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article imageTalks held over BC's apology to Japanese-Canadians during WWII

By Karen Graham     Jul 21, 2019 in World
Japanese Canadians across the country are meeting to discuss how an apology by the British Columbia government could be backed by meaningful action for those subjected to racist attitudes and practices during World War II.
Immigration from China and Japan to Canada dates to the Fraser River gold rush of 1858. And while the rush was largely over by 1927, it is true that the discovery had brought tens of thousands of would-be miners from all over North America and not just Asia.
It can be said that the gold rush was the catalyst for the founding of the Colony of British Columbia, the building of early road infrastructure, and the founding of many towns, eventually leading to the formation of the Province of British Columbia.
It is believed that about 4,000 Chinese immigrated to British Columbia during the early gold rush, ending up accounting for around 10 percent of the population. There was, at the time, far fewer Japanese immigrants. In 1880, the provincial government demanded action to stop the influx of the Chinese.
Chinese man washing gold  Fraser River  circa 1875
Chinese man washing gold, Fraser River, circa 1875
Library and Archives Canada
Ottawa imposed a head tax of fifty dollars on all Chinese immigrants that was raised to five hundred dollars in 1900 and would remain in play until 1923. This discrimination of the Asian population, and particularly the Chinese went on until the Japanese population began to exceed that of the Chinese in the 1930s,
By 1931, Asians - having been denied the provincial franchise, were given the right to vote in the province. This included Japanese veterans of the First World War. But the federal government didn't want to set a precedent and decided to exempt Japanese-Canadians from military service. This move set the wheels in motion for the evacuation and deportation of Japanese Canadians in WWII.
World War II policies
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Japanese Canadians were categorized as enemy aliens under the War Measures Act and this resulted in the loss of there personal rights. Around 22,000 Japanese-Canadians - including men, women, and children were moved to internment camps.
Damage done by the Asiatic Exclusion League to the store of V. Kawasaki Bros.  202 Westminster Avenu...
Damage done by the Asiatic Exclusion League to the store of V. Kawasaki Bros., 202 Westminster Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada during the riots on September 8-9, 1907.
Library and Archives Canada
As Whitaker and Marcuse explain in Cold War Canada, under “wartime powers, these citizens were forcibly relocated to camps in the interior, had their property confiscated, and were seriously threatened with mass deportation to Japan (including Canadian-born among them) at war’s end. All of this was done without proof of a single case of espionage or sabotage by a Japanese Canadian.”
In the United States, the same thing happened when on February 19, 1942, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which called for the removal of 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry from the American coastline.
Even with the blatant discrimination being shown to Japanese-Canadians during WWII, not everyone held those political views. Government officials and private citizens were sympathetic to the plight of there fellow Japanese-Canadians. And many Japanese-Canadian men, as well as visible minorities like Black Canadians and First Nations, served in WWII.
The Battleship West Virgina engulfed in flames after the attack on Pearl Harbor  December 7  1941.
The Battleship West Virgina engulfed in flames after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.
Unknown/National Archives Identifier (NAID) 197288
The Internment is a shameful legacy
Widespread internment began on February 24, 1942, under the Defence of Canada Regulations of the War Measures Act, which gave the federal government the power to intern all "persons of Japanese racial origin."
Japanese-Canadians were forced into farming and other sectors of the economy that "other groups were abandoning for more lucrative employment elsewhere. Some able-bodied men were sent to the Yukon during the war as part of a crew constructing the Alaska Highway.
For years after WWII, nothing was said to the Japanese-Canadians - no apologies, and no returning to the occupations and homes and businesses that were theirs before the war. Families lost everything, and many were left with a shame that exists on up to today.
Internment camp for Japanese - Canadians in British Columbia in 1945.
Internment camp for Japanese - Canadians in British Columbia in 1945.
Jack Long Library and Archives Canada
Canada's federal government made a formal apology in 1988 for the way Japanese-Canadians were treated during the war. However, the president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians said British Columbia’s apology in 2012 did not involve the community.
Lorene Oikawa said the association is working with the provincial government to consider how it could follow up on the apology to redress racism. “We weren’t informed about the apology so it was a surprise to us."
“We accepted the apology but we just want to have that follow-up piece that was missing so that is what the current B.C. government has agreed to and started with this process of having community consultations,” she said of the redress initiative funded by the province.
Lisa Beare, British Columbia’s minister of culture, says the provincial government is supportive of the initiative. “We recognize that significant harm came to Japanese Canadians as a result of provincial government actions during the Second World War,” she said in a statement. “Japanese Canadians became targets simply for their identity, and in many cases lost personal property, jobs, and homes.”
More about Britishcolumbia, japanesecanadians, WwII, internment camp, Racism
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