09/25/2013 07:00 EDT | Updated 11/25/2013 05:12 EST

Vancouver apologizes for 1942 Japanese internment motion

More than 70 years after it called for the removal of Japanese-Canadians from Canada's Pacific Coast, Vancouver city council has officially apologized for its complicity in the forced internment of thousands of former residents.

In 1942, the City of Vancouver passed the motion imploring "the federal government to remove all residents of Japanese racial origin and enemy aliens to areas of Canada well-removed from the Pacific Coast."

At the time, Canada and the U.S. were at war with Japanese forces in the Pacific Ocean, following the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

The motion called the approximately 25,000 Japanese Canadians in the region "a potential reservoir of volunteer aid to our enemy, Japan, in the event of raids or an invasion."

On Tuesday Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a motion apologizing for the city's 1942 motion.

"Be it resolved that the City of Vancouver does hereby take full responsibility for its actions. With humility and respect, the City of Vancouver formally apologizes for its complicity, its inaction, and for failing to protect her residents of Japanese descent," said the motion.

On Wednesday before the motion was passed by council, Ken Noma, the president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians said the Vancouver apology was important for several reasons.

"B.C. is our spiritual home, even if we weren't born in this province there is something that draws Japanese Canadians to this province and I think it's important this comes from Vancouver,"

"There have been other racist incidents in our history. Constant vigilance is necessary. These are important benchmarks for Canadians because we are all Canadians... there are incidents in our history that requires us to learn from."

Grace Eiko Thomson was a little girl living in Japantown in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside at the time, told the council the internment changed everything.

"Those years after the internment were much more painful for me because I understood what discrimination meant. I was getting older and I was an outsider."

Mayor Robertson said the city is considering renaming some of the street in the old Japanese neighbourhood around Powell Street after some of the former residents.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941, about 22,000 Japanese Canadians were banned from the West Coast, despite the fact that many were Canadian citizens whose families had been living and fishing on the West Coast for generations.

They were told to pack a single suitcase and sent to internment camps in the B.C. Interior where they lived in rough shacks for much of the war. In 1943 all their property, homes, and fishing boats were auctioned off by the government.

After the war, the federal government decided to remove all Japanese Canadians from British Columbia. They forced them to choose between deportation to war-ravaged Japan or dispersal east of the Rocky Mountains. Most chose the latter, moving to Ontario, Québec and the Prairie provinces.

Public protest would eventually stop the deportations, but not before 4,000 Japanese Canadians left the country. On April 1, 1949, Japanese Canadians regained their freedom to live anywhere in Canada.

Twenty-five years ago the federal government issued an official apology and cash compensation for the survivors.

Last year the B.C. government also issued an apology, but without compensation,

UBC issued honourary degrees to students who were stopped from finishing their degrees.

- Read more about the federal apology

- Read more about the B.C. apology

- Read more about the honorary degrees


Moved by Alderman Wilson

Seconded by Alderman Price

WHEREAS the concentration of approximately 25,000 residents of Japanese racial origin on Canada’s Pacific Coast constitutes a potential reservoir of volunteer aid to our enemy, Japan, in event of raids or an invasion by the armed forces of that nation;

AND WHEREAS, citizens of Canada’s Pacific Coast look upon this enemy alien population as a potential menace and feel that in the interest of National security, their removal to central parts of Canada is desirable, where a just and reasonable care for their livelihood be provided by the Federal Government.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Vancouver City Council representing the citizens of Canada’s largest Pacific Coast City implores the Federal Government to remove all residents of Japanese racial origin and enemy aliens to areas of Canada well-removed from the Pacific Coast, and that their removal be under such conditions as will provide them with the essentials of a reasonable livelihood;

and FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that our opinion, as recorded in this Resolution, be forwarded to the Prime Minister of Canada and all British Columbia Members of Parliament.


Moved by Alderman Wilson

Seconded by Alderman Price

That we beseech the authorities to re-establish the Committee dealing with the Japanese, comprising Mayor F. Hume, Col. A. W. Sparling. D.S.O., and Col. McGregor McIntosh