49th Parallel

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New Writers Forum
Canada, a land of opportunity, a land of repression

Sam Little
The writer is an undergraduate student at The University of Birmingham.

   “O Canada, glorious and free.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”[1]

The proposal of migrating to Canada is presented as being positive in a variety of sources. In Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, the slave Tom is encouraged to leave America and “make a run for Canada and be free.”2 The official web site for Canadian immigration invites prospective immigrants and their families to “share with Canadians and take part in the continued building of one of the world’s most successful economic alliances.”3 In Srivinas Krishna’s film ‘Masala’, the Minister Of Multiculturalism suggests that “Canada is a country large enough for…all communities and all individuals.”4 Assumedly, those Chinese and Japanese who migrated to Canada in the second half of the nineteenth century went with similar aspirations of Canadian prosperity as documented above. However, the most important issue for how successfully these immigrants were to get on in Canada was “whether the potential immigrant[s] [could] be assimilated or not.”5 The Japanese and Chinese in British Columbia (which is where the majority of these immigrants lived in Canada) constituted a distinctly different community from the white Canadians; a difference mostly notable through their appearance, language and social customs. This “isolation from the rest of Canada”6 provoked “extremely broad and enduring”7 social tensions. This paper will demonstrate that Canada was a land of oppression for these two groups of immigrants.

The methodology to be used will be to compare two different examples of oppressive anti-Oriental movements in British Columbia. Firstly, I will analyse the arrival and development of an anti-Chinese sentiment in British Columbia in the 1870s, and then give the main examples of anti-Chinese petitions and legislation from 1885 to 1903. Secondly, I will study the growth of an already existing anti-Japanese sentiment in British Columbia from Canada’s declaration of war on Japan in 1941, and the expulsion of the Japanese from this province on 24th February 1942.

Anti-Chinese racism first manifested itself in British Columbia as a result of the economic depression experienced in the province during the 1860s and 1870s. A vacuum of working class labourers was established as most Europeans in Canada “moved to better lands”8 during these two decades. Unskilled labour was required for the construction of public infrastructure, and it was predominantly the Chinese immigrants who were recruited for such employment. Many white Canadians were irritated by this, and claimed that the Chinese had began to compose a dangerous body of employment in British Columbia. These anti-Chinese sentiments “began to harden”9 as a result of British Columbia’s entry in to the Canadian confederation on July 20th 187110. The province’s legislators wanted to create a more defined (and predominantly white) society now that they were a part of the confederation, in which there was “at best…only a subordinate place for newcomers”11 from China. In 1872 the first calls for a restriction on Chinese immigration was sounded, due to the fear that the Chinese would “frustrate”12 British Columbia’s economic and political future. Although the attempt was unsuccessful, it showed the initial signs of sympathy for discriminating legislation.

The development of such an anti-Chinese sentiment in British Columbia was provoked by the increase in Chinese immigration to the province in the early 1880s. The intimidating obstacle hindering the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1880 was the sheer shortage of labourers, and so 15,701 Chinese immigrants were imported specifically to the province between 1881 and 1884 “to work on the [scheme’s] most dangerous and least well paid jobs”13. This rapid and significant increase in the Chinese population “roused the majority of British Columbia people to a determined agitation against Chinese immigration”14. A petition signed by 1,500 labouring white Canadians was presented to the House of Commons in 1882, stating, “Nearly the entire English speaking population of British Columbia were opposed to Chinese immigration.”15 Even though the Chinese were restricted to unskilled work, the people of British Columbia feared that the increasing power of the Chinese labour market would subvert white Canadian politics. The demand for legislation restricting Chinese immigration to Canada increased, and “two numerously signed”16 petitions were sent from British Columbia to the Governor General of Canada in 1884. These petitions, which illustrated the province’s fear of Chinese “economic competition”17, had two main affects. Firstly, the government responded with the Chinese Immigration Act of July 1885, which introduced a ‘head tax’ of fifty dollars on Chinese immigrants, making their admission to Canada “progressively more expensive and prohibitive”18. And secondly, those Chinese immigrants who had been considered “necessary for the vast undertaking”19 of the Canadian Pacific Railways were “thrown out of work”20 upon the completion of the railway in November 1885. However, the prejudice sentiment remained unquenched, and the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 (which was considered too moderate) was modified in 1903, increasing the ‘head tax’ to five hundred dollars.

