A society’s willingness to discuss the shameful episodes of its history
provides a powerful gauge of democracy.
During the Second World War, Canada enacted mass displacement and dispossession of people on racial grounds, a collective moral failure that remains only partially addressed.
Landscapes of Injustice is dedicated to
recovering and grappling with the forced sale of Japanese-Canadian-owned property.
In 1942 the Canadian government uprooted over 21,000 people of Japanese ancestry from coastal British Columbia and began the forced sale of Japanese Canadian property. These actions resulted in the eradication of Japanese Canadian enclaves throughout British Columbia. Whereas the uprooting, internment, and deportation of Japanese Canadians have been the focus of a rich scholarly literature, the dispossession has received only passing attention. This should not be so. Because of the dispossession, Japanese Canadians had no homes to return to when restrictions were finally lifted in 1949. Because of the dispossession, there is no historic Japanese Canadian neighbourhood in Vancouver or anywhere in Canada. It transformed individual lives and the broader landscapes of Canadian life. Former property owners and their descendants still feel the shock of the forced sales, the destruction of their neighbourhoods, and the betrayal of the promise that the Canadian government would “protect and preserve” their land and possessions. Canadians are heirs of landscapes of injustice.
We will research and tell this history and engage Canadians in a discussion of its implications. This history still matters. Members of our society continue to be unjustly marginalized, differences among us can still seem insurmountable, and future moments of national crisis will inevitably arise. Our team shares the conviction that Canadian society will be better equipped to address these challenges if we continue to engage the most difficult aspects of our past.
Our team asks why and how the dispossession occurred, who benefited from it, and how it has been remembered and forgotten, in subsequent decades.
The dispossession was an epitomizing moment in the history of twentieth-century Canada: a core principle of liberal society—ownership in fee simple—collided with racial ideology. The latter prevailed despite acknowledgement by policy makers that the large majority of Japanese Canadians were British subjects by birth or naturalization (Canadian citizens) and their property ownership was lawful. Almost a year after the uprooting, policy makers commenced the forced sales of property, usually disposing of it at less than full value. Japanese Canadians in government camps were required to use the funds obtained from the sales to pay for their own sustenance. Although in 1988 the Canadian government apologized for the forced sales and other offences, the dispossession has never been adequately researched or explained. Landscapes of Injustice will give a full airing to this history by mobilizing the remarkable store of primary sources that converge on the dispossession. These sources include hundreds of existing interviews of Japanese Canadians; the records of community groups, local, provincial, and federal governments; a legal challenge to the sales in federal court; and thousands of records of the transactions of individual properties. Our project will trace the origins of this important Canadian policy, explain the failure of Canadian law to protect citizens, analyze the lasting ramifications of this failure, and make these insights available to Canadians.