Transcript of the apology by the Government of BC for Japanese Canadian internment during World War II
Monday, May 7th, 2012
British Columbia Parliament Buildings
Honorable Naomi Yamamoto (Minister of Advanced Education)
Motions Without Notice
GOVERNMENT APOLOGY FOR JAPANESE CANADIAN INTERNMENT DURING WORLD WAR II
Hon. N. Yamamoto: By leave, I move:
[Be it resolved that this House apologizes for the events during the Second World War, when under the authority of the federal War Measures Act, 21,000 Japanese Canadians were incarcerated in internment camps in the interior of British Columbia and had their property seized. The House deeply regrets that these Canadians were discriminated against simply because they were of Japanese descent and believes that all Canadians regardless of their origins should be welcomed and respected.]
Hon. N. Yamamoto: In the Canada of today we are blessed to live in an open, inclusive and multicultural society. In 1941 this was not the case for my father, Mas, a Canadian citizen. While attending Point Grey junior secondaryat the age of 14, he loved school and he loved being a cadet. But one day in December of that year Mas was called to the principal’s office, along with some of his Japanese-Canadian school buddies who were cadets as well.
The principal informed them that they would have to choose between typing class and basketball as a replacement for cadet training because they were no longer permitted to participate in cadets. My dad was stunned when the principal said: “We are at war with your people, and precautions must be taken.” My dad suddenly realized that the word “we” did not include him and that “your people” meant the Japanese. He thought to himself: “The Japanese aren’t our people. Our people are Canadians.”
They left the principal’s office numb. His mother had just sent him to school to buy war stamps to support Canada’s war efforts.
A few months later he was one of more than 21,000 Canadians of Japanese descent who were uprooted from B.C.’s west coast and sent to internment camps throughout the province. Like my dad and his brothers and sisters, 14,000 of those interned were born in Canada.
The Canadian federal government had issued the internment order under the provisions of the War Measures Act. This order had support from the B.C. government of the day. In fact, a delegation from the B.C. government — including the B.C. Minister of Labour, the Provincial Secretary and the provincial police commissioner — travelled to Ottawa to make the case for internment.
These delegates pledged publicly to press for the suspension of Japanese-Canadian fishing licences, the sale of Japanese-Canadian fishing vessels to non-Japanese and the internment of all male Japanese Canadians of military age. The RCMP and senior officials within Canada’s military opposed these recommendations and argued that Japanese Canadians did not pose a threat to national security.
In spite of this, the B.C. delegation insisted upon the removal of all Japanese Canadians from the Pacific coast and threatened non-cooperation if the federal government did not heed their demands.
Baseless allegations of sabotage and espionage triumphed, and on March 24, 1942, my dad, his brothers and sisters and their mother — my grandmother — had just 24 hours to pack up their belongings before being relocated. My dad’s father had died in 1939, leaving my grandmother with six children to raise on her own.
This is a historical injustice for which our provincial government of the time was directly responsible. The scope of this betrayal of our core values is illustrated by the experience of the Japanese Canadians. The Canadian government assured the Japanese Canadians that their homes, fishing boats and other assets would be returned upon their release. Instead, they were sold off at auction for cents on the dollar.
Unlike prisoners of war, who are protected by the Geneva Convention, Japanese Canadians had to pay for their own internment in this way. Their movements were restricted, and their mail was censored. Men were separated from their families and forced into work crews, building roads, railroads, and harvesting sugar beets. Women and children and seniors were sent inland to internment camps in small towns such as Greenwood, Sandon, Rosebery, New Denver and Slocan in the Kootenays.
My dad’s family was interned in Lemon Creek until the end of the war. Now, Lemon Creek is a beautiful part of the province, but the conditions in the camps at the time were very harsh.
During their internment parents lobbied for education for their children, and shacks were converted into classrooms. In New Denver, where my mother’s family was detained, the United Church generously set up a high school. Many children walked miles from other internment camps to New Denver just to go to school.
The war ended in 1945, and the abuses continued. Canadians of Japanese descent were ordered to move east of the Rockies or shipped to war-torn Japan. There was a concerted effort to permanently remove all Japanese Canadians from British Columbia.
My dad’s family actually managed to stay in the Okanagan. Oyama, then a small Okanagan village, became home for a while. It wasn’t until 1949 when Japanese Canadians were legally permitted to return to B.C.’s west coast.
My dad was 22 in 1949, without a high school education, but the year is significant. In 1949 Canadians of Japanese descent gained their right to vote. And 60 years later, in 2009, I was honoured to become the first Canadian of Japanese descent to be elected to B.C.’s Legislative Assembly.