The Japanese in British Columbia had been similarly viewed “through a haze of prejudice”21 since the beginning of the twentieth century, but a hatred for this group of immigrants “as people”22 arose in the early 1940s with the outbreak of World War Two. Canada declared war on Japan on December 7th 1941 in response to the attack on Pearl Harbour, and all Japanese immigration to the country was subsequently halted. To the people of British Columbia, the Japanese were “nothing but a threat”23, and “the call went up for their expulsion”24. Public tension in the province grew increasingly volatile as a result of Japanese military successes in Malaysia and the Philippines. West coast race relations had “never before [been] so seriously stained”25 due to the condition of war that existed between Canada and Japan, leading to “the final racial outburst, more intense, more widespread, and more alarmist than ever before.”26

The increasing fear of the “yellow peril”27, as the people of British Columbia labelled the Japanese, led to the escalation of a hostile anti-Japanese attitude, as well as discriminating legislation. The Minister of Labour and the Attorney General both sympathised with the public cry for the “immediate removal”28 of the Japanese from the province, and most British Columbian newspapers were “heavily freighted with racist rhetoric”29 against these immigrants. In the week following the attack on Pearl Harbour, Japanese immigrants were “victimised by scattered acts of vandalism”30, and thirty-eight Japanese nationalists were interned on the grounds that they “might endanger the community”31. It was clear that “nothing short of total evacuation could quiet the public outcry”32, and the government retorted by uprooting the Japanese community on the 24th February 1942 with the passing of The War Measures Act. Approximately 90% of the 21,000 Japanese immigrants in British Columbia were ushered into a “socially devastating exile”33, “carried along by the momentum of expulsion into the waiting wilderness”34. The majority of these people were relocated to live in various “ghost towns”35, although 7,000 men were detained in Prisoner Of War Camps on the accusation of “disobeying and resisting the authorities”36. As enemy aliens, the Japanese immigrants in British Columbia were “deprived of [their] freedom”37 and their property due to the war between Canada and Japan. The results were both socially and financially shattering for this group of immigrants.

Although it can be argued that Canada “officially adopted multi-cultural policies”38, and was often “open to immigrants”39, it is clear that the country suffered from “conflict and turmoil”40 in regard to the experiences of Chinese and Japanese immigrants in British Columbia. The myth that immigrants to Canada “flourish[ed] in a tolerant multicultural mosaic”41 is destroyed by the information acquired concerning how these Orientals were treated in this province. This paper has demonstrated that Canada was a land of grief and oppression for these two groups of immigrants by documenting, firstly, the anti-Chinese sentiment in British Columbia in the late nineteenth century, and secondly, the anti-Japanese attitude that erupted in the same province in 1941 and 1942. The result of discriminating legislation against the Chinese in 1885 and then 1903 was that it greatly hindered Chinese citizens in their attempts to migrate to Canada. A similarly oppressive movement was experienced by those Japanese in the country from December 1941. As well as prohibiting Japanese immigration into Canada, the Canadian government shattered the well being of approximately 20,000 Japanese immigrants. Although the practical outworking of anti-Oriental discrimination against the two people groups studied did differ, it stemmed from the same fact that these people could not be assimilated into Canadian society because of their conspicuously distinct culture. Canada, in this light, comes across as being a nation that “plucks its people out like weeds and flings them to the roadside”42.


[1] http://www.singforcanada.ca/anthem.html

2 Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Page 8.

4 Krishna, Srinivas: 1991 (Canada) ‘Masala’.

5 Gungwu, Wang. The Chinese Overseas; From Earthbound China To The Quest For Autonomy. Massachuestts: Harvard University Press, 2000. Page 41.

