MACLEAN’S REPORTS

Canada’s day of infamy on Salt Spring Island

JON RUDDY September 1 1967
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

Canada’s day of infamy on Salt Spring Island

JON RUDDY September 1 1967

Canada’s day of infamy on Salt Spring Island

JON RUDDY

BARRY BROADFOOT

MACLEAN’S REPORTS

TORADO IWASAKI is 87 now, and the personal catastrophe that befell him and his tiny 81-year-old wife is 26 years old. But this ancient naturalized Canadian, in bringing to light a mysterious land transaction, has raised a painful issue in British Columbia — and a skeleton in Canada’s closet.

SEPTEMBER, 1967 VOLUME 80 NUMBER 9

Torado and Fuku Iwasaki are two of the nearly 20,000 Japanese who were living on BC’s coast when, late in 1941, Pearl Harbor wrecked their peaceful way of life. These law-abiding people were hustled from their homes and shipped off to languish for years in camps because the federal government declared that they posed a security menace. Their homes, land holdings and fishing boats were snapped up for a song—often 10 or 20 percent of their value—by white British Columbians, and the compensation they eventually received for their property was shamefully inadequate.

The Iwasaki story is similar to many. Born in Japan, Torado came to Canada in 1901 and worked industriously as a fisherman. Soon after World War I he bought 640 acres of potentially valuable land on Salt Spring Island in the Strait of Georgia and by 1940 had paid off the $3,950 purchase price. Two years later he and his family found themselves in a detention camp, having been given two hours to pack their belongings into the prescribed two suitcases. The property fell into the hands of a government custodian, Gavin C. Mouat, who happened to be a prominent businessman on Salt Spring Island.

In May, 1945, still living in Cabin 134 at the Greenwood Detention Camp in the BC interior, Torado received a letter from Ottawa stating that his property had been sold for $5,250. Eventually he received a cheque for $4,932.99, representing the sale price minus commission. Demonstrating the gumption and business acumen that he’d shown in buying the land, which included 13,000 feet of shoreline, Torado fired the cheque back to Ottawa.

But in 1950 he reluctantly accepted an additional $8,032 — the government’s “final offer” — and signed a release. Subsequent investigation pointed up the curious fact that, on the same day in 1945, the land had been conveyed to the Secretary of State in Ottawa, and conveyed back to Salt Spring Lands Co., a large real estate firm on the island whose president was Gavin C. Mouat. (Mouat died in 1961.)

Over the years, Torado wrote several protest letters to Ottawa officials and received no satisfactory answers. Then, last January, two young Vancouver lawyers took on the case, because, says one of them, “It had a hell of a strong moral issue . 7 . It became our Centennial project.” Predictably enough, Ray MacLeod and Dan Small got the Ottawa runaround until June when they presented a claim to the office of the Secretary of State. The suit has since been referred to the Department of Justice. MacLeod hopes to argue the case before the Exchequer Court of Canada, and he thinks that it could lead to a flood of appeals for realistic compensation to J apanese-Canadians.

“We hold that the takeover was invalid,” says MacLeod. “There was no urgency to sell this land—except that the war was nearly over. So the property was transferred twice in a single day, and the owners didn’t even know it had been sold until two months later.” With waterfront land at a premium all along the lower BC coast—prices of $30 a foot are common and $60 a foot not unknown — MacLeod figures that Torado Iwasaki should be compensated to the tune of $1.5 million.