Japanese-Canadian Discrimination during World War II
In history, numerous acts of atrocities have shocked the world and caused people to wonder how governments and citizens can be so ignorant towards minority races. For instance, the use of concentration camps in the killing of millions of Jewish people during the Holocaust has thoroughly disgusted generations of people to this day, and caused citizens of Canada to rejoice in the safety and multiculturalism of this peaceful and prosperous nation. However, one may not be aware that similar events occurred within the “peaceful” and “accepting” borders of Canada during World War II.
Compared to the European concentration camps, the internment camps which imprisoned hundreds of Japanese-Canadians during war times seem to be child’s play; however, these camps forever changed the way the Issei (first generation Japanese immigrants), the Nisei (second generation, Japanese-Canadian citizens), and the Kibei (born in Canada, educated in Japan, and then returned to Canada) lived the rest of their lives. 1 Furthermore, the conditions inside the camps were atrocious, and often times, large families of Japanese descent would be forced to sleep in barnyards or stables, with little food or warmth during the cold nights. 2 Those of Japanese origin were not given the same rights as other Canadian citizens due to the fear that they were a threat to national security. This fear gave way to xenophobia – fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners, or of anything that is strange or foreign. 3 This phobia of Japanese-Canadians allowed the government to put these citizens under surveillance and seize
Kollenborn, K.P. “Who are the Issei, Nisei, Kibei, and Sansei?” Japanese-American Culture. (7 November 2010) accessed April 2, 2012. 2 Omatsu, Maryka. Bittersweet Passage: Redress and the Japanese-Canadian Experience. Toronto: Between the Lines, 1992. 3 Merriam-Webster Dictionary. “Xenophobia.” Online Dictionary.
2 their fishing boats. Finally, Japanese-Canadian citizens were confined in internment camps after the attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbour as this event created extreme paranoia in North Americans. The discriminatory treatment of Japanese-Canadians during war times was driven by racism and a government pressured by paranoid citizens. Japanese-Canadians were not given the same opportunities as other Canadian citizens, largely due to the belief that they were “second-class” citizens and a threat to national security. Canadians citizens of Japanese descent held very few rights before and during World War II. Asians as a whole were denied the vote; were excluded from most professions, the civil service, and teaching; and were paid much less than their white counterparts.
They also faced many restrictions when applying for social assistance and forestry permits. 4 These actions were committed in an attempt to force Japanese-Canadians to return to Japan, even though many were born in Canada. Other Canadian citizens feared the inclusion of Japanese-Canadians in government affairs. This was due to the constant suspicion that Japanese-Canadians would somehow become the superior race. 5
The Canadian government did not do much to push Canadian citizens to believe any different. In fact, the Canadian government allowed the National Film Board to release “Warclouds in the Pacific”, a documentary examining the presence of Japanese citizens in Canada. This documentary led Canadians to believe that Japanese citizens and leaders were in the same leagues as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis – increasing the pressure on the Canadian
“Internment and Redress: The Japanese Canadian Experience.” Resource Guide for Social Studies 11 (2011): 18-22 5 Granatstein, J.L. and Gregory A. Johnson. “The Evacuation of the Japanese Canadians, 1942: A Realist Critique of the Received Version.” On Guard for Thee: War, Ethnicity, and the Canadian State, 1939-1945 (Ottawa: Canadian Committee for the History of the Second World War, 1988), pp. 101-129.
3 government to continue the restrictions on Japanese-Canadians. 6 The Canadian government also allowed oppressive political cartoons to be viewed by Canadians. For example, a Dr. Seuss cartoon, released in March of 1942, asks the viewer (all North American citizens): “What Have YOU Done Today to Help Save Your Country from Them?” The cartoon then portrays Hitler and General Hideki Tojo of the Imperial Japanese Army sneering obnoxiously down to the viewer (see Appendix A). 7 The objective of this political cartoon was to convince Canadians and Americans alike that the Japanese living within their nations could be just as dangerous as Hitler’s Gestapo, and that this race of people needed to be under the surveillance (and eventually the custody) of the government.
In 1941, the Cabinet War Committee, hosted by the Canadian government, recommended that citizens of Japanese descent be banned from serving Canada in the war. From March to August of that same year, compulsory registration of all Japanese-Canadians over 16 years of age becomes mandatory under the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). 8 These restrictions were solely placed on those of Japanese origin, and other “regular” Canadian citizens were free to live their usual lifestyle. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, Canada declared war on Japan; this attack skyrocketed the paranoia towards Japanese-Canadians and they were forced to register with the Registrar of Enemy Aliens, and became increasingly unwanted in their homes. 9 The feeling of being unwanted was nothing new to Japanese-Canadian citizens. Xenophobia had been lingering in British Columbia since the nineteenth century.
