Vice Dean Eric M. Adams contributes new work for SSHRC-funded project

Book chapters by legal historian examines Japanese Canadian legal history

Sarah Kent - 03 September 2020

Vice Dean Eric M. Adams, a legal historian and expert in constitutional law at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, has published two new chapters in a ground-breaking edited collection.

Landscapes of Injustice: A New Perspective on the Internment and Dispossession of Japanese Canadians (McGill-Queen’s University Press) was published in August.

The multidisciplinary edited collection reinterprets the internment of Japanese Canadians by focusing on the deliberate and permanent destruction of home through the act of dispossession.

“Canada took all forms of the property of Japanese Canadians,” said Adams. “Families lost heirlooms and everyday possessions. They lost decades of investment and labour. They lost opportunities, neighbourhoods, and communities; they lost retirements, livelihoods, and educations. When Japanese Canadians were finally released from internment in 1949, they had no homes to return to.”

Asking why and how these events came to pass and charting Japanese Canadians' diverse responses, the collection details the implications and legacies of injustice perpetrated under the cover of national security.

Adams contributes two chapters to the book. The first, “ ‘Equally Applicable to Scotsmen’: Racism, Equality, and Habeas Corpus in the Legal History of Japanese Canadians” tells the story of the little-known 1932 Supreme Court of Canada case, Samejima v. The King.

The case deals with the Canadian government’s racially-motivated attempts to deport immigrants from Japan and is notable for Chief Justice Duff’s candid acknowledgement that Canadian immigration law was being applied unevenly on the basis of race.

A second chapter, co-written with the book’s editor, Jordan Stanger-Ross, “Promises of Law: The Unlawful Dispossession of Japanese Canadians,” recounts the creation of the executive orders that dispossessed Japanese Canadians in the 1940s and the unsuccessful court case that challenged their legality.

Previously published, “Promises of Law” won two awards from the Canadian Historical Association for its contributions to political history, and the history of race in Canada.

The book is the culmination of a seven-year SSHRC-funded Partnership Grant in which Adams served as lead legal historian. The project’s research has also been the basis for a museum exhibit that will launch in the fall of 2020 and curricular materials for teaching about racial injustice in elementary and secondary schools.

Adams and Stanger-Ross are continuing their collaboration with an ongoing project examining the law, politics, and resistance of the exile of thousands of Canadians of Japanese descent after the end of the Second World War.