A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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WATARI DORI: A Bird of Passage
Immigration History
Obstacles

From the very beginning of their immigration, Japanese Canadians, both Issei immigrants and their Canadian-born children, called Nisei, faced much discrimination. Until the late 1940s, B.C. politicians passed a series of laws designed to force Japanese Canadians to leave Canada. All Japanese were denied the right to vote, including Canadian-born Nisei. Laws excluded Japanese Canadians from most professions, the civil service and teaching. Labour and minimum-wage laws ensured that employers would hire Asian Canadians only for the most menial jobs and at lower rates of pay than whites(4).

Even the Nisei, who had grown up fluent in English and eagerly wanted to make their mark in Canadian society, were prevented from finding much work outside the Japanese community. Rampant discrimination was blind to the potential contribution and value of Canadian-born, university-educated Nisei. They too were forced to seek employment within the Japanese enclaves. Outside those enclaves they could work only as labourers(5).

In the 1920s, the federal government tried to exclude Japanese Canadians from their traditional livelihood of fishing by limiting the number of fishing licences they were granted. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the B.C. government denied them logging licenses and paid Japanese Canadians only a fraction of the social assistance paid to whites. Before 1945, the Nisei could not enlist in the Canadian armed forces, since enlistment would give the vote to both the soldier and his wife(6).

World War II destroyed the Japanese community in British Columbia. Twelve weeks after Japan attached Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong in December of 1941, the federal government used the War Measures Act to order the removal of all Japanese Canadians residing within 100 miles of the Pacific coast. The Canadian government claimed at the time that the Japanese Canadians were being removed for reasons of "national security," despite the fact that the removal order was opposed by Canada's senior military and police officers who said that Japanese Canadians posed no threat(7).

In 1942, over 20,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry were removed from their homes and shipped to detention camps in the interior of British Columbia. Between 1943 and 1946, the federal government sold off all Japanese-Canadian owned property. And after the war in 1945, Japanese Canadians were forced to choose between deportation to Japan or dispersal into parts of Canada east of the Rocky Mountains(8).

Most chose to head east within Canada, moving to Ontario, Quebec and the Prairie provinces. Those who chose to return to Japan, like Irene Tsuyuki's family, found a war-ravaged country of sad, hungry and resentful faces. In 1946, the government attempted to deport 10,000 more Japanese Canadians to Japan but was stopped by massive public protests from all parts of Canada. On April 1, 1949, Japanese Canadians regained their freedom and received the right to vote as Canadian citizens(9).

In the 1950s, Japanese Canadians worked hard to rebuild their lives but scattered across Canada it was nearly impossible to rebuild their lost community. The third generation the Sansei, was born in the 1950s and 1960s and grew up entirely immersed in Canadian society. They learned to speak English and French but little or no Japanese, and only a smattering of their cultural heritage. More than 75% of the Sansei have married non-Japanese(10).

Endnotes:

4-10 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998).

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