The Politics of Racism by Ann Gomer Sunahara
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In November 1941 Thomas Kunito Shoyama was an editor of the New Canadian, a fledgling Japanese Canadian newspaper in Vancouver, British Columbia. As such, Shoyama was a principal spokesman for the Japanese Canadian Citizens' League, an organization founded in 1936 to fight discrimination against Japanese Canadians. Well educated, articulate and capable, Shoyama was not an editor by choice. On graduating from the University of British Columbia in 1938 with an honours degree in commerce and economics, he had intended to enter the world of business. He quickly discovered, however, that ability and high academic achievement meant nothing when you were Japanese. Fifty years of legislation and regulation had closed most of the professions, the public service and teaching to him, while social taboos discouraged Caucasian businessmen from hiring him in any but the most menial capacity. In British Columbia, where 95 per cent of Canada's 23,450 Japanese resided in 1941, Shoyama could not even vote, although he was Canadian-born. Shoyama's outstanding abilities would in time make him one of Canada's most powerful civil servants, but in British Columbia in 1941 he was simply a "Jap."1
While Shoyama's employment problems were typical of those facing all Japanese Canadians, he represented only one of the three socio-cultural groups making up Japanese Canadian society in 1941: the Issei, the Kibei and the Nisei. Shoyama was a spokesman only for the last group. Almost 10,000 Japanese Canadians were Issei, or immigrants from Japan and Hawaii, some 3,650 of whom had become naturalized Canadians before 1923 when Canadian nationality was made very difficult for Japanese to obtain.2 Most Issei were from the landowning peasant class of Japan. They had grown up in the rapidly modernizing Meiji period (the years 1868-1912 when Japan was emerging as an industrialized world power) and had come to Canada before the First World War. By 1941 they had spent an average of thirty years working in fishing, farming and agriculture, or in building up small businesses. Denied access to the larger Canadian society, culturally the Issei remained a microcosm of Meiji Japan.
The Kibei were Canadian-born but Japan-educated Japanese Canadians. As such they varied across the cultural spectrum. Those who had been sent to Japan at a young age and had stayed for their whole education were culturally Japanese. They were not exactly like their parents, for the Japan of the 1920s and 1930s that the Kibei knew was different from the Japan their parents had known. Those who had been sent to Japan for only part of their education knew intimately two very different cultures. Most preferred the less rigid culture of Canada. Some, however, were discouraged by the racism they had met in Canada and preferred Japan. Fluent in Japanese, the Kibei understood and had a greater empathy for Japanese culture than the Nisei.A
The Nisei were Canadian-born and Canadian-educated like Shoyama. They had been exposed to the full force of the acculturating influences of the Canadian public school system. They had been carefully taught that things British and Canadian were right and that, by inference, all else was suspect. Racism, they were told, was the fault of the nonwhite minorities. The cause of racism, they were taught, was the failure of nonwhites to assimilate into the Anglo-Canadian culture. Only when they became totally Canadian could they take their rightful place in Canadian society. The Nisei learned their lessons well. By 1941 their main criticism of the Issei and the Kibei was that they were too Japanese.
While taught to accept Anglo-canadian standards, the Nisei could never be full-fledged members of the larger society. Nor, handicapped by poor Japanese, could they be full participants in the Japanese subculture of the Issei and the Kibei. Without being aware of it, the Nisei lived at the fringes of both the Issei subculture and the larger white community, vainly trying to interpret each to the other. Their cultural marginality was complicated by their age. In 1941 only 5,000 of the 13,600 Canadian-born Japanese were over twenty years of age. Shoyama, one of their principal spokesmen, was only twenty-three. To the Issei, the Nisei were only a bunch of kids. By the standards of both Canadian society and the Japanese subculture, the Nisei were still far too young to be consulted on matters of importance, let alone to serve as leaders. With their Canadian education and outlook and the arrogance of youth, however, the Nisei assumed that they understood the times and their society better than their parents.3
By November 1941 the times and their consequences for Japanese Canadians looked very grave indeed. Since 1932 Japanese aggression in China had been escalating, and in September 1940 Japan had openly allied itself with Germany and Italy. By the autumn of 1941 diplomatic negotiations between the still neutral United States and Japan were deteriorating. The United States was demanding the withdrawal of Japanese forces from occupied China, and Japan was beginning to feel the effects of the oil embargo with which the Americans were backing up their demands. If the United States went to war with Japan over China and if Canada were drawn into that war, the consequences for Japanese Canadians were potentially severe.
