Canadian Wrongs: What Led to the Internment of Japanese-Canadians?

Examining the Factors that Led to Japanese Internment and Deportation

This section entails an investigation of some of the possible reasons behind the internment and deportation of Japanese-Canadians from 1941-1949. Examples of such reasons include the attitudes towards Japanese-Canadians during that time, as well as the impact of WWII. A brief exploration/analysis of these reasons will be presented at the end of this section.

Arena housing Japanese men interned during WWII

Arena housing interned Japanese men during World War II.

Attitudes Towards Japanese-Canadians

Many of the sources below are from newspapers published in B.C. during the 1940s. These sources give an idea of the overall perception and attitude towards Japanese-Canadians at the time. Such attitudes may have ended up playing a large role in the internment and deportation of Japanese-Canadians.

Impact of the War

Below are various additional vignettes that help to illustrate the impact that World War II had on the internment and deportation of Japanese-Canadians.

One B.C. delegate admitted to Maurice Pope (military staff officer to Prime Minister King during WWII) that WWII was a “heaven-sent opportunity to rid themselves of the Japanese economic menace”.[1]

 David Suzuki: “There was a lot of fear on the part of the whites that [the Japanese] would constitute a very powerful ‘Fifth Column’ or group concerned with helping the Japanese military.”[2]

The British Columbia delegation “unanimously declared that they did not trust persons of Japanese racial origin...”[3]

Hugh L Keenleyside (secretary and chairman of the Permanent Joint Board on Defence): “The whole operation was a cheap and needless capitulation to popular prejudice fanned by political bigotry or ambition or both.”[4]                                               

“…Imagine a blackout and air-raid with your electric light cut off. Yes, it can happen [in Vancouver] as long as there is a single male Jap.”[5]


[1] Maurice A. Pope, Soldiers and Politicians: Memoirs (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963), 177.

[2] “Suzuki’s Wartime Experience.”

[3] “The Decision to Uproot Japanese Canadians,” The Politics of Racism, accessed January 27, 2017, http://www.japanesecanadianhistory.ca/Chapter2.html.

[4] H. L. Keenleyside, “The Canada-United States Permanent Joint Board on Defence, 1940-1945,” International Journal 16 (1960/1961): 63, accessed January 26, 2017, doi: 10.2307/40198517.

[5] “Ottawa’s Timidity,” The Vancouver Sun, February 5, 1942, accessed January 26, 2017, https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=xDRlAAAAIBAJ&sjid=R4kNAAAAIBAJ&pg=1035%2C4216562.

Relocation of Japanese-Canadians to internment camps, 1942

Brief Analysis

As the above illustrates, it is evident that there were prevailing racist attitudes towards Japanese-Canadians during the 1940s, with many labeling them as “problems” or “menaces”. The existing resentment toward Japanese-Canadians was likely further fueled by fear and the imminent threats of war. The impact of Japan’s entry into WWII and the attack on Pearl Harbor likely acted as a godsend for anti-Japanese propaganda, intensifying the fear, distrust, and racist sentiments. Such feelings likely accounted for the haste in the campaign to uproot Japanese-Canadians, which took only 12 weeks despite opposition from the military, RCMP and Department of External Affairs.[1] Ultimately, attitudes towards Japanese-Canadians and the impact of WWII are likely just some of the many possible factors behind the internment and deportation of Japanese-Canadians.


[1] Howard Palmer, “Patterns of Racism: Attitudes Towards Chinese and Japanese in Alberta 1920-1950,” Social History 13 (1980): 149, http://hssh.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/hssh/article/viewFile/39071/35444.