CHENG YU TUNG EAST ASIAN LIBRARY
Discrimination and Persecution in WWII Canada
Political and Communal Attitudes towards Japanese-Canadians
Times of conflict generate complex and unexpected conditions for specific immigrant communities. Juxtaposing a 1942 newspaper article and photograph from Canadian newspapers, I discovered that discrimination towards Japanese, Italians, and Germans living in Canada during World War II was not a binary ‘top-down’ phenomenon. For Canada, the war began on September 10, 1939. The government expected all Canadians to make sacrifices for the war effort. However, in January 1941, Prime Minister Mackenzie King exempted anyone with Japanese ancestry from joining the service. Due to the increase of Japanese aggression in Southeast Asia and the attack on Pearl Harbour, Canada declared war on Japan and invoked the War Measures Act. The Act applied to nationals and descendants from Canada’s wartime ‘enemies,’ which included Japanese, Italian, and German Canadians, regardless of place of birth or citizenship.
“Japanese, Germans, Italians Affected by R.C.M.P. Order”
Canadian newspaper article describing the evacuation order for Japanese people living in “protected areas” in British Columbia and Alberta.
Source: Japanese, Germans, Italians affected by R.C.M.P. order. (1942, February 14). F.G. Shears Collection (Series 5, Box 13), Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library, University of Toronto (housed at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto).
Enemy aliens, writes the author of the February 1942 newspaper article, must leave the protected area west of the Cascade Mountains by April 1. The article also describes the mandatory disposal of Japanese-Canadians’ ‘dangerous’ objects, such as cameras or short-wave receivers – supposed ‘spying’ material. The article’s tone, consistent with the War Measures Act, describes Japanese-Canadians, as well as Germans and Italians as non-human, nonetheless Canadian. The article is unclear about the destination of the evacuees, but the internment of Japanese people by the British Columbia Security Commission began the following month. Over 90 percent of Japanese-Canadians – the majority Canadian citizens by birth – were thus uprooted during the war.
In response, Japanese-Canadians across Canada created organizations protesting the conditions in internment and labour camps, the separation of families between camps, and the removal policy in general. Due to their acts of resistance, in July 1942 married men were able to rejoin their families, while young, single men remained in labour camps, leaving 500 workers for road labour.
Note the signs on the shop windows: “Under New Ownership, White Canadians” (above) and “Me No Jap, Me Honest Jim” (below).
Source: Trend of the times in Vancouver. (1942, February 26). F.G. Shears Collection (Series 5, Box 13), Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library, University of Toronto (housed at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto).
The government-sanctioned policies, which were considered a war-related measure to secure the safety of Canada, legitimized – and perhaps facilitated – racist acts from local communities. This photograph demonstrates how public individuals who claim to represent the ideal “White Canadian” perpetuated the Act and context of war through every day forms of discrimination. Jim Lemen, for example, found it necessary to prove his Canadian loyalty and identity by declaring himself “Honest Jim” on his shop window. Frustrated with being mistaken for Japanese, Lemen reminded shoppers he is not a “Jap,” a derogatory term used for Japanese peoples during WWII.
Not all non-Japanese Canadians were silent or complicit. In 1943, the Co-Operative Committee on Japanese Canadians was established in Toronto. In collaboration with local and national organizations, the committee began a campaign to educate all Canadians about the treatment towards Japanese-Canadians. In the aftermath of WWII, the committee continued to lobby on behalf of Japanese-Canadians.
While these objects indicate the victimization of Japanese and other immigrant communities, it can also tell us a more nuanced story that challenges a conventional homogeneous perception of victims as idle, Canadians as silent, and governments as exclusive instigators.
Julia is a Master of Museum Studies student at the University of Toronto. She previously graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honours BA in English and History and went on to receive a Masters in History from McMaster University. Being the daughter and granddaughter of Italian and German immigrants has sparked her passion for history. Julia is excited to explore how she can incorporate her historical interests in a museum setting for different generations.
 Hickman & Fukawa, 2011.
Japanese, Germans, Italians affected by R.C.M.P. order. (1942, February 14). F.G. Shears Collection (Series 5, Box 13), Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library, University of Toronto (housed at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto).
 Robinson, 2009.
 Robinson, 2009.
 Robinson, 2009.