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Frequently Asked Questions about Japanese Canadian Internment

Why were Japanese Canadians put into camps?
The alleged reason was because they were a threat to military security. However, neither the Army nor the RCMP shared this view. Prime Minister Mackenzie King stated in the House of Commons in 1944:

“It is a fact that no person of Japanese race born in Canada has been charged with any act of sabotage or disloyalty during the years of war.”

The internment of Japanese Canadians can be explained by the racism of the time.

Since Canada was also at war with Germany and Italy, why weren’t Canadians of German and Italian descent put into camps?
There were some Germans and Italians who were interned for short periods of time. In contrast, all Japanese Canadians, including those who had fought in Canada's armed forces in World War I, were labelled “enemy aliens” by the Government of Canada and were interned.

Weren’t the camps justified because Japan bombed Pearl Harbor?
No. Canadians of Japanese descent had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. Over half of those incarcerated were Canadian by birth and more were naturalized British subjects.

But in a time of war, doesn’t everyone suffer?
The incarceration of innocent citizens was a gross violation of civil rights. There was no due process of law — no charges, no trials. People were assumed to be guilty on racial grounds alone.

What happened to their homes and possessions?
When they were forced from their homes, Japanese Canadians were told that they could take with them only what they could carry (two suitcases or 150 lbs for adults and 75 lbs for children). Their homes, businesses, farms, furniture and other possessions were to be held for safe keeping by the "Custodian of Enemy Alien Property" who subsequently sold everything without the owners' consent and at a small percentage of their pre-war value. When restrictions were lifted in 1949, four years after the war, Japanese Canadians had to start all over again. They had no homes to return to.

Why not let bygones be bygones? Why can’t you just forgive and forget?
In our society, governments pay restitution to individuals who have been the victims of state injustice. When this injustice is meted out to groups, rather than to individuals, the same restitution must be sought. The Japanese Canadian Redress movement stressed the importance of achieving justice for those who were still alive, even though the restitution was only symbolic. Such a precedent will hopefully discourage future governments from repeating these kinds of injustices.