COLUMN: Don’t underestimate hatred

Surrey and Delta should honour Japanese-Canadians

Dec. 7 marked the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese military.

“Pearl Harbour Day” kicked off an intense four-year struggle for supremacy which ranged over much of the world, in what was truly a world war.

Most Canadian households were impacted by the Second World War, but it was here in B.C. that a few citizens felt the greatest impact.

It was here that Canadian citizens, some of whom were First World War veterans of the Canadian Army, were forcibly uprooted from their homes, stripped of their possessions, lost almost all their basic rights and were set upon by their own government with a vengeance which had no precedent.

Japanese-Canadians had lived in many parts of the Lower Mainland for decades. In Surrey, many were farmers, living in the Strawberry Hill and Kennedy areas, near Scott Road. They often were fruit growers who provided for their families from a few upland acres. There were also Japanese-Canadian fishermen living in the Annieville area on the Surrey-Delta border, along the Fraser River.

As a group, they had experienced racism for years. But the invasion of Pearl Harbour gave those who’d had the Japanese-Canadians in their sights a potent weapon.

Federal, provincial and local politicians all begged the Liberal government on Prime Minister Mackenzie King to kick all people of Japanese origin off the B.C. coast, claiming many were “fifth columnists” who would send messages to Japan and allow it to zero in on B.C. targets.

Espionage wasn’t a completely unreasonable fear, but it was exploited mercilessly by people like Ian Mackenzie, an MP and member of the federal cabinet, and Halford Wilson, a Vancouver alderman. It paid political dividends to fan the flames of hatred in others.

A blackout was imposed on the B.C. coast after Pearl Harbour, for fears that Japanese fighter and bomber planes would attack. They did attack the Estevan Point lighthouse, in an isolated Vancouver Island location – but that was it.

My grandfather was an air raid warden in White Rock at that time. He and others patrolled the streets to ensure that there was no light showing anywhere, and no target for any enemies.

Meanwhile, Japanese-Canadians were rounded up, with many taken to the PNE grounds and kept in livestock barns.

They were moved to internment camps in the B.C. interior and as far away as Ontario. Those who owned land, cars, stocks and bonds, boats and farm equipment saw them sold for a fraction of their true value.

They had almost no say in any of this. No one took up their cause, including the CCF (now the NDP), which up to the time of Pearl Harbour had been quite sympathetic to Japanese-Canadians.

Most Japanese-Canadians ended up living in other parts of Canada, and never returned. The few who did found all they had worked for in the 1920s and 1930s was gone.

More than 40 years after the fact, Canada apologized for the atrocious treatment it had bestowed on its own citizens. It was too late for many, but it was both necessary and appropriate.

Some say that such a thing would never happen again, as we now have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Perhaps.

But never underestimate the depth of hatred and ill-will which can be fanned in a time of crisis, and the willingness of many politicians to capitalize on it.

The best place to discover firsthand how Canada treated its own citizens of Japanese ancestry is the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, located in New Denver in the West Kootenay. It is the only internment camp still standing.

It is long overdue that Surrey and Delta remember the Japanese-Canadians who once were a vital part of this area, and honour them in some tangible way.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

 

Just Posted

White Rock RCMP seeking information about Aug. 16 assault

Man in 60s was injured around same time Paul Prestbakmo was stabbed to death

New recovery house rules, increased funding aim to prevent overdose tragedy

Changes ‘speak to issues’ highlighted by death of South Surrey’s Zachary Plett

Cloverdale DebuTheatre play heading to Vancouver Fringe Festival

Legoland will run through September at the Cultch as part of Dramatic Works Series

Police hope to speak with witnesses from fatal 2017 stabbing in Surrey

Wally Rogers was stabbed outside his home near 88th Avenue and 144th Street on July 8, 2017

Downtown Surrey BIA says businesses feel ‘slightly safer’ than last year

For second year, littering, loitering and discarded needles top business concerns in safety audit

B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

Federal government says officials are seeing the same thing off Alaska and Washington state

Expanded support to help B.C. youth from care attend university still falling short

Inadequate support, limited awareness and eligibility restrictions some of the existing challenges

Ethnic media aim to help maintain boost in voting by new Canadians

Statistics Canada says new Canadians made up about one-fifth of the voting population in 2016

Cross-examination begins for B.C. dad accused of killing young daughters

Andrew Berry is charged in the deaths of six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey in 2017

Dog attacked by river otters, Penticton owner says

Marie Fletcher says her dog was pulled underwater by four river otters in the Penticton Channel

BC SPCA overwhelmed with cats, kittens needing homes

Large number of cruelty investigations, plus normal ‘kitten season’ to blame

Memorial to deceased teen stays in place through Labour Day

Hundreds of tributes have been left at the Walnut Grove skate park

Wife charged in husband’s death in Sechelt

Karin Fischer has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of her husband, Max

Most Read

l -->