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Japanesse Internment Camps Essay, Research Paper

The following summary of the experiences of the Canadian Nikkei comes from the book,

A Dream Of Riches, 1978, The Japanese Canadian Centennial Project, Gilchrist Wright

Publishers, Toronto, Canada. Written in English, French and Japanese it provides an

insight into the experiences of Japanese immigrants and their children in Canada. Since

the book may not be widely available outside of Canada, I have taken the liberty of

quoting and paraphrasing liberally to present an overview of the Canadian Nikkei

evacuation experience.

It is a little known fact that the Canadian Nikkei were forced to accept evacuation and

internment like their American counterparts during World War II. The discriminatory

treatment and prejudice faced by these Canadian citizens, as well as the loss of their

economic livelihood, is similar to the what was happening to Nikkei in the United States

during the same time period. It is important to include the Canadian experience because

it illustrates a widespread pattern of racial discrimination on the West Coast in the early


The first recorded Japanese immigrant to western Canada was Manzo Nagano in 1877.1

By 1901, the population grew to 4,138, mostly single men. These people were not true

immigrants, but rather dekasegi (’leaving the village for employment’) who intended to

return to Japan after a few years.2 Similar to their brethern who had immigrated to

America, there were very few women among the early Canadian arrivals. Although the

Limieux Agreement of 1908 limited the immigration of single males, it did not place a

restriction on married females. Using the “picture bride” system, the men were able to

arrange for wives to be sent from Japan. These picture brides began arriving around

1908. In 1913, a peak period, some 300 or 400 women arrived through this arrangement.

The practice continued until 1928.3

Immigration continued and so did antagonism and discrimination against the Japanese. In

the two decades following the the arrival of the first immigrants, the Japanese in BC who

established themselves in mining, railroading, lumbering,and fishing faced severe

discrimination. The Mining Safety Act banned Japanese from working underground.

Those on railways were allowed to do construction, maintenance and dining car service,

but were excluded from higher, better paid positions such as that of engineer. Japanese

could seek work as cheap labour in sawmills and shingle mills, but were restricted from

working on Crown land. Following the Duff Commission of 1922, licences issued to

Japanese fishermen were cut by one-third.4 The Japanese Canadians had been denied the

right to vote as early as 1886.5 This had a devastating impact on other professions which

were closed to Japanese Canadians. Therefore, many Japanese turned to agriculture as

the only industry which was open to them.

With the severe discrimination many Issei sent their children to school in Japan, but for

those who could not afford this luxury, Japanese language schools were established in

many communities in BC.6 Over time the as the Japanese communities grew, the Nisei

had to attend both the Canadian public schools and the Japanese language schools. Like

their American counterparts, the Canadian Nisei viewed themselves more as Canadian

citizens unlike their Issei parents who were emotionally tied to Japan.

By the 1930’s there were as many Nisei as Issei. In 1938, the Nisei formed the Japanese

Canadian Citizens League to secure political and economic rights and to fight

discriminatory legislation.7 Discrimination and prejudice was as harsh in western Canada

as it was on the west coast of the United States, especially in California.

On December 7, 1941 the first Japanese were arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted

police. In short order the schools and newspapers of the community are shut down.

Fishing boats and automoblies are impounded, radios and cameras confiscated, and dusk

to dawn curfew imposed. On January 14th, the federal government orders the evacuation

of all male nationalsbetween the ages of 18 and 45.8 Many men resist the evacuation

order, hoping to remain with their families. Those who do so are sent to a concentration

camp in Angler, Ontario. 9 One hundred percent civilians, guilty of no offence against

national security, they are put behind barbed wire, subjected to forced labour and

required to wear special issue uniforms-the circles on the men’s backs are targets in case

of escape attempts.10 By July, 1942, the BC Security Commission decides to allow

evacuation by family units and married men are allowed to rejoin their families. Those in

Angler, however, remain interned.11

By October, 1942, 22,000 people have been displaced from their homes, torn from their

livelihood, and stripped of all rights. Some were re;located to eastern Canada, some were

interned in places like Alger, and 11,694 Japanese had been transported to the interior of

BC-to places like Kaslo, New Denver, Roseberry, Slocan City, Lemon Creek, Sandon and

Greenwood, and to Tashme, named after members of the BC Security Commission

(TAylor, SHirras, MEad).12

Unlike the American evacuation effort, the Canadian evacuation effort expected the

Japanese to pay for their own internment! The BC Security Commission expected the

Japanese to support themselves, so all property owned by Japanese was liqudated to

supply funds for this purpose. Food and clothing allowances were made available

depending on income, but food was expensive and wages were kept low because of

public pressure-the Canadian government spent one-fourth as much per evacuee as did

the US government during the war years.13 Like their American cousins the evacuees

settled in, improvised and tried to carry on with their lives.

The parallel to the American internment also extended to the recruitment of Nisei

Canadians into the armed forces. Although there was opposition to the idea, much like

there was in the US Army, some Nisei were allowed to join the army. Eventually under a

quota system 150 Nisei were allowed to enlist and many of these volunteers were

assigned to a special language unit, S2 of the Canadian Intelligence Corps.14

Prime Minister Alexander MacKenzie, in August, 1944 said:

“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 the war.”15

In the final analysis, the evacuation and interment of Japanese Canadians was based on

the same factors as the American experience–discrimination and prejudice.

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