Japanese Canadian internment: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Japanese Canadian internment refers to the confinement of Japanese Canadians in British Columbia during World War II. The internment began in December 1941, following the attack by the Japanese air force on the American base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and was justified by the leaders of the push for internment on grounds of national security. Their property was confiscated and the people were transported to camps in various locations in the interior of the province, often with substandard conditions, causing great hardship.

Following the war, and the defeat of Japan, internees were given the choice of deportation or transfer to other parts of Canada. Public protests eventually caused the repeal of the legislation and a Royal Commission was appointed in 1947 to examine the confiscation of property. Historical proof revealed that the Japanese Canadians had never been a threat to national security. In 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gave a formal apology and announced the details of compensation to the affected citizens.


Pre-war conditions

Prior to World War II, there were about 21,039 Canadians of Japanese ancestry in British Columbia, of whom 75% were Canadian citizens. While immigration from Japan to Canada had begun at the end of the 19th century the Japanese were unwelcome and were subject to racism and discrimination. They were denied the right to vote and laws barred them from various professions. Their eligibility for social assistance and permits for forestry and fishing were restricted. The intent was to force them to return to Japan.[1] The Anti-Asiatic League, formed in Canada in 1907, was the source of much of the animosity toward Japanese Canadians.[2] The League included rich white business owners, who used their influence to limit the number of passports given to male Japanese immigrants. This was meant to limit the number of Japanese workers in British Columbia, who by 1919 owned almost half the fisheries in the province. Japanese immigrants were seen as competitors for posts within the sectors of agriculture and fishing. The Anti-Asiatic League sought to restrict fishing licenses to white residents.[2] This legislation was abandoned in 1925, due to strong discontent in the Japanese Canadian community. The government, however, continued to regulate the number of passports given to Japanese immigrants, in order to limit them from the working sectors of British Columbia.

Internment camps

The December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor spurred prominent British Columbians, including members of municipal government, local newspapers, and businesses to call for the internment of the ethnic Japanese living in Canada under the Defence of Canada Regulations. In British Columbia, there were fears that some Japanese who worked in the fishing industry were charting the coastline for the Japanese navy, acting as spies on Canada's military. British Columbia also borders the Pacific Ocean and therefore believed to be easily susceptible to enemy attacks from Japan. 22,000 Japanese Canadians (14,000 of whom were born in Canada) were interned in the 1940s for political expediency. Prime Minister Mackenzie King decided to intern Japanese Canadian citizens based on speculative evidence, because both the RCMP and defense department lacked proof of any sabotage or espionage.[3]

On February 24, 1942 an Order-in-Council passed under the War Measures Act gave the Federal Government the power to intern all "persons of Japanese racial origin."[4] A "protected" 100-mile (160 km) wide strip up the Pacific coast was created, and men of Japanese origin between the ages of 18 and 45 were removed and taken to road camps in the British Columbian interior or sugar beet projects on the Prairies. Despite the 100-mile quarantine, a few Japanese Canadian men remained in McGillivray Falls, which was just outside the quarantine zone, however they were employed at a logging operation Devine, near British Columbia, which was in fact inside the quarantine zone. Japanese Canadians interned in Lillooet Country found employment within farms, stores, and the railway.[5] Tashme, on Highway 3 just east of Hope, was notorious for the camp's harsh conditions and existed just outside the interned area. Other internment camps, including Slocan, were in the Kootenay Country in southeastern British Columbia.[6] Leadership positions within the camps were only offered to the Nisei, or Canadian-born citizens of Japanese origin, however excluding the Issei, the older generation born in Japan.

The Dominion Government also deported able-bodied Japanese Canadian labourers to camps near fields and orchards, such as the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. The Japanese Canadian labourers were used as a solution to a shortage of farm workers.[7] This obliterated any Japanese competition in the fishing sector. During the 1940s, the Canadian government created policies to direct Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans into farming, and other sectors of the economy that “other groups were abandoning for more lucrative employment elsewhere”.[8] Citizens of Italian and German origin did not experience the same unfair treatment and were not forced into confinement within internment camps.[citation needed]


Camp conditions

Internment camp, June 1945
A road crew of interned men building the Yellowhead Highway.

