B.C. government apologizes for internment of Japanese-Canadians during Second World War
The B.C. government apologized Monday for its part in the internment of 22,000 Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.
Naomi Yamamoto, the minister of advanced education rose in the legislature and introduced a motion including the apology, which passed unanimously.
Yamamoto’s parents were among those interned.
Her father, a Canadian citizen, was 14 in 1942 when he was told by his school principal that he and fellow Japanese-Canadian schoolmates could no longer be cadets.
“My dad was stunned when the principal said, ‘We are at war with your people and precautions must be taken,’ ” Yamamoto told the legislature.
“My dad suddenly realized that ‘we’ did not include him and ‘your people’ were the Japanese.”
He was among the 14,000 Canadian-born people of Japanese descent who, in 1942, were ordered into internment camps in the Interior, the Prairies and the North. The B.C. government supported the move, arguing that people of Japanese descent posed a security risk to Canada.
Speaker Bill Barisoff apologized on behalf of the legislature, stating that the house “deeply regrets” discrimination toward Canadians of Japanese descent.
The internment was ordered under the federal War Measures Act, which barred Japanese-Canadians from a 100-mile-wide (161-kilometre) “restricted area” along the coast. The federal government seized and sold off the homes, boats and other belongings of those affected, using the proceeds to pay for their internment.
“The conditions [in internment camps] were harsh and the feelings of being uprooted from the family home and having your possessions taken away from you … there was a lingering sentiment that I absorbed,” Yamamoto said in her office afterward.
Tosh Suzuki, a 77-year-old retiree from North Delta, was seven when his family was ordered to leave its 6.5-hectare strawberry farm in Pitt Meadows. Suzuki, his parents and two older siblings boarded a train to Manitoba, where they were kept for eight years — six years beyond the war’s end.
“The timing is perfect today,” said Suzuki of the apology, noting the 70th anniversary of the internment. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of patriation of the Canadian constitution, which includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a guarantee of collective and individual rights.
Suzuki first raised the issue of the apology in a letter to Yamamoto outlining his feelings on why it was warranted.
“As the first Japanese-Canadian elected to the B.C. legislature, she would be the most appropriate person to introduce that motion, and she did a wonderful job,” he said.
He called the apology a “historical event.”
NDP leader Adrian Dix rose in the house to thank Yamamoto for “her powerful story, her powerful words.”
He called the internment of Japanese-Canadians “a stain on our history” and remarked on the grace the victims have shown since.
In 1988, the federal government issued a formal apology and a $300-million compensation package, including cash for survivors, money for a Japanese community fund and financing to create the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.