On December 7, 1941 Japan launched an attack on an American naval base. This was horrifying not only to the Americans but to Canadians who were so close to America. Their fear of being bombed caused them to lash out. What they didn’t realize was that those they were lashing out at were also living in fear. Fear of being bombed, and now, fear of losing all they had ever known. The anti-Japanese sentiment in Canada grew after Pearl Harbor and the government decided to do what was necessary against those they thought were a threat to the nation’s security despite them never having been an actual threat. 22,000 people were moved and of that 75% were Canadian-born citizens.
The choices the government made against the Japanese can never be fully justified yet it can be understood why they did what they did. The nation was at war with Japan and they had Japanese men, women and children living in their midst. The people were scared, and when people get scared they do things they wouldn’t normally do. In this case, it was the blatant racism and inequality shown by both the government and the people toward the japanese.
“Let our slogan be for British Columbia: No Japs from the Rockies to the seas!”
Yes, rights were taken away and lives uprooted but to the people, the government was protecting them, and to the government, it was their job to protect the nation and they would do whatever was necessary to uphold this.
The way Canadian POW were treated does not justify the treatment of Japanese-Canadians. The fear and the threat of a Japanese invasion is not reason enough for what the government did. Many japanese that were seen as a threat were not even born in japan. They were born in Canada and had never even been to japan. One deportee said, “I am a Canadian. I cannot speak the language…”. In Canada they were seen as the enemy because they were of Japanese descent and in Japan they were seen as, “…Canadian and an enemy.” These were Canadian citizens that the government treated like criminals. Their lives were turned upside down and never fixed. These Canadians were not convicted of anything. They had done nothing wrong, and their only crime was being of Japanese descent.
The $21,000 compensation given to japanese Canadians acknowledges that what the government did was wrong and it should not have been done. But that is all. That is all it can ever do; acknowledge what had been done and show remorse. This can never truly make up for what has been done and the lives ruined. It doesn’t change the past or erase the treatment of these people and their families. All we can do is try and learn from our decisions and strive for a better more equal future.