Many Canadian citizens were unaware of the deplorable living conditions within the internment camps. The Japanese Canadians, who resided within the camp at Hastings Park, were placed in stables and barnyards, where they lived without privacy in an unsanitary environment.[9] Kimiko, a former internee, attested to the “intense cold during the winter” and her only source of heat was from a “pot-bellied stove” within the stable.[10] General conditions were poor enough that the Red Cross transferred fundamental food shipments from civilians affected by the war to the internees.[11]

In early March, all ethnic Japanese people were ordered out of the protected area, and a daytime-only curfew was imposed on them. Various camps in the Lillooet area and in Christina Lake were formally "self-supporting projects" (also called "relocation centres") which housed selected middle and upper class families and others not deemed as much a threat to public safety.[5][12][13]

Restriction of property rights

Those living in "relocation camps" were not legally interned - they could leave, so long as they had permission - however, they were not legally allowed to work or attend school outside the camps.[14] Since the majority of Japanese Canadians had little property aside from their (confiscated) houses, these restrictions left most with no opportunity to survive outside the camps.[14]

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.[15] In 1943, the Canadian "Custodian of Aliens" liquidated all possessions belonging to the 'enemy aliens'. 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.[16] Japanese Canadians protested that their property was sold at prices way under the fair market value at the time.[17] Prime Minister King responded to the objections by stating that the “Government is of the opinion that the sales were made at a fair price.”[18]

As one contemporary points out, there was economic benefits to be made with the internment of the Japanese. More precisely, white fishermen directly benefited due to the impounding of all Japanese owned fishing boats. Fishing for salmon was a hotly contested issue between the white population and Japanese population. In 1919, the Japanese had received four thousand and six hundred of the salmon-gill net licenses, representing roughly half of all of the licenses the government had to distribute. In a very public move on behalf of the Department of Fisheries in British Columbia, it was recommended that in the future the Japanese never again receive more fishing licenses than they had in 1919 and also that every year thereafter that number be reduced. These were measurements taken on behalf of the provincial government to oust the Japanese from salmon fishing, as we will see the federal government also got involved. In 1926 The House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Fisheries put forward suggestions that the number of fishing licenses issued to the Japanese be systemically reduced by ten percent a year, until they were entirely removed from the industry by 1937. The fact that any Japanese people were still fishing in British Columbia at the outset of WWII, is amazing due to the pressure they faced from the province, country, and other fishermen. Yet the reason the government gave for impounding the few remaining and operating Japanese fishing boats was that the government feared these boats would be used by Japan to mount a horrific coastal attack on British Columbia.

Many boats belonging to Japanese Canadians were damaged, and over one hundred sank.[14] A few property owned by Japanese Canadians in Richmond and Vancouver were vandalized, including the Steveston Buddhist Temple.

A Royal Canadian Navy officer questions Japanese-Canadian fishermen while confiscating their boat.

Confinement in the internment camps transformed the citizenship of many Japanese Canadians into an empty status and revoked their right to work in any occupation they chose.

Japanese Canadians serving in the war

Some of the interned citizens had been combat veterans of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, including several men who had been decorated for bravery during the fighting on the Western Front in the First World War. Small numbers of military age Japanese-Canadians were permitted to serve in the Canadian Army in the Second World War, as interpreters and in signal/intelligence units.

Canadians of “Oriental racial origin” were not called upon to perform compulsory military service.[19] Japanese Canadian men such Harold Hirose, however, chose to serve the Canadian army during the war, to prove their allegiance to Canada.[20] However, various Japanese Canadian men would be discharged from the war only to discover that they were unable to return to the coast of British Columbia or have their rights of Canadian citizenship reinstated.[21]

Resettlement and repatriation

"It is the government’s plan to get these people out of B.C. as fast as possible. It is my personal intention, as long as I remain in public life, to see they never come back here. Let our slogan be for British Columbia: ‘No Japs from the Rockies to the seas.'"

