Second World War was a struggle for democracy and liberty worldwide, yet liberty for Canadians was not extended. Japanese Canadians were treated unjustly and were kept inside internment camps. In addition, their right to “Habeas Corpus” had been dismissed. “Habeas Corpus” was the right to be brought before a judge and receiving a trial only after physical evidence had been presented. The Japanese Canadians were perceived as spies even though no evidence had supported that biased judgment. During wartime, this civil right of a fair trail was denied because of the War Measures Act. The War Measures Act gave unlimited power to the government to do anything necessary to be done to support the war. Indirectly, the War Measures Act had the potential to limit citizens’ rights and hence, there was no true democracy in Canada although the majority of voters supported the Act. Democracy as we know it, the freedom to be able to choose government and to be under constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech had been taken away. Clearly, Canadians were not being ruled under these standards and so, the government was not truly democratic at that time. The lack of democracy was a direct effect of the War Measures Act, and since the War Measures Act was introduced in both WWI, WWII and during Trudeau’s era in the 1970s, it could possibly be imposed nowadays.
Redress of this issue is important, not only because it recognizes the incident as a past wrong, but also because it recognizes a symbol of quality among all Canadians of different ancestries. In addition, the compensation is also a representation of the government’s concern for the physical and mental suffering that the Japanese Canadians endured during the war. The government was not justified in interning Japanese since their action had no basis in fact and was simply a reaction to popular sentiment.
Was the government justified in interning Japanese Canadians in World War II? Was the racial actions justified by the redress in 1988? The racial incidents were not really redressed in 1988 since the Canadian government waited too long and most of what they did was political, not personal. A Race Relations Foundation and a community fund do not really go the heart of the problem, in my opinion.
Historical Overview of Japanese Internment During World War II
The Japanese Canadians had suffered years of racism, ever since the first Japanese landed in Canada in 1877. At first, they were perceived as the more “desirable” compared to the Chinese immigrants, but after widespread Japanese immigration into Canada, the “white” society began to encompass their racism against Japanese immigrants as well. Labour unions rejected the Asian immigrants because the immigrants were willing to work longer hours for low wages. The workers protested for the “unfair competition”. Other people wanted the Oriental immigration to be stopped because they thought the immigration would always be different and never could be assimilated. Eventually, in 1895, legislations that were made to limit the political power and the job opportunities of the Chinese immigrants in British Columbia were altered to include the Japanese immigrants as well. However, racism wasn’t stopped by the legal restrictions. An example would be the Vancouver Riot in 1907 by the Asiatic Exclusion League.
During WWII, many racist politicians such as Tom Reid, a Liberal Member of Parliament and Ian Mackenzie, a BC provincial politician suggested that perhaps Japanese Canadians supported Japan and hence were potential or real spies for Japan and so posed a threat to Canada. Many people were convinced to believe so. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the invasion of Hong Kong escalated the fear the Canadians had for the Japanese Canadians. Despite all of the public rumours and influences, there was never evidence that proved they sided with Japan. In fact, the Battle of Midway on June 6th 1942, decisively eliminated almost all possibilities that Japan could ever become a threat to Canada. Before the Battle of Midway, Japan possessed naval superiority over the United States and so usually was the offensive side. After Midway, however, the two sides were equal in power and the US soon became more powerful. Yet, racist people in British Columbia continued to write and publish newspaper editorials that hinted or even labeled the Japanese Canadians as fifth columnist, or secret spies. Since most of the British Columbians started to believe in such rumours, the racist politicians, especially Ian Mackenzie, proposed to Prime Minister Mackenzie King to have the Japanese Canadians interned. Prime Minister King was persuaded by Ian Mackenzie.
