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Japanese Canadian legacies honoured as part of redressing historical wrongs

CANADA, May 21 - New community programs focused on seniors’ health, culture and education are part of a new initiative announced by Premier John Horgan to provide lasting recognition of historical wrongs committed by the Province of B.C. against Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.

Premier Horgan made the announcement at the Steveston Martial Arts Centre, the oldest Japanese-style dojo in North America, alongside Rachna Singh, Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives, Kelly Greene, MLA for Richmond-Steveston, former MLA Naomi Yamamoto, and members of the Japanese Canadian community. This year marks 80 years since the internment of Japanese Canadians across B.C., and May 21 is a day of significance that recognizes the first arrivals of Japanese Canadians to the Greenwood, Kaslo, New Denver, Slocan City and Sandon Internment Camps in 1942.

The $100-million initiative is the result of engagement with the community, through the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC), and will include funding for: enhanced health and wellness programs for internment-era survivors; creating and restoring heritage sites for all British Columbians to explore and learn, including a monument to honour survivors of the internment era; and updating B.C.’s curriculum to teach future generations about this dark chapter in B.C.’s history.

It builds on a 2012 apology by the B.C. Legislature and responds to a redress proposal advanced in 2021 by the NAJC. The Province will continue to work closely with the NAJC to support these important initiatives during the coming months and years.

“Eighty years have passed since the internment of thousands of Japanese Canadians. Families were uprooted and incarcerated, forced to leave behind the lives they had worked so hard to build. It was a cruel, racist act, and the injustice still resonates today,” said Premier Horgan. “We are committing this new funding to honour the legacies of Japanese Canadians, to continue the healing of intergenerational trauma, and to serve as an important reminder of this dark chapter in B.C.’s history.”

Beginning in early 1942, more than 90% of Japanese Canadians living in British Columbia were detained under the War Measures Act and were stripped of their homes, possessions and businesses. After the war ended, Japanese Canadians were given the choice to move east of the Rockies or go to Japan, a country many had never known. In 1949, four years after the end of the Second World War, Japanese Canadians were allowed to return to the West Coast. They were still subjected to racist policies and treatment for years, and many communities never recovered.

“At age eight, together with my parents and siblings, we were uprooted from our home and life in Vancouver by the Government of Canada. The war with Japan was used as an excuse to remove from the West Coast all persons of Japanese ancestry, even as my parents were registered as 'naturalized Canadians', with born-in-Canada children,” said Grace Eiko Thomson, an internment-era survivor. “Having watched how my parents' lives were destroyed, I, now age 88, do my best to speak out whenever issues of human rights arise, particularly as related to racism.”

Of almost 22,000 Japanese Canadians who were interned, approximately 6,000 remain alive today. This funding package aims to provide some peace of mind to the survivors that their experiences will be honoured in a lasting and meaningful way that benefits British Columbians for generations.

“We acknowledge that the due process denied our community in 1942 has been granted by this government,” said Susanne Tabata, BC Redress project director, NAJC. “All of this work is about honouring our elders, past and present, and we have been thorough with community consultations between 2019 and 2021. By honouring their legacies, we built these initiatives to provide the community with specific, material improvements that redress the enduring harms of the internment era.”

This investment builds on the $2-million funding the Province provided to the Nikkei Seniors Health Care and Housing Society in May 2021 for health and wellness supports for Japanese Canadian internment-era survivors. 

“The shadow of the internment of almost 22,000 Japanese Canadians still hangs heavy over the community,” said Rachna Singh, Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives. “This discriminatory policy saw families separated, culture and community torn apart, and people uprooted from their homes and businesses. We know that healing the wounds of the past is a long process. Across government and together with our partners, we are focused on honouring the dignity and sense of belonging of all communities. It is more important than ever that we learn from the mistakes of the past and acknowledge historical injustices. I hope this announcement brings some solace to the survivors and their descendants.”

This investment is an important part of the Province’s commitment to dismantle systemic racism and build a better, more inclusive province for everyone. 

Quotes:

Mary Kitagawa, internment-era survivor

“My grandparents' retirement on their 200-acre estate on Salt Spring Island was stolen from them in 1942 after 40 years of struggle to build their home, destroying their lives forever.”

Kelly Greene, MLA for Richmond-Steveston –

“Until 1942, Steveston was home to a large Japanese Canadian community with a thriving fishing fleet. That was all taken away by the governments of the day as thousands were forced to leave their homes, boats and nearly every possession behind. The resilient Nikkei community has rebuilt since that tragic time, with the local community centre and martials art centre delivering a range of programs for Japanese Canadians. This funding will support Japanese Canadians in Steveston and across the province to reconnect with their culture and strengthen what was lost 80 years ago.”

Lorene Oikawa, president, NAJC ­­

“We honour the Japanese Canadian community, from babies to seniors, who, 80 years ago, were ripped from their homes, dispossessed and forced into exile until four years after the end of the Second World War. The B.C. government’s meaningful action will help redress the violation of rights and losses and set in motion a path to reduce systemic racism and safeguard against future injustices.”

Learn More:

For more information about the National Association of Japanese Canadians, visit: http://najc.ca/

A backgrounder follows.