Friday, March 30, 2012

They Fought the Law

This is located at 2930 Kingsway and was built in 1923.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour during World War II a reaction that the United States and Canada had was to ship all the Japanese living in these countries to isolation camps and to take away everything that belonged to them. These people who had come to Canada for a better life and had lived honorably were now being treated as criminals.

The war ended and the Japanese were released from the camps. But their property was not returned to them, they were forced to start all over.

One of these displaced citizens was Zennosuke Inouye. Inouye had come to Canada in 1900 and joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1916. He was wounded in France while fighting for our country in World War I. He was awarded land through the Soldier Settlement Act (1919) and he bought 80 acres of wild, undeveloped land in Surrey.

He and his wife worked hard to develop this land. But when the expulsion orders came Inouye, his wife and five children were shipped to the Interior and his land was sold. After they were released Inouye fought this decision. After all he was a veteran that had fought for his adopted country. He wrote letters to the Prime Minister and to various officials stating his cause. And guess what happened? He won. Zennosuke Inouye became the only Japanese Canadian veteran to recover property from the Government of Canada.

When we needed help to build the railway we brought in numerous people from China. Once the railway was finished Canada started to impose immigration laws that would deter people coming over from China. First we started a fifty dollar head tax that eventually rose to five hundred dollars. This meant that men who had come here for work could not bring their wives and children over now. It created a bachelor society in Chinatown.

But a Chinese man by the name of Foon Sien saw this as an injustice and he decided to change it.

Sien was one of the first five Chinese to attend UBC although he only lasted a year. He was hired to be a interpreter for the Province of British Columbia. (Interesting note. One of Sien's first cases was to be a translator for Wong Foon Sing, the houseboy that was accused in the murder of  Janet Smith. A very interesting case that I will someday write on.)

In 1937 Foon Sien was appointed publicity agent for the Chinese Benevolent Association’s aid-to-China program. He was labelled as 'Japan's No.1 enemy in North America' when he stopped the export of scrap metals to Japan during World War II.

He also founded the Chinese Trade Workers’ Association in 1942.

It is sad that since his death in 1971 Foon Sien has been largely forgotten. He helped change the laws on immigration. Thanks to his efforts, and others, the racist, unjust 1923 Immigration Act was overturned. But it took over twenty years. It wasn't until May 14, 1947 for the exculsion act to be repealed.

There is a lot of information on Foon Sien and I don't have the space to write it all. The History of Metropolitan Vancouver website has a great page on him.

Foon Sien and Zennosuke Inouye recognized that certain laws were unjust. They fought the law and won. I am impressed by the fact that these two men battled discrimination by using the system. Which is really the only way that true change happens.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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  1. Hi Karen. I am from MasterKoda group. Sent you a friend request. I tried to promote you on my News/Media FB pg. but I cannot. Not sure why. Anyway, I did join your blog. Would love it if you could return the favor and join mine? Thanks so much.

    My FB pg for News/Media is

    If you like it, I will promote you and your books there. To do so on MasterKoda, I need to be your friend???

    Anyway, thanks, a pleasure.
    Carole Di Tosti

  2. Wow, you always share such interesting things. Sharing this for sure. How the US and Canada handled the situation was reprehensible. Will be tweeting and FB shraring this.