This Week in History


The Promise

For the week of Monday September 17, 2001

On September 22, 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signed a redress agreement with Japanese Canadians who were interned in Canada during the Second World War. The apology he delivered in the House of Commons ended a painful episode in Canadian history, and promised "Canadians of every origin that such violations will never again in this country be countenanced or repeated."

Japanese Canadians Being Relocated to Camps in the Interior of British Columbia

Japanese Canadians Being Relocated to
Camps in the Interior of British Columbia

© LAC / C-057250

The bombing of Pearl Harbour by Japan in 1941 created an opportunity for those who disliked Asians to force Japanese Canadians out of their communities. Although the RCMP and the military opposed the idea, the Canadian government "evacuated" more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians from their homes, justifying the move for reasons of national security. Many evacuees were confined in Hastings Park stables and barracks until they were transferred to internment camps in the British Columbia interior or to sugar beet farms in Alberta and Manitoba. Some men were sent to labour camps; families were separated.

The hardships did not end there. In 1943, without the permission of the owners, the government sold the property that evacuees had been forced to leave. Japanese Canadians who were found without their identification cards, or travelling without permission from the RCMP or BC Security Commission, gained criminal records. In 1944, the government forced Japanese Canadians to choose between dispersal east of the Rockies, or signing a request to be "repatriated" to Japan after the war. Between 1945 and 1946, 4,000 people were exiled before public protests stopped the deportations. The Second World War ended in 1945, but restrictions on Japanese Canadians were not lifted until April 1, 1949.

Group of Interned Japanese Canadian Men at a Road Camp

Group of Interned Japanese Canadian Men
at a Road Camp

© LAC / PA-118000

The centennial of Japanese immigration to Canada was celebrated in 1977, and the community talked about the internment, which had been hidden as a shameful experience. They began negotiations with the government to seek redress, and in 1988, the National Association of Japanese Canadians and the government of Canada agreed on a redress package. It included recognition of individuals affected by wartime injustices by an apology, a symbolic monetary payment, offers to reinstate citizenship to those deported, and offers to expunge criminal records accrued because of wartime restrictions. There was recognition of the damage done to the community through a community fund and recognition of the need to prevent repetitions of such injustices by establishing the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

A plaque in Vancouver commemorates the Japanese Canadian Internment as an event of national historic significance.

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