CBC News

City of Vancouver played role in stripping war-era Japanese Canadians of homes, says professor

City officials launched campaign to condemn buildings, says UVic professor

CBC News Posted: Jan 18, 2016 2:50 PM PT

A University of Victoria history professor says he has unearthed new documents that show the City of Vancouver played a bigger role than previously thought in forcing Japanese-Canadians to sell their homes during the Second World War.

Jordan Stanger-Ross, who is also the project director of Landscapes of Injustice, a federally-funded research project that examines the treatment of Japanese-Canadians during the war years, says newly found documents show the city played a role in forcing people to sell their homes. Jordan Stanger-Ross explains his research findings to staff at the City of Vancouver.

Vivian Rygenstad's parents were among the 22,000 Japanese-Canadians stripped of their rights and forced from their homes during the Second World War. "Before they left, they did like many other families, they hid things like cameras and valuables. They hid them in the walls and stuff like that," Rygenstad said.

The federal government ordered Japanese-Canadians to leave coastal B.C. in 1942 but promised to protect and preserve their property during their internment. But the City of Vancouver declared many of their homes slums, and they were sold, Stanger-Ross said. The city went so far as to call for the removal of all Japanese-Canadians from the Pacific Coast, though it apologized for this in 2013.

City's role in forced sales

Stanger-Ross says archival documents show that the city played a larger role in the forced sales than previously thought. "They sent building inspectors, health inspectors, electrical inspectors in a campaign to condemn the housing that was being rented to push the federal government towards selling that property instead," Stanger-Ross said.

One document — a 1948 letter between two federal officials —- details the inspections of Japanese-Canadian-owned properties. Another is a 1944 letter from a Japanese Canadian asking the federal justice minister to return his property. Stanger-Ross said researchers found more than 290 similar letters from Japanese-Canadians. His findings will be included in an article to be published later this year in the Journal of Planning History.

Stanger-Ross says more than 500 properties in the city were sold, all without the consent of the homeowners — and for well below-market value. The information comes from city and federal archives. 

Meanwhile, Rygenstad, who chairs the Landscapes of Injustice Community Council, says she wants to find a way to mark those buildings, so the history of her family and others won't be forgotten.

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