4. A Canadian Tragedy

4.0 Japanese-Canadian Internment

"The Jap sets his teeth when difficulties arise and the only way to keep him down is to kill him."

B.C. Magazine, April, 1911 (Adachi, 1991, p.133)

Over two generations after the event occured, it's difficult for modern Canadians to identify with the circumstances which provoked a particularly unpleasant course of action. It becomes altogether too easy to dismiss what happened to Japanese-Canadians as an aberration; merely the result of heated wartime anomosities rather than the calculated end result of decades of systemic racism.

In order to appreciate what happened to Japanese-Canadians following that December morning in 1941, it is necessary to begin in 1877, when a young Japanese sailor names Manzo Nagano decided to remain ashore at New Westminister, British Columbia, becoming the first Japanese immigrant to arrive in Canada (Adachi, 1991, p.9).

Between 1877 and 1941, the overwhelming majority of Japanese immigrants would settle in that province. In 1901, there were 4,738 Japanese in Canada and 97% of them lived in British Columbia. (Adacho, 1991, p.33). The prohibitive cost of continental railway travel meant that the majority of Japanese immigrants into Canada during that period, particularly the early 1900's, clustered around their ports of entry along the west coast of Canada (Adachi, 1991, p.34). The Japanese segregated themselves into well-defined communities in the lower mainland and Vancouver Island (Adachi, 1991, p.34, pp.38-39).

Large numbers of Chinese labourers had also been brought into Canada to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway. They also settled in British Columbia. By 1901, ten percent of the population of British Columbia was composed of "Orientals" who, because of their lower standard of living, were considered unfair competition for white workers. Besides being extremely "visible", the "Orientals", and especially the Japanese, were considered incapable of being assimilated (Adachi, 1991, pp.38-39).

In 1895, British Columbia refused to the vote to all persons of Asiatic origin. In 1902, persons of Japanese ancestry were refused the right to vote in federal elections (Adachi, 1991, p.345).

The influx of an additional 8,125 Japanese into the province along with 2,000 Sikhs and 1,300 Chinese led to a huge anti-Oriental demonstration in Vancouver on Saturday, 7 September, 1907. Organized by the Asiatic Exclusion League, in ended in a riot when over 8,000 men ransacked stores in the Chinese district of Vancouver. Police did not interfere. When the mob converged on the Japanese section of the city, they were met with armed resistance. The rioters broke and fled (Adachi, 1991, pp.70-74).

On Monday, 9 September, 1907, "Orientals" were reported to be buying revolvers and ammunition. The headline of The Vancouver World stated "Orientals Buy Arms, Hundreds of Asiatics Purchase Rifles, Revolvers and Knives" and suggested that the Japanese had already stockpiled arms in preparation for the riot. The City Solicitor promptly informed all hardware stores that they were to cease selling firearms, but by that time most of the stores had already disposed of their inventories at inflated prices. In any event, no shots were reported to have been fired during the riot and no one appears to have been seriously injured (Adachi, 1991, p.76). Tensions dissipated within a few days; however, the relationship between white British Columbians and the Japanese would remain strained.

On 19 September, 1907, one Vancouver Member of Parliament left for Ottawa to make his constituent's views heard on the "Asiatic situation":

" B.C. is to be a white man's country. The majority of the residents are utterly opposed to the present flinging wide the gates to Asiatics. If the Government does not step in and put a stop to the already humiliating condition of affairs there will be another little episode like the one which occured in Boston harbor when the tea was thrown overboard. "

(Adachi, 1991, p.77)

In January of 1908, the president of the "Asiatic Exclusion League" urged the government to undertake a wholesale search of all Japanese homes for arms, insisting that they possessed "arsenals" which were to be used against white citizens (Adachi, 1991, p.76).

In 1924, the British Columbia Legislature passed a resolution requesting that Japanese and Chinese immigration be prohibited and that restrictions be placed on the industrial and commercial activities of "Orientals" (Adachi, 1991, p.141).

