The Internment of Japanese Canadians

The Second World War broke out in Europe in 1939. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States, spurring the Americans, who had hitherto been uninvolved in the war, to join forces with the Allies. Canada, already fighting alongside England and France, declared war on Japan.

This was the beginning of the destruction of Japanese communities in Canada. Within months, Japanese Canadians were subjected to various forms of humiliations solely on the basis of their origin. As hatred against Japan increased along with the first Japanese military victories in Asia, so did the fear that Japanese Canadians would participate in a possible enemy invasion.

The Canadian army confiscated 1200 fishing boats owned by Japanese Canadians. Japanese language schools and newspapers were banned by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

On December 16, 1941, all people of Japanese ancestry, even Canadian citizens by birth, had to register themselves in the Registrar of Alien Enemies. And contrary to the First World War, no Japanese Canadian had the right to volunteer for the army.

Xenophobia reached critical mass in British Columbia in the month of January, 1942. Canadians began to suspect that all Japanese, even those with Canadian citizenship, of secretly collaborating with the imperial government in Tokyo to prepare for an invasion of the Pacific Coast. The federal government then applied the War Measures Act to authorize the internment of all Japanese in Canada through a mass evacuation.

On January 16, 1942, Canada established a 160 km “protected area” along the west coast where no Japanese could reside. Shortly afterwards, all Japanese Canadians, including the family of David Suzuki, were subjected to a curfew and ordered to leave the coast and their properties behind. The government at the time insisted that this action was in the interest of national security, despite opposition from senior military and police who were not of the opinion that Japanese Canadians posed any threat to the security of the country.

All property belonging to Japanese-Canadians, including their cars, trucks and fishing boats, was confiscated and sold without their owners’ consent. In October 1942, 20,881 men, women and children of Japanese descent, 75% of them full-fledged Canadians but classified as “enemy aliens”, were detained and taken to internment camps located in remote parts of the country (Alberta, Ontario, Quebec). Three quarters of the detainees were Canadian citizens. Around 760 men were arrested and treated as prisoners of war.