Not-so-new issues in Canadian citizenship and democracy

Currently, there is a meme going around on Facebook that states: “For the first time in Canadian history, the Canadian government can now revoke Canadian citizenship even for those that were born here, if they are convicted of a terrorism charge.”  One person who shared the meme comments: “With restricted debate, little fanfare, and no significant revisions, a new law that gives the Harper government the ability to revoke citizenship from people that were born here, unprecedented in our entire national history, has just been passed” (emphasis my own).

In 1945, the Vancouver Consultative Council and the Co-operative Committee on Japanese Canadians were busy petitioning government, drawing public attention, and seeking support to sound alarm bells about the sweeping powers of “Orders-in-Council”.  “Orders-in-Council,” they state, “threaten your citizenship!”  Specifically, they highlight Clause ‘g’ of Bill 15 that “threatened the liberty of every Canadian citizen, but its immediate purpose was to make legally possible the revocation of citizenship and the deportation of Canadian citizens of Japanese origin.”  The document that I am referring to, which is featured below and can be accessed here:, goes on to underscore that “[w]hen the clause was rejected, by public and Parliament, the Government passed Orders-in Council authorizing the very action which Parliament had refused to sanction.”

Orders in Council
The meme and the comments of the person who shared it are incorrect in saying the government’s ability to revoke citizenship is “unprecedented in our entire national history”.  This is NOT new; this is a different shade of something else.  Canadians were fighting over these issues some seventy years ago.  The case of “repatriating” (read: exile and deportation) Japanese Canadians meant loss of Canadian citizenship. Most Japanese Canadians who “willingly” chose the option of “repatriation” did so under duress because of forced internment, and because the government gave no other option than to move east of the Rockies -never to return to their homes/lives in BC-, AND because of coercion insofar as it was emphasized that loyalty to Canada would be questioned by authorities if they didn’t “choose” either option.

At no point was a “person of Japanese origin” charged with a crime/treason and RCMP reports state they found no threat.  PM Mackenzie King himself stated: “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.”

A key part of the redress package in 1988 was to find the people whose citizenship was stripped from this post-internment, “repatriate” or relocate ultimatum and reinstate that citizenship.  Nearly 4000 Japanese Canadians left Canada, half of whom were Canadian-born and one-third were under the age of sixteen.

This protest concerning Orders-in-Council directly and systematically targeted “persons of Japanese origin”; however, non-Japanese Canadians flagged that it could be used against any Canadian.  What the meme and the people sharing the meme rightly emphasize are the vast swathes of Canadians that could potentially be targeted by the new legislation -especially as it relates to environmental activism-; however, it should be noted that the emphasis the current bill places on terrorism in this ‘post-9/11 era’ with its deeply ingrained islamophobia is decidedly ethnically focused.

There is no quick and simple conclusion, explanation, or neat way to wrap this up, but, I will end with this:  Ottawa would like to close every Canadian book that contains “sad”, “shameful”, and “unfortunate” chapters ( in order to “move on” and celebrate progress.  The problem is that those chapters are still in print and circulation today.  An artist might have re-interpreted the cover art; a publicist might have found a different spin for today’s market; an editor might have changed a bit of wording or asked for an update…  But the author doesn’t appear to have changed much.  We desperately need new authors, Canada.

Reflections on Idle No More rally from a Japanese Canadian

Walking with StrangersThe following is an article I wrote for the February edition of The Bulletin.  This is a Japanese Canadian magazine, published by the Japanese Canadian Citizens Association (JCCA) of Vancouver, that has been in circulation since 1958.  You can learn more about the JCCA and The Bulletin here:  “The Bulletin: A Journal of Japanese Canadian History + Culture“.

I wrote this short piece in order to illustrate how different histories and experiences of struggle speak to one another in important ways and how these commonalities can inspire action/participation.  Further, I find it frighteningly easy to fall into the trap of thinking at the expense of listening or reflecting.  In this light, I wanted to advocate for and practice a more broadly understood form of listening.

Personal Reflection: Walking with Strangers
(Originally published in February issue of The Bulletin)

Greetings from Ottawa!  Our city has been a-buzz lately with the news and action surrounding Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence and the Idle No More Movement.  With all the information and conflicting stories swirling about in mainstream and social media channels, I decided to attend a rally myself to both show support and to experience this “history in the making” first-hand. I attended the January 11th rally, where some 3,000 people walked from Victoria Island to Parliament Hill.  As I walked alongside and among strangers I reflected on my own family’s history and realized just how much, and how little, I understood about what was going on.

A pivotal and key part of the Japanese Canadian redress movement was to educate Canadians on the complex injustices of dispossession, internment, and relocation; this was a part of Canadian history that had been refused entry into the dominant historical narrative of Canada for many decades.  Many Canadians flatly denied these injustices.  Many Canadians had no idea whatsoever of the issues.  However, many Canadians also supported the movement, showed up at rallies, and wrote letters – they observed, listened, and learned.  As I walked with strangers – as I observed, listened, and learned – I couldn’t help but feel connected.  Even though the details of Japanese Canadian experiences in Canada are very different from that of First Peoples, what we have shared is a struggle to make our pasts, and thus our Canadian present at any given moment, known.

In 1975, CBC radio’s Judy Lamarche interviewed David Suzuki wherein he stated: “I feel as a Canadian who happens to have been put in a concentration camp because I was Japanese I have a special responsibility and that is not to forget how fragile democracies and guarantees are.”  I reflected on that “fragile democracy” while walking.  I reflected on how the War Measures Act made a gross abrogation of human rights a “legal” process in 1942.  I reflected on how I have been able to live my entire life without knowing what a treaty means in the Canadian context; the only reason why I know today is because I actively cared to learn.  I reflected on what First Peoples are saying – shouting! – about how Bill C-45 will negatively impact their communities and all Canadians.  I reflected on the parallels I saw between the redress movement and this rally.

Through Japanese Canadian voices like David Suzuki’s, Joy Kogawa’s, Ken Adachi’s, the National Association of Japanese Canadians’, and individual community members’, Canadians had the opportunity to observe, listen, and learn about Japanese Canadian experience – not only the suffering and injustice, but the beauty of our Japanese cultural heritage… and people listened.  No longer were Japanese Canadians known only as spoken about or on behalf of by “experts” or “analysts” such as politicians, journalists, or academics.  Today, all Canadians have an unprecedented opportunity to listen to the voices of First Peoples telling us about their interactions with the government, the beauty and importance of their cultures, this long struggle, and their lives.  What I personally took from that day and this moment, was/is a renewed commitment to listen to people – not only with my ears and my mind, but with my heart, with my history, with my whole self.  I have so much to learn – and to unlearn.  I choose to listen to the voices of the First Peoples’ speaking now.  I know that these communities know what is best for them.  I know that I certainly do not.