It became common practice for employers and government to discriminate against the Japanese in almost every endeavour (Adachi, 1991, pp.142-152). Most Japanese businesses survived due only to the unpaid labour of the entire family (Adachi, 1991, p.153).

Japan's invasion of Manchuria in September of 1931 meant that Japanese-Canadians were labelled as "fifth columnists" working to further the imperialist goals of the Japanese government (Adachi, 1991, pp.179-180).

In 1933, James S. Woodsworth of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) gave notice that if his party came to power it would give all citizens, including "Orientals", the right to vote. Prior to the federal elections of 1935, radio broadcasts allegedly supported by the Vancouver Liberal Association stated:

" Look behind the solicitor for a CCF candidate, and you will see an Oriental leering over his shoulder with an eye on you and your daughter. "

(Adachi, 1991, p.182)

In 1935, only three of the sixteen federal ridings in British Columbia were won by the CCF (Adachi, 1991, p.183).

In April of 1938, the Toronto Star reported that officers of the Imperial Japanese Navy were alleged to be hiding among Japanese-Canadians and represented a serious threat to national security (Adachi, 1991, p.183). That same year the federal Conservative Party went on record as being in favour of the complete exclusion of all "Orientals" from Canada (Adachi, 1991, p.183).

In September of 1939, Canada declared war on Germany. Japanese-Canadians were turned down when they attempted to enlist in the Canadian military. It was obvious that they were being discriminated against (Adachi, 1991, pp. 188-189).

In October, 1940, a special government committee composed of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Departments of National Defense and External Affairs investigated the extent of anti-Japanese sentiment in Canada. It also examined whether Canadians of Japanese descent were a threat to national security (Adachi, 1991, p.190).

The committee could find absolutely no evidence to substantiate charges of disloyalty or subversive activity by any of the over 23,000 Japanese-Canadians (three quarters of whom were citizens) and concluded that they had "an admirable record as law-abiding and decently behaved citizens"; nonetheless, on 8 January, 1941, the government announced that all Japanese-Canadians would be exempt from military service. It had been the opinion of the committee, which was supported by Prime Minister Mackensie King, that the Canadian public would not tolerate the presence of Japanese-Canadians in the armed forces (Adachi, 1991, pp. 189-190).

Fearing that Japan would enter the war on the side of the Axis at any time, Mackensie King acted on the recommendations of the committee and ordered that all Canadians of Japanese descent carry registration cards containing their name, address, age, height, weight, identifying characteristics, and occupation. They were photographed and fingerprinted (Adachi, 1991, p.191).

The government also ordered the confiscation, without compensation, of all firearms legally owned by Japanese-Canadians (Adachi, 1991, p.181, pp.193-194) 17 .

Even though Canada was then at war with Germany and Italy, similar steps were not taken against Germans or Italians in Canada although they comprised a far greater proportion of the Canadian population (Adachi, 1991, p.191).

On 7 December, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the United States Pacific Fleet, stationed at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii.

The RCMP immediately seized 1,200 fishing boats owned by Japanese-Canadian citizens.

Early in 1942, the government ordered the confiscation of approximately 1,500 motor vehicles owned by Japanese-Canadians. Together with the 1,200 fishing boats, they were sold at public auctions without the owner's consent and for discount prices (Adachi, 1991, p. 209, p. 233).

Japanese schools and newspapers were "persuaded" to close. Japanese-Canadians were discharged from their places of employment. Newspapers across Canada demanded that Japanese-Canadians be interned because of their political involvement in "fifth-column" activity (Adachi, 1991, p.200).

Throughout the war, municipalities across Canada continued to lobby the federal government for the removal or repatriation to Japan of all Japanese-Canadians (Adachi, 1991, pp. 204-207).

