The Devil is in the Details
A year ago, in the April 2008 issue of The Bulletin, we celebrated our 50th Anniversary issue. It was a milestone for our humble publication and we spent a number of issues looking back over the early years of The Bulletin. As noted in those articles, it was a period of rebuilding. Lives and livelihoods had been put on hold during those uncertain years that spanned the internment and another four years after the war ended. Once the restrictions had been lifted, those that chose to return set about starting over. The Bulletin was created by Mickey Tanaka and the JCCA as a way of facilitating communication between community members and organizations—a function that we continue to this day.
April 1st, 2009 marks the 60th Anniversary of the lifting of the restrictions that kept Japanese Canadians outside the hundred-mile-limit that was imposed following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is not a date that receives a lot of attention but it is significant in that it signalled the end of a long series of legal manoeuvres that were instigated by the Canadian Government to deal with the Japanese “problem”.
On December 7, 1941, immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Canadian Government declared war on Japan and enacted the War Measures Act, Order in Council PC (Privy Council) 9591, requiring all Japanese nationals to register by February 7 with the Registrar of Enemy Aliens.
The War Measures Act, which was enacted in August 1914, was a Canadian statute that allowed the government to assume sweeping emergency powers. The definition of the War Measures act is: An act to confer extraordinary powers upon the Governor in Council in the event of “war, invasion or insurrection, real or apprehended.” (The Canadian Encyclopedia). This was the second time the act was invoked in Canadian history (the first being during World War One; it would be invoked for the last time during the October Crisis in 1970).
Because many “Japanese” were in fact Canadian citizens, on December 16, 1941, Order-in-Council PC 9760 was passed, requiring mandatory registration of all persons of Japanese origin, regardless of citizenship, with the Registrar of Enemy Aliens. In the first months of 1942, Orders-in-Council PC 365, 1486 and 1665 were passed to (respectively): create a 100-mile “protected area” on the coast of British Columbia from which male enemy aliens were excluded; expand the power of the Minister of Justice to remove any and all persons from the protected zone who were of Japanese heritage; and place all property and belongings under the guardianship of the Custodian of Enemy Alien Property as a “protective measure only”.
These four Orders-in-Council were the first of many that were passed as needed to fulfil the Government’s objective, which was to ultimately get rid of the Japanese Canadian community for good. In June, 1942, Order-in-Council PC 5523 gave the Director of Soldier Settlement authority to purchase or lease farms owned by Japanese Canadians. He subsequently bought 572 farms without consulting the owners. Then in January, 1943, Order-in-Council PC 469 allowed the government, through the Custodian of Enemy Alien Property to sell Japanese-Canadian property held in custody without owners’ consent, effectively stripping Japanese Canadians of any tangible connections to the west coast.
In January, 1945, towards the end of the Pacific War, and as Japanese Canadians were finally allowed to enlist in the army (at the request of the British Government), Orders-in-Council PC 7335, 7356 and 7357 empowered the government to assess the loyalty of Japanese Canadians, order their deportation and strip them of citizenship.
On January 1, 1946, on expiry of the War Measures Act, the National Emergency Transitional Powers Act was enacted to keep the measures against Japanese Canadians in place. This is in direct contrast to the United States, where the Constitution provided Japanese Americans with the legal tools to free them from their own detention in 1945, allowing them to return to their homes.
Even in 1947, two years after Japan’s surrender, the federal government continued to seek the deportation of Japanese Canadians and a deportation Order-in-Council was repealed only after protests by churches, academics, journalists and other politicians. When the Citizenship Act extended the franchise to Canadians of Chinese and South Asian origin in April of that same year, it excluded Japanese Canadians and aboriginal peoples.
It took another two years, until 1949, for the last restrictions to be lifted and Japanese Canadians given full rights of citizenship and freedom to move anywhere in Canada. The next year, 1950, Order-in-Council PC 4364 revoked an order prohibiting immigration of “enemy aliens”, and provided for some of those deported to re-immigrate to Canada. Eventually, about one quarter of those who went to Japan returned.
Set against the human drama of the Japanese Canadian story, the legal machinations of the government appear as dry numbers, listed matter-of-factly in the timeline of our history. Yet they say the devil is in the details, and this holds true here. With the stroke of a pen, livelihoods were destroyed, families torn apart and life-savings decimated.
It is no accident that prior to the war, while Japanese Canadians were facing racial discrimination in their everyday lives, the best minds of the community were engaged in legal challenges before the courts, arguing for equal treatment before the law. They understood that as long as they were seen as second class citizens in the eyes of the law, that they would never achieve equality in the eyes of their fellow Canadians.
Ultimately, of course, the rightness of their battle for equality could be ignored no longer and on April 1, 1949, almost eight years after what few rights they had were stripped away, Japanese Canadians were given full rights of citizenship.
On Tuesday, April 14, longtime JCCA board member and film lover Pearl Williams will be remembered with a special screening of the film Cherry Blossoms – Hanami at the Vancouver International Film Centre (please see page 9 for details). Community members who knew Pearl are invited to attend. For more information or to RSVP, please call shag at 604.922.9226.
Condolences to the family of Bev Inouye, who passed away last month after a number of years of ill health. Bev was the daughter of a World War One veteran and devoted much of her energy during her later years to honouring the memory of the Nikkei veterans through the yearly Remembrance Day ceremony at Stanley Park that she helped organize. Bev truly understood the meaning of the word remembrance and we remember her devotion and dedication in that same spirit.