On February 24th 1942, Prime Minister King ordered the evacuation of Japanese to “protective areas”. Several days later, in British Columbia, the first Japanese (approximately 2500 males) were moved to Hastings Park in Vancouver. They were placed there temporarily. The evacuation of the Japanese were supervised by the newly established British Columbia Security Commission. From there, the women and children were transported to internment camps in isolated areas of interior British Columbia since a 200 mile “safety zone” had been established along the Pacific Coast. Men were separated to participate in building roads, railways and working on sugar beet farms. Although the camps were not surrounded by barbed wire, living conditions inside the internment camps were still poor; they were crowded and were primitive with no electricity or running water. In total, there were ten internment camps, two prisoner of war camps to place mainly men who resisted to be separated from their families and five “self-supporting” camps that contained Japanese Canadians who paid for relocations in less restrictive and less punitive environments.
During World War Two, nearly 22 000 Japanese were taken to internment camps. Many of them were Canadian born Japanese, and, to add insult to injury, the older nationals had lived in Canada for over 25 years. They suffered the pain of break-ups in which the men, women and children were sent to different camps and endured the disrespect and hostility of Canadians for their Japanese origin.
The level of racial discrimination during the war caused many Japanese to suffer, yet, further unjust actions resulted after the war and were not justified. Prime Minister King offered two alternatives to the Japanese. They could either be deported back to Japan or removed from British Columbia. Around 4000 Japanese chose to leave Canada since their property had been confiscated long ago and sold to mostly war veterans. The majority of the Japanese were allowed to return to British Columbia only after 1949.
To recognize and correct the past wrong of Japanese internment during the Second World War, the Government of Canada, led by Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, signed the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement on September 22nd 1988. He offered an official apology. As well, there was a sum of $21,000 compensation given to each individual Japanese Canadian who suffered the loss of rights, along with a $12 million community fund and another $12 million given toward a Canadian Race Relations Foundation to help fight racism. Although there was a redress of the unjust actions, there are still Japanese Canadians who feel bitterly towards this issue.
Case for the Victim
Japanese Canadians who were interned during World War II should have received redress as victims. First, there is physical evidence. The Japanese were criticized by Anti-Japanese organizations like the Macintosh of the Standing Committee on Orientals of being loyal to Japan, rather than Canada. Yet, in reality, no documents were found to support such a biased judgment. There was even a secret letter written on August 5th 1942 from S. T. Wood, a RCMP Commissioner, to W. S. Stevenson that proved the innocence of Japanese. Colonel Wood stated in his letter, “We have had no evidence of espionage or sabotage among the Japanese in British Columbia.”. Such proof is unquestionable that the Japanese pose no threat at all. Then, the Japanese were forced into camps for invalid reasons: becoming spies for Japan and threatening the safety of Canadians if Japan decided to attack North America. However, since there was a powerful United States naval force in the Pacific, the potential attack on North America was low since it would be a higher risk and lower gain in comparison to an attack on southwest Pacific. Furthermore, the proof of injustice brought upon Japanese can be validated by a document written by Ken Adachi, a journalist and author who wrote about the history of Japanese Canadians in depth. He wrote in his article, The Enemy That Never Was, “The Battle of Midway on June 6th 1942, almost decisively disposed of any possibility that the Japanese might marshal the naval effort necessary for an invasion of North American…” Japanese were interned with little or no strategically reasoning. Even before the Battle of Midway, military leaders of both Canada and the United States did not expect an invasion. Hence, we prove that the reasons for internment camps were unnecessary and illogical.
On top of the physical evidence that proved that the decision of the Japanese internment was unjust, the unethical treatment of the Japanese is another aspect that should result in a redress. The Japanese suffered the pain of family breakups. The men were regarded as more dangerous since they were potential military force. Besides that accusation, the Japanese also had to live in unbearable conditions with little or no electricity or running water. Although there was no barbed wires like the “concentration camps” in Europe, the Japanese inside had little freedom since they were continually under guard and the site was remote. In addition, their properties were confiscated by the Canadian government in 1943. Other actions of the government further contributed to the suffering of the Japanese before and after the war. In 1945, after the official end to the World War II, the interned Japanese Canadians were allowed two choices: either to be deported back to Japan or to be moved out of British Columbia. Many chose to leave since their roots in Canada had already been torn out by the Canadian government in 1943. In addition to physical and mental misery, the Japanese Canadians were not treated with the same respect or equality as other legal Canadians. They were perceived as “enemies” and those who simply could not be trusted. As a result of the disrespect, they did not benefit from the right of “Habeas Corpus”, a right any citizen should have. This basic principle reveals the unfair attitude that Canada had toward different origins during that time period, especially against those of Japanese ancestry. For this particular biased management of the Japanese Canadians, the government should recognize the mistake by giving a redress.
