I live in a retirement residence with about 100 other people. One of them is Joyce Hirasawa. Joyce was born August 19, 1925 in Burnaby British Columbia. She was the youngest of four children. Her mother died when she was quite young and her father remarried and had four more children, only to be widowed again. Fred, as her father was known, worked in a sawmill. He built his own home and the family planted their own vegetables. They were solid citizens
In the summer of 1942 Joyce was fifteen and about to turn sixteen. She was a typical happy-go-lucky Canadian high school student. One day the RCMP came knocking at the door. They entered the house and went through all the cupboards. They confiscated the family radio and took Joyce's Brownie camera. Some of us, who are over seventy, remember Brownie cameras.
That's not all. Fred was sent to a work camp leaving what, by this time, were six children without a parent . Joyce and her older sister were sent, along with the four younger children, to live in tents in Hastings Park. In September they were moved to a community called New Denver in the interior of British Columbia.
Eventually, Fred convinced the authorities that he was a carpenter and, because carpenters were needed in the New Denver community, he was allowed to return home. During the fall the family continue to live in tents. Eventually, a shack was built for them. They could she see through the cracks in the wood in their shack that very cold winter.
The following spring the whole family was moved to a place called Picture Butt, Alberta. They were placed on a sugarbeet farm which was owned and operated by German speaking immigrants. (The irony of the situation didn't seem to have occurred to Joyce when she was telling me the story.) They worked this farm until Joyce was twenty-two years old, 1949. Then the family was allowed to move into Tabor into the home of another German-speaking family. Joyce was permitted to travel to Calgary to take a dressmaking course but, even then, she needed regular clearance from the RCMP in order to board trains between Calgary and Tabor.
Eventually, Joyce met and married George, a Japanese Canadian from Tabor and they had six children. Joyce proudly showed me a picture taken on their fiftieth wedding anniversary in 2005, showing all six children, their spouses and eleven grandchildren. George's profession was that of a chicken sexer. A chicken sexer is a person who looks at chicks when they come out of the egg and divides the hens from the roosters. I am told the family moved to Hamilton because Hamilton was in need of a chicken sexer.
It is extremely difficult to imagine the rampant and thoughtless racism that existed in North America and in Japan in 1941 and 1942. There is evidence that the Japanese were building an industrial complex in the late 30s, including activities such as confiscating car plants from the "big three" American car companies and handing them to Toyota, in anticipation of a war. There is also much evidence that a war was about to begin. The polls in the United States showed that the population of that country was quite expecting it to be immersed into World War II even before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Nevertheless, governments on both sides seem to have encouraged racial hatred. Within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, President Roosevelt had convinced Congress to declare war. Within a few days, the Canadian government had placed into effect racist programs with the intent of destroying the Japanese community on Canada's west coast and proceded to confiscate the property of Japanese Canadians. The Japanese attacked Hong Kong and by Christmas Day had almost 2000 Canadian troops captured as prisoners of war. These prisoners were treated in a most inhumane manner. Many were murdered and many had to spend the rest of the war in virtual slavery.
I still find it hard to comprehend that decisions were made on both sides in a manner that involved such a gross violation of the human rights of Canadian citizens. Apparently, there is no evidence whatsoever that any Canadian citizen of Japanese ancestry expressed any treasonous opinions or showed any inclination to support Japan in the war. Briefing notes from the military and from the police as well as public expressions of opinion by the leaders of both the military and the RCMP cautioned against taking any steps of a racist nature. They also cautioned against encouraging the inflammation of anti-Japanese feelings by political leadership. What racist feelings that did exist were expressed on Vancouver Island, not on the mainland, even although practically all Japanese Canadians lived on the mainland.
Cabinet documents and other speeches and writings that have been subsequently unearthed seem to show that one person, Ian Alister Mackenzie, a partisan Liberal strategist and the sole member of the Cabinet from British Columbia, convinced the whole Cabinet to embark on a program of moving all people of Japanese ancestry out of British Columbia. All their property was seized and sold to "white" Canadians. Similar programs took place in the United States, but that country was much more careful in preserving the property of their citizens and permitted them to return to the West Coast even before the conclusion of the war in 1945. As Joyce's story shows, Canada continued to torment its innocent citizens right up until 1949.
In 1988, after the Americans set the example by offering an apology and some structured compensationto their citizens, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney offered an apology and some structured compensation, in a lesser amount of money than the Americans had been given, to Japanese Canadians.
I am trying to grasp why people express hatred toward other ethnic or religious groups. In so doing, I reach back into my own memory. In the summer of 1945 I was seven years old and my brother, Mac, was fifteen. The "War in Europe" had ended and our national attention was being turned, really for the first time, to the war against Japan. We owed it to the Americans, who had done so much for us in Europe, to help them .Young men were being encouraged to join up and relieve pressure on the tired troops who were about to be brought back from Europe and sent on to the Orient. Mac felt a duty to join up as soon as he reached his sixteenth birthday which would have been August 8th. You can imagine the relief in our family when we were told on August 6th that an atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, creating a distinct possibility that the war was about to end.
Mac passed away some years ago but, in a conversation we had shortly before he died, he expressed to me the huge fear he had had about having to go to a foreign country and fight people who seemed to be aliens to him. He had never seen a Japanese person when he was fifteen years old. All he knew was what he read in war oriented comic books where "Japs" were painted as evil monsters.
21,000 people were ordered out of British Columbia, with all of their property seized. Regulations remained in place until 1949. That generation couldn't speak for themselves but an apology eventually occurred in 1988, when the next generation pointed out the injustices which had occurred. Let us as a people make certain that nothing like this ever happens again.
The good news is that Joyce has recovered and has a good life, as is evidnced by her her living happily in this retirment residence.