This phobia 6
Legg, Stuart. "Warclouds in the Pacific." National Film Board, 1941. Accessed February 20th, 2012. 7 Geisel, Theodor Seuss. Dr. Seuss Went to War. Mandeville Special Collections Library, 1942. Accessed February 22nd, 2012. 8 “Reference Timeline.” Japanese Canadian History.
4 was the driving force behind the Japanese-Canadian surveillance that was implemented in British Columbia by the RCMP. This surveillance was conducted due to suspicion of espionage and disloyalty to Canada. Canadian citizens were paranoid that Japan had sent spies to Canada in order to plan a successful attack. Japanese leaders seemed to be power-hungry and super strategists, and the German principle of national leadership (“conquest at all costs”) was adopted by Japan. 10 The public’s growing concern mixed with Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s “laissez-faire” style of governance was lethal for the Japanese-Canadians’ privacy. Mackenzie King was easily influenced by the people, and by this time, the citizens of British Columbia were pressuring the federal government to do anything to make them feel safe again.
The War Measures Act stated that the Governor in Council may authorize censorship of any kind (suppression of publications, writings, maps, plans, photographs, communications, and means of communication). 11 Although the government had the authority to look into the lives of the Japanese-Canadians, very little was found. In fact, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) stated, with the support of the RCMP, that “espionage and subversive activity is largely carried on by a few key Japanese working under the Consul and seriously involves only a few – say 60 at most – Japanese individuals.” 12 Due to the fact that there was very little evidence against JapaneseCanadians, the surveillance should have ended; however, the War Measures Act gave full power invasion, or uprising, real or suspected.” 13 The government took full advantage of this Act, and pushed it to another extreme – the seizure of Japanese-Canadian fishing boats and equipment.
National Film Board, 1941. War Measures Act. “War Measures Act, 1914.” Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group. Accessed February 22, 2012. http://www.cefresearch.com/matrix 12 On Guard for Thee: War, Ethnicity, and the Canadian State, 1939-194: 101-129 13 Historica. “The Internment of the Japanese during World War II.” Peace and Conflict. http://www.histori.ca/peace/page.do?pageID=279 11
5 The Fisherman’s Naval Reserve (FR) was called upon to defend British Columbia as the military force, due to the war in Germany, was lacking. Fishing boats and their crews of European extraction began defending the coastline of British Columbia; however, no JapaneseCanadians were entitled to aid in this venture. 14 The primary focus of the defence troops on British Columbia’s coastline was to monitor the ocean in an effort to protect their fellow British Columbian citizens; ironically, the majority of these citizens ended up being Japanese fishermen who made their living from their catch – the very ones who paid the highest price in British Columbia. Although the RCAF and the RCMP had both been adamant to state that the JapaneseCanadians posed no real threat to the rest of Canada, Commodore W.J.R. Beech of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) announced his suspicion of espionage in June 1941. The War Measures Act gave the RCN the power to go through with the seizure of Japanese fishing boats, as article 9 states that “any ship or vessel may be seized and detained and shall be liable for forfeiture.” 15 Commodore Beech planned to seize some of the Japanese-Canadian fishing boats to augment the FR fleet should war break out. Canada then declared war on Japan in late 1941. The FR began seizing the fishing boats belonging to Japanese-Canadians. The Department of External Affairs stated that “vessels owned and operated by British subjects of Japanese origin will only be interfered with where there are positive grounds for suspicion.” 16 The Japanese did not resist, and ironically, many were actually Great War veterans who were described “for all intents and purposes, [as being] very good citizens.” 17 The taking of Japanese-Canadian fishing boats can be argued to be the most detrimental effect of discrimination during war times. For many 14
Milner, Marc. “The Japanese Threat: Impounded On The West Coast: Navy, Part 47.” The Legion Magazine, September 2011. Accessed February 20, 2012. http://www.legionmagazine.com/en/index 15 War Measures Act, 1914 16 On Guard for Thee: War, Ethnicity, and the Canadian State, 1939-1945: 101-129 17 Ibid.
