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War Measures Act and the Japanese Internment

On December 7 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, an American Naval Base in Hawaii. This attack led to drastic responses of the Government of Canada as well as the B.C. Provincial Government. The Federal Cabinet Minister from British Columbia, at the time, Ian Mackenzie responded with what is now viewed as an illustration of direct racism and promotion of hatred towards a population.

“It is the government’s plan to get these people out of B.C. as fast as possible. It is my personal intention, as long as I remain in public life, to see they never come back here. Let our slogan be for British Columbia: No Japs from the Rockies to the seas.'”

(Mackenzie, 1941)

This attack of the Japanese on Pearl Harbour brought upon a fear that Japanese Canadians anywhere near the West Coast would pose a threat to the safety of Canadians; although this was not felt by all members of society. Even the Royal Canadian Navy and the RCMP did not believe that this was the case and deemed the Japanese population not be a substantial threat to national security or to the British Columbia population (Taylor, 2004). The Prime minister at the time, despite this knowledge, or lack thereof, ordered the Japanese Canadian population to “be treated in the same way as nationals from Germany or Italy” (Taylor, 2004, p. 9).

William Lyon Mackenzie King utilized his powers on January 14, 1942 under the War Measures Act in order to deal with those who were deemed, by him and other high-ranking individuals, to be enemies of the state. The War Measures Act is a Canadian Statute introduced in 1914 that gives the cabinet absolute authority to do what is thought to be needed in order to ensure the “security, defense, peace, order and welfare of Canada”. As the Prime Minister it gives him the power to set out laws for specific areas or groups that violate existing laws and the charter. Mackenzie King passed the order in council that restricted Japanese individuals from being located within 100 miles of the Western Coast of B.C. This was declared and decided by the person with sovereign power thereby following Carl Schmitt as the sovereign is the individual who can define an exception. This is directly linked to the prime minister utilizing the war measures act to invoke laws upon the Japanese population in Canada that were in clear violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


The Second aspect of this decision by William Lyon Mackenzie King is that of him directly deciding the actions of what was to occur with the Japanese population. This was the placement of these individuals in internment camps such as the one that was set up at Hastings Park where they Japanese were forced to sleep in barns or outdoors. This was among other internment camps that were created that humiliated and excluded the Japanese population from regular activities (Taylor, 2004). This decision from the sovereign also captured over 1,200 Japanese boats to keep them from being out off the coast as potential ways of getting messages 

On August 4th 1944 William Lyon Mackenzie King declared in the House of Commons that:back to Japan. This created a region, and laws in which the Japanese would be punished if they violated without specific allowance from the RCMP; which would last until the order of councils were revoked by the cabinet.

“It is a fact that no person of Japanese race born in Canada has been charged with any act of sabotage or disloyalty during the years of war.”

(Prime Minister Mackenzie King , 1944)

In September of 1988 the Prime Minister set out to make things right, Brian Mulroney with an address stating:

“I know that I speak for Members on all sides of the House today in offering to Japanese Canadians the formal and sincere apology of this Parliament for those past injustices against them, against their families, and against their heritage, and our solemn commitment and undertaking to Canadians of every origin that such violations will never again in this country be countenanced or repeated. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s remarks to the House of Commons, Sept. 22, 1988”

(Mulroney, 2008)

The Prime minster at the time of the incident, Mackenzie King, felt that his actions were in fact in the best interest of the Canadian people at the time of his decision. His address to the House of Commons in 1944 showed that no actions by any Japanese Canadians in any way tried to be a detriment to Canada during the war. Brian Mulroney was the Prime Minister who offered an apology for the occurrences and followed with a promise that similar incidents would not occur again. Both of these exemplify the realization from the sovereign that their actions were absolute yet they differ with regards to their overall view of what occurred.

Mackenzie, I. (1941). Japenese Internment. CBC News. Retrieved November 2013, from
Mulroney, B. (2008, October 29). 20th Anniversary of the Canadian Government’s Formal Apology for Japanese Internment during World War II. Retrieved 2013, from Government of Canada:
Prime Minister MacKenzie King . (1944, August 4). Retrieved from House of Commons address :
Taylor, M. (2004). A Black Mark: The Japanese-Canadians in world war II. Oberon Press.



by | December 5, 2013 · 2:47 am