The Japanese Canadian internment was the internment of more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians during the Second World War by the Government of Canada. The internment came in stages, first involving the confiscation of Japanese-Canadian fishing boats, then the forced internment of Japanese men in work camps, and eventually, the removal of others from a 100 mile "protected area" along the Pacific Coast.
Following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, prominent British Columbians, including members of municipal government offices, local newspapers and businesses called for the internment of the Japanese. In British Columbia, there were fears that some Japanese who worked in the fishing industry were charting the coastline for the Japanese navy, acting as spies on Canada's military. Military and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) authorities felt the public's fears were unwarranted, but the public opinion quickly pushed the government to act. Canadian Pacific Railway fired all the Japanese workers, and most other Canadian companies did the same. Japanese fish boats were first confined to port, and eventually, the Canadian navy seized 1,200 of these vessels. Many boats were damaged, and over one hundred sank.
In January 1942, a "protected" 100miles wide strip up the Pacific coast was created, and any men of Japanese descent between the ages of 18 and 45 were removed and taken to road camps in the British Columbian interior, to sugar beet projects on the Prairies, or to internment in a POW camp in Ontario. Despite the 100-mile quarantine, a few men at the McGillivray Falls, just outside the quarantine zone, were employed at a logging operation at Devine, near D'Arcy, British Columbia, which is inside the quarantine zone, while those in the other Lillooet Country found employment with farms, stores, and the railway. Tashme, on Highway 3 just east of Hope, among the most notorious of the camps for harsh conditions, was just outside of the exclusion zone. All others, including Slocan, were in the Kootenay Country in southeastern British Columbia.
Most of the 21,500 people of Japanese descent who lived in British Columbia were naturalized or native-born citizens. Those unwilling to live in internment camps or relocation centres faced the possibility of deportation to Japan. On February 24, 1942 an Order-in-Council passed under the War Measures Act giving the federal government the power to intern all "persons of Japanese racial origin."
In early March, all ethnic Japanese people were ordered out of the protected area, and a daytime-only curfew was imposed on them. Some of those brought inland were kept in animal stalls for the Pacific National Exhibition at Hastings Park, in Vancouver for months. They were then moved to ten camps in or near inland British Columbia towns, sometimes separating husbands from their wives and families. However, four of those camps in the Lillooet area and another at Christina Lake were formally "self-supporting projects" (also called "relocation centres") which housed selected middle and upper class families and others not deemed as much a threat to public safety.   Officially, those living in "relocation camps" were not legally interned - they could leave, so long as they had permission - however, they were not legally allowed to work or attend school outside the camps. Since the majority of Japanese Canadians had little property aside from their (confiscated) houses, these restrictions left most with no opportunity to survive outside the camps.
Some of the interned citizens had been combat veterans of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, including several men who had been decorated for bravery during the fighting on the Western Front in the First World War. While racism had been a barrier in some units between 1914-18, other units (notably the 10th Battalion) accepted sizeable numbers of ethnic Japanese Canadians without official prejudice and employed them in a combat role as individual replacements. Small numbers of military age Japanese-Canadians were later permitted to serve in the Canadian Army in the Second World War, as interpreters and in signal/intelligence units.
While conditions likely varied from camp to camp, general conditions were poor enough that the Red Cross transferred fundamental food shipments from the citizens of wartime to internees. During the period of detention, the Canadian government spent one-third the per capita amount expended by the U.S. on Japanese American evacuees. The BC Government refused to fund education for young Japanese Canadians. Then the Federal Government stepped in and helped out the Japanese and arranged classes from grades 1 to 10. With the help of the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, and the United Church high school became a reality so grades 11 and 12 came into effect as well. The first place to get a school up and running was in Lemon Creek.
In 1943, the Canadian "Custodian of Aliens" began to sell the possessions of Japanese Canadians without the owners' permission. The Custodian of Aliens held auctions for these items, ranging from farm land and houses to people's clothing. They were sold quickly at prices below market value. Funds raised went towards the fees of realtors and auctioneers, and storage/handling charges, and Japanese owners rarely received much income from the sales. Unlike official prisoners of war who, according to the Geneva Convention, didn't have to pay their living expenses, Japanese internees did.
