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Internment of Japanese Canadians

The forcible expulsion and confinement of ethnic Japanese during the Second World War represents one of the most tragic sets of events in Canada’s history. Some 22,000 Canadian citizens and residents were taken from their homes on Canada’s West Coast, without any charge or due process, and exiled to remote areas of eastern British Columbia and elsewhere. Ultimately, the Canadian government stripped the Japanese Canadians of their property and pressured them to accept mass deportation after the war ended. These events are popularly known as the Japanese Canadian internment. However, various scholars and activists have challenged this term on the grounds that under international law, internment refers to detention of enemy aliens, whereas most Japanese Canadians were Canadian citizens.

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Internment in Canada

Internment is the forcible confinement or detention of a person during wartime. Large-scale internment operations were carried out by the Canadian government during the First World War and Second World War. In both cases, the War Measures Act was invoked, which gave the government the authority to deny people’s civil liberties, notably habeas corpus (the right to a fair trial before detention), and to hold them in camps across the country. More than 8,500 people were interned during the First World War and as many as 24,000 during the Second World War — including some 22,000 Japanese Canadians.

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Conscription in Canada

Conscription is the compulsory enlistment or “call up” (sometimes known as “the draft”) of citizens for military service. The federal government enacted conscription in both the First World War and the Second World War, creating sharp divisions between English-speaking Canadians, who tended to support the practice, and French-speaking Canadians, who generally did not.

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The Great Depression in Canada

The Great Depression of the early 1930s was a worldwide social and economic shock. Few countries were affected as severely as Canada. Millions of Canadians were left unemployed, hungry and often homeless. The decade became known as the Dirty Thirties due to a crippling drought in the Prairies, as well as Canada’s dependence on raw material and farm exports. Widespread losses of jobs and savings transformed the country. The Depression triggered the birth of social welfare and the rise of populist political movements. It also led the government to take a more activist role in the economy.