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Enemy Aliens

As had been the case during the First World War, the Canadian government was deeply suspicious of ethnic groups whose homelands were at war with Canada. It forced German Canadians who had been naturalized after 1921 to register, and it saw to the arrest of 800. Once Italy entered the war on Germany's side in June 1940, Italian Canadians met a similar fate, with some 700 interned on the suspicion of being fascist sympathizers. Among this number, 200 were naturalized citizens, and 20 were born in Canada. Japanese Canadians would suffer a worse fate.

National Archives of Canada (PA-134074).

Fishermen's Reserve Roundup of Japanese Fishing Fleet, British Columbia, 27 December 1941.

In the wake of the attacks on Hong Kong and Pearl Harbor, the Canadian government seized hundreds of Japanese-owned fishing vessels and arrested 38 Japanese Canadians.

Japan's attacks on Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong provoked near hysteria along British Columbia's west coast. A Japanese invasion seemed imminent. Labelling the large Japanese population as a threat to national security, the Canadian government saw to the arrest of 38 Japanese Canadians and the seizure of 1,200 fishing boats. Japanese Canadians were not allowed to enlist in the Canadian army.

British Columbia's fears did not subside. In response, in February 1942, the government ordered that the more than 12,000 Japanese Canadians along British Columbia's coast be rounded up and moved to camps in the British Columbia interior, Alberta, Manitoba, and northern Ontario. The government confiscated and sold their property. After the war, almost 4,000 Japanese Canadians were deported. In Canada, as in the United States, security forces advised the government that the Japanese communities did not present a threat, and there is no doubt that, in addition to genuine fear, racism and even simple greed were at play as their property was purchased at fire-sale prices. Japanese Canadians eventually received symbolic compensation for their treatment during the war.

National Archives of Canada (C-047402).

Japanese Canadians Being Relocated to Camps in the Interior of British Columbia, n.d.

Responding to the fears and racial biases of British Columbians and to a more general concern over national security, the Canadian government relocated over 12,000 Japanese Canadians. They were sent from the B.C. coast to camps in the interior of B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario.

Canada was not alone among the Allies in having to deal with "enemy aliens." For example, the American treatment of their Japanese population was very similar to that of, and may have served as a model for, Canada. Great Britain initially arrested or imposed restrictions on a relatively small number of its enemy aliens, but this attitude changed with the growing Nazi threat. After the fall of France, Britain interned nearly all enemy aliens. Ironically, a large number of those arrested had come to Britain to flee Nazi oppression. Over the next two years, most of the internees would be released, and many would go on to serve with the Allies.

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