On moral grounds, the Japanese were also treated unfairly. The universal declaration of Humans Rights defined by Amnesty International today and also the Canadian Charter of Rights, outlines the fundamentals of life that each individual are entitled to. Although these rights were not stated as legal laws back then, they could still be considered as moral codes that should be recognized regardless of the existence of bylaws or not. These included the right to live freely, the right to own property, the freedom of speech, and the right to seek their choice of employment or education. During the war, however, none of these were ever applied to Japanese Canadians. As well, WWII had made the Japanese Canadians inferior to the rest of the Canadian population. They were tainted for their origin. Above all, based on the morals that most people live by, everyone should have a source of strength to turn for help or protection when they are in despair. Yet, the Japanese Canadians had their recourse denied. Hence, they should have the right to trace back and ask for the compensation for their mistreatment during Second World War.
Case for the Defense
During WWII, the government needed to intern Japanese Canadians for various legitimate reasons. The internment camps were established in the interior of British Columbia to remove them from the “safety zone” along the coast to prevent the possibility of sabotage. The military force knew the west coast defense was weak, with only a few, lightly armed Royal Canadian Navy ships. In addition, the Japanese Canadians needed to be placed somewhere away from Canadians to prevent them from ever becoming a cause for fear to the people of Canada. As Frank Bernard, a Vancouver businessman, once said, “I believe 95% of them were loyal to Canada under normal circumstances, but who knows how many of them might have turned had the Japanese invaded the West Coast.” It would have only taken one Japanese person loyal to Japan to cause havoc in Canada and thus the government could not take the risk. We can draw a parallel today with the American reaction to the threat of terrorism. They take extreme measures because it only takes one Al Queda to infiltrate into the US to cause another 9/11. This view represented some of the British Columbian organizations, such as the Macintosh of the Standing Committee on Orientals who believed in the rumours of a possible Japanese invasion of North America and it fostered great fear of these Japanese Canadians. The government’s actions were then to reassure these people of their safety in Canada and protect the Japanese Canadians from ever getting harassed by these anti-Japanese groups. The Chiefs of Staff Committee in Ottawa expressed that the local authorities and police “were concerned less at the possibility of subversive activity by Japanese than at the danger of serious anti-Japanese outbreaks” and suggested the internment of Japanese Canadians to the Cabinet War Committee. The motive of the internment camps was indeed intended for the safety of Japanese Canadians, rather than for the segregation of these people.
Although internment camps were associated with little freedom and the constant displeasure of being guarded, the Japanese were treated civilly. Despite the poor quality of their housing, they did have a roof above their heads. As well, they were given an education and could ask for permission to get money out of their accounts that were in the custody of the government. They were also allowed to be relocated to different internment camps with consent. As Frank Bernard stated, “Admittedly, this [internment] brought material hardship to many of the Japanese, but keeping everything in fair perspective and considering the alternatives, such as those practiced by the enemy, the Japanese were very fortunate.” The Japanese Canadians suffered, yet they were still treated as people, rather than inferiors who might be eliminated, just as the Nazis had done to the Jewish race.
From a political point of view, the Canadian government had the legal right to intern the Japanese because of the War Measures Act and hence, a redress of the incident is not necessary. Since the act gave power to the Cabinet to do anything that seemed necessary, the orders to evacuate Japanese into interior British Columbia would have violated no laws and hence, it could not be considered as a wrong.
