Skip to content

Landscapes of Injustice

Manjot Parhar (3L)

 

In 1942, Canada enacted mass displacement and dispossession of Japanese-Canadians on racial grounds. Over 21,000 people suffered the consequences of this moral failure. They were interned and uprooted from their homes, their properties forcibly sold. As a result, Japanese-Canadians had no homes to return to when the Canadian government lifted its restrictions in 1949. The historic Japantown, located in Vancouver, British Columbia, also ceased to exist.

 

Landscapes of Injustice (Landscapes) attempts to grapple with this difficult past. A seven-year multidisciplinary research project, it is dedicated to uncovering the details of the displacement and dispossession and telling them to the Canadian public. Those involved with Landscapes believe the past is not easily escaped. Further, as Canada becomes more and more diverse, a discussion of the enduring effects of racism needs to take place.

 

This project is divided into two phases. The first phase, from years 1 to 4, focuses on research. The Landscapes team consists of six research clusters: land title and government records, oral history, community records and directories, legal history, historical geographical information system (GIS), and knowledge mobilization. These clusters research in their respective areas, aiming to tell the fullest possible history of the displacement and dispossession.

 

The second phase, years 5 to 7, is intended to communicate the research findings to large and diverse audiences. It will feature a travelling museum exhibit. The exhibit will include archival photographs, personal statements, government documents, artifacts, statistics, and interactive GIS maps. In addition, Landscapes will create an interactive website for the public and provide teaching resources to BC schools.

 

I have had the pleasure of being involved with Landscapes since September 2014. In particular, I am a research assistant in the legal history cluster. This cluster is headed by our Faculty’s own, Professor Eric Adams. It conducts research on legal historical sources, including legislation and case law.

 

Landscapes has been one of my most rewarding law school experiences. It has challenged me to think critically about the law and its role in protecting citizens. It has made me confront my assumptions about race and racism. And it has taught me that there is no single or easy explanation of the displacement and dispossession.

 

Throughout this experience, I have also learned the importance of telling individual stories. That history is, in fact, made up of such stories. That those 21,000 people were not nameless, faceless victims—but people with hopes and fears and desires. Just like the rest of us.