This post is part of the LRC’s 25 year anniversary project. We are asking our readers for the most influential Canadian books published in the last quarter century. For more information, click here.
On February 25, 1942, the Canadian government ordered all Japanese Canadians living within 160 km of the coast in British Columbia to leave. Property and businesses were forcefully sold. Families were broken up. People were given very little time to organise. It is worth noting that those affected were not aliens or foreign workers unfortunately caught in North America by the onset of war in the Pacific: three quarters of them had either been born in Canada or had acquired citizenship—they were Canadian citizens.
It did not matter. Reasons of “national security” dictated that they move. History subsequently showed however that the government’s thinking had largely been influenced by racism, not genuine security threats. In August 1944, Mackenzie King was even forced to admit that “it is a fact that no person of Japanese race born in Canada has been charged with any act of sabotage or disloyalty during the years of war.” It took another 44 years before Brian Mulroney stood up in the House of Commons to finally offer an official apology.
Roy Miki’s book is not a joyful page-turner. It often dwells too much on the minutiae of events that are of little interest to outsiders. But it is an important historical document nonetheless, one which chronicles the slow and often contentious attempts of Japanese Canadians to come together to seek redress from the Canadian government. And behind it all lies a fundamental lesson: fear and prejudice form a potent mix that, unchecked, can easily lead to a betrayal of democracy.
Martin Laflamme is a Canadian Foreign Service Officer who served in Japan, Afghanistan and China. He is currently a Deputy Director in the Southeast Asia and Oceania Division at Global Affairs Canada.