In late November 1941 Thomas Shoyama, English-language editor of the New Canadian, was both optimistic and pessimistic about those consequences. Recalling the experiences of German and Italian aliens in 1939 and 1940, Shoyama presumed that all Japanese aliens would be required to report regularly to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, that Japanese community associations and the Japanese-language press would be investigated, and that a few Japanese aliens would be interned. Pessimistically he presumed that the parallel to the Germans and Italians would end there. He doubted that the immunity granted Canadian nationals of German and Italian ancestry would be extended to the Nisei. Rather he expected that the Nisei and naturalized would be treated like aliens and required to report regularly to the RCMP. Shoyama also anticipated that Japanese Canadian fishermen, all of whom were Canadian nationals, would be treated harshly.4
The greatest danger, Shoyama felt, lay in vandalism and violence. The vandalism inflicted on German Baptist churches in Vancouver in the spring of 1940 had already shown how the irresponsible would behave in time of war. British Columbia's long history of anti-Japanese sentiment guaranteed Japanese Canadians similar treatment. Shoyama, however, was optimistic that such hooliganism would be deplored by decent British Columbians and by the press, which he was confident would be "strongly arrayed on the side of decency and law and order." He was equally sure that the federal government and its advisors could be counted upon to apply reason and good sense to the problem. Two weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Shoyama assured his readers that "inflamed public opinion will probably be far more serious and more injurious than official government policy."5
Shoyama had good reasons for all of his conclusions, especially the pessimistic ones. By November 1941 he was very familiar with the personalities and the arguments of those most opposed to Japanese Canadians. As a spokesman for the Nisei, he had read the half-truths, exaggerations and outright lies of the White Canada Association, the latest in a long line of nativist groups dedicated to combating the "evils" of the Asian presence in British Columbia. He had witnessed the federal election of 1935, when both Liberals and Conservatives sought votes by smearing the CCFB party as pro-Asian. He had listened to the ranting of Alderman Halford Wilson as he enlivened the meetings of Vancouver's city council with his many anti-Asian proposals. Most infamous was his proposal that Asians be segregated into ghettos, as the Jews were in Nazi Germany.6
Shoyama knew that Liberal and Conservative politicians, both provincial and federal, would jump on any anti-japanese bandwagon. While their degree of enthusiasm would vary according to the personal standards of each man, no Liberal or Conservative politician questioned the tradition of exploiting the anti-Asian feelings of the B.C. electorate. Indeed some were zealots. Men like Thomas Reid, the Liberal M.P. for New Westminster, and A.W. Neill, an Independent representing Comox-Alberni, had consistently assumed an anti-asian position, using arguments and literature supplied by the White Canada Association. Their styles were very different. Reid presented his irrational arguments with a shallow dignity that made them all the more powerful. Neill's venom lent deep emotion to blunt statements based on distorted facts.7 Since these men played on the kind of patriotism that vilifies a minority strongly identified with an enemy, Shoyama knew that they might incite violence against Japanese Canadians. He knew also that they would be incredibly difficult to stop, for arguments alone were useless against them. Such men were successful because they appealed not to logic, but to fear: fear of economic competition, fear of social disruption and intermarriage, and fear for personal and national security.8
For seventy years the anti-asian movement had exploited the fears of those in real or imagined competition with Asians. The racists succeeded because Asians were paid lower wages than their white counterparts. By working for less, the racists argued, Asians undermined white living standards. At the same time the obvious solution – equal pay for equal work – was unthinkable since Asians, by definition, were inferior and therefore must be paid less. Yet while theoretically inferior, Asians were considered unfair competition because they were superior workers. To counteract the debilitating effects of their lower wage, Asians worked longer hours and had higher productivity than their white counterparts. To the labour agitators, compensating for a low wage with high productivity was an unfair tactic.9 Damned for having a lower standard of living and damned for working hard in order to raise it, Asians were locked into a double standard. Their only escape required the cooperation of those who feared them most: their competitors.
For most of a century the economic argument had been reinforced by the claim that Asians were unassimilable. Assuming that only a racially homogeneous society could be stable, racists argued that the Asian was genetically incapable of commitment to the Canadian way of life and to British values and institutions. To the agitators, the Japanese-language schools and Japanese Canadian social, religious and economic associations were objects of suspicion and proof of Japanese unassimilability. Asians who professed loyalty to Canada and who by their actions demonstrated that they thought, felt and acted like other Canadians were ridiculed as cunning agents of the governments of their ancestral homelands. Because Asians did not look like whites, it was assumed that they did not feel or think like other Canadians.
As Japan's status as a world power rose through the 1920s and 1930s, B.C.'s racists added to their arsenal of charges the "big lie" that Japanese Canadians were part of a long term conspiracy by Japan to absorb British Columbia. Convinced that an interracial world war was inevitable and that Japan would be the aggressor in that war, B.C.'s racists often portrayed Canada's Japanese minority as a fifth column of spies and saboteurs. As proof for their charges the agitators used the dual citizenship of the Nisei. Ignoring the fact that almost every other first generation Canadian also held the right to citizenship in two countries, the agitators claimed that the dual citizenship of the Nisei meant that they would fight for Japan, not Canada, when put to the test, in the same way that an Englishman born in Japan would fight for England. The practice of sending children to Japan for part of their education and the use of Japanese government texts in the Japanese-language schools, they further charged, ensured the indoctrination of the young in preparation for the expected invasion by Japan. Similarly, the traditional role played by the Japanese consul in protesting discrimination against Japanese Canadians was cited as proof that he, as Japan's representative, controlled Japanese Canadians and directed a conspiracy to overthrow British Columbia society.
