It has been 80 years since approximately 22,000 Japanese Canadians were forced into government-run internment camps during the Second World War. Many of them were forcibly relocated from the south coast of B.C. and trauma from the experience lingers to this day.
On Saturday, (May 21) B.C. Premier John Horgan announced that the province will provide $100 million in funding through the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC).
“This endowment will not change the past, but it will ensure the generations that are with us still and those that come after will have the opportunity to see something positive come out of a dark period in our collective history,” Horgan said.
Funding will support health and wellness programs for internment-era survivors, the creation and restoration of heritage sites, and updating the B.C. public school curriculum to teach future generations about the discrimination Japanese Canadians faced before, during and after the war.
Military and RCMP leadership did not consider Japanese Canadians a national security threat during the Second World War. Despite that, pervasive racism spearheaded by politicians in B.C. led to Japanese families being forcibly removed from coastal communities and being interned in at camps in the interior. Their homes, businesses and belongings were seized by the government and sold at auction. The stated intent of many politicians was to prevent Japanese Canadians from ever living west of the Rocky Mountains.
Over 90 per cent of Japanese Canadians in B.C. were interned beginning in 1942. They were not allowed to return to the coast until 1949, four years after the war ended.
“We lost our community where we had a strong sense of belonging. We lost our language. Many lost their opportunity for an education, like my older sister. We lost our chance for a brighter future. We lost our chance to pass on intergenerational wealth,” internment-era survivor Mary Kitigawa said. “Many, like my grandparents, lost their enjoyment of a retirement that they worked a whole lifetime to achieve. Many, like my parents, lost the most productive years of their lives. Some elderly parents lost hope and committed suicide.”
The province issued a public apology to the Japanese Canadian community in 2012 on the 70-year anniversary of the internment camps. After the apology, the NAJC continued to advocate for greater support to build on the apology. In 2019, the NAJC carried out extensive consultations with the Japanese Canadian community, which laid the foundation for the historic funding announcement.
Members of the Japanese Canadian community gathered in centres across B.C. to watch the announcement on live stream. In Hope, dozens gathered at a community centre about 20 kilometres northwest of the former Tashme Internment Camp. At 1,200 acres in size, Tashme was Canada’s largest Japanese-Canadian internment site of the Second World War where 2,644 people were forcibly detained.
“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.”
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