Lives and Trials of Kanao Inouye or Kamloops Kid: the Reluctant War Criminal
by Evan Andrew Mackay
They sound like two different people: “my friend’s great-uncle” and “Canada’s War Criminal.” When Karri Yano told me her Issei great-grandfather, Tadashi “Tow” Inouye, fought for Canada in World War I and won the Military Medal for bravery in the field, it was easy to believe because the Yanos are model citizens. By contrast, it is almost unimaginable that Tow’s only son, Kanao Inouye, could have become “the Kamloops Kid,” executed in 1947 for the deaths of Canadian POWs in World War II. A medal for the father, a noose for the son. How has no one written a novel or made a movie about this? Knowing that I write drama and fiction, Karri approached me about developing a script to dramatize this astonishing and largely overlooked chapter of Canadian history. After hearing the family’s anecdotal history, the research began in earnest.
Inouye was born in Kamloops in 1916 and, according to anecdotal accounts and his own testimony in his first trial, he had a happy life in Canada. His father died in 1926 and a decade later Inouye, after graduating from Vancouver Technical School, went to Japan with his mother to continue his education at Waseda University. But soon WWII broke out and Inouye, having been seen talking with an American reporter, was arrested by Japan’s notorious secret police, the Kempeitai, interrogated, and tortured, spending consequent months recovering at a sanatorium.
Then, if you believe what is written in many British and Canadian history books, Inouye eagerly volunteered to serve in the Imperial Japanese Army as an interpreter. Being in his early 20s, he was old enough to make his own decision, but given his circumstances as a recently arrived Nisei from Canada—notably, the first Allied country to have declared war on Japan—he may not really have had a choice in Tojo’s stridently militaristic Japan. If he had not joined the Japanese war effort, he would likely have been declared an enemy of Japan and treated accordingly.
Whether by choice or coercion, Inouye became an interrogator of Canadian POWs held in Japanese-occupied Hong Kong. There, it cannot be disputed, Inouye earned a reputation for being violent and unpredictable. In some cases, he beat prisoners so severely that a few of them died as a result. For this, he was tried and sentenced to death by the British War Crimes Court. Inouye’s lawyer filed an appeal on the grounds that, as a Canadian citizen, Inouye could not legally be tried as a war criminal which, by definition would have to be an enemy of the Commonwealth, not a member of it. After winning the appeal, Inouye was tried for High Treason by the (British) Hong Kong Supreme Court. He was convicted and hanged.
No excuse can be made for Inouye’s inhumane treatment of prisoners, and our exploration of the matter intends no disrespect to his victims, but was his trial fair and his sentence just? When Inouye was on trial for war crimes, the judge referred to him as having been merely a “guest of the Dominion of Canada” in his youth, but when on trial for treason, he was considered unequivocally Canadian—contrary to the Canadian government’s erstwhile designation of all Canadians of Japanese descent as “Enemy Aliens.” Nationality put Inouye forever at a disadvantage. He never had the luxury of choosing his loyalties or of abstaining from participation in the war. What story might he have told if, like many of his superiors, he had not been executed, far from the land of his birth and the land of his ancestors?
So far, I have written a play, Father Hero Traitor Son, which imagines Kanao in his cell between trials having a conversation with his late father, but Karri and I are expanding our research to create a comprehensive account incorporating as much factual and anecdotal detail as possible. If you can offer further insights or information relating to the lives or trials of Kanao Inouye, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Evan Andrew Mackay is a Toronto playwright and journalist who writes about culture and social justice.