From a moral and sensible perspective, the justice of the Japanese Canadian internment issue was not as important in contrast to the assurance of safety among the majority. Since Japanese Canadians were seen as the threat to most of the people, the internment of them would be the appropriate decision and could not be considered a wrong that needed to be redressed.
In my opinion, I think the Japanese Canadians have the right to ask for a redress. Based on the varied evidence I have seen that supported each case, I believe that the case for the Japanese Canadians had a bigger impact on me than the case defending the government. The first strong evidence was the secret letter from the RCMP commissioner to Stevenson. It clearly proved that the Japanese were not spies for Japan and therefore were not a threat. Though the government didn’t question their loyalty, the Cabinet was influenced to make a decision by British Columbia’s politicians who believed that internment was the solution to calm the worried souls of the Canadians and protect the Japanese Canadians from getting harassed by racist Canadians. Although the internment could have stopped any potential racial clashes, it was a cruel punishment to the Japanese Canadians, innocent of any crime. Perhaps the government could argue that it was the appropriate decision, that there were alternatives that the Cabinet could turn to; instead, they chose to follow the wishes of the racist groups in British Columbia. In my perspective, the internment of the Japanese Canadians was worthless, except for its contribution to the escalation of the racial division.
The memories of inadequate internment camps were bitter for Japanese Canadians. They suffered family breakups, lived with poor living standards and endured the loss of equality and respect. On the other hand, the government could argue that the camps were actually better than being poor elsewhere since the Japanese Canadians still received an education, had access to their bank accounts and could move to other camps with permission. The government could say the Japanese Canadians maintained some of their rights, while other rights were taken to ensure their safety from the biased, angry Canadians. The properties of the Japanese Canadians were also confiscated while they were kept in internment. Some of the money received from selling the land was then put back into operating the internment camps. The government could say the land was sold for the benefits of the interned Japanese Canadians, yet it provided only temporal financial aid. Perhaps the money helped to ease the burdens of the Japanese Canadians during their time in camps, their roots in Canada were torn out and basically, everything they established in Canada was wiped out when the government sold their properties without consent. The government could argue that it was wartimes and under the War Measures Act, everything they did for the war was legally right. Even though the actions of the government were justified under the law system, it is not acceptable, morally speaking.
Even if the government’s actions to the Japanese Canadians were right, this judgment can only be applied to wartimes and not postwar. After the war, the Japanese Canadians were not allowed to enter British Columbia until 1949. They were either deported to Japan or were scattered in Canada outside British Columbia. The Cabinet’s decision was simply unacceptable since it was merely a response to the racist voices of British Columbia. In my opinion, it was the worst insult the government of Canada could give to its legal citizens of Japanese origin. It was a clear indication to the Japanese Canadians that they were not treated as fairly as the rest of the population. They were also seen as inferior to Canadians and hence, wasn’t truly a part of the nation. For this racism directed towards the innocent Japanese Canadians, I think it is necessary that the government redress the ones who suffered the experiences. The redress would also have great significance in showing the Japanese Canadians are, in fact, as important and involved as other Canadians in this nation.
Based on the various factors, the Japanese Canadians should get a redress, which should include an official apology, individual compensation and funds given to prevent such incidents from reoccurring. The official apology would be an acknowledgement of the past wrong that the government had committed during WWII. The individual compensation would represent the little amount that the government can repay for their suffering and tolerance for the government, and lastly, the funds given to organization, such as the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, would be the indication that the government recognizes racism as an issue that needs to be dealt with to try to minimize racial crimes in Canada.
Adachi, Ken. “The Enemy That Never Was: A History of the Japanese Canadians.” Toronto: McClenlland & Stewart Inc., 1991.
Boyd, Denny. “Figure Four: Interned Japanese Owe Thanks, Ex-Envoy Says.” Vancouver: Vancouver Sun, 1984.
Roy, Patricia et al., “Mutual Hostages: Canadians and Japanese During the Second World War.” Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.