Now, this House has heard me tell the story of the barriers that my dad overcame to complete his high school education by correspondence. He eventually earned a PhD in pharmacology at UBC about 20 years after the end of the war. He did that working full-time and raising kids. He’s in the House today at a different time in our history.
This is a story of one small family. The scope and breadth of what was done to so many Canadians by virtue of their ethnicity is difficult to contemplate through the lens of today.
In 1988 the federal government offered a formal apology and a compensation package, which included funding to create the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. Although the federal government was ultimately responsible for the actions that took place, they acted on the urgings of many British Columbians.
Some of the interned citizens were decorated veterans from the First World War who had been recognized for their bravery and sacrifice for Canada just a couple of decades earlier. Not a single Japanese Canadian was ever charged with an act of disloyalty.
Despite these injustices, hardships and acts of discrimination, most of the interned chose not to be bitter. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt their lives and their communities once they were allowed to return home. The painful details of these times are generally not shared with their children until many years later because there was too much work to be done.
“We should always remember, wherever we came from,” my dad says. But I hope that someday people will forget about being Indo-Canadian, German-Canadian or Japanese-Canadian. There’s a time when we have to say: “Above all, we are Canadians.”
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the internment, so it is fitting for us to take time to reflect on this moment in our province’s history and commit to ensuring that nothing like this ever happens again. I would urge both sides of the House to support this motion, a formal apology to the Japanese-Canadian community, as a reaffirmation of our commitment to be a welcoming society free of discrimination in any form. There are people in this gallery today who deserve this. [Applause.]
A. Dix: Thank you to the minister for her powerful story, her powerful words. I think it is an important occasion and one for us to reflect on our past — which we often do with pride — with some realism.
The policies in question with respect to the internment were disconnected from reality. They were amoral and immoral, and they reflected very much on our province. It’s impossible to argue that British Columbia wasn’t the most responsible as a province for what occurred, when compared to other jurisdictions in Canada and neighbouring jurisdictions in the United States.
Twenty-one thousand people interned, families initially separated, people sent to barns at Hastings Park and then distributed and sent all over the province and all over the country in fact reflects, I think, a stain on our history — one that our actions, the actions in 1988 of Canada to apologize and the redress that came from that, and the extraordinary efforts and extraordinary story of so many people who fought for that redress at that time may in some ways mitigate but not remove.
I wanted to speak in support of the motion of the minister today and say, as she has noted, that these actions are not disconnected, either, from actions that took place after the war. As the minister has noted, there was significant action in British Columbia after 1945, when people were not allowed to return home — in fact, not allowed to return home, if you can believe it, until April 1, 1949.
It was the law in British Columbia that Japanese Canadians could not go near a hundred miles of the coast until 1949 — by the way, four years after the United States allowed just such a thing.
So 15,000 Japanese Canadians in British Columbia in 1945; 6,000 in 1949; 4,000 sent to Japan, most of them citizens of our country — 1,900 of those children, citizens of our country.
I think one can only appreciate with wonder what people have done subsequent to that — the grace they’ve shown. And it is grace.
I wanted to pay tribute from our side of the House to Dr. Yamamoto and all of the people — I had the opportunity to meet Tosh and Amy Suzuki today, who had a similar path — who were stuck for a long time on the Prairies, farming sugar beets as children 48 weeks of the year, long after the war was over.
So I think the apology is apt 70 years after the internment started. I think it allows us to reflect on our own history and what has been lost and what has been achieved over that time.
The final thing I’d say is that it is, I think, a message to all of us that human rights are something that all of us have an obligation to defend. There were no political parties in this Legislature in 1941 that have any honour in this — none. This was a stain on this place that we are addressing today, one that I think is important to address. It’s one that was a long time coming.
In 1908 — all of us know this — measures were taken to target Japanese Canadians and other Canadians under immigration laws in our country, laws that were on the books until 1967. In 1936 Japanese Canadians from British Columbia went to Ottawa to fight for the franchise, the right to vote, which they did not have.
So this is, in the context of our history, something that we need to ensure remains current, because there are always challenges. There are always people to be targeted. There are always people to blame. We have to stand firm for human rights.
So yes, we apologize. Yes, we apologize. Yes, we honour, because honour is deserved. Yes, we recognize that in the redressment here, all of us benefit. Yes, we know that there may not be a Charter of Rights and Freedoms if it wasn’t for the advocacy of Japanese Canadians. Yes, we know that the War Measures Act would never have been changed had it not been for the advocacy of Japanese Canadians.
We say, “We apologize,” but we also say: “Thank you for all of your contributions.” [Applause.]