After the victory over Japan, the federal government moved to evacuate Japanese Canadians from British Columbia altogether. Evacuees were given the choice between deportation to Japan or transfer to areas east of the Rocky Mountains. The deportations were stopped by public protest, but not until after 4,000 were deported. The majority opted to remain in Canada, and moved to Ontario, Québec and the Prairie provinces but as of 1949 they were free to live anywhere in Canada., while those in some areas such as Lillooet never left.
Following public protest, the order-in-council that authorized the forced deportation was challenged on the basis that the forced deportation of the Japanese was a crime against humanity and that a citizen could not be deported from their own country. The Prime Minister referred the matter to the Supreme Court in what was to be the first case heard in the newly constructed building housing the Court.
In a five to two decision, the Court held that the law was valid. Three of the five found that the order was entirely valid. The other two found that the provision including both women and children as threats to national security was invalid. In 1947 the deportation order was repealed, after 4,000 Japanese Canadians had already left the country. On April 1, 1949, Japanese Canadians regained their freedom to live anywhere in Canada.
Following protests, the Canadian government also launched a Royal Commission (led by Justice Henry Bird) in 1947 to examine the issue of compensation for confiscated property. By 1950, the Bird Commission awarded $1.3 million in claims to 1,434 Japanese Canadians; however, it accepted only claims based on loss of property, refusing to compensate for wrong-doing in terms of civil rights, damages due to loss of earnings, disruption of education or other issues.
In the 1970's the government allowed public access to government files. It became possible for the public to review the government's wartime actions. In her research "The Politics of Racism", historian Ann Sunahara revealed what many in the Japanese Canadian community had felt all along - the Japanese in Canada were never a threat to national security. This fact was confirmed by military and RCMP documents. Rather, the government's wartime actions were spurred on by the anti-Asian, and racist sentiments of the time. The war provided the government with the opportunity to use political means to respond to the Japanese "problem".
In the post-war years, Japanese Canadians had organized the Japanese Canadian Committee for Democracy, which later became the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC). In 1983, the NAJC mounted a major campaign for redress which demanded, among other things, a formal government apology, individual compensation, and the abolition of the War Measures Act.
To help their case, the NAJC hired Price Waterhouse to examine records to estimate the economic losses to Japanese Canadians resulting from property confiscations and loss of wages due to internment. Statisticians consulted the detailed records of Custodian of Aliens, and in their 1986, valued the total loss to Japanese Canadians totalled $443 million (in 1986 dollars).
On September 22, 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gave a long-awaited formal apology and the Canadian government began a significant compensation package, one month after President Ronald Reagan made similar gestures in the United States. The package for interned Japanese Canadians included $21,000 to all surviving internees, and the re-instatement of Canadian citizenship to those who were deported to Japan. The agreement also awarded $12 million to the NAJC to promote human rights and support the community, and $24 million for the establishment of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation to push for the elimination of racism.
The novel Obasan (1981) by Joy Kogawa centres on one family's hardships during the Japanese internment period in Canada. In the novel, Kogawa draws upon her own experiences in describing how families were often split up, had their property taken, and suffered racism from Canadian citizens and the federal government. Kogawa explores similar territory in Naomi's Road (1986), a novel for young adults with illustrations by Matt Gould.
Set in the 1970s, the novel The Electric Field (1988) by Kerri Sakamoto deals with the stigmatization of internment.
The autobiography of Masajiro Miyazaki, My Sixty Years in Canada recounts the circumstances of life in the Lillooet-area self-supporting centres and also concerning the non-Japanese there, particularly his work with the St'at'imc First Nations people, as well as documents the osteopath's enlistment as wartime coroner in that town. Miyazaki's founding of the local ambulance service and his fight to get the town a proper hospital are also covered, as are reminiscences about Vancouver's various Japanese-Canadian neighbourhoods.
Ken Adachi's book The Enemy That Never Was, a history of the Japanese Canadian community from 1877 to 1975, includes substantial coverage of the internments.
David Suzuki's first autobiography "Metamorphosis: Stages in a Life" (1987) deals with his childhood as an internee.