Important events in Asian Canadian history

Read about the important and historical events in Asian Canadian history that helped shaped Canada as we know it today.
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Continuous journey regulation

In 1908, the Government of Canada’s “continuous journey regulation” was an amendment to the Immigration Act, which prohibited the landing of any immigrant who did not come to Canada by continuous journey from the country of which they were natives or citizens.

This created a significant barrier to immigration from Asia as trips from most Asian countries involved stops. For Indians, who were also British subjects, this Act made it impossible for them to enter Canada as immigrants.

The continuous journey regulation was passed into law following public accusations that characterized immigration from India as “the Indian invasion” or “the Hindu invasion”. The first South Asians to immigrate to Canada were in fact Sikhs from the Indian province of Punjab. Their presence drew racial hostility and resentment that were directed to other visible minority communities as well. The Komagata Maru incident eventually challenged this Act.

Komagata Maru

On April 4, 1914, the Komagata Maru sailed from Hong Kong and proceeded via Shanghai and the Japanese ports of Moji and Yokohama, and arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia in May 1914. Its passengers, mostly Sikhs from Punjab, India, and all British subjects, challenged the continuous journey regulation of Canada’s Immigration Act, which had been put in place in part to limit immigration from non-European countries.

The regulation stated that immigrants must "come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey and on through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth, or citizenship." Because the majority of the passengers did not meet this criteria, the Komagata Maru was denied docking by the authorities. Only twenty returning residents and the ship's doctor and his family were eventually granted admission to Canada. After two months under difficult conditions, the ship and most of its passengers were forced to return to India where, in a subsequent clash with British soldiers, 19 passengers died.

The continuous journey regulation remained in effect until 1947.

On May 28, 2016, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, made a formal apology for the Komagata Maru incident in the House of Commons to the victims and their relatives.

Chinese Immigration Act

Although there had been an increasingly prohibitive head tax for more than 35 years, the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, marked a period of legislative racism. Chinese workers were no longer needed, as the Canadian Pacific Railway was now complete and, at this time, only merchants, diplomats, students and those granted “special circumstance” by the Minister of Immigration were allowed entry.

Despite the head tax, Chinese immigrants continued to come to Canada. In 1923, the Canadian Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act on July 1, Dominion Day. This act excluded all but a few Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. The Chinese Immigration Act is often referred to as the “Exclusion Act” because it prevented many residents from being reunited with their families. Since the Act was passed on Dominion Day, the Chinese Canadian Community called it “Humiliation Day,” as this Act was perceived as the ultimate form of humiliation.

The Chinese Immigration Act was repealed in 1947. During the years the Act was in force, fewer than 50 Chinese were allowed to come to Canada.

Japanese internment during the Second World War

Shortly after Japan’s entry into the Second World War on December 7, 1941, Japanese Canadians were forcibly removed from Canada’s West Coast. “Military necessity” was used as a justification for their mass removal and incarceration despite the fact that there was little evidence that Canadians of Japanese ancestry posed any threat to Canada’s security. The exclusion from the West Coast was to continue until 1949. This massive injustice was a culmination of the movement to prevent Asians from migrating to the West Coast begun decades earlier in British Columbia.

Treatment of Japanese Canadians

The order in 1942, to leave the “restricted area” and move 100 miles (160 km) inland from the West Coast, was made under the authority of the War Measures Act. This order affected more than 21,000 Japanese Canadians. Many were first held in the livestock barns in Hastings Park (Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition grounds) and then were moved to hastily-built camps in the BC Interior. At first, many men were separated from their families and sent to road camps in Ontario and on the BC/Alberta border. Small towns in the BC Interior — such as Greenwood, Sandon, New Denver and Slocan — became internment quarters mainly for women, children and the aged. To stay together, some families agreed to work on sugar beet farms in Alberta and Manitoba, where there were labour shortages. Those who resisted and challenged the orders of the Canadian government were rounded up by the RCMP and incarcerated in a barbed-wire prisoner-of-war camp in Angler, Ontario.

Despite earlier government promises to the contrary, the “Custodian of Enemy Alien Property” sold the property confiscated from Japanese Canadians. The proceeds were used to pay auctioneers and realtors, and to cover storage and handling fees. The remainder paid for the small allowances given to those in internment camps. Unlike prisoners of war of enemy nations who were protected by the Geneva Convention, Japanese Canadians were forced to pay for their own internment. Their movements were restricted and their mail censored.

As the Second World War drew to a close, Japanese Canadians were strongly encouraged to prove their “loyalty to Canada” by “moving east of the Rockies” immediately, or signing papers agreeing to be “repatriated” to Japan when the war was over. Many moved to the Prairie Provinces, others moved to Ontario and Quebec. About 4,000, half of them Canadian-born, one third of whom were dependent children under 16 years of age, were exiled in 1946 to Japan.

Apology from the House of Commons

In September 1988, the Government of Canada formally apologized in the House of Commons and offered compensation for wrongful incarceration, seizure of property and the disenfranchisement of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.

Year of Korea in Canada

The year 2013 was an important year for Korean Canadians. In December 2012, the Prime Minister of Canada announced that 2013 had been designated as the Year of Korea in Canada. That year aimed to highlight Korea’s culture, traditions and diversity as well as to celebrate the contributions of the Korean community to Canadian society.

Korean War Armistice

The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, and active fighting ended on July 27, 1953, with the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement. Approximately 7,000 Canadians continued to serve in the tense theatre of operations between the signing of the Armistice and the end of 1955, with some Canadian troops remaining until 1957.

Year of the Korean War Veteran

The year 2013 was also designated as the Year of the Korean War Veteran. Korean War Veterans have diligently strived to respectfully commemorate the sacrifices of so many of their fellow Canadians. More than 26,000 Canadian men and women in uniform aided South Korea during the war. The names of the 516 Canadians who died in service during the war, including the nearly 400 Canadians who lie at rest in the Republic of Korea, are inscribed in the Korean War Book of Remembrance, which is on display in the Peace Tower in Ottawa.

Anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Canada

Finally, the year 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Canada. Our excellent relations are based on 50 years of diplomatic engagement, close people-to-people ties and an important commercial relationship.

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