“Traitor By Default: The Trials of Kanao Inouye, the Kamloops Kid” by Patrick Brode

Kanao Inouye (via Wikimedia Commons) Kanao Inouye (via Wikimedia Commons)

Canadian lawyer Patrick Brode has written an interesting and fast-moving account of the little-known Allied war crimes and treason trials of Canadian-born Kanao Inouye, known as the Kamloops Kid by the Canadian soldiers who suffered beatings and torture by Inouye and his Japanese confederates in Hong Kong during World War II. It is a tale of war, suffering, racial animosity, inhumane conduct and, Brode believes, partial injustice. Kanao Inouye, Brode writes, “had victimized and cruelly abused helpless individuals who had fallen under his authority,” yet there were others who committed similar crimes and even much greater crimes that were sentenced to mere prison terms, while Inouye was hanged for treason.

Ironically, Inouye’s father Tadashi had served as a “tough, valiant soldier” in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War, seeing combat at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. Tadashi had moved from Yokohama, Japan, to British Columbia in 1905, where Japanese migrants worked in fisheries, mines and lumbering businesses much to the annoyance of native British Columbians who formed anti-Asian organizations and lobbied Parliament to impose greater restrictions on immigration. The Inouyes and other Japanese families “spoke their own language and lived much as they had in the old country.”  They didn’t assimilate because they weren’t permitted to do so by the wider Canadian community.

In the early and mid 1920s, Tadashi became a successful merchant and visited Japan with his wife and children, including Kanao. After his father’s death, Kanao was registered as the head of the family in Tokyo and he qualified for a Japanese passport. As Brode notes, the family’s Japanese official documents might have helped to save Kanao from the hangman had they been produced at his treason trial.

Kanao moved to Japan in 1935. By that time, the militarists had gained the upper hand in the struggle for power in Tokyo.


Inouye arrived in a Japan that was in a ‘toxic situation where most of its politicians, military and public had become infected with war fever.’


In May 1942, after a string of Japanese victories in the Pacific and the Far East, Kanao, who spoke English and Japanese, was ordered to Hong Kong to serve as an interpreter at the Sham Shui Po prisoner of war camp, which included Canadian soldiers who had been sent to Hong Kong to help British soldiers defend the island in the event of a Japanese invasion. Kanao served there until September 1943, when he was transferred to Singapore then Osaka. In May 1944, he returned to Hong Kong and joined the Kempeitai, Japan’s police force, whose mission was to “secure imperial rule in conquered territories.” After Japan surrendered, Kanao was arrested–accused of committing war crimes and torture at the POW camp and during his work with the Kempeitai.


Traitor By Default: The Trials of Kanao Inouye, the Kamloops Kid, Patrick Brode (Dundurn Press, April 2024)
Traitor By Default: The Trials of Kanao Inouye, the Kamloops Kid, Patrick Brode (Dundurn Press, April 2024)

The bulk of Brode’s book is devoted to Inouye’s war crimes trial conducted by Canadian authorities, and his subsequent trial for treason conducted by British authorities. Witnesses at both trials testified that Inouye carried out or was complicit in water tortures, cigarette burnings, whippings, beatings, and other atrocities against Canadian POWs and suspects interrogated by the Kempeitai. Some witnesses testified that Inouye verbalized hatred for native Canadians who he claimed discriminated against Japanese migrants when he was a boy. He was even accused of causing four deaths, though Brode concludes (as did the tribunal) that there was insufficient evidence to prove that. Inouye was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death, a penalty which Brode characterizes as “extraordinarily out of proportion to the other sentences being levied by other military courts.” His conviction and sentence, however, were overturned on jurisdictional grounds—war crimes trials were limited to Japanese citizens and their Formosan and Korean accomplices. Inouye was a citizen of Canada and therefore a British subject, which placed him outside the jurisdiction of the war crimes courts.

Instead of being released, however, British and Canadian authorities decided to charge Inouye with high treason. The evidence against him was similar to that presented to the war crimes court. But, as Brode notes, Inouye’s defense changed. At the war crimes trial, he denied committing torture. In the treason trial, Inouye’s defense was that he was a Japanese citizen and therefore incapable of committing treason against Great Britain and its Commonwealth. Brode believes there was sufficient evidence of Inouye’s renunciation of Canadian citizenship and acceptance of Japanese citizenship to cast doubt on the charge of treason. But he was convicted in any event, in part due to the Judge’s instructing the jury that Inouye had not renounced his Canadian citizenship. Again, he was sentenced to death and hanged for his crimes on 26 August 1947, after offering a final salute to Japan’s emperor.

Francis P Sempa is the author of Geopolitics: From the Cold War to the 21st Century and America’s Global Role: Essays and Reviews on National Security, Geopolitics and War. His writings appear in The Diplomat, Joint Force Quarterly, the University Bookman and other publications. He is an attorney and an adjunct professor of political science at Wilkes University.