Royal Commission to Investigate Complaints of Canadian Citizens of Japanese Origin Who Resided in British Columbia in 1941, that Their Real and Personal Property Had Been Disposed of by the Custodian of Enemy Property at Prices Less than the Fair Market Value (Canada): The Royal Commission to Investigate Complaints of Canadian Citizens of Japanese Origin who Resided in British Columbia in 1941, That Their Real and Personal Property had been Disposed of by the Custodian of Enemy Property at Prices Less than the Fair Market Value was established under Order in Council, P.C. 1810, 18 July 1947, as amended by Orders in Council, P.C. 3737, 17 September 1947, P.C. 242 and P.C. 243, 22 January 1948, under Part I of the Inquiries Act (R.S.C., 1927, c.99) and on the recommendation of the Secretary of State. The Commission was mandated to inquire into claims of persons of the Japanese race who reside in Canada at the date of this order, and of corporations in which the majority of the shares were formerly owned by Japanese persons namely: (a) that real and personal property vested in the Custodian was sold by the Custodian for less than the fair market value, resulting in loss to the claimants; and (b) that personal property vested in the Custodian was lost, destroyed or stolen while in the possession or under the control of the Custodian or some person appointed by him, with the result that the claimant suffered a loss equal to the fair market value of the property but no claims shall be considered for property lost, destroyed or stolen while under the custody, control or management of any person other than the Custodian. The commissioner must examine into each claim and make a report to the governor in council setting forth the claims, which in the opinion of the commissioner are well-founded and the amount which would fairly compensate the claimant for failure of the Custodian to exercise reasonable care. The commissioner was Henry Irvine Bird. Because of the large number of claimants, Mr. Bird was assisted in the conduct of this inquiry by seven judges who were authorized to hear evidence for him. (See Order in Council P.C. 243, 22 January 1948). The secretaries were A. Watson and Miss V.J. White.
With the declaration of war against Japan on 8 December 1941, the Government of Canada became increasingly concerned about the large number of Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia who were perceived as a threat to national security. At first it impounded Japanese-owned fishing vessels, which were later sold, and interned a small group of allegedly dangerous persons. Then under pressure from diverse groups, especially in British Columbia, the federal government announced a policy of partial evacuation of persons of the Japanese origin on 14 January 1942, and, on 26 February it applied an evacuation order to all Japanese-Canadians. About 22,000 persons were gradually removed from the "protected area" along the British Columbia coast and resettled, mainly in internment camps in the interior of British Columbia and Alberta, under the supervision of the British Columbia Security Commission.
Shortly after the evacuation, the federal government authorized the sale or lease of farms owned by Japanese-Canadians to the Director, Veterans Land Administration, for disposition to returned veterans. Later, the Custodian of Enemy Property, acting on behalf of the federal government, confiscated all real and personal property left behind by the evacuees. It originally was instructed to hold everything in protective custody during the evacuation. But early in 1943 the government authorized the Custodian to liquidate all properties, except liquid assets, by public auction and tender.
Over the next few months the property of the evacuees was sold or disposed of, and in many cases claims were made that it was sold at less than its fair market value. Permission was never obtained from or given by the owners of the property for these transactions. The proceeds, less administrative charges, were held for each of the former owners, but for most Japanese the economic consequences of the disposal was catastrophic.
In Canada the battle to gain redress for losses sustained by the Japanese-Canadians had been mounting since 1942. In January 1943, upon learning that their property was being sold without their consent, many evacuees wrote protest letters to the government. Three Japanese property owners brought suit against the Custodian to the Exchequer Court to protest the federal government's power to liquidate property. They also hoped to delay the disposal of Japanese property by court action. Unfortunately this case was not heard until May 1944 and by that time the disposal of property and chattels was practically over. Furthermore, the Exchequer Court did not render a decision in the case until August 1947.
At the end of the war there was renewed action arising out of the inadequate and unfair compensation proposals made by the government to the Japanese-Canadians. In the fall of 1946, for example, the Japanese-Canadian Committee for Democracy conducted a survey of economic losses of 198 Japanese family heads who had resettled in Toronto. It showed the aggregate value of their property was more than 1.6 million dollars. Of that, 1.3 million dollars had been sold off netting the owners slightly more than 00,000.
In 1947 the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Party referred the conduct of the Custodian of Enemy Property to the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons for investigation. Concentrating mainly on the sale of farms to the Director, Veterans Land Administration, the committee concluded that administrative irregularities had occurred that merited further investigation. Finally, on 17 June the committee recommended the appointment of a royal commission to investigate the alleged losses incurred by the Japanese-Canadians when their property was sold at less than fair market value.
The royal commission was announced on 18 July 1947 but its terms of reference were unsuitable to the Japanese-Canadians. It compensated Japanese property owners only when neglect or lack of care by the Custodian or his staff in the supervision or sale of property could be legally proven. Also, the terms of reference were narrower than those recommended by the Public Accounts Committee. After interest groups pressured the government, the terms of reference were expanded to meet with the earlier recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee. The new arrangements were not ideal, but they did allow most property owners to seek limited compensation. (See The Enemy That Never Was, K. Adachi, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976), pp. 319-327 and The Politics of Racism, A.G. Sunahara, (Toronto: James Lorimer and Co., 1981), pp. 151-155.)
On 22 September 1988, after prolonged negotiations, the Government of Canada reached an agreement with the National Association of Japanese Canadians. The government agreed to pay 1,000 in compensation to each of the surviving Japanese-Canadians who were interned in Canada during World War II. Moreover, Prime Minister Mulroney made a formal apology in the House of Commons on behalf of the Government of Canada for injustices done to Japanese-Canadians during the 1940s.
Hearings of the commission were held in Lytton, New Denver, Kamloops, Vernon, Grand Forks, Nelson, and Vancouver, all in British Columbia; and in Lethbridge, Moose Jaw, Winnipeg, Fort William, Toronto and Montreal from 3 December 1947 to 3 March 1950. There were 1434 persons who filed claims. RG33-69 General Inventory