Mental Health Impacts of Internment on Japanese Canadians: Historical Intersections of Systemic Racism and Psychiatric Care




Haisell, Camille

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This research focuses on Japanese Canadians’ experiences in Canadian psychiatric hospitals in the context of WWII dispossession and internment. My research project is based on archival material digitized in the summer of 2017 in the BC Archives by myself and three other members of the Provincial Records cluster of the Landscapes of Injustice research collective. My project analyzes patient case files from the Riverview and Essondale psychiatric institutions in BC and investigates the effects of the dispossession and internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII on their mental health. Specifically, I examine how abrupt separation from families, forced removal from home, and racist/exclusionary societal and governmental actions manifested within the mental wellbeing of Japanese Canadians and how Japanese Canadian patients related their experiences of dispossession and internment to their mental states. Numerous Japanese Canadians were admitted near the time of dispossession and internment, and many files explicitly connect the patient’s condition with these upheavals. Moreover, correspondence between the British Columbia Security Commission (the corporate body responsible for the relocation and internment of Japanese Canadians), hospital staff, and patients’ families all provide valuable information on the role of the BCSC in patients’ wellbeing and its role within the hospital system at the time. This research is both situated within the larger transnational historical contexts of global migration, citizenship, racism, and health, as well as within the ultra-local, individual level patient histories of Japanese Canadians. This is a valuable research avenue as it contributes to an ongoing and much needed conversation on mental health, highlighting the serious effects that Canada’s policies of systemic racism can have on a population’s mental well-being.



Mental Health, Systemic Racism, Internment, Canada, History