CHENG YU TUNG EAST ASIAN LIBRARY
The Power of Voice
Media Representation and the Injustices Against Japanese Canadians During World War II
Today, Canada prides itself on its multicultural identity as a country—a national policy that, while not without its issues, has turned into a fundamental value for many citizens as it supports “the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society.” However, this was not always the case, and Japanese Canadians had to fight for their rights as citizens. Growing up in British Columbia, I saw the influence that Japanese culture has on the coast—it is devastating to imagine how much was lost when Japanese Canadians were forcibly displaced during World War II.
Internal Migration: The Eviction of Japanese Canadians from the West Coast
After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, people of Japanese heritage in Canada were treated with suspect and contempt by the Canadian government—despite that over 75% of people of Japanese ancestry living in Canada at the time were Canadian citizens, either as Nisei (second generation) or naturalized citizens. By early 1942, the Canadian government issued notices of eviction for all Japanese Canadians living on the west coast due to alleged security risks, forcibly uprooting them and seizing their properties for liquidation. Most were sent to camps or farms in the interior of B.C. and Alberta, but some went as far as Ontario. Those who resisted were sent to prisoner-of-war camps.
Toronto Refuses to Take Any B.C. Japs” Canadian Press, April 22 1942. Series 5, Box 13, F. G. Shears Collection. Courtesy of the Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library, University of Toronto. (Collection housed at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto)
Most of those who migrated to Ontario were settled into rural towns primarily in the Niagara region, but many wanted to move to Toronto. Unfortunately, only the first few hundred who arrived were able to settle there. As this newspaper clipping shows, the Toronto City Council issued a four-year ban on Japanese-Canadians coming to the city. Racist attitudes accompanied these laws as many potential employers and landlords in Toronto refused to accept Japanese-Canadian workers and tenants. Fortunately, not everyone in Toronto reacted as such—many Japanese-Canadians found friendly faces and fair work particularly from the Jewish community, which forged a friendship between the communities that has lasted decades.
The Power of Voice and Representation
When introducing the ban in Toronto, Mayor Conboy carefully constructed a sterile statement to obscure the racist actions of the council, while the newspaper added slurs to match the attitudes behind the decision. Media representation is powerful and the mainstream newspapers in Canada silenced Japanese-Canadian voices during the war.
Although they faced governmentally sanctioned discrimination, Japanese Canadians carried on with dignity and fought for justice against the wrongs they endured. The National Association of Japanese Canadians recognized the importance of media coverage when seeking redress after the war and worked to gain support from major newspaper companies. Their efforts succeeded and in 1988, Prime Minister Mulroney gave an official apology along with symbolic redress payments. Now, many Japanese Canadians have taken the opportunity to put a voice to their experiences in Canada during WWII and the following years—several of which are archived on the SEDAI website—providing first-hand accounts of the discrimination they faced, the support they received, and above all, their perseverance in the face of adversity.
Hannah Monkman was born and raised in Victoria, B.C. She moved across the country to study at the University of Toronto after having received her Bachelor’s at the University of Victoria with a double major in Greek and Roman Studies and Medieval Studies. She is passionate about the visitor experience in museums, appreciating the value of diverse perspectives and ensuring that information—in all its forms—is made accessible to all who wish to learn.