Story of Chinese-Canadians' wartime courage gets its due

A little-known tale of wartime willingness, courage and determination to fight for what’s right, even when it’s your own side you’re fighting, airs tonight at 8 on Omni.

Operation Oblivion is a look at a clandestine operation of the Second World War to infiltrate Japanese territory using Chinese-Canadians. A total of 13 men volunteered, many of them from Victoria and Vancouver, to be trained in special behind-the-lines operations.

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But after the war, instead of a hero’s welcome they were snubbed by Canada, which at the war’s end still denied Chinese-Canadians the right to vote. It was a right only granted in 1947.

“They fought two wars,” said Operation Oblivion producer Bradley Lee. “They fought one against the enemy and the other when they came home to Canada for their rights as citizens.”

Lee said the idea for Operation Oblivion was born around 1943 and was based on special operations in Europe. Agents would be dropped behind lines and co-ordinate resistance and sabotage to disrupt the enemy war effort.

The idea arose to ask for volunteers from the Chinese-Canadian community, who at least would look less conspicuous than Caucasians. The 13 were trained but never deployed as a unit.

Lee said by the time they were ready to go, the Americans had assumed full command of the Asian theatre of war. And they were concerned about the apparent willingness of the British to link up with Communists to fight the Japanese.

Four of the 13 men were eventually sent into Malaysia to help local resistance there.

Most were blended into what was a force comprising 600 Chinese-Canadians including Douglas Jung, the first Chinese Canadian elected as an MP, in 1957.

Another was Roy Mah, who would edit the Chinatown News and battle against legislation like the Head Tax and Exclusion Act, which levied special taxes on Chinese and kept them from being treated as full citizens.

Lee said the tale has never received much notice until recent years. All the men were committed to official secrecy that was only lifted decades after the war ended.

“This is one of the most important untold stories of the war,” Lee said.

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