Toshio Suzuki postponed a cancer treatment to be at the B.C. legislature Monday, to witness a formal apology for the province’s role in the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II.
Suzuki was seven years old in the spring of 1942 when he an his family were ordered off their 16-acre strawberry farm in Pitt Meadows and put on a train at Port Hammond. Along with his parents and two older siblings, he worked in the sugar beet fields of Manitoba until six years after the end of the conflict.
“The timing is perfect today, because it is the 70th anniversary of the internment,” Suzuki said as he joined other former internees at a reception at the legislature Monday. “It’s also the 30th anniversary of when the constitution was repatriated back to Canada, which includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Those two, for me, kind of tie it all together.”
As with the assets other Japanese-Canadians, the Suzuki family farm was sold off and the proceeds went towards the cost of internment camps in the Kootenays and elsewhere.
Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto introduced a motion to apologize Monday, with unanimous support. Yamamoto told the legislature how her father was removed from high school in Vancouver and interned along with 21,000 Canadians of Japanese descent, 14,000 of whom were born in Canada.
Yamamoto said a B.C. government delegation went to Ottawa after Japan’s entry into the war, urging internment of Japanese-Canadian men of military age and seizure of their fishing boats.
“The RCMP and senior officials within Canada’s military opposed these recommendations and argued that Japanese-Canadians did not pose a threat to national security,” Yamamoto said. “In spite of this, the B.C. delegation insisted upon the removal of all Japanese Canadians from the Pacific coast and threatened non-cooperation if the federal government did not heed their demands.”
Men were separated from their families and put on work crews for farming or building roads and railways. Women, children and seniors were sent to camps in the B.C. Interior, including Greenwood, Sandon, New Denver and Slocan in the Kootenays.
After the war ended, Japanese Canadians were offered a choice to settle east of the Rocky Mountains or be deported back to Japan. The right to live on the West Coast and vote in Canadian elections was restored to them in 1949.
In 1988 the federal government made a formal apology and provided a $300 million compensation package, including $21,000 for each of the 13,000 survivors, $12 million for a Japanese community fund and $24 million to set up the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.