A sobering reminder of Canada’s dark history made it into the chambers of Vancouver’s Municipal government yesterday.

On Wednesday Councillors unanimously voted to apologize to Canadians of Japanese descent for the racist motion that the Vancouver City Council passed in 1942. The motion, put forward by Alderman Halford Wilson  seventy-one years ago, urged the Canadian federal government to remove “the enemy alien population” from the West coast because of the danger that they might lend support to a possible Japanese invasion.

According to the Vancouver Sun, government action resulted in the

removal of more than 25,000 people of Japanese descent from a 100-mile zone around the west coast, the seizure of their belongings and their internment in interior camps.

And, with Council approval, Vancouver

allowed Hastings Park to be used as a marshalling area for the internees who were rounded up by police and the RCMP simply because they were of Japanese descent. The horse and cow barns at the park were used to house women internees, while the men were confined to the Forum.

As Canadians we tend to pride ourselves on being a compassionate and just society. The Vancouver City Council today is to be commended for having the courage to acknowledge that our history has not always borne out the image we would like to have of ourselves.

The Vancouver Sun gives the story a tragically human face with the case of Mary Kitigawa, who

Born on Saltspring Island, where her family were farmers, said she remembers watching an RCMP officer with a gun manhandle her father on to a truck. She believed he was being taken away to be shot. It would be six months before she saw him again at a farm in McGrath, Alberta.


It is hard today to imagine the level of fear and paranoia that would cause the government of a free open democratic nation to tear a child away from her innocent father forcing him into an internment camp.

This sad part of our history, must surely remind us that there is no great distance between us and totalitarian governments that remove the most basic human rights from citizens based only on racial origin. Our government’s dealing with Canadians of Japanese descent during the Second World War leaves little room for arrogance towards countries that practice prejudice and injustice against marginalized peoples in other parts of the world.

I am glad to live at a time when governments feel compelled to address some of the wrongs of the past. The move of the Vancouver City Council is a hopeful sign that we are determined to resist the forces that would draw us to mistreat and marginalize people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religious observance, or social standing.

A society that desires to maintain the freedom and mutual respect we so value, can never sit lightly to any gestures of disrespect or abuse in the name of preserving the well-being of one part of society at the expense of other innocent members of the community.

I have quoted it before but the words German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller spoke on 6 January 1946, in a speech to the representatives of the Confessing Church in Frankfurt,  bear repetition,

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

In 1942 someone should have spoken for Mary Kitigawa on Salt Spring Island. Sadly, it has taken over seventy years for her story to be heard. May it motivate us to stand against those forces that threaten the freedom and dignity of anyone in our country today.