Camps - The War Measures Act
By world standards Canada is a country that respects and protects
its citizens' human rights. That has not always been true, however.
Many people are familiar with the story of the internment of Japanese-Canadians
in BC during World War II. But not many people are aware that the
Japanese were not the only Canadians imprisoned during wartime simply
because of their ethnic origin. The history of Canada includes more
than one shameful incident in which the Canadian government used
the law to violate the civil rights of its own citizens.
The War Measures Act was enacted on 22 August 1914, and gave the
federal government full authority to do everything deemed necessary
"for the security, defence, peace, order and welfare of Canada".
It could be used when the government thought that Canada was about
to be invaded or war would be declared, in order to mobilize all
segments of society to support the war effort. The Act also gave
the federal government sweeping emergency powers that allowed Cabinet
to administer the war effort without accountability to Parliament,
and without regard to existing legislation. It gave the government
additional powers of media censorship, arrest without charge, deportation
without trial, and the expropriation, control and disposal of property.
This Act was always implemented via an Order in Council, rather
than by approval of the democratically elected Parliament.
After Great Britain entered the First World War in August 1914,
the government of Canada issued an Order in Council under the War
Measures Act. It required the registration and in certain cases
the internment of aliens of "enemy nationality". This included the
more than 80,000 Canadians who were formerly citizens of the Austrian-Hungarian
empire. These individuals had to register as "enemy aliens" and
report to local authorities on a regular basis. Twenty-four "concentration
camps" (later called "internment camps") were established across
Canada, eight of them in British Columbia. View a list of World
War 1 Concentration Camps. The camps were supposed to house
enemy alien immigrants who had contravened regulations or who were
deemed to be security threats. In fact, the "enemy aliens" could
be interned if they failed to register, or failed to report monthly,
or travelled without permission, or wrote to relatives in Austria.
concrete reasons given for internment included "acting in a very
suspicious manner" and being "undesirable". By the middle of 1915,
4000 of the internees had been imprisoned for being "indigent" (poor
and unemployed). A total of 8,579 Canadians were interned between
1914 and 1920. Over 5,000 of them were of Ukrainian descent. Germans,
Poles, Italians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Turks, Serbians, Hungarians,
Russians, Jews, and Romanians were also imprisoned. Of the 8,579
internees, only 2,321 could be classed as "prisoners of war" (i.e.
"captured in arms or belonging to enemy reserves"); the rest were
Upon each individual's
arrest, whatever money and property they had was taken by the government.
In the internment camps they were denied access to newspapers and
their correspondence was censored. They were sometimes mistreated
by the guards. One hundred and seven internees died, including several
shot while trying to escape. They were forced to work on maintaining
the camps, road-building, railway construction, and mining. As the
need for soldiers overseas led to a shortage of workers in Canada,
many of these internees were released on parole to work for private
The first World
War ended in 1918, but the forced labour program was such a benefit
to Canadian corporations that the internment was continued for two
years after the end of the War.
During World War II the War Measures Act was used again to intern
Canadians, and 26 internment camps were set up across Canada. In
1940 an Order in Council was passed that defined enemy aliens as
"all persons of German or Italian racial origin who have become
naturalized British subjects since September 1, 1922". (At the time,
Canada didn't grant passports and citizenship on its own, so immigrants
were "naturalized" by becoming British subjects.) A further Order
in Council outlawed the Communist Party. Estimates suggest that
some 30,000 individuals were affected by these Orders; that is,
they were forced to register with the RCMP and to report to them
on a monthly basis. The government interned approximately 500 Italians
and over 100 communists.
In New Brunswick,
711 Jews, refugees from the holocaust, were interned at the request
of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill because he thought there
might be spies in the group.
In 1942, the
government decided it wanted 2,240 acres of Indian Reserve land
at Stony Point, in southwestern Ontario, to establish an advanced
infantry training base. Apparently the decision to take Reserve
land for the army base was made to avoid the cost and time involved
in expropriating non-Aboriginal lands. The Stony Point Reserve comprised
over half the Reserve territory of the Chippewas of Kettle & Stony
Point. Under the Indian Act, reserve lands can only be sold by Surrender,
which involves a vote by the Band membership. The Band members voted
against the Surrender, however the Band realized the importance
of the war effort and they were willing to lease the land to the
Government. The Government rejected the offer to lease. On April
14, 1942, an Order-in-Council authorizing the appropriation of Stony
Point was passed under the provisions of the War Measures Act. The
military was sent in to forcibly remove the residents of Stony Point.
Houses, buildings and the burial ground were bulldozed to establish
Camp Ipperwash. By the terms of the Order-in-Council, the Military
could use the Reserve lands at Stony Point only until the end of
World War II. However, those lands have not yet been returned. The
military base was closed in the early 1950's, and since then the
lands have been used for cadet training, weapons training and recreational
facilities for military personnel.
After the bombing
of Pearl Harbor in 1942, the government passed an Order in Council
authorizing the removal of "enemy aliens" within a 100-mile radius
of the BC coast. On March 4, 1942 22,000 Japanese Canadians were
given 24 hours to pack before being interned. They were first incarcerated
in a temporary facility at Hastings Park Race Track in Vancouver.
Women, children and older people were sent to internment camps in
the Interior. Others were forced into road construction camps. There
were also "self-supporting camps", where 1,161 internees paid to
lease farms in a less restrictive environment, although they were
still considered "enemy aliens". Men who complained about separation
from their families or violated the curfew were sent to the "prisoner
of war" camps in Ontario.
of the Japanese Canadians - land, businesses, and other assets -
were confiscated by the government and sold, and the proceeds used
to pay for their internment. In 1945, the government extended the
Order in Council to force the Japanese Canadians to go to Japan
and lose their Canadian citizenship, or move to eastern Canada.
Even though the war was over, it was illegal for Japanese Canadians
to return to Vancouver until 1949. In 1988 Canada apologized for
this miscarriage of justice, admitting that the actions of the government
were influenced by racial discrimination. The government signed
a redress agreement providing a small amount of money compensation.
Could This Happen
The War Measures Act was repealed in 1988. It was replaced with the
Emergencies Act. The Emergencies Act allows the federal government
to make temporary laws in the event of a serious national emergency.
The Emergencies Act differs from the War Measures Act in two important
1. A declaration of an emergency by the Cabinet must be reviewed
2. Any temporary laws made under the Act are subject to the Charter
of Rights and Freedoms.
Thus any attempt by the government to suspend the civil rights
of Canadians, even in an emergency, will be subject to the "reasonable
and justified" test under section 1 of the Charter. Restrictions
and limitations on freedom were inevitable during times of war.
To the Canadian government, internment during both World Wars was
a practical solution to a perceived security problem. However the
terms of the Orders in Council, and the methods used to carry them
out, reveal that the government was influenced more by racial discrimination
and anti-immigrant sentiments than by any real threat to national
security. The stories of the internees are a reminder of how human
rights are vulnerable in situations of crisis.
Author: Diana Breti
© 1998 The Law Connection
Centre for Education, Law and Society (CELS)
Simon Fraser University
Vancouver, British Columbia