Japanese Canadians, WWI and the franchise
“In 1916, 222 Japanese Canadian volunteers enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) for military service overseas in the First World War. Through enlisting, they overcame racial barriers and showed their determination to win their citizenship rights through military service. The Japanese Canadian soldiers fought in most of the major engagements of the CEF on the Western Front in Europe in 1917 and 1918. Their valour was recognized in the awarding of 11 Military Medals for Bravery to Japanese Canadian soldiers. Fifty-four, or nearly one-fourth of the Japanese Canadian soldiers were killed on the battlefield or died from wounds sustained in combat, and most of the surviving soldiers were also wounded.
In 1920, following their return to Canada, the Japanese Canadian community erected in Stanley Park, Vancouver, the impressive Japanese Canadian War Memorial. It is a distinctive monument that blends both European and Eastern design traditions. In 1920, the veterans also sought to be granted the provincial franchise, which had been denied to all Japanese Canadians following the British Columbia government’s passage in 1895-96 of exclusionary legislation barring them from the vote. Despite their distinguished war service, many groups in BC reacted negatively to extending the franchise to the Japanese Canadian veterans and forced the government of Premier Oliver to withdraw its amendment to the BC Elections Act that would have granted them the provincial vote.
After their unsuccessful bid to win the franchise in 1920, the Japanese Canadian veterans formed BC Branch No. 9 of the Canadian Legion in 1926. Using this organization as a base, they forged alliances with other veterans’ groups and in 1931 sent their leaders (President Sgt. Masumi Mitsui; Secretary Corporal Saisonuke Kobuta; Businessman Saburo Shinbone; Naburo Murakami; Rikuzo Hoita; Nobuhei Watanabe; and Legion Provincial Secretary Robert Macnicol) to Victoria to lobby members of the BC Legislative Assembly again in an effort to win the franchise. At the end of that debate, they succeeded in attaining the provincial franchise by a single vote (19-18) in a division of the legislative assembly. They became the first group of Asian Canadians to win the vote in British Columbia, a province that had enacted a long list of racial exclusions with respect to the franchise. Their efforts thereby produced a major breakthrough in Canada’s constitutional evolution to a full democracy, paving the way for other groups of Asian origin, a process eventually leading to the recognition of the political rights of all Canadians.”Source: "The Japanese Canadian Soldiers of the First World War and the Fight to Win the Vote”, written by David R. Mitsui
Available online at http://jccabulletin-geppo.ca/featured/the-japanese-canadian-soldiers-of-the-first-world-war-and-the-fight-to-win-the-vote/