Even the Japanese Canadian settlement pattern was seen as part of a grand conspiracy. Only 54 per cent of B.C.'s 22,000 Japanese Canadians resided in urban centres. The rest were scattered throughout the Fraser Valley in farming communities, along the coast in fishing villages and pulp towns, and in the fruit, mining and lumbering areas of British Columbia's Interior. As a consequence, it was not difficult to find Japanese in proximity to some strategic facility like a road, a power dam, a telephone exchange or a port. To anti-japanese agitators the perfectly normal Japanese Canadian settlement pattern became a Machiavellian attempt to control militarily strategic sites.10
The charges were absurd, but they hurt. In their pervasiveness they could not be ignored or dismissed as the mindless muttering of imbeciles. What perhaps hurt the most was that most of these racist lies contained a grossly distorted kernel of truth. It was true that Asians worked longer hours for lower wages than whites; it was equally true that the choice of equal pay for equal work was not theirs to make. It was true that the Asian minorities retained their own institutions and many of their customs; it was equally true that the institutions of the larger society were closed to Asians, necessitating the establishment of parallel social and economic arrangements. It was true that the Nisei attended Japanese-language school after regular classes and that they used textbooks from Japan; it was equally true that as long as they were restricted to employment within the Japanese community, the Nisei needed what little Japanese language they learned in those schools in order to earn a living. It was true that the Japanese consul in Vancouver was treated with respect and consulted on minority problems; it was equally true that until the formation of the CCF in 1932 Japanese Canadians had no other ally on which to call when faced with discrimination. 11
Shoyama's pessimism in late November 1941 may also have been based on his knowledge of how unprepared Japanese Canadians were to cope with intense public anger. In 1941 the Japanese minority was a fragmented, dispersed and insecure group of people whose primary aim was making ends meet and who had little experience with general public anger. Historically, discrimination had been piecemeal, affecting only some Japanese Canadians at any one time. As a consequence, the response had also been piecemeal, undertaken by those most immediately affected and often with the help of the Japanese consul. When the number of fishing licences issued to Japanese Canadians was severely cut back in the 1920s, the fishermen themselves decided who should give up their licences, helped those affected to start farms or businesses, and, with the help of the Japanese consul, successfully challenged the cutbacks in the courts. When Japanese Canadians found themselves excluded from the social and institutional life of the communities in which they lived, Japanese in each area formed their own small communities to supply the needed social, cultural and economic institutions. When Japanese in logging and mill work were denied access to white unions, they formed their own union. Denied the vote, those whose claim to it was strongest, the Canadian-born, formed the Japanese Canadian Citizens' League (JCCL) to seek it. The result of this piecemeal response was a plethora of uncoordinated organizations, which, while their leaders knew each other, were divided like any normal community by social, religious, geographical, ideological and generational differences. Before 1941 there had been no pressing need to reconcile those differences.
While the multitude of Japanese Canadian associations gave the appearance of a well-organized, tightly knit community, none could lead the minority by itself. The most successful, the Canadian Japanese Association (CJA), had several strikes against it. Its 4,000 members were almost entirely Issei, and much of its authority had traditionally rested in its relationship with the Japanese consul, who would be discredited in the event of war. The CJA, a conservative group dominated by urban businessmen, had defended Japanese aggression in China in the early 1930s. While it had compensated for this error in public relations with strong Victory Bond drives after 1940, it remained tainted in the eyes of those Japanese Canadians who opposed Japan's militarist government. Among the Issei, the strongest antimilitarist group was the socialist Japanese Camp and Mill Workers Union. The union, however, was too small and too ideologically radical to lead Japanese Canadians as a whole.12
The Nisei organizations were equally ill-coordinated. Only 5,000 of the, 13,600 Nisei in Canada were over twenty years of age in 1941. Those 5,000 Nisei belonged to fifty-three Nisei organizations, of which the Japanese Canadian Citizens' League (JCCL) was the most vocal although not necessarily the most representative. Its leaders were mostly highly acculturated Nisei like Shoyama, who had been raised in white neighbourhoods outside the Powell Street ghetto in Vancouver or the fishing villages along the coast. At the same time, the bulk of the membership came from the ghetto and places like Steveston and the Fraser Valley farming communities where the JCCL locals were run like traditional Japanese youth clubs.13 Divided within by NiseiKibei cultural conflicts, and socially and economically dependent on their immigrant parents, the Nisei were too young and too inexperienced to lead the Japanese minority in time of crisis. Rent by ideological, cultural and generational divisions, Japanese Canadians were effectively leaderless in November 1941.
