Like their counterparts in the US, Japanese citizens in Canada were forced into internment camps during WWII. But after the war ended, things turned really ugly.”>
On the cover of Ken Adachis The Enemy That Never Was, the first book written about the Japanese Canadians and the wartime internment, is a close-up of a little girls face. She is only 5 or 6 years old, I would guess, maybe seven at the most. She is leaning forward and biting her lip, her intent gaze focused not on the camera but on something in the distance that we cannot see. I have always been captured by her expression: an ambiguous mix of anxiety and anticipation, uncertainty and curiosity. Its a childs face, full of innocence and sweetness, but darker shadows seem to hover around the edges of her mouth, as if the worried look of a much older person has begun to etch its traces onto her young face.
Although I dont know who the girl is, I will confess I have been haunted by her image for a very long time. In the years leading up to the redress movement, I bought and read The Enemy That Never Was, and the book has been in my possession ever since. Every time I packed my belongings to move, every time I reorganized the books on my shelves, every time I touched this book, I would inevitably look at the cover and stare at the girl.
The full photograph from which the close-up is taken appears later in the book. It shows the girl surrounded by a crowd of Japanese Canadians who are waiting at a train station. Suitcases and boxes sit on the ground in front of them. The girl is leaning forward as far as she can, straining to look down the tracks, one imagines. Wanting to be the first to catch a glimpse of the train.
Without reading the caption, the contents of this picture seem obvious. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Canadians were subject to mass uprooting and expulsion just like their Japanese American counterparts. They were forcibly removed from their homes on the Pacific coast and interned in remote detention camps in the rugged mountains of the British Columbia interior. Looking at this photograph you would naturally assume it shows a group of Japanese Canadians on their way to the internment camps in 1942.
But it is not.
For this is a photograph of the second uprooting, which took place after the war in 1946 when nearly 4,000 Japanese Canadiansclose to one-fifth of the total populationwere repatriated or deported to an impoverished and war-devastated Japan.
How did this happen?
In the spring of 1945, at a time when Japanese Americans were being released from the camps and allowed to return to the West Coast, Japanese Canadians were facing a very different fate. Racist politicians, who had long been calling for the deportation of all Japanese Canadians, increased pressure for a solution to the Japanese problem. Especially in British Columbia, where they were determined to purge their own province of the Japanese presence forever, they must have panicked upon hearing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in December 1944 which effectively closed the camps and returned the right of freedom of movement to Japanese Americans. Canada and the United States may be two different countries, but they have always watched each other closely.