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John Price: B.C. polices the camps

Map of camps in B.C. by John Endo Greeenaway
Map of camps in B.C.; Credit John Endo Greeenaway

This is the third chapter of B.C. historian John Price’s six-part series, The BC Government and the Dispossession of Japanese Canadians (1941-1949), which was co-published in 2020 by the National Association of Japanese Canadians and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. It’s available in its entirety on the CCPA website.

By John Price

YOSHIO JOHN MADOKORO HAD BEEN A FISHER as long as he could remember. He and his family lived and worked out of Tofino. A Canadian born in Steveston, he had taken up fishing at 15 after his dad died. His fishboat was impounded along with hundreds of others soon after Pearl Harbor.

In his recollection of those years, Madokoro recalled being forced to leave Tofino: “By the time the Maquinna came in it was toward evening. We were all standing on the dock. It is vivid in my memory. I was saying goodbye to my white friends and watching the families. People would come up to me because I was the secretary and they would say, “Can I take my camera?” And I would say, “How should I know? Sure, go ahead, take it”. (24)

“In Port Alberni, the Provincial Police were waiting for us at the docks,” continued Madokoro, “they took us to the local police station. After they checked their lists, something that would become routine to us, we were loaded on the CN train to Nanaimo. We were becoming more known as anonymous numbers and less as individual members of a community. You know that is what really hurts even to this day: we were stripped of our identities and treated as “undesirables” even though we had not committed any crime. Our crime was being Japanese Canadian! Canada has a funny way of dealing with its own citizens.” (25)

As Yoshio Madokoro recalled, the British Columbia Provincial Police (BCPP), a provincial agency, was involved from day one in the uprooting. Nor was the province’s involvement restricted to its police force—it was also a key player in the British Columbia Security Commission, set up to supervise the uprooting. And whenever necessary, the province intervened directly with the federal government to impose their policies.

The British Columbia Provincial Police

Founded when the province was still a British colony, the BCPP expanded to a force of over 500 officers in 120 detachments before it was disbanded in 1950. As recounted previously, the head of the BCPP, T.W.S. Parsons had accompanied provincial labour minister George S. Pearson to Ottawa in early 1942 where he backed the provincial government’s position to clear the coast of Japanese Canadians.

Upon his return to Victoria, he wrote to the provincial attorney-general, R.L. Maitland, to press for the mass removal of Japanese Canadians, a message that Maitland then forwarded to Ottawa. (26)

Shortly after the federal government acceded to the province’s campaign for mass uprooting, Maitland wrote to the RCMP assuring them that provincial and municipal police forces would fully cooperate in forcibly removing Japanese Canadians from their homes.

According to Lynne Stonier-Newman, author of Policing a Pioneer Province: “The uprooting proceeded methodically. The RCMP handled most of the work in Vancouver and New Westminster, and the BCPP organized the exodus from Vancouver Island and the Coast”. (27)

Yoshio Madokoro recalled: “When we got there, they took us to Hastings Park and what they gave us was a horse’s stall. You’ve never seen anything like it, just a horse’s stall. We had to do our own cleaning up and everything. What a smell!

From Hastings Park, the BCPP “assumed almost all responsibility for policing the Japanese nationals and citizens as they were transferred to the interior.” (28)

According to former BCPP officer, Donald N. Brown, thousands “were interned in various camps in the interior of British Columbia—all under the control of the BCPP.” (29)

The BCPP, at the direction of the province, had become an integral part of the uprooting from start to finish. But the province’s role did not stop there.

The British Columbia Security Commission

Provincial appointees were key figures in the British Columbia Security Commission (BCSC), established in March 1942 to supervise the uprooting and establishment of the camps.

At the top, the province agreed to the appointment of BC Provincial Police assistant commissioner T.S. Shirras, one of a triumvirate of commissioners to head the Security Commission.

The Security Commission’s advisory committee included provincial attorney-general, R.L. Maitland; minister of labour, George S. Pearson; and the leader of the CCF, Harold Winch.

The Security Commission’s plan to ship men out to work camps without their families generated resistance. Dozens of men, including Johnny Madokoro formed what became known as the Nisei Mass Evacuation Group, demanding that families be kept together. A riot broke out in Vancouver’s Immigration Building with protesters pitching the contents of rooms out of windows.

Even then, the Security Commission refused to allow husbands and wives to stay together. In scenes reminiscent of Donald Trump’s border policies today, families were torn apart. Johnny Madokoro ended up in a work camp in Ontario, his wife Mary and the children in the Slocan detention centre in the Kootenays.

