Canadians tend to see themselves as a generally tolerant, fair, and unbiased people. But if one of the treasures that we value as British Columbians and Canadians includes our constitutional rights, then we owe it to ourselves to visit places that illustrate how fragile those rights can sometimes be in moments of crisis.
The Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre is Canada's only interpretive centre that is dedicated to the memory of the uprooting and internment of more than 22,000 Canadians of Japanese heritage -- one of the worst violations of human rights in B.C. and Canadian history.
In 1942, in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the declaration of war against Japan, the Canadian government passed an Order in Council authorizing the removal of "enemy aliens" within a 160-km radius of the B.C. coast. It didn't matter that the vast majority of these people were Canadian citizens and that most had been born in Canada. They were given 24 hours to pack a maximum of 68 kg of possessions (34 kg for children) before being displaced. Women, children and older people were sent to internment camps. Able-bodied men were forced into road-construction camps. Those who complained or violated a curfew were sent to prisoner of war facilities in Ontario. Meanwhile, their confiscated homes, furniture, cars and boats were sold off to pay for the cost of their internment.
As if this were not enough, at the end of the war, the government gave Japanese Canadians the choice of being "repatriated" to Japan and losing their Canadian citizenship, or moving to Eastern Canada. It was not until 1949 that they were allowed to return to the West Coast. By this time, for most Japanese Canadians, there was nothing to return to.
Those who believe that something like this could never happen again need only think of the Maher Arar case in which Canadian government agencies were complicit in the U.S. detention and forced removal of a Canadian citizen to Syria where he was tortured for nearly a year. Though in his case, it took only four years for the Canadian government to admit culpability and offer compensation, Japanese-Canadians were forced to wait 46 years for limited redress and an official apology. [Link]
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