Ian Mackenzie, MP[22]

In April 1945, the end of the war was plausible and an official movement to remove Japanese Canadians from British Columbia commenced. Japanese Canadians were given the choice to move east to Ontario or be repatriated to Japan. Many chose to move east to the city of Toronto where they could take part in agricultural work. By 1947, most Japanese Canadians have moved from British Columbia to the Toronto area. Interned Japanese Canadians such as Mr. Nabeta, who was a school teacher back in British Columbia , would become a farm hand in Toronto.[23] Several Japanese Canadians who resettled in the east, wrote letters back to those still in British Columbia about the harsh labour conditions in the fields of Ontario and the prejudiced attitudes they would encounter.[24] White-collar jobs were not open to them and most Japanese Canadians were reduced to “wage-earners”.[24]

Repatriation began in May 1946 and 3, 964 Japanese Canadians were deported back to Japan.[25] The government was willing to offer free passage to those who were willing to be deported to Japan.[18] Thousands of Japanese Canadians (born in Canada) were being sent to a country they had never known and where they would still feel quite alienated. Family members would be divided. They were being deported to a country that had been destroyed by bombs and was now hunger-stricken due to the war."[26][27]


Following public protest, the order-in-council that authorized the forced deportation was challenged on the basis that the forced deportation of the Japanese was a crime against humanity and that a citizen could not be deported from their own country. In a five to two decision, the Court held that the law was valid. Three of the five found that the order was entirely valid. The other two found that the provision including both women and children as threats to national security was invalid. In 1947, due to various protests among politicians and academics, the Federal Cabinet revoked the legislation to repatriate the remaining Japanese Canadians to Japan.[28] It was only in April 1949 that the all restrictions were lifted from Japanese Canadians.

The Canadian government also launched a Royal Commission (led by Justice Henry Bird) in 1947 to examine the issue of compensation for confiscated property. By 1950, the Bird Commission awarded $1.3 million in claims to 1,434 Japanese Canadians; however, it accepted only claims based on loss of property, refusing to compensate for wrong-doing in terms of civil rights, damages due to loss of earnings, disruption of education or other issues.[14]

In the 1970s the government allowed public access to government files. It became possible for the public to review the government's wartime actions. In her research "The Politics of Racism", historian Ann Sunahara revealed what many in the Japanese Canadian community had felt all along - the Japanese in Canada were never a threat to national security. This fact was confirmed by military and RCMP documents. The government's wartime actions were spurred by the anti-Asian and racist sentiments of that time. The war provided the government with the opportunity to use political means to respond to the Japanese "problem".[29]


In the post-war years, Japanese Canadians had organized the Japanese Canadian Committee for Democracy, which later became the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC). In 1983, the NAJC mounted a major campaign for redress which demanded, among other things, a formal government apology, individual compensation, and the abolition of the War Measures Act.[14]

"Born in Canada, brought up on big-band jazz, Fred Astaire and the novels of Henry Rider Haggard, I had perceived myself to be as Canadian as the beaver. I hated rice. I had committed no crime. I was never charged, tried or convicted of anything. Yet I was fingerprinted and interned."

Ken Adachi[30]

To help their case, the NAJC hired Price Waterhouse to examine records to estimate the economic losses to Japanese Canadians resulting from property confiscations and loss of wages due to internment. Statisticians consulted the detailed records of Custodian of Aliens, and in their 1986, valued the total loss to Japanese Canadians totalled $443 million (in 1986 dollars).[14]

On September 22, 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gave a formal apology and the Canadian government announced a compensation package, one month after President Ronald Reagan made similar gestures in the United States. The package for interned Japanese Canadians included $21,000 to all surviving internees, and the re-instatement of Canadian citizenship to those who were deported to Japan.[31] The agreement also awarded $12 million to the NAJC to promote human rights and support the community, and $24 million for the establishment of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation to push for the elimination of racism. Nothing was given for those that had been interred and died before compensation was given out.