Although fearful of violence and vandalism, Shoyama was optimistic about the fate of Japanese Canadians because he believed the press and the government would act responsibly. Throughout 1941 the press in B.C. had assumed a low-key stance on the "Japanese question." Shoyama had no way of knowing that the newfound liberalism of the B.C. press was due in part to the intervention of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.14
Shoyama also had no way of knowing that neither Prime Minister King nor most of his advisors on Asian matters could be depended upon to defend Asians. A subtle politician, King's prejudices remained hidden until revealed in his diaries after his death. At sixty-eight years of age in 1941, William Lyon Mackenzie King was a product of the late Victorian age. He carried in his psychological baggage all the prejudices and complexes of that age, concealed behind a carefully nourished public image of traditional Gladstonian liberalism: supportive of private enterprise, reverent of liberty and freedom, and tolerant of the "less advantaged." Privately King was without ideology. His principles at any given time were limited to those that would advance the cause of the Liberal party and were based in a firm conviction that only the Liberal party, with himself as its leader, was capable of governing Canada. His opinions, accordingly, were fluid. As Jack W. Pickersgill, his Executive Assistant from 1937 until King's retirement in 1948, recalled:
The one thing you can be fairly sure of about Mackenzie King was that the opinion he had today would not necessarily be the opinion he would have tomorrow. He was an intuitive politician. He was always measuring in his intuitive way…just how much traffic the public would bear. Mackenzie King was not the stuff of which martyrs are made.15
One of King's opponents in 1941, Tommy Douglas – CCF M.P. and future leader of the Saskatchewan CCF and the federal New Democratic Party – was more blunt in his recollections:
King's motto, both internationally and domestically, was: "You don't rock the boat. You never move until you know what everyone else is doing, and then you jump in with the majority." It is an excellent lesson in Machiavellian politics. He never in his life took a firm position on anything until he was sure that 75 per cent of the public was behind him, and then he would seize the flag and run to the head of the parade.16
By November 1941 such tactics had kept King in power for almost fifteen years. In that period of time his governments, over which he always had firm control, attempted to drive Japanese Canadians from the fishing industry, halted Chinese immigration, limited Japanese immigration to 150 persons per year, and continued to deny the right to vote to Asians despite a strong appeal by the Japanese Canadian Citizens' League.
Yet in spite of this record of discrimination, King's public image as a tolerant and reasonable man remained intact. In January 1941 Shoyama, like many Japanese Canadians, firmly believed that "the Prime Minister is not the type of man to be swayed by prejudice or irrational emotion."17 In reality King was very susceptible, not to "prejudice and irrational emotion" per se, but to the voting power they represented. It is Jack Pickersgill's opinion that "King, in his heart, did not approve of the [Japanese] policies…. He recognized that opinion in British Columbia, that counted as far as votes were concerned, could not be ignored."18 King's willingness to recognize prejudiced public opinion for the sake of the votes it represented was compounded by his own prejudices. His diary reveals a distaste for the admission to the Commonwealth of India "with its black [sic] leaders." King's attitude toward the Japanese is best shown by his comment following the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. "It is fortunate," he wrote in his diary, "that the use of the bomb should have been upon the Japanese rather than upon the white races of Europe."19
The public views of King's advisors, the Standing Committee on Orientals, whose members had impressed Shoyama with their "sincere desire to apply reason and good sense to meet this tragic and delicate issue,"20 were also not as they appeared. The Standing Committee on Orientals had been created in 1940 to advise the federal government on Asian matters. It was composed of five British Columbians: Professor Henry F. Angus of the University of British Columbia, Assistant Commissioner Frederick J. Mead of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Lieutenant Colonel A.W. Sparling of the Department of National Defence, Mayor F.J. Hume of New Westminster, and Lt. Col. Macgregor Macintosh, a xenophobic Conservative. With the exception of Macintosh, whose anti-asian sentiments were well known, Shoyama had reason to be satisfied with this committee. Angus was an outspoken liberal who had championed the Nisei cause throughout the 1930s at considerable personal risk. Mead was the RCMP's security expert, a highly regarded professional openly supportive of Japanese Canadians. Hume, while a politician, had a reputation as a moderate on Asian matters, as had Sparling.21 With Angus and Mead to balance Macintosh's racist position, the Standing Committee on Orientals in November 1941 appeared sympathetic to the problems facing Japanese Canadians.
Unfortunately neither Hume nor Sparling were as benign as they appeared. Hume, as a politician, could not be depended upon to remain neutral if the fate of Japanese Canadians became a political issue. More importantly, Sparling had already played a significant role in preventing the enlistment of Asians into the armed forces in 1940. Despite his mild public posture Sparling was strongly opposed to the enlistment of Asian Canadians. His reasons remain unclear, although a statement to army intelligence in 1944 suggests that he believed Japanese Canadians to be disloyal and that the enlistment of Asians would lead to racial incidents in the armed forces. In 1940 Sparling had found himself the sole opponent to Asian enlistment on the federally appointed Special Committee on Orientals. The other members of that committee (Dr. Hugh Keenleyside, an Assistant Under-Secretary at the Department of External Affairs; Dr. George Sansom, a professor of Asian studies at Columbia University; and Asst. Comnr. Frederick J. Mead of the RCMP) all strongly supported the enlistment of Asians, Keenleyside and Sansom in principle, Mead because in his professional opinion Japanese Canadians were loyal and lawabiding. Indeed, as the RCMP officer responsible for security in British Columbia, Mead was principally concerned with minimizing the effects of rabble-rousing by extremists like Vancouver's Alderman Halford Wilson.22 Sparling, representing the Department of National Defence on the committee, thought Keenleyside was pro-Japanese and that Mead was naive to judge Japanese Canadians by the impeccability of their past conduct. Aware that Keenleyside, Mead and Sansom would recommend that Asians be permitted to enlist, Sparling took his opinions directly to the one man he knew could stop the enlistment of Asians: the Minister of Pensions and Health and M.P. for Vancouver Centre, the Honourable Ian Alistair Mackenzie.23
Ian Alistair Mackenzie was a colourful figure. A proud Scot who spoke with an accent so thick that those who heard his maiden speech in Parliament joked that it had been made in neither of Canada's official languages, the fifty-one-year-old Mackenzie had had a distinguished career by 1941. Before immigrating to British Columbia in 1914, Mackenzie had been a prizewinning scholar of the classics and of Gaelic language and literature and had graduated first in his class from Edinburgh University's prestigious law school. He stayed in British Columbia for only a year before joining the Seaforth Highlanders of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, with which he served with distinction at Ypres, Kemmel and the Somme. Joining the headquarters staff of General J.D. Stewart, Mackenzie remained on active service until his return to British Columbia in 1919.