6 Japanese families, this form of income was what their entire family relied on. The taking of Japanese-Canadian property, including fishing boats, was justified by “military necessity”, despite the opposition from the two driving forces in Canadian safety – the RCMP and the RCAF. 18
As if the restrictions and the seizure of their fishing boats were not enough, JapaneseCanadian citizens were then confined in internment camps after the attack of the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbour. In December 1941, Japanese-Canadians were evacuated from British Columbia after the Canadian federal government gave the internment order based on speculation of sabotage and espionage. This extreme measure was largely brought about by Ian Mackenzie’s pressure on the Mackenzie King government. Ian Mackenzie was a racist politician who blamed British Columbia’s misfortunes on the presence of Japanese-Canadians; Mackenzie’s timing was ideal, and the Canadian government believed that removing Asians from British Columbia could bring about a solution. Many Canadian citizens had hoped that a war with Japan would arise so that they could rid themselves of the Japanese-Canadian economic menace. 19 The internment camps were place in restrictive zones, outside of the 100 miles protected coastline zone. This was due to the belief that the Japanese Imperial Army sent naval spies; therefore, the coastline was of utter importance. The Cabinet ordered the removal of all male enemy aliens (Japanese-born) and nine hundred Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry (between the ages of 18 and 45) under the War Measures Act. 20 These restrictions extended within the
Resource Guide for Social Studies, (2011): 18-22. Paolini, David. “Japanese Canadian Internment and Racism During World War II.” Imaginations: The Canadian Studies Undergraduate Journal at the University of Toronto (March 2010), accessed February 21, 2012. http://imagi-nations.ca/ 20
Imaginations: The Canadian Studies Undergraduate Journal at the University of Toronto (March 2010). 19
7 camps to daytime-only curfew hours, which controlled the amount of communication between Japanese-Canadian citizens within the internment camps. The internment camps censored all letters, and freedom of movement was restricted. Often times, men were separated from their families, nuclear families were separated from their extended families, and the social mobility once slightly enjoyed by Japanese-Canadians was reduced due to the lack of education and work they were offered. The government believed that with less communication, even between family members, the chances of a Japanese spy gaining any useful information for the Japanese Imperial Army was strongly reduced.
The liquidation of Japanese-Canadian property occurred illegally after the interned citizens were promised the return of their items. Their possessions were sold in auction, without consent the majority of the time. The Japanese-Canadian population suffered from economic hardships, as those who gave their consent were forced to sell their belongings for ridiculously low prices. 21 The government knew that Canadians were jealous and afraid of the Japanese grip on the industrial market; therefore, Japanese-Canadian internment aided the white man in getting ahead economically and politically. Canadian politicians most certainly had a political agenda behind Japanese-Canadian internment, and they played upon racist fears in order to gain white voters.
The “Custodian of Alien Property” sold the property confiscated from Japanese-
Canadians in low-ball auctions and illegal sales. The proceeds attained from these sales of private property were used to pay auctioneers, realtors, and to cover storage and handling fees. 23 The political and economic strain put on Japanese-Canadians was extremely damaging; however, the emotional strain and experience as a whole may have caused a lifetime of hurt in 21
Ibid. On Guard for Thee: War, Ethnicity, and the Canadian State, 1939-1945: 101-129 23 Resource Guide for Social Studies, (2011): 18-22. 22
8 some cases. One must remember that entire families, often fatherless, were moved into the internment camps. Joy Kogawa wrote “What Do I Remember of the Evacuation”, a memoir concerning her experience as a child within the internment camps. 24 In a poetic format, Kogawa expresses the extreme need, expressed by the Canadian government, for Japanese-Canadians to conform to the British way of life. Those imprisoned within the internment camps were forced to fly the Union Jack in support of the allies in the war. Kogawa remembers the way her family was “herded” together and made to move from their home within two hours while at gun point. The Japanese language and writing style was taken from the imprisoned, and they were forced to speak and write in English. Kogawa expresses her deepest confession: that at the time, she wished she had been a white girl instead of a Japanese-Canadian as they were treated better. 25 Near the end of World War II, Japanese-Canadians were strongly encouraged to prove their loyalty to Canada by moving away from British Columbia, or by signing papers agreeing to be “repatriated” to Japan when the war was over. 26 Japanese-Canadians were left with two options: (1) conform to the Canadian/British way of life, or (2) move back to Japan. The mistrust, fear, and paranoia surrounding Japanese-Canadians since the first rumblings of war had finally brought them to an ultimatum.
The irony of the treatment towards Japanese-Canadians is that the racism against those of Japanese descent in British Columbia might have actually had a negative effect on the province’s
Kogawa, Joy. “What Do I Remember of the Evacuation,” in Paper Doors: an Anthology of Japanese-Canadian poetry, edited by David Aylward, Gerry Shikatani. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1981. 25 Ibid. 26 Resource Guide for Social Studies, (2011): 18-22.
