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The Internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII


Derek Graves


    The point of this essay is to show you, the reader, that the acts against Japanese Canadians by the Canadian government were racist. When looking at what took place, one has to wonder if immigrants were always welcomed with open arms.

    The ordeal began on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Canadian government ordered that West Coast fishing boats that were being operated by Japanese Canadians were to be impounded. A dawn-to-dusk curfew was also put in place on "every person of the Japanese race." (Enomoto, 1262)

    On January 14, 1942, the government ordered the incarceration of all male nationals between the ages of 18 and 45. Some 1,3000 men were transported to road camps in Rainbow, Lucern, Jasper and Yellowhead on February 23. Two days later, on the 25, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King announced that all Japanese Canadians would be forcibly removed in order "to safeguard the defenses of the Pacific Coast of Canada." Without the benefit of an investigation or trial, the entire Japanese Canadian community in British Columbia was presumed to pose a serious threat to the security of Canada. (Berger, 108)

    Suddenly, for this select, visible minority, Canada became a police state. RCMP officers entered homes without warrants, day and night, giving families only hours to collect a few belonging before departure to parts unknown. Families from coastal villages and settlements were herded into the livestock buildings in Vancouver's Hastings Park and housed in animal pens for months, awaiting shipment to detention camps in the interior of British Columbia. By October 1942, a total of 11,694 Japanese Canadians had been removed from the West Coast and places in detention camps in the interior of British Columbia, at places like Kaslo, New Denver, Roseberry, Slocan City, Lemon Creek, Sandon, Greenwood and Tashme. Tashme was named after three members of the British Columbia Security Commission: TAlor, SHirras and MEad. A further 4,000 people had been sent out of British Columbia altogether to fill labor shortages in the sugar-beet fields of Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. (Enomoto, 1263)

    Once Japanese Canadians had been removed from their communities on the West Coast, the Custodian of Enemy Property, the people who were solemnly charged with holding home, businesses and belongings in trust, proceeded to sell them without their owner's consent. Houses, furnishings and family heirlooms were auctioned off to the general public at firesale prices.

    In the Fraser Valley alone, 5,260 hectares of the finest agricultural land in British Columbia was confiscated and held for distribution to returning war veterans. This, despite the fact that many of the farms belonged to Japanese Canadian veterans who had fought in the Canadian army during the First World War. Japanese Canadians, unlike prisoners of war or enemy nationalist under the Geneva Convention, were forced to pay for their own internment. At the same time all this was taking place, a small group of Japanese Canadian soldiers who had succeeded in the enlisting of the Canadian army prior to the outbreak of the Pacific War, were engaged in combat, fighting abroad for the very same principles of liberty and justice that were being violated at their homes in Canada.

    In April 1945, RCMP and the Department of Labor offices interviewed families in the detention camps and presented them with an ultimatum: Leave British Columbia and disperse across Canada, or accept banishment to Japan. Deportation to Japan was called "repatriation" by the government. This term was misused by many because the place of birth for most of the Japanese persons was not Japan but Canada. Some 4,000 people were banished to Japan before public outcry put an end to the deportation orders (The newly formed United Nations had declared that the act of deporting citizens was a war crime).

    The Canadian government's action in expelling Japanese Canadians stood in market contrast with the policy of the United States government. Between 1942 and 1944, 35,000 Japanese Americans had been allowed to leave American detention camps, and as of January 2, 1945, all Japanese Americans were free to return to their homes on the Pacific Coast, homes which had not been sold of in their absence. This plays a part in why many think that the action against the Japanese citizens was based on racism and not for the good of Canadian security. The Canadian government may have put them in detention camps, just like the Americans did, but they went a step further and sold most, if not everything they owned. (Broadfoot, 101-102)

    Japanese Canadians had never been allowed to vote in British Columbia. In 1944, Parliament passed a special order to make sure that those Japanese Canadians that were expelled from British Columbia would continue to be denied the right to vote elsewhere in Canada. There were restrictions on travel, even after the war was over. In October 1945, Yoshiji Takahashi, of New Denver, was sentenced of the "crime" of returning home to reclaim his farm and home. Along with these other restrictions the Japanese were required to carry registration cards bearing a serial number, thumbprint and photograph until January 23, 1947.

    The orders allowing the government to banish 10,000 Canadians of Japanese ethnic origin to Japan were not revoked until January 27, 1947. It was not until April 1, 1949, four years after the war had ended, that Japanese Canadians were granted the vote and the right to return to the West Coast of Canada. (Ward, 106-108)

    Many people feel that this whole ordeal was based on racism and not for the security of Canada. The Japanese Canadians did nothing wrong and sure as hell did not deserve what they had done to them by the government. Why did we not do anything to people living in Canada that were of German descent? Is it because they were white? Many people are convinced that without a doubt, this whole ordeal was bases on racism towards the Japanese.



Berger, Thomas. Fragile Freedoms. Toronto, Ontario, 1982

Broadfoot, Barry. Years of Sorrow, Years of Pain. Toronto, Ontario, 1977

Bumstead, J.M. Documentary Problems in Canadian History: Post Confederation.

Georgetown, Ontario, 1969.

Ito, Roy. The Japanese Canadians. Toronto, Ontario, 1978

Ward, W. Peter. The Japanese in Canada. Toronto, Ontario, 1982

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