The Nikkei Memorial Internment Centre in New Denver, British Columbia, is an interpretive centre that honors the history of interned Japanese Canadians, many of whom were interned nearby.

Camp locations



  1. ^ "The Internment of the Japanese during World War II." Peace and Conflict. Historica. Retrieved on: 2009-09-28.
  2. ^ a b James, Kevin. (2008) Seeking specificity in the universal: A memorial for the Japanese Canadians interned during the Second World War. Dalhousie University, 20-21.
  3. ^ Maryka Omatsu, Bittersweet Passage and the Japanese Canadian Experience (Toronto: Between the Lines, 1992), 12.
  4. ^ Wild Daisies in the Sand: Life in a Canadian Internment Camp, Tsuneharu Gonnami, Pacific Affairs, Winter 2003/2004.
  5. ^ a b My Sixty Years in Canada, Dr. Masajiro Miyazaki, self-publ.
  6. ^ The Dewdney Trail, 1987, Heritage House Publishing Company Ltd.
  7. ^ “Propose Japs Work in Orchards of B.C,” Globe and Mail (Toronto: January 16, 1942)
  8. ^ Carmela Patrias, “Race, Employment Discrimination, and State Complicity in Wartime Canada, 1939-1945,” Labour no. 59 (April 1, 2007), 32.
  9. ^ Kevin James, Seeking specificity in the universal, 22.
  10. ^ Maryka Omatsu, Bittersweet Passage, 73-74.
  11. ^ Japanese Canadian Internment, University of Washington Libraries
  12. ^ Explanation of different categories of internment, Nat'l Assn. of Japanese Canadians website
  13. ^ Map of Internment Centres in BC, Nat'l Assn. of Japanese Canadians website
  14. ^ a b c d e f Establishing Recognition of Past Injustices: Uses of Archival Records in Documenting the Experience of Japanese Canadians During the Second World War. Roberts-Moore, Judith. Archivaria: The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists, 53 (2002).
  15. ^ Maryka Omatsu, Bittersweet Passage, 73
  16. ^ Forrest E. LaViolette, “Japanese Evacuation in Canada,” Far Eastern Survey, Vol. 11, No. 15 (Institute of Pacific Relations, 1942),165.
  17. ^ “Jap Expropriation Hearing May Last 3 Years, Is Estimate,” Globe and Mail (Toronto: January 12, 1948)
  18. ^ a b “Retreat Under Pressure,” Globe and Mail (Toronto: January 27, 1947)
  19. ^ “Will Register B.C Japanese to Eliminate Illegal Entrants,” Globe and Mail (Toronto: January 9, 1941)
  20. ^ Maryka Omatsu, Bittersweet Passage, 77.
  21. ^ Maryka Omatsu, Bittersweet Passage, 78.
  22. ^ Japanese Internment - CBC
  23. ^ Uprooted Citizens Living New Lives, Seem Contented in Toronto Area,” Globe and Mail (Toronto: September 20, 1947)
  24. ^ a b Carmela Patrias, “Race, Employment Discrimination, and State Complicity in Wartime Canada,” 36.
  25. ^ Kevin James, Seeking specificity in the universal, 23.
  26. ^ Maryka Omatsu, Bittersweet Passage, 83.
  27. ^ Maryka Omatsu, Bittersweet Passage, 82
  28. ^ Kevin James, Seeking specificity in the universal, 24.
  29. ^ http://www.japanesecanadianhistory.ca/ The Politics of Racism by Ann Sunahara
  30. ^ Toronto Star, Sept. 24, 1988
  31. ^ Apology and compensation, CBC Archives

External links

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