9 educational bureaucracy. 27 The oppression of Japanese-Canadians greatly affected the teaching styles which occurred within classrooms. Those Japanese-Canadians who were given the right to teach in a classroom were rumoured to have a very effective teaching style which Canadian students thrived from. Not only was the removal of Japanese-Canadian teachers from the classroom detrimental to those students who were not discriminated against, but this intense racism greatly altered the educational experience for students of Japanese descent (in particular the Issei). Due to their lengthy period within internment camps and restricted access to education of any kind, Japanese-Canadians gained a new stereotype of being poverty-stricken, as their lack of a proper education banned them from any well-paying positions. Home-schooling opportunities were lacking as well, considering the lack of education given to the Nisei; this prevented them from passing down very much academic information to their children (the Issei). Ultimately, the racial prejudice against Japanese-Canadians became detrimental to all Canadian citizens, although the Japanese suffered the most intensely. To conclude, the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II was not a just movement. In fact, the discriminatory treatment of Japanese-Canadians during war times was driven by racism and a government pressured by paranoid citizens. Due to the belief that Japanese-Canadians were “second-class” citizens, they were denied the basic rights which were proudly given to all others of “regular” Canadian descent. Japanese-Canadian citizens were not given franchise, the right to vote, until four years after the war had ended, and they were judged harshly even after they attained the option of becoming a teacher or practicing other powerful
HopeSite. “A Webography: The History of Racism in Canada – The Japanese Experience.” Last modified 2002. Accessed February 26, 2012. http://www.hopesite.ca/remember/history/racism_canada_1.html
10 positions. 28 The government of their residing nation (for the Issei, their actual nation of origin) allowed oppressive political cartoons and racist documentaries to be viewed by Canadians. The government knowingly encouraged and supported the continued paranoia and fear of JapaneseCanadians. Furthermore, xenophobia was heightened, and the government began their surveillance of Japanese-Canadians. Even though the RCMP concluded that the Japanese posed no real threat to Canadian citizens or the nation itself, the RCN still gained permission to seize the JapaneseCanadian fishing boats in an attempt to enlarge their own coastline defence fleet. This act of superiority was the first step towards creating a poverty-stricken race, as Japanese-Canadians owned over half the fishing permits in British Columbia –their main source of income was taken from them simply because of their race and position in the economy. 29 Lastly, Japanese-Canadian citizens were confined in internment camps after the attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbour, which created mass paranoia. The internment camps were restrictive zones, where families were separated and communication was at a minimum. The sale of Japanese property was another act of superiority over the race, and was illegal. This put Japanese-Canadians in an increased economic crisis, and made their reintegration into Canadian society difficult. Ultimately, there is no just reasoning behind the treatment of JapaneseCanadians during World War II.
Resource Guide for Social Studies, (2011): 18-22. On Guard for Thee: War, Ethnicity, and the Canadian State, 1939-1945: 101-129
Appendices Appendix A (see page 3)
Geisel, Theodor Seuss. Dr. Seuss Went to War. Mandeville Special Collections Library, 1942. Accessed February 22nd, 2012.
Works Cited Geisel, Theodor Seuss. Dr. Seuss Went to War. Mandeville Special Collections Library, 1942. Accessed February 22nd, 2012. Granatstein, J.L. and Gregory A. Johnson. “The Evacuation of the Japanese Canadians, 1942: A Realist Critique of the Received Version.” On Guard for Thee: War, Ethnicity, and the Canadian State, 1939-1945 (Ottawa: Canadian Committee for the History of the Second World War, 1988), pp. 101-129.
Historica. “The Internment of the Japanese during World War II.” Peace and Conflict. http://www.histori.ca/peace/page.do?pageID=279 HopeSite. “A Webography: The History of Racism in Canada – The Japanese Experience.” Last modified 2002. Accessed February 26, 2012. http://www.hopesite.ca/remember/history/racism_canada_1.html War Measures Act. “Internment and Redress: The Japanese Canadian Experience.” Resource Guide for Social Studies 11 (2011): 18-22 Kogawa, Joy. “What Do I Remember of the Evacuation,” in Paper Doors: an Anthology of Japanese-Canadian poetry, edited by David Aylward, Gerry Shikatani. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1981. Kollenborn, K.P. “Who are the Issei, Nisei, Kibei, and Sansei?” Japanese-American Culture. (7 November 2010) accessed April 2, 2012. Legg, Stuart. "Warclouds in the Pacific." National Film Board, 1941. Accessed February 20th, 2012. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. “Xenophobia.” Online Dictionary. Milner, Marc. “The Japanese Threat: Impounded On The West Coast: Navy, Part 47.” The Legion Magazine, September 2011. Accessed February 20, 2012. http://www.legionmagazine.com/en/index
Omatsu, Maryka. Bittersweet Passage: Redress and the Japanese-Canadian Experience. Toronto: Between the Lines, 1992. Paolini, David. “Japanese Canadian Internment and Racism During World War II.” Imaginations: The Canadian Studies Undergraduate Journal at the University of Toronto (March 2010), accessed February 21, 2012. http://imagi-nations.ca “Reference Timeline.” Japanese Canadian History.
“War Measures Act, 1914.” Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group. Accessed February 22, 2012. http://www.cefresearch.com/matrix