The Internment of the Japanese during World War II
The Internment of the Japanese during World War II
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Japanese-Canadian fisher whose boat has just been interned, 1941. (National Archives of Canada, Canada. Dept. of National Defence collection, PA-134097)
In December 1941, the Japanese air force launched an attack on the American base at Pearl Harbour, in the Pacific. Under pressure from Western politicians, the Canadian government rounded up and confined Japanese citizens in British Columbia.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Just before World War II, British Columbia had about 21,000 Japanese-Canadian citizens, 75% of whom had citizenship status. They had come from Japan during a wave of immigration spanning 50 years, between the end of the 19th and the early 20th centuries. However, they faced much xenophobia, racism, and discrimination. Laws were passed barring them from various professions, they were denied the right to vote, they were eligible for just a fraction of social assistance, forestry and fishing permits were denied, etc. The aim was to force them to go back to Japan.

SUMMARY
Things were fairly quiet in British Columbia after World War II broke in 1939. But the defeat of Hong Kong and, especially, the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 greatly changed the situation, as Canada and the United States found themselves at war with an Axis country. Canadian military authorities and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police felt that there was little chance of a Japanese invasion and that Japanese Canadians were not a threat to national security. Yet racist and xenophobic public sentiment felt that Japanese-born Canadians showed too much sympathy for Japan and that there was a chance that some of them might form a fifth column. Influenced by Ian MacKenzie, the federal government adopted a chauvinist stance and decided, under the provisions of the War-Time Measures Act, to move Japanese-Canadians into a 160-km "safety zone" along the Pacific coast. Officially, this move was for "their own safety." They were sent to ghost towns in the Rockies, to detention camps, and some, like Tsukiye Muriel Kitagawa, to other provinces. Deprived of their civil liberties, Japanese Canadians lost all their possessions (houses, farms, fishing boats, companies and personal goods) which the government sold off to keep them from returning to British Columbia. It wasn't until 1949 that they regained all of their rights and that all restrictions were lifted. Those who chose to return to British Columbia had to start over and rebuild their lives from scratch. In 1988 the Canadian government, under Brian Mulroney, extended an official apology to Japanese-Canadians for the policies enacted against them.

Concepts
World War II
War which began in 1939 and ended in 1945, with a death toll of approximately 50 million. It pitted the Allied forces against the Axis.

Japanese Canadians
The first wave of immigration between 1877 and 1928. These Japanese immigrants, who were called Issei, were young and well-educated and were primarily from small, over-populated villages. Most of them settled in British Columbia on the West Coast.

Immigration
Entrance of a person from a foreign country to another country. Generally, immigrants undertake the journey in the hopes of finding better living conditions.

Xenophobia
Hostility toward anything foreign.

Racism
Theory of race hierarchy which propagates the need to protect a so-called superior race from any cross-breeding and proclaims its right to dominate other races.


Hong Kong
British colony in China. It was protected by a garrison of 20,000 soldiers, including two battalions from Canada (Canada Royal Marines and Winnipeg Grenadiers). On December 25, 1941, it surrendered to the Japanese forces.

Pearl Harbour
Bombing of an American naval base at Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, by Japan, an Axis country. The attack brought the United States into World War II.

Axis
Alliance between Italy, Japan, and Germany. The Axis fought against the Allies.

Fifth column
Covert intelligence services (espionage) in enemy territory.

Chauvinism
Expression of aggressive patriotism.

War-time Measures Act
Adopted in 1914, the War-time Measures Act gave emergency powers to the federal government when the latter detected "a war, invasion, or uprising, real or suspected." This Act curtailed the civil liberties of Canadian citizens.

Civil liberties
This expression includes the right to protection against arrest, detention, searches and abusive or arbitrary seizures, and the right to an attorney.

World War I
War waged from 1914 to 1918, claiming nine million lives. Although the conflict first began with the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance, other countries joined the conflict by taking one side or the other.

Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF)
Army formed in Canada in 1914 to serve overseas. The contingent was governed by British Armed Forces Law and held the status of a colonial troop.

Axis
Alliance between Italy, Japan, and Germany. The Axis fought against the Allies.

Allies
Alliance between (among others) the United States, Canada and Great Britain, to fight against the Axis.

Cabinet
Political group comprised of the Prime Minister and his ministers. The latter are from the party with the most deputies in the House of Commons.

House of Commons
One of the two houses in Parliament (the other being the Senate) whose role is to vote on law and, in theory, monitor government activity. Until the arrival of the War-time Elections Act, its members (the deputies), were elected by male adults only.

Patriotism
Love of one's country and desire to devote oneself, even sacrifice one's life, to defend it, especially against armed attacks.