The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Canada needs more independent media. And independent media needs you.

Did you know that most news organizations in Canada are owned by just a handful of companies? And that these companies have been shutting down newsrooms and laying off reporters continually over the past few decades?

Fact-based, credible journalism is essential to our democracy. Unlike many other newsrooms across the country, The Tyee’s independent newsroom is stable and growing.

How are we able to do this? The Tyee Builder program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip into our editorial budget so that we can keep doing what we do best: fact-based, in-depth reporting on issues that matter to our readers. No paywall. No junk. Just good journalism.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to be Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
Opinion

Giving Light to Outrage from Betrayed Japanese Canadians

Recently unearthed trove of letters from Second World War reveal courageous protest by Canadian citizens against a government that turned its back on them.

By Jordan Stanger-Ross 28 Nov 2017 | The Conversation Canada

Jordan Stanger-Ross is associate professor, History and Centre for Asia Pacific Initiatives, at the University of Victoria. His research and teachings focus on immigration, race and inequality in 20th century North America. He is the director of Landscapes of Injustice, a seven-year multi-sector and community-engaged project to research and tell the history of the forced sale of Japanese Canadian-owned property during the 1940s. This story was first published in The Conversation Canada.

Three hundred protest letters written by Japanese Canadians in the 1940s were recovered from Canada’s vast national archives and have recently been undergoing review. The letters convey the damage of trust betrayed and the courage of everyday people confronting injustice.

Federal officials promised Japanese Canadians that their homes, business, farms, automobiles, fishing boats and personal belongings would be returned at the end of the war. Instead, everything was seized and sold.

In 1944, Aya Suzuki wrote a letter to her government explaining the betrayal that she felt: “Before leaving Vancouver, your men had told us that this process was to protect us and in your assurance we had our business put into our local agents whom we trusted.” Suzuki had discovered that everything she owned had been forcibly sold.

Suzuki joined hundreds of others in forceful protest. “You have gone against our wishes, also without even consulting us… what are we (Canada) fighting for? Not that same treatment the Nazis gave the Jews be practised here in our own country!”

The lives of 22,000 Japanese Canadians were disrupted after Canada entered the Pacific War in December 1941. By autumn 1942, Canada had uprooted, interned and incarcerated all people of Japanese descent living within 160 kilometres of the Pacific Coast.

The majority of the uprooted were Canadian citizens (British subjects of Canada, in the language of the time). Not one was ever found guilty of wrongdoing.

Canada was uniquely racist

Although the racist policies resembled those in other jurisdictions, including the United States, in important respects they were even more severe. Canada was unique in forcing the sale of all property belonging to citizens of Japanese origin.

Also, Canada maintained its internment program until 1949 even though the U.S. had disbanded theirs four years prior. In the U.S., the “approaching end of the Pacific War” hastened the end of restrictions against people of Japanese descent according to historian Greg Robinson in his book Tragedy of Democracy. But in Canada, our government instead implemented the “renewal and reinforcement” of state violence.

Almost 20 per cent of Japanese Canadians, just under 4,000 people, were exiled to Japan, a country that many had never been to.

Ignored by officials 75 years ago, the 300 letters, which protested the forced sale of property, have been brought to light as part of a major research project.

582px version of Suzuki-Letter.jpg
Aya Suzuki wrote a letter to her government in 1944 explaining the betrayal that she felt. Photo courtesy Canadiana.org.

Sharing the story of injustice

Landscapes of Injustice is funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and an additional $3 million in funds from partner organizations. It is one of the largest research collaborations in the country. As the project director, I coordinate the efforts of 70 scholars, students, museum workers, teachers and community leaders working together to help tell the history of the dispossession of Japanese Canadians.

The research collective will create a travelling museum exhibit, teaching materials for elementary and secondary schools, educational websites, a digital archive and popular and scholarly publications.

Using the letters, scholars working with the Landscapes of Injustice project have been able to understand the perspectives of Japanese Canadians articulating the value of their lands and belongings and the impacts of the policies that dispossessed them.

The protests of Japanese Canadians illuminate the specific and complex harms of the permanent loss of home. In their letters, Japanese Canadians explained how the loss of their homes and belongings threatened a permanent rupture in their sense of belonging and their faith in their country — in some ways, above and beyond their uprooting and internment.

A life’s work undone

Many Japanese Canadians wrote letters describing the losses as violation of lifelong ambitions.

Rikizo Yoneyama lost his farm in Haney, near Vancouver. Born in 1887 in the Kanagawa Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, Yoneyama had crossed the Pacific at the age of 20.

582px version of boats.jpg
Japanese Canadian fishing boats in Steveston, B.C. were seized and forcibly sold. Photo courtesy Nikkei National Museum.

In the first decade after his immigration, Yoneyama worked in a sawmill and then a pharmacy, saving enough money to purchase 7.5 acres, where he dug a well by hand so that he could raise chickens and pigs and also cultivate berries, apples, pears, plums and cherries, as well as a variety of vegetables. He married and by the 1930s was a father of four.

Supplementing the family’s farm income with wage-labour, Yoneyama was able in 1935 to purchase additional land, where he built a two-storey chicken coop and an enlarged family home.

In July 1944, Yoneyama received word that his life’s work had been undone. His property had been sold for less than half of the farm’s annual income, he wrote. “I realize that we are the victims of a war emergency and as such are willing to undergo… hardship… to help safeguard the shores of our homeland,” Yoneyama wrote in his letter to the federal government.

Yet he never imagined he would lose everything. “I came to Canada in 1907,” he wrote, “and was allowed the privilege of Canadian Citizenship on December 22, 1914.”

“This was to me,” he continued, “the most gracious opportunity given by the country of my adoption. Through it, I realized an ambition I had desired since landing on this continent, that of being able to raise a family of Canadian sons and daughters.”

The loss of all this, Yoneyama stressed, was more than just economic. His property, he wrote, “To us meant more than just a home. It was to us, the foundation of security and freedom as Canadian citizens.”

The Landscapes of Injustice project is working to ensure that voices like Yoneyama’s are heard today. His letter has been returned to his son, Harold Yoneyama, who had not previously known of its existence.

A virtual exhibit will feature the letters. Our project partner, the Nikkei National Museum, has received a major grant from the Virtual Museum of Canada to create an immersive digital exhibit centred on the letters.

Sherri Kajiwara, curator for the Nikkei National Museum, said the letters are especially important at the 75th anniversary of the dispossession of Japanese Canadians. “It’s a significant glimpse into a difficult and traumatic time for Canadians of Japanese ancestry.”

Susanne Tabata, a digital content creator and filmmaker working on the project, sees the dispossession of Japanese Canadians as “a cautionary tale” closely linked to current events.

“In light of the current rise in public xenophobic discourse, what connections can we make between stories of migration today and the Japanese Canadian experience of the past?” she said. “How do we navigate this discussion? And what is there to learn from this history so it does not repeat itself?”The Conversation  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free.

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities

Do:

  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Do You Think the Injunction at Fairy Creek Will Be Reinstated?

Take this week's poll