Canada’s dark history of discrimination

by Ruth Griffiths

On this day in 1942, Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced in the House of Commons that all Japanese Canadians living within 100 miles of the Pacific coast were to be removed inland to safeguard the defences of the Pacific Coast of Canada.

The following day, the Government started to evacuate 21,000 Japanese Canadians from coastal regions of British Columbia to interior work camps under the War Measures Act.

Canada had been at war since 1939, but the United States did not enter the Second World War until after the Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order on Feb. 19, 1942 ordering the relocation of all Americans of Japanese ancestry to concentration camps in the interior of the United States.

Both in Canada and the United States there was no evidence that citizens of Japanese ancestry were a security risk.

It wasn’t the first time that Canada had locked up people not for what they had done but simply because of their ethnicity. During the First World War more than 8,000 Canadians were imprisoned for being “enemy aliens.”

Eight thousand people were falsely imprisoned and treated as prisoners of war in Canada: 5,000 Ukrainians, but also Serbians, Croatians, Armenians, Hungarians and Germans. They were detained in 24 internment camps along with prisoners of war. The government frequently employed internees on massive labour projects, including the development of Banff National Park and numerous mining and logging operations. They were paid 25 cents a day, much less than the going rate for labour.

Under the War Measures Act, immigrants from enemy countries (Germany, Austria- Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) were required to register with the North West Mounted Police or the militia. About 80,000 people registered and then regularly presented their registration cards, each time paying $2 (about a day’s wages at the time) to cover the cost of the process.

Saskatchewan had one, short-lived, internment camp: the Eaton Camp, located at the junction of Highway 60 and the Canadian National Railway, four kilometers southwest of Saskatoon. The detainees arrived on Feb. 25, 1919, travelling from the camp at Munson, Alta., where they had worked on the railway. The war had already ended on Nov. 11, 1918. On March 21, 1919, they were moved to a military installation at Amherst, Nova Scotia and then deported.

On Oct. 28, 2014, to mark the 100 years since “enemy aliens” were required to register, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC-SPC) placed a plaque at the site of the Eaton Camp. The plaque portrays internees behind barbed wire at Castle Mountain Internment Camp in Banff.

In 1988, the Canadian government under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney delivered a formal apology and a multi-million dollar compensation package to Japanese-Canadians affected by WW2 internment. Surviving former internees received $21,000 each and those who were deported had their Canadian citizenship reinstated.

In November 2005, after a long, grassroots campaign by the Ukrainian community, Bill C-331 (The Ukrainian Canadian Restitution Act) recognized the internment of Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War. It called for the federal government “to provide for public commemoration and for restitution which is to be devoted to education and the promotion of tolerance.”

The Endowment Council of the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund was established in 2008. It manages commemorative and educational projects and represents all communities affected by the internment operations.

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