada they will always be Japanese.”
Takashima, Shizuye. A Child in a Prison Camp, 1971
“I have to pay taxes, but have never been allowed to vote. Even now, they took our land, our houses, our children, everything. We are their enemies.”
Japanese Canadian Centennial Project, 1978.
“Let us break this self-damaging silence and own our own history. If we do not, estrangement from our past will be absorbed and driven deeper, surfacing as a fragmentation in ourselves and coming generations.”
- Prior to World War II, 22,096 Japanese Canadians lived in British Columbia; three quarters of them were naturalized or native born Canadians. During the war, 21,460 were forcibly removed from their homes; families were broken up and sent to internment camps. After the war, 3,964 were deported to Japan; one third of them were Canadian citizens.
- In 1950, the Bird Commission’s report resulted in an offer of $ 1.2 million compensation to Japanese Canadians. A 1987 Price Waterhouse study estimated real property loss at $ 50 million, total economic loss at $ 443 million.
- The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian military advisers did not consider the Japanese Canadian community on the West Coast as a threat to domestic security.
- The Japanese in Canada were treated harsher than the Japanese in the United States.
- In the U.S., families were interned together. In Canada, initially, families were separated.
- In the U.S., constitutional protections forbade the sale of property. In Canada, the government seized and sold land and personal property. In the U.S., housing and food were provided. In Canada, internees paid for food, clothes and basic improvements in housing from savings and proceeds of property sales.
- In the U.S., the government moved quickly in 1944-45 to rescind exclusion orders and to allow the return of citizens to the West Coast. In Canada, Japanese Canadians were forced to decide on deportation to Japan or relocation to parts east of the Rockies.
- The 10 internment camps, 3 road camps, 2 prisoner of war camps, and 5 self-supporting camps were scattered throughout Canada. During the war years, Japanese Canadians were regarded as possible threats to Canada’s domestic security. Their actions were monitored; their rights suspended. Yet no hearings or trials were ever held and no charges of treason were ever laid
B.C. Elections Act
1897 British Columbia denies the franchise to citizens of “Asiatic” origin.
Hayashi-Lemieux “Gentleman’s Agreement”
1908 Japan agrees to restrict the number of passports issued to male labourers and domestic servants to a maximum of 400 a year.
1923 The number of passports is restricted to Japanese male immigrants to 150 a year
1928 Wives and children are now included in the 150 a year quota.
March 1941. Required registration and fingerprinting of all Japanese Canadians over the age of 16.
January 1941. Required all male Japanese Canadian nationals between the ages of 18-45 to be removed from the protected land – 100 miles inland
February 1941. Required removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from protected area
January 1943. Authorized the Custodian of Enemy Property to sell property of Japanese Canadians that was being held in trust
February 1943. Required that Japanese Canadians had to apply for a license to purchase property
April 1943. Ordered the deportation of Japanese Canadians to Japan or their removal to eastern Canada
On January 19, 1943, in a further betrayal, an order in council liquidated all the Japanese property which had been under “protective custody.” Before they were interned Japanese Canadians had their property, businesses, and cars confiscated and sold by the Canadian government. The “Custodian of Aliens” allowed for the government to liquidate the possessions of those being interned.Prime Minister King issued a ruling that all property would be removed from Japanese Canadian inhabitants. They were made to believe that their property would be held in trust until they had resettled elsewhere in Canada.The Custodian of Aliens held auctions for these items, ranging from farm land, homes and clothing. Japanese Canadians lost their fishing boats, bank deposits, stocks and bonds; basically all items that provided them with financial security.
On March 4, 1942 22,000 Japanese men were given 24 hours to pack before they were to be imprisoned. Sent off to do labour on road crews or beet farms the men were separated from their families in the initial time period of the internment of the Nikkei Kanadajin. The internment camps contained very poor living conditions. Quite often, several families were forced to live in the same shack, which consisted of panal boards with no insulation, rickety walls, and if lucky, a stove. Many Japanese resorted to putting latterns under their beds during the winters to keep warm.699 of the 945 men working the road crews complained about being separated from their families and others broke curfew hours. They were sent to POW camps at Angler and Petawaw in Ontario.
Women and children were moved to six inland B.C. towns; Greenwood, Sandon, Kaslo, New Denver, Rosebery, Slocan City, Bay Farm, Popoff, Lemon Creek, and Tashme created to relocate the populace. The conditions were so poor that even the citizens of war torn Japan sent provisions for the detainees. In the latter years of the war they petitioned the Royal Commission for better housing and more stoves. After the petition they were allowed to grow vegetable gardens, dig basements and create extra rooms in the small houses they were living in.
After struggling to obtain the right to teach the children the Lemon Creek camp was given permission to school them until grade 10.
“Self-supporting” camps were established in Lillooet, Bridge River, Minto City, McGillivray Falls, and Christina Lake. At these camps men paid to be allowed to farm the land and live in a less restrictive area.
Story from Hideo Kukubo tells what life was like during the war:
“I was in that camp for four years. When it got cold the temperature went down to as much as 60 below. The buildings stood on flat land beside a lake. We lived in huts with no insulation. Even if we had the stove burning the inside of the windows would all be frosted up and white, really white. I had to lie in bed with everything on that I had… at one time there were 720 people there, all men, and a lot of them were old men.”
On December 7, 1941 came the stunning news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. On December 25 the Japanese forced the surrender of the British garrison at Hong Kong, including two battalions of Canadians. With these shocking events, the fears of a Japanese invasion, fanned by sensationalist press, spread along the Pacific Coast. The RCMP arrested suspected Japanese operatives, impounded 1200 fishing boats and shut down Japanese newspapers and schools.
Western Canadians believed Japanese-Canadians were a threat to the country, so the people of B.C. requested that Prime Minister Mackenzie King abolish everyone of Japanese origin. Mackenzie King was more then willing to abide by the peoples demand, seeing he wanted the votes from British Columbia. Before the Second World War, 22 096 Japanese Canadians had lived in B.C. By October of 1942, 22 000 Japanese individuals had been taken to their homes and shipped to old logging camps throughout the interior of the province. These camps soon became known as internment camps.