by Lillian Nakamura Maguire
Canada is a culturally rich and diverse country, largely because it is made up of immigrants and refugees who have contributed to its development.
Consider the Irish refugees who came in boatloads in the 1800s, many of whom died of disease and starvation before they arrived. In 1956, Canada accepted 37,500 Hungarian refugees who fled their country during the Hungarian Revolution when they were suppressed by the Soviets. In the 1970s there were 100,000 Vietnamese “boat people” who were accepted into Canada.
These stories are somewhat similar to that of the Syrian refugees’ situation today - all of them seeking security, safety and a future for their children.
We are a country that has welcomed immigrants and refugees. I am a child of immigrant parents of Japanese ancestry who came to Canada in the late 1930s.
“Invest to Insure Your Freedom” - that was the headline on the $60 Victory Loan Bond that my father purchased on February 26, 1942 at the Japan Canada Trust Saving Company in Vancouver. The bonds were used to finance expenditures for the Canadian war effort during the Second World War. This was a sizable investment for him, since the average B.C. wage during that time was about $20 a week. Feb. 26 was also the day that the Government of Canada issued the notice ordering all persons of “the Japanese race” to leave the west coast.
Within a year my father was forced to leave his job in B.C., moved to a work camp, had his B.C. home sold without his permission and was forcibly relocated to Manitoba to work on a sugar beet farm. Eventually my parents got permission to move to Regina for work. My father had to report regularly to the RCMP.
All of this because my parents were of Japanese ancestry and because of the fear fueled by some B.C. politicians and individuals stating that people of Japanese ancestry, whether Canadian born or not, were a security threat to the country. The RCMP did not believe this to be the case, and there was no evidence to prove this. The Canadian government caved into the public pressure.
My father invested in Canada in order to ensure his and his family’s freedom. He never got back his financial investment in that Victory bond. But it took awhile for that initial investment in Canada to pay off for my father in other ways.
His real investment was in taking a chance for a better life in Canada, which ultimately paid off for the whole family. This was in spite of the loss of his freedom and his rights from March 1942 to March 1949 under the War Measures Act.
When I learned about my family history, in the late 1980s during the Redress Movement of the National Association of Japanese Canadians, I wondered how my parents withstood the discrimination and restrictions on their lives from 1942 to 1949. Why didn’t they choose to take up the Canadian government’s offer to “repatriate” to Japan like 4,000 others did after 1945?
At my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary, my father told the story of why they decided to stay in Canada, and Regina in particular, even though they had experienced discrimination and hardship. He said it was because of the kindness, support and friendship of the family next door and others in the Regina neighbourhood who made a difference to our family. My brother and the neighbour’s son would play and visit at each other’s houses and my mother learned to make apple pie, homemade donuts, pancakes and Ukrainian cabbage rolls from her neighbours.
I would not be here today if it were not for the acts of kindness of neighbour to neighbour and employers willing to hire my father. Employers provided opportunities for my father to thrive and support a family of seven children.
We are a country that celebrates and recognizes the importance of diversity and equality. The International Day of Human Rights is celebrated on Dec. 10 with this year’s campaign theme of “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.” We must continue to be mindful of the human rights of all people, including that of refugees and immigrants. Let us continue to invest in our refugees and immigrants to ensure opportunity, freedom, equality, security and social cohesion in our community.
What investments are we willing to make in these new immigrants and refugees to Canada? What yield will they and other Canadians yield from these investments? I think there is plenty to be gained on both sides. Please join me and others in our community to make the Yukon a welcoming and inclusive place for all.
Lillian Nakamura Maguire lives in Whitehorse.