Eighty years after thousands of Japanese Canadians were forced from their homes and incarcerated, the B.C. government has announced a $100-million redress initiative.
The package, revealed Saturday in Steveston, will fund new community health, education and culture programs. The goal is to recognize and repair some of the lasting harms perpetuated by the province against Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.
“We must acknowledge the part that the provincial government played in what happened to these thousands of men women and children,” said Rachna Singh, parliamentary secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives in B.C. at a news conference.
“We owe it to the survivors and their families to make sure something like this never happens again.”
Beginning in 1942, nearly 22,000 Japanese Canadians were forced into internment camps under the War Measures Act, stripped of their houses, belongings and businesses. More than 90 per cent of those in B.C. were detained and only permitted to return home in 1949, four years after the war ended.
Some were deported to Japan without ever having lived there. Others were told to move east of the Rockies, survivors said Saturday.
“What does that mean? It means that B.C. hates you. We want to get rid of you,” said Dr. Aki Horii, who was moved from Vancouver to a camp in Lillooet.
Horii and fellow survivor Mary Kitagawa read aloud several racist quotes about Japanese Canadians from B.C. and federal politicians of the day. They described being labelled as “enemy aliens,” and treated as “prisoners of war” in their own country, despite testimony from the RCMP, Royal Canadian Navy, and federal fisheries department that they did not pose a security threat.
It was a “racist tirade” that cost them their livelihoods, communities and sense of belonging, said Kitagawa.
“The intangible losses are seldom mentioned in the narrative of our history,” the Order of B.C. recipient explained. “We lost our plans for a brighter future. We lost our ability to pass on intergenerational wealth.
“Many, like my grandparents, lost their enjoyment of a retirement for which they worked a whole lifetime to achieve. Many, like my parents, lost the most productive years of their lives.”
Some elders, she added, lost hope and committed suicide.
The $100 million announced Saturday will include funds for enhanced health and wellness programs for internment-era survivors, the creation and restoration of Japanese Canadian heritage sites, a monument for survivors, and an update to B.C. school curriculum that includes this “dark chapter in B.C.’s history.”
“This racist policy broke apart families, tore people from their culture and forced thousands into unsafe working and living conditions, causing long-lasting health complications,” said Singh.
“As we work to build an anti-racist British Columbia, that means calling out racism whenever and wherever we see it no matter how uncomfortable it is.”
The B.C. government issued a formal apology in 2012 for its role in the internment camps. The redress initiative, developed in collaboration with the National Association of Japanese Canadians, will be finetuned in the coming months.