The B.C. government has formally apologized for the internment of Japanese Canadians in camps in the province during the Second World War.
Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Canadian government in 1942 ordered 21,000 people of Japanese descent to relocate from the coast to camps in the province’s interior. The relocation, which was supported by the provincial government at the time, saw families separated and private property seized.
Members of B.C.’s legislative assembly today (May 7) voted unanimously to offer an apology for the internment, a step that comes on its 70th anniversary.
“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 welcome and respected,” reads the motion, introduced in the legislature by Liberal MLA Naomi Yamamoto.
Yamamoto, the first person of Japanese descent to be elected to the B.C. legislature, said her father, Mas, and his family were among those sent to the camps. He and other Japanese Canadians interned during the war were present in the legislature for the apology today.
Speaking in the legislature, Naomi Yamamoto said the provincial government of the day deserves blame for the internment, which came at a time when baseless accusations were flying about espionage and sabotage.
“The scope of this betrayal of our core values is illustrated by the experience of the Japanese Canadians,” Yamamoto said, according to a draft transcript of the debate in the legislature. “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.”
“Despite these injustices, hardships and acts of discrimination, most of the interned chose not to be bitter,” Yamamoto said. “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.”
New Democrat Opposition Leader Adrian Dix also spoke about the hardship Japanese Canadians faced, including efforts to bar them from B.C. that continued after the war.
“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,” Dix said in the legislature.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
An apology and compensation were offered by the federal government in 1988.