The internment of Japanese-Canadians during the second World War was one of the less noble points in Canadian history. But this post is not about guilt or shame.
Economists are increasingly aware that history matters. A recent survey by the Harvard-based Canadian economist Nathan Nunn describes how decisions made centuries ago - for example, the types of institutions set up by European colonial powers - still shape countries' economic development.
Japanese-Canadians have higher incomes and education levels than the population as a whole. Japanese-Canadians also have the highest rate of intermarriage of any ethnic group. The National Association of Japanese Canadians attributes this partly to the relatively small size of the Japanese-Canadian community, and partly to the community's scattered distribution.
Figure 1 shows the location of residence of native-born Japanese, Canadian and non-visible minority Canadians 40 years and older in 2006. This age limit was chosen to exclude the descendants of those who arrived throughCanada's post-60s, more open immigration policy, but still give me a large enough sample (445 Japanese, 873 Chinese, and 302,197 non-visible minority Canadians) to provide some rough approximation of the distribution of different groups across the country.
Figure 1 suggests that, compared to the Chinese-Canadian community, the Japanese-Canadian community is less concentrated in Vancouver. Could this be due to World War II internment?
The first Japanese to come to Canada settled up and down the BC coast, with larger communities on Vancouver's Powell St, and in Steveston. Internment shattered these ethnic enclaves. Most people were moved to internment camps in BC or northern Ontario, although some opted to work on sugar beet farms across the country.
If you were released from an internment camp in Northern Ontario, what would you do? Your home and any business assets have been sold, ostensibly to pay for the costs of your internment. You might not even be able to afford the train fare back to BC. In that situation, I'd be tempted to try my luck in Toronto.
[Update: Japanese Canadians might not have had much choice in the matter anyways. According to the National Association of Japanese Canadians website: "In the spring of 1945, before the end of the war, the Japanese were threatened with further expulsion. The option given was either “dispersal” to places east of the Rockies or “repatriated” to Japan."]
The difference between Japanese and Chinese Canadians residence patterns shown in Figure 1 is suggestive of some long-term effects of internment. The two groups had a similar geographic pattern of immigration - arriving in the port cities of British Columbia, and slowly dispersing outwards - so in the absence of internment might plausibly be expected to have similar residence patterns. That the two groups have different residence patterns might suggest that internment had long-run effects.
At the same time, there are severe limits to this kind of a comparison. First, early Japanese settlers had quite different experiences from early Chinese-Canadians. They worked in different industries - many Japanese-Canadians worked as fishermen, whereas early Chinese-Canadians were more likely to be unskilled or semi-skilled indentured labourers. Second, Chinese-Canadians were subject to specific exclusion acts and head taxes, whereas Japanese-Canadians faced less restrictive immigration policies. For example, from 1926 to 1936 there was virtually no Chinese-Canadian immigration to Canada, whereas Japanese-Canadians were the single largest non-European immigrant group. Third, an unknown portion of the Chinese- and Japanese-Canadians shown in Figure 1 will be the children of post-WW II immigrants, who would be only indirectly affected by internment. (Though, to the extent that new immigrants tend to settle close to existing ethnic enclaves, there would probably be some indirect effects of internment on more recent arrivals.)
The only way to really track the long-run impacts of internment would be to obtain a bigger sample of older internees - perhaps by using US data, perhaps by getting access to the larger, confidential census data set. It would be a worthwhile research project, not only for the light it would shed on the Japanese-Canadian or Japanese-American experience, but for what it would tell us about the long-term impacts forced dislocation.
Update: a student of Nathan Nunn's is currently researching the long-term impacts of internment on Japanese-Americans.