Those that continued to protest were shipped out to prisoner-of-war camps as recounted by Robert K. Okazaki in The Nisei Mass Evacuation Group and P.O.W. Camp 101. Though Canadians, they were illegally detained in the camps for years, denied even basic rights under the War Measures Act. (30)

Back in detention camps in BC, travel outside of the designated sites was banned by the Security Commission under the War Measures Act:

No person of Japanese origin at any work camp, village, farm, municipality or other area to and in which they have been duly authorized or directed to proceed shall leave such place without the authority of the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or Provincial Police delegated by the Commission to carry out such orders and supervision. (31)

The BC Security Commission’s final report concluded that “this Commission could hardly have functioned without the assistance of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the British Columbia Provincial Police,” the latter under the control of the provincial government. (3)2

For many of those incarcerated in camps, it was impossible to make ends meet without working. Still, the provincial government refused to let detained Japanese Canadians work in the forests. Provincial secretary of state at the time, George S. Pearson, wrote to the federal government: “Re Wire October twenty-eighth reference to Japanese our government is not satisfied that it is wise to allow Japanese to work in lumber industry in British Columbia without police supervision.” (33)

The premier, John Hart, reiterated this in a telegram to Ottawa:

Referring to our conversation regarding the proposal to employ Japanese in timber cutting, please be advised that this matter was caucused quite recently and was definitely turned down. The members were absolutely against the Japanese being employed for that purpose. I would appreciate your advising the Honourable C.D. Howe as to the result of this Caucus. (34)

While detained in Slocan, Mary Madokoro struggled to get by, often using her last pennies to buy food for the family, including her young children. It took over two years before the family eventually reunited, in Toronto, thousands of miles away from their beloved coast. By then their Tofino home had been sold, without permission, as had Yoshio’s boat.

Like many Japanese Canadians, the Madokoro family survived the uprooting but at what cost?

A decade would pass before Yoshio, Mary and the family could return to BC. When they eventually got back, in 1953, the town of Tofino refused to allow Japanese Canadians to return. So, the Madokoros bought a house in Port Alberni. Their daughter, Marlene, still lives there: “As a third generation Canadian of Japanese descent, I am proud of my grand-mothers, parents, aunts and uncles who showed integrity, strength and resilience during their uprooting and internment during WWII.”

The provincial government was deeply involved in what happened to Marlene’s family and thousands of other Japanese Canadians. Not only was it a main instigator in the uprooting, not only were its agencies and officials involving on a daily basis in overseeing the camps, it also denied education to thousands of children who remained in detention in camps in BC.


24 Yoshio John Madokoro, interviewed in Bob Bossin, Settling Clayoquot (Sound Heritage Series 33) (Victoria: Province of British Columbia, Ministry of Provincial Secretary and Govt. Service , 1981), 64. Available at:

25 As recounted in “Yoshio ‘Johnny’ Madokoro,” edited by Dennis Madokoro, Nikkei Images, Vol. 11, No.4, Winter 2006.

26 As cited in Patricia Roy, Triumph of Citizenship (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007), ft. 79, 328.

27 As cited in Lynne Stonier-Newman, Policing a Pioneer Province: The BC Provincial Police, 1858–1950 (Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 1991), 219.

28 According to Lynne Stonier-Newman, Policing a Pioneer Province: The BC Provincial Police, 1858–1950 (Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 1991), 320.

29 Donald N. Brown, Why: The Last Years of the British Columbia Provincial Police (Burnaby: Pacific Forensic Science Consultants Services Ltd, 2000), 2.

30 Robert K. Okazaki, The Nisei Mass Evacuation Group and P.O.W. Camp 101 (Ontario: Markham Litho, 1996).

31 As cited in Roy Ito, Stories of My People (Ontario: S-20 and Nisei Veterans Association, 1994), 230.

32 British Columbia Security Commission, Removal of Japanese from Protected Areas (Vancouver: British Columbia Security Commission, 1942), 16. Available at:

33 George S Pearson, Minister of Labour, letter to A MacNamara, Associate Deputy Minister of Labour, Ottawa, November 3, 1942. (LAC, MG 27, III, B-5, Vol. 25, 70-25-A12).

34 John S. Hart, Premier, telegram to Ian Mackenzie, Minister of Pensions. February 17, 1943 (LAC, LAC, MG 27, III, B-5, Vol. 25, 70-25-A12).

Earlier this year, then premier John Horgan, announced a new $100-million initiative providing funding for: “enhanced health and wellness programs for internment-era survivors; creating and restoring heritage sites for all British Columbians to explore and learn, including a monument to honour survivors of the internment era; and updating B.C.’s curriculum to teach future generations about this dark chapter in B.C.’s history”. 

Premier David Eby’s mandate letter to Mable Elmore, parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives, includes this sentence: “Work with the Japanese Canadian Legacies Society to deliver the Province’s redress initiatives that honour the legacy of Japanese Canadians in B.C.” The letter was written on December 7, which was the 81st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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John Price

John Price

John Price is professor emeritus (History) at the University of Victoria and author of several books.



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