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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.

forum housing japanese evacuees.jpg

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,

[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,

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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,