Immigration from China and Japan began during the gold rush in the 1870s and by 1910 orientals constituted 10% of the province’s total population. In 1880, at the insistence of the government of British Columbia, the federal government imposed a head tax of $50 on all Chinese immigrants; this tax would expand to $500 in 1900 and would remain until 1923. Despite these regulations, the federal government acted as a brake on local discrimination against orientals. Attempts to pass English language requirements for immigrants in an effort to ban orientals in 1900, 1903 and 1905 were subsequently disallowed by the federal government for invading its jurisdiction over immigration. Chinese were also denied the provincial franchise and, while they had the right to vote nationally, the federal government’s dependence on provincial voting lists effectively denied all voting privileges to Chinese in British Columbia. Once the Japanese population began exceeding Chinese in the 1930s, legislators directed their efforts towards limiting the influence of the former in the
province. In 1928, Japan agreed to limit immigration to 150 people per year. After years of encouraging racist policies, the provincial branch of the Trades and Labour Congress and the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation called upon the provincial and federal governments to enfranchise orientals. A partial success in 1931 gave Japanese veterans of WWI the vote, but wishing to avoid providing the Japanese with a claim to vote after WWII, the Liberal government exempted all citizens of Japanese descent from military service. These developments set the context for the evacuation and deportation of Japanese Canadians.
One of the most notable legacies of the war was the forcible relocation of 22 000 men, women and children of Japanese descent from the Pacific coast to the interior. Under “wartime powers, these citizens were forcibly relocated to camps in the interior, had their property confiscated, and were seriously threatened with mass deportation to Japan (including Canadian-born among them) at war’s end. All of this was done without proof of a single case of espionage or sabotage by a Japanese Canadian.” [Whitaker and Marcuse, Cold War Canada]
To compound the frustrations felt by Japanese-Canadians during the war, on 15 December 1945 the cabinet passed orders-in-council PC7355, PC7356 and PC7357 to repatriate 10 347 Japanese Canadians back to Japan. Three quarters of them were Canadian citizens, half born in Canada. It was a shocking initiative that mobilized civil libertarians across Canada who virulently opposed the government's decision to deport its own citizens (even the most heinous criminals, including murders and rapists, can not be deported). In a letter sent to fifty-five newspapers on 4 January 1946 (published in eleven papers), Frank Scott vigorously condemned the deportation of Canadian citizens as “a farce of citizenship ... To find it sponsored by a government bearing the name Liberal and not objected to by a vigorous public protest, warns us how far our standards have sunk during these past years.”
The orders were based on voluntary agreements by individuals (albeit, with intense pressure by government officials), encouraged by the government, to repatriate in 1944; when the orders were finally passed in 1945, thousands applied for cancellation. The King government initially refused to rescind the orders but, following a failed court challenge to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London and a massive lobbying effort by various advocacy groups, including civil liberties associations, the government agreed in 1946 to rescind the remaining orders. Soon after, however, the government disenfranchised all Japanese Canadians still living in Canada.
Bangarth, Stephanie. Voices Raised in Protest: Defending North American Citizens of Japanese Ancestry, 1942–49. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007.
Ross Lambertson, Repression and Resistance: Canadian Human Rights Activists, 1930-1960 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).
Patricia Roy, Mutual hostages : Canadians and Japanese during the Second World War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990).
Whitaker, Reg, and Gary Marcuse. Cold War Canada: The Making of a National Insecurity State, 1945-1957. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994.