6 Ward, Peter W, ed. British Columbia: Historical Readings. Vancounver: Douglas and McIntryre, 1981.Page 657.

7 Nakano, Takeo Ujo., and Leatrice Nakano. Within The Barbed Wire Fence; A Japanese Man’s Account Of His Internment In Canada. Seattle: University Of Washington Press, 1981. Page 119.

8 Campbell, Persia Crawford. Chinese Coolie Emigration To Countries Within The British Empire. New York: Negro University Press, 1969. Page 37.

9 Ward, Peter W. White Canada Forever; Popular Attitudes And Public Policy Towards Orientals. Montreal; London : McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990. Page 30.

10 www.canadaonline.about.com%2flibrary%2bfl%2fblconfed.htm&qte=0&o=0

11 Ward, Peter W. White Canada Forever; Popular Attitudes And Public Policy Towards Orientals. Montreal; London : McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990. Page 31.

12 Campbell, Persia Crawford. Chinese Coolie Emigration To Countries Within The British Empire. New York: Negro University Press, 1969. Page26.

13 Abu-Laban, Yasmeen, and Christina Gabriel. Selling Diversity. Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press Limited, 2002. Page 38.

 

14 Campbell, Persia Crawford. Chinese Coolie Emigration To Countries Within The British Empire. New York: Negro University Press, 1969. Page 37.

15 Ibid

16 Ibid. Page 52.

17 Ibid.

18 Abu-Laban, Yasmeen, and Christina Gabriel. Selling Diversity. Toronto, Ontario: Broadview Press Limited, 2002. Page 38.

19 Multiculturalism Directorate Department of the Secretary of State. The Canadian Family Tree, Canada’s Peoples. Don Mills, Ontario: Corpus Information Services Limited , 1979. Page 44.

20 Corbett, David C. Canada’s Immigration Policy; A Critique. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 1957. Page 34.

21 Ward, Peter W. “British Columbia and the Japanese Evacuation.” Canadian Historical Review (1976): 57. Page 290.

22 Davidson, Arnold. Writing Against the Silence: Joy Kogawa’s Obasan. Toronto, Ontario: ECW Press, 1993. Page 9.

23 Ward, Peter W, ed. British Columbia: Historical Readings. Vancounver: Douglas and McIntryre, 1981. Page 681.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid. Page 683.

26 Nakano, Takeo Ujo., and Leatrice Nakano. Within The Barbed Wire Fence; A Japanese Man’s Account Of His Internment In Canada. Seattle: University Of Washington Press, 1981. Page 49.

27 Ward, Peter W. White Canada Forever; Popular Attitudes And Public Policy Towards Orientals. Montreal; London : McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990. Page 168.

28 Ward, Peter W, ed. British Columbia: Historical Readings. Vancounver: Douglas and McIntryre, 1981. Page 686.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid. 678.

31 Ward, Peter W. “British Columbia and the Japanese Evacuation.” Canadian Historical Review (1976): 57. Page 297.

32 Ward, Peter W. White Canada Forever; Popular Attitudes And Public Policy Towards Orientals. Montreal; London : McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990. page 148.

33 Davidson, Arnold. Writing Against the Silence: Joy Kogawa’s Obasan. Toronto, Ontario: ECW Press, 1993. Page 17.

34 Kogawa, Joy. Obasan. Markham, Ontario: Penguin. 1983. Page 111.

35 Ibid. Page 117.

36 Keibo, ed. Stone Voices:Wartime Writing of Japanese Canadian Issei. Montreal: Vehicule Press, 1991. Page 12.

37 Ibid. Page 24.

38 Gungwu, Wang. The Chinese Overseas; From Earthbound China To The Quest For Autonomy. Massachuestts: Harvard University Press, 2000. page 96.

39 Ibid.

40 Sigurdson, Richard. “First Peoples, New Peoples and Citizenship in Canada.” International Journal of Canadian Studies (1996): 13-14. Page 54..

41 Davidson, Arnold. Writing Against the Silence: Joy Kogawa’s Obasan. Toronto, Ontario: ECW Press, 1993. Page 9.

42 Kogawa, Joy. Obasan. Markham, Ontario: Penguin. 1983. Page 226.