Project to recall Japanese Canadian injustices

The story of thousands of Japanese Canadians who had their homes, businesses and possessions forcibly sold during the Second World War — sometimes harming families for generations — will be told through a new project called Landscapes of Injustice.

“Our project is committed to the view that we need continue to discuss and to confront as deeply and powerfully as possible this history, as we move forward into challenges in the future,” said Jordan Stanger-Ross, an associate professor of history at the University of Victoria, which is leading the project.

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Many people likely know about how Japanese Canadians were uprooted and interned during the 1940s, said Stanger-Ross, the project leader.

“But the forced sale of their property is lesser known, and a major policy in its own right.”

Starting in February 1942, just months after the Japanese attacked the U.S. navy at Pearl Harbor, Canadians of Japanese ancestry were forced into “protective areas” under the War Measures Act. The restrictions were not lifted until 1949.

All property that could not be carried to the camps was to be put into custody. In 1943, a government order-in-council liquidated all property that was being held.

Fishing boats, cars and even personal effects were also among the items lost to the federal government. The policy caused material hardships that lasted over generations.

UVic and the Royal B.C. Museum are among the 14 groups and institutions taking part in the seven-year, $5.5-million initiative, which will culminate in a travelling museum exhibition in 2019.

A key element of the project will be to convey how the factors that contributed to the loss of property “linger forward in time,” Stanger-Ross said. Those include the marginalization of individuals and the seemingly insurmountable differences among groups of people.

“I think also that it’s inevitable that Canada will confront new moments of national crisis in the future.”

Writer Joy Kogawa, a member of the project’s advisory board, recounted how her family lost property in the 1940s. She said about 22,000 so-called “enemy aliens” were affected.

“Our homes fell en masse into the trustworthy hands of the custodian of enemy alien properties for ‘safekeeping,’ ” she said in a statement.

“Eventually we all learned what safekeeping meant. Safe, but not for us. Keeping, but not for us.

“None of us returned home.”

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