Within eighteen months of his return, Mackenzie was elected to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, beginning a long political career. Nine years later, having served as Provincial Secretary in the B.C. Cabinet, Mackenzie switched to federal politics, accepting the post of Minister of Immigration, Colonization, Soldier Settlement and Indian Affairs in Mackenzie King's Liberal government. Although the Liberals were defeated in the 1930 federal election, Mackenzie won his Vancouver Centre seat and served in the opposition shadow Cabinet, where he showed a mastery of parliamentary tactics. Following the Liberal victory in the 1935 election, an election in which Mackenzie held on to his seat by less than 200 votes, he was appointed Minister of National Defence, a post he held until the outbreak of the Second World War when he was shifted to Pensions and Health.24
A personable bachelor, Ian Mackenzie had three flaws: he was fond of alcohol, he was not a strong administrator, and he was, in the words of his close friend, Conservative M.P. and future Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker, "somewhat unreasonable" about Asians.25 David Lewis, CCF National Secretary in 1941 and future leader of the New Democratic Party, was more blunt in his recollections. "Ian Mackenzie," he recalled, "was a racist, pure and simple."26 Mackenzie was the impetus behind the Liberal party's anti-asian campaigns in British Columbia. He was a man who had no qualms about associating himself with hate literature that employed every lie and innuendo in the arsenal of the White Canada Association, literature with slogans like: "A Vote for ANY C.C.F. Candidate is a VOTE TO GIVE the CHINAMAN and JAPANESE the same Voting Right that you have!"27
By 1941 Mackenzie had been in politics for twenty-one years. In that entire time, with one notable exception,28 he had endorsed every anti-asian proposal raised in the Legislative Assembly, in Parliament and in Cabinet.
While blatantly anti-Asian in his election campaigns in British Columbia, Mackenzie took a more subtle tack in Ottawa. There he preferred to work behind the scenes on Asian matters, as befitted someone who wished to remain a close friend of Canada's most subtle Prime Minister, Mackenzie King. In the inter-war years Mackenzie left the ranting and raving to men like Neill and Reid, affecting the posture among his fellow M.P.'s that his anti-asian stance was simply a political requirement, an unavoidable aberration of B.C. politics. By not allowing his anti-asian sentiments to intrude into social situations in Ottawa, Mackenzie was able to retain the friendship of men like Diefenbaker, who would later style himself a defender of minorities.
The views Mackenzie did express in Ottawa were often only more explicit versions of the underlying prejudices and presumptions of his colleagues. The fact that nonwhites had fewer rights than whites in Canadian society does not appear to have unduly disturbed any of his Cabinet colleagues in 1941. It was a social fact and accepted as such. Most of his colleagues probably felt, as one would later argue, that the role of government was to conform to the existing social fact in racial matters, not to lead the campaign to change that fact.29 In Ottawa, where Asians were considered only as a minor B.C. matter, Mackenzie was seen as a colourful war hero, a liberal in economic matters, a champion of veterans' rights, and, most importantly, a first-class player in the game of politics.
Mackenzie's successful use of anti-Asian tactics against the CCF in the 1935 election had convinced him that Asian enlistment must be quashed or he would lose his seat to the CCF in the next election. Mackenzie knew that Asian enlistment could undermine him in two ways. Not only would the enlistment of Asians enfranchise a portion of the Asians in his Vancouver Centre constituency, who could be expected to vote CCF, but Asian enlistment might well alienate his support among anti-asian veterans' groups, diverting their votes to the equally anti-asian Conservatives. As a political strategist Mackenzie was unwilling to expose himself, and his party, to the pro-asian charges he had been levelling against the CCF. Consequently, in the privacy of the Cabinet, Mackenzie, reinforced by Sparling's expertise as a representative of the Department of National Defence, supported the political appeals of B.C. Liberal Premier T. Duff Pattullo,30 to quash Asian enlistment.
