A Look Into Canada’s Dark History of The Japanese Internment

By Alicia Dawn Peterpaul

Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, in 1941, during World War Two, the measures that were taken upon all Japanese living in Canada and America following the attack on Pearl Harbor, were to say the least – inhumane. To hold an entire race accountable for a bombing is both xenophobic and racist. (Bangarth, 2008) The actions taken upon these individuals would not comply today under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but is a prime example of how power can be misused during times of emergency. Japanese Canadians were taken out of their homes and forced into cheap labor work or internment camps. The internment camps had horrible living conditions and all that they could bring with them was the things they could carry in their hands, meaning much property being ceased as enemy territory. Unfortunately, the battle that the Japanese Canadians faced during WWII did not end when the war ended. They experienced hardships for decades after the war. I outline in my essay just a handful of those hardships ultimately arguing that racial prejudice exists right here at home in Canada, and that measures taken by authority during the time of emergencies can write an ugly history. The Japanese internment is a prime example of just how shameful Canada’s dark history has been.
After the Pearl Harbor bombing by Japan, in Hawaii, in 1941, the authorities decided that it was best to imprison thousands of Japanese Canadians who could pose as threats to Canadian security. In 1942, The British Columbia Security Commission was created to supervise the Japanese who were considered displaced persons. Under the BCSC in cooperation with the RCMP and the Department of Labor all the Japanese race in British Columbia (where most of the Japanese resided) were detained. Some of the Japanese were notified months prior to the evacuation, whereas others were removed from their homes by the RCMP in the middle of the night. (Bangarth, 2008) Their property was taken from them and sold for next to nothing, everything from their houses, vehicles and small businesses. The Japanese left their homes, and all that they took with them was what they could carry in their hands. The Japanese-Canadians cooperated without a fight in an effort to express their patriotism towards Canada – as many identified as solely Canadian citizens. (Bangarth, 2008) About 12,000 Japanese-Canadians (women, elders and children) were placed in camps that were essentially, deserted towns. The men, however, who were able to work and were healthy were sent away to perform a variety of different jobs, ranging from farm laborers to construction laborers. Many of which were separated from their families while they worked for cheap labor, sending back whatever they made to help in the relocation process. I families wished to stay together they were sent off together to works on farms. (Bangarth, 2008) The camps were essentially shacks, that were crowded and jam-packed with almost no privacy at all. Despite the severe and bitter weather, it was nearly impossible to obtain proper health care. On top of everything the Japanese-Canadians were also forced to pay for their own imprisonment. (Wood, 2012)
When it was time to consider resettlement plans for the Japanese, in Canada they were given two options: To resettle in Canada, or to repatriate to Japan. Most of the Japanese-Canadians who were given the option lived in the internment camps, so undoubtedly chose to repatriate to Japan. However, in 1945 Japan surrendered in the war, leaving many Japanese-Canadians with the will to stay in Canada, rather than return to war-exhausted Japan. The Japanese in Canada decided they wished to cancel their requests for repatriation, however, Canada only would recognize the requests that were cancelled before Japan surrendered. (Bangarth, 2008)
The war was over but many Japanese were still being treated in an unfair manner in Canada, and the human rights violations were substantial. The Japanese who remained in Canada for the most part, were not allowed to join the military, which would have been a great way for them to express their loyalty and patriotism to Canada. They were also deprived the right to vote in Canada. Later in 1945, bills 7355, 7356 and 7357 were passed which decided that the Japanese-Canadians who requested repatriation to Japan would be deported along with their wives and children. (Bangarth, 2008) It was also illegal for Japanese to own land in Canada without special licensing. They were also denied the right to travel or live where they wished to in Canada. (Bangarth, 2008) The Japanese Canadians would spend years after the war fighting to stay in Canada as normal Canadian citizens and for their right to vote, which was eventually granted. However, the humiliation they faced would always remain with them, and the property that they lost would never again be theirs. Japanese Canadians were left in fear for years and years to come, too afraid to speak about what they had endured, afraid of their own government. The Japanese would have to work for years to come to get back only some of what they had lost as “enemy territory” in the time of the internment. (Wood, 2012)
Many Japanese students were forced to abandon their university educations, while they were forced to leave their homes. It has also been difficult for Japanese-Canadians to preserve the memory of their experience in the province of British Columbia without it being tied to hardship. Another factor still in effect is how they will never get truly make “Powell Street” in Vancouver B.C. what it was before WWII. It was home to the most populated area for the Japanese, which should be to this day, a place of diversity that makes Canada what it is today. (Wood, 2012) Nakano was just one of the thousands of Japanese Canadians who was separated from his family during WWII, time with his family that he never truly gets back. Not to mention, the emotional impact that the internment had on its prisoners, the shame they felt will undoubtedly, stay with them and have effect on future generations. (Sims, 1983)
We may be on the path to a better reconciliation with the Japanese Canadians, as Brian Mulroney officially apologized and they were given compensation. A museum displaying this part dark part of our Canadian history has also been built in recent years, and many Japanese were honored at one of the formerly Japanese populated universities they were forced to drop out of. Since most Japanese lived in British Columbia at the time of internment, this part of our Canadian history was rightfully distilled into British Columbia’s high school curriculum. However, all these accomplishments were not reached without a long and hard fight on behalf of the Japanese-Canadians, and many of these accomplishments are very recent after years and years of fighting for some type of reconciliation. It’s an absolute shame that it took Canada so long to acknowledge the wrong done upon the Japanese-Canadians. The damage and fear left distilled in the Japanese of Canada is something that won’t be undone and will stay with the Japanese for generations to come. (Wood, 2012)
Measures taken upon the Japanese Canadians during WWII has been shameful to who we are as a nation, especially one who prides itself on being multicultural. In this essay, I have outlined some of the horrific events that Japanese Canadians had to endure, as I aim to shed light on the racial prejudice that exists in Canada and to raise awareness on racial bias.

Works Cited.
Bangarth, S. (2008). Voices Raised in Protest. Vancouver: UBC Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com
Wood, Alexandra L. (2012). Challenging History: Public Education and Reluctance to Remember the Japanese Canadian Experience in British Columbia. Historical Studies in Education.
From http://historicalstudiesineducation.ca/index.php/edu_hse-rhe/article/viewFile/4324/4456
Sims, R. (1983). Within the Barbed Wire Fence. A Japanese Man’s Account of His Internment in Canada (Book Review). Journal of American Ethnic History, 2(2), 106-107.

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