In February of 1942, the federal government conceded to pressure from the provinces, ordering the evacuation of all Japanese-Canadians (the overwhelming majority of whom lived in British Columbia) to isolated internment camps in the interior of British Columbia. In most cases, they were given less than 24 hours notice to evacuate their homes and were able to take only what they could carry with them (Adachi, 1991, p.234). They were forbidden from travelling anywhere in Canada without authorization from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Adachi, 1991, p.200, pp. 216-217).

Their homes and property were confiscated (Adachi, 1991, pp. 260-261). This property was subsequently sold by the government at a fraction of its real value and without the owner's consent (Adachi, 1991, pp. 319-334). The federal government even retained the interest on the money it made (Adachi, 1991, p. 332). Many Japanese-Canadian homes were deliberately left unprotected and were subsequently vandalized (Adachi, 1991, p. 325). Many Japanese-Canadians had their life savings wiped out as a result of the government's actions (Adachi, 1991, p. 260).

A Gallup Poll conducted in 1943, long after the threat of Japanese invasion had past, indicated that 54% of Canadians were in favour of "sending back" all residents of the Japanese race to Japan. In Ontario, 52% were in favour of repatriating all Japanese-Canadians to Japan after the war (Adachi, 1991, p. 286).

In 1944, an editorial in the Montreal Star would state:

" We know now that the Japanese in British Columbia have from the very beginning been secret agent of Tokyo...We believe the future interests of Canada will be served by rooting out entirelly from the Canadian scene this definite and dangerous menace...We can well spare them. "

(Adachi, 1991, p. 206)

Japanese-Canadians were forced to live in internment areas, in substandard housing, even after the Second World War had ended. Even then they were not permitted to return to their homes (which had been sold without their permission) and were forced to choose between deportation to Japan or forced relocation east of the Rocky Mountains (Adachi, 1991, pp. 276-277).

Wartime restrictions on Japanese-Canadians remained in force until 1949 (Adachi, 1991, p. 337). Japanese-Canadians were not even allowed to vote until later that year (Adachi, 1991, p. 344).

While some restrictions had subsequently been imposed on Canadians of Italian or German origin they were never as severe as the ones placed on Japanese-Canadians, nor were they forced to liquidate their personal property (Adachi, 1991, p. 200).

The treatment of Japanese-Canadians was in marked contrast to that afforded Japanese-Americans.

Although they were detained in internment camps away from coastal areas of the United States, Japanese-Americans did not have their property liquidated by the government without their permission (Adachi, 1991, p. 321).

The United States Supreme Court, before the Second World War had ended, rules that the internment of Japanese-Americans was unconstitutional. This forced the United States government to close the camps (Adachi, 1991, p. 221). In comparison, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to rule against the Canadian government when it arbitrarily decided to deport Japanese-Canadian citizens to Japan following World War Two (Adachi, 1991, pp. 311-313).

While Japanese-Canadians had not been permitted to serve in the Canadian military, Japanese-Americans were allowed to enlist in the United States Armed Forces (Adachi, 1991, p. 209, p. 295). Japanese-American combat units such as the 100th Infantry Batallion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team participated in some of the bloodiest fighting of the war. Their exploits received favourable publicity in the United States and were primary factors in breaking down racial prejudices and stereotypes (Adachi, 1991, p. 295).

The American government was quick to apologize to Japanese-Americans and to assist them in returning to their homes. The United States government offered fair compensation for personal property lost or damaged during the internment (Adachi, 1991, p. 321).

None of the Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers and non-elected technocrats involved in the maltreatment of Japanese-Canadians ever apologized to them for their loss of property and denial of fundamental human liberties (Adachi, 1991, p. 367) 18 .

It is evident that with the emnity which existed towards Japanese-Canadians, both prior to and during the Second World War, had the Japanese military ever succeeded in invading Canada it is unlikely that any Canadians of Japanese descent would have remained alive for very long.

What saved Japanese-Canadians from extermination was the American victory at the Battle of Midway on 4 June, 1942, which broke the back of the Imperial Japanese Navy and eliminated any possibility of their invasion of the North American continent.