Indeed, in the privacy of the Cabinet, Mackenzie virtually dictated Asian Canadian policy. His ability to do so did not derive from any power he might be said to have. Quite the contrary – in the ranking of power and prestige within Cabinet, Mackenzie was inhibited by the fact that he was not a strong administrator. His transfer from the Department of National Defence to the less demanding Pensions and Health at the outbreak of the Second World War was an acknowledgment by King of Mackenzie's administrative limitations. Mackenzie's influence can be attributed instead to his relationship with Prime Minister King, to whom he always deferred, to his reputation as a political strategist, and to the fact that he was the only minister from British Columbia. In a Cabinet that considered the Japanese question to be a minor B.C. problem with political overtones, who from their viewpoint could better guide them than a British Columbian who had a reputation for political astuteness and who, after all, was the only one who cared in the least about the "Japanese problem"?
Cabinet attitudes are perhaps best shown by the actions of the minister of fisheries, J.E. Michaud, in 1940. At that time Michaud asked Mackenzie whether he should continue to restrict the number of licences granted to Japanese Canadian fishermen, all of whom were Canadian nationals. Michaud wrote:
I have always found it difficult to justify this arbitrary legislation against British subjects of Japanese origin. This year in view of the reasons that we are giving for our participation in the European War, it would seem all the more difficult to explain why we are adopting against these British subjects of Japanese origin the technique that Hitler adopted against the Czechs, the Slovaks and the Poles.
Of course I am willing to be guided by your opinion with the assurance that when the time comes you will justify my arbitrary attitude.31
While offended by the racism behind the policy of denying fishing licences to Japanese Canadians, Michaud was unwilling to act on his moral convictions. Instead, he was content to accept an immoral but politically expedient policy where the responsibility for that policy was assumed by someone else. No doubt Michaud and his colleagues agreed with Prime Minister King that "it was necessary to have the fundamental principles but their application in relation to both time and space was the essence of politics."32 In the politically sensitive area of Japanese Canadian policy, "liberals" like Michaud were content to shunt the moral responsibility onto Ian Mackenzie, the main engineer of Japanese Canadian policy.
Mackenzie's influence strayed beyond the Cabinet through his duties as Minister of National Defence. For instance, in 1938 his civilian Deputy Minister, L.R. LaFleche, wrote to the Chairman of a federal Interdepartmental Committee on Orientals,33 a committee of senior civil servants studying a number of questions affecting Asians, including internal security, and expressed the view that "it would appear doubtful" that the historical policy of exempting enemy aliens from internment on their own parole
could safely be followed with respect to Japanese nationals in British Columbia. Indeed there seems to be little reason for any assurance as to the peaceful behaviour of even Canadian nationals of Japanese origin at a time when racial feelings will be aroused. It is, therefore, quite possible that action will be required (it seems possible that public sentiment will so demand) to restrain the activities and, consequently, the liberties of such Canadian nationals of Japanese origin whose sympathies may be deemed hostile to this country.
…It follows that the Department of National Defence may someday find itself required to provide facilities for the detention of upwards of 10,000 persons in British Columbia alone.34
While acknowledging that enemy aliens were the concern of another department, the RCMP, LaFleche offers no explanation for his presumption that Japanese Canadians were disloyal. Given also that no internal security officer was appointed to the Pacific Command until 1940,35 it appears that LaFleche was repeating his Minister=s personal prejudices and that these prejudices served as a basis for government policy. Given also that there were only 2,000 adult male Japanese aliens in Canada in 1938, the 10,000figure in the above letter suggests that the possibility of incarcerating Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry in the event of war had already crossed Ian Mackenzie's mind.
The same civil servants again discussed the possible fate of Japanese Canadians in February 1939. This time the forum was the Interdepartmental Committee on the Treatment of Aliens and Alien Property. Restricted by their mandate to discussing only aliens, that committee concluded:
If the enemy should be an Asiatic power, it might be necessary in that contingency, to recommend the internment of nearly all enemy nationals, since it is recognized that public feeling in that section of Canada [B.C.] on the part of Canadian citizens and other Asiatics might render this course necessary, not alone to avoid the danger of espionage and sabotage, but also for the protection of the person and property of enemy aliens.36
Even putting aside the question of how or by whom "public feeling" was to be determined, it is clear from the tone of this report that some of Canada's senior civil servants appear to have concluded almost three years prior to the Pearl Harbor attack that Japanese aliens should be interned.
However, the civil service was very much divided on the Japanese question. Some departments were strongly anti-japanese. For instance, in 1938 the Department of Labour based a report on economic competition between Asians and whites on information supplied by the White Canada Association, a virulently anti-asian group. As a consequence, the report officially endorsed the undocumented allegations of the White Canada Association that Asians were "pushing" whites out of certain businesses and were "deliberately depressing the prices of berries, vegetables and poultry to do so."37 At the same time the Department of Fisheries proposed a four-year program to drive Japanese Canadians from the fishing industry by withholding fishing licences, even though all Japanese Canadian fishermen were Canadian nationals.38
Other departments championed Japanese Canadians. It is perhaps indicative of the attitudes of the government of the day, which did not perceive Japanese Canadians as Canadians, that their main defenders came from within the Department of External Affairs. Within that department the most vocal defender of Japanese Canadians was Dr. Hugh L. Keenleyside, in 1941 the forty-three-year-old Assistant Under-Secretary in charge of the American and Far Eastern Divisions at External Affairs. Keenleyside was a British Columbian. His parents' Vancouver home had welcomed persons of all races. The liberal values Keenleyside learned as a child were reinforced by his studies at the University of British Columbia and Clark University in Massachusetts, and by his seven years experience in international diplomacy as first secretary at the Canadian legation in Tokyo between 1929 and 1936. That experience gave him an understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture that proved useful during his tenures as Chairman of the Board of Inquiry into illegal Japanese immigration in 1938 and of the Special Committee on Orientals that studied Asian enlistment in 1940.39
Both privately and officially Keenleyside sought to modify government policies affecting Asians and to promote equal rights for all Canadians. Prior to the war the forums in which he worked included, in addition to those just cited, the Interdepartmental Committee on Orientals and the Canada-United States Permanent Joint Board of Defence, a board of civilians and military officers that attempted to coordinate the defence planning of Canada and the United States.
In November 1941, as a member of the Permanent Joint Board of Defence, Keenleyside helped to defuse "a vigorous effort…by certain members of the Board to put through a resolution urging the Governments [of Canada and the United States] to deport or to place in custody those ‘elements in the population of Japanese racial origin' [in the event of hostilities with Japan]."40 When the "more moderate counsel" of men like Keenleyside prevailed, the board recommended merely that "the two governments should follow policies of a similar character" with respect to their Japanese populations and that a "coincidence of policy" would be useful.41 Keenleyside's insistence that governments should practice the principles to which they paid lip-service, however, did not always endear him to his superiors.
His immediate superior, fellow British Columbian Norman Robertson, sympathized with Keenleyside's position but was not prepared to take such a firm stand. As Prime Minister King's Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs,C in 1941, the thirty-seven-year-old Robertson was aware that King would not tolerate for long an underling who openly opposed his views – even on what King considered a minor matter like the Japanese question. Accordingly, Robertson used subtler methods than Keenleyside. Although the Japanese question was only a small part of his duties, Robertson took pains to arrange that the racists nominated by Ian Mackenzie for committees investigating Asians were balanced by liberals, and to advise King on Asian matters in a way that appeared to support King's views while injecting cautionary and moderating ideas.42
The liberals in the Department of External Affairs had important allies among the most senior officers of both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the military. Within the RCMP the primary defender of Japanese Canadians was Asst. Comnr. Frederick John Mead. Mead was an Englishman who had joined the Royal NorthWest Mounted Police before the First World War, starting in the ranks and rising to assistant commissioner by 1938. A highly respected officer, Mead had experience in all aspects of police work and had seen service in all parts of Canada. By 1941 Mead was the force's specialist in security matters, in particular in Communist insurgency.43
It was probably in his capacity as an expert in Communist insurgency that Mead first met his main contact with the Japanese minority, Etsuji Morii. Morii was a controversial figure in the Powell Street ghetto in Vancouver. He had, Mead reported, thwarted an attempt by Communists to organize the Japanese fishermen in the 1930s.44 Morii was an ideal contact as far as the RCMP was concerned. He had a great deal of influence within the ghetto community but was not so respectable as to be unwilling or unable to undertake distasteful tasks in order to protect Japanese Canadians. Morii was both respected and despised by his fellow Japanese Canadians, with the divisions usually falling along generational and ideological lines. The Issei, who had lived through the rough pioneer period of Vancouver's history around the turn of the century, usually treated him with respect. They saw him as a product of that age. Morii had arrived in Canada in 1906 at a time when the Japanese population was composed almost entirely of men who worked in seasonal labouring occupations and who had all too often gambled away their earnings in Chinatown. Reasoning that it was better that Japanese lose their money to other Japanese, Morii founded a social club where men could drink and gamble without the dangers that sometimes accompanied gambling in Chinatown.45 With the arrival of women after 1910 and the evolution of the B.C. Japanese community into a respectable, family-based entity, Morii assumed the role of a "padrone" within the ghetto. He funded martial arts schools from the proceeds of his clubs to promote the Japanese warrior ethic of bushido among the young and to provide young men with a socially acceptable outlet for their energies. He contributed heavily to community drives and organized many of them. He gained a reputation among the Issei as a man who would send a portion of a gambler's losses to his wife so that the gambler's family would not suffer unduly. He made his clubs available at a nominal fee to groups like the Japanese Canadian Citizens' League so as not to tax their limited budgets.
Different factions within the Vancouver ghetto reacted to Morii's transformation from a gangster to a padrone in different ways. To Christian Nisei, who had been taught that gambling was a sin, Morii remained a gangster, out of step with the respectable Christian image they wished their community to have. To the socialist Issei, Morii was a fascist who promoted the Japanese warrior ethic. To most other Issei in the ghetto, who regarded gambling as a normal part of Japanese culture and the prohibition movement as an amusing aspect of white society, Morii was a man who had assumed useful and necessary roles within the community,46 the most necessary probably being that of a protector. In this role he stood between the Japanese community and the larger society to prevent unpleasant situations from rebounding on Japanese Canadians. This was the role he assumed with the RCMP, a protecting intermediary contact.
How the role of protector worked is best shown by the way Morii handled Keenleyside's Board of Inquiry in 1938. That inquiry had been intended to defuse extremist charges that a Japanese army was being smuggled into B.C. Complications arose from the fact that the Washington-British Columbia border had been extremely porous around the turn of the century. The immigrants, both Japanese and non-Japanese, often had no idea for some time after their arrival that Amerika contained two distinct nations. Since they intended to stay only a few years, the formalities of immigration seemed vague and unimportant. By 1938 – and the age of passports and tight immigration – however, Issei who had entered Canada from across the U.S. border were technically illegal immigrants.
It fell to Morii, as padrone of the community, to minimize the effects of the inquiry. Few Issei were prepared to trust that the government would allow them to stay, even though they had been in Canada for over thirty years. More importantly, B.C. racists would be sure to use the existence of an appreciable number of illegal immigrants, even middle-aged ones, as fuel for their anti-japanese propaganda. Morii accordingly accepted the task of liaising between the inquiry and the Japanese community. In that capacity he supplied a number of the middle-aged illegal immigrants with the name and landing date of a ship whose manifest listed the number and not the names of the Japanese immigrants aboard. Other illegal immigrants chose to retire to Japan rather than try to persuade the authorities to let them stay. In the end only twenty-four were deported.47
The RCMP knew of Morii's gambling connections. They also knew that he had been acquitted of murder in the 1920s. It was more important to them that there had been no complaints against him since that time, and that he seemed to be held in high esteem by the Japanese community at large. That esteem was reflected in his position on the executives of the Canadian Japanese Association and the Japanese Welfare Society, and by his role as coordinator of the 1940 Red Feather and Victory Bond drives among Japanese Canadians. The RCMP also knew that Morii's influence among the Issei was such that he had been called in by the San Francisco Japanese community to mediate strife within that community in 1936. That fact, and the manner in which he had handled the Board of Inquiry, had impressed the RCMP.48 What mattered most to them was that Morii appeared to know everything that went on in the Japanese community in B.C. and to be in a position to stop any potential subversion.
In dealing with the RCMP, Morii did not attempt to hide the facts. He acknowledged that there were veterans of the Japanese army and navy in Canada, but he reminded the police that they were former conscripts and should not be considered potential enemies because of their veteran status alone. He acknowledged that there were "hotheaded individuals who might be foolish enough to express their feelings in some way or other," but he guaranteed Mead that they would be "made incapable of committing any harm." Morii emphasized that Japanese Canadians had an impeccable record and had remained calm and quiet in the face of attacks by men like Alderman Wilson. In 1940 Morii assured the Commissioner of the RCMP, S.T. Wood, that "the Japanese believe that their future and that of their children are bound up in the fortunes of the Canadian people and for that reason Canadian interests are their interests."49
Mead concurred. "No fear of sabotage need be expected from the Japanese in Canada," Mead reported to RCMP Commissioner in 1940. "I feel this is a broad statement, at the same time I know it to be true." Mead was prepared to accept Morii's assurances that "no untoward incident would happen… should hostilities develop as a result of the strained relations now existing between Great Britain and the Japanese empire."50 The greatest danger, Mead felt, lay in the "provocative and at times like these, downright dangerous agitation" by anti-japanese individuals like Wilson.
In the military, the Chief of General Staff in 1940, Major General H.G.D. Crerar, agreed with Mead,51 as did his successor, Maj. Gen. Ken Stuart, and Stuart's Vice-Chief, Lieutenant General Maurice A. Pope. "At no point during the war or before it," Pope would recall, "had I worried about the presence of the Japanese, fellow citizens or otherwise, on the Pacific Coast."52 Stuart was equally convinced that Japanese Canadians were loyal. "From the army point of view," he informed Pope after the outbreak of the Pacific War, "I cannot see that Japanese Canadians constitute the slightest menace to national security."53
Unfortunately the opinions of Canada's senior military officers did not count for much with the Prime Minister. As early as August 1940 King had scorned the General Staff's assessment that an invasion of the West Coast by Japan was impossible. When forwarding that assessment to B.C. Premier Duff Pattullo, King had commented: "This is an official estimate. Like you I am far from believing that we can take anything for granted, vis-a-vis the Orient."54 By November 1941 King's mistrust of the military had deepened over the issue of conscription for overseas service. The Prime Minister had always considered that Canadian military policy should concentrate on air and naval forces, and on industrial production.55 By 1941, however, British planners were roughing out plans for an invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, assuming that it would have to be done without the help of the still neutral United States. Accordingly, they proposed to use large numbers of Commonwealth and colonial troops. Canada's expected contribution was four divisions. In July of 1941 the War Cabinet Committee had approved the mobilization of the required four divisions for overseas service and an additional two divisions for home defence, raising the question of how the men for the overseas divisions were to be supplied. The military and King's Minister of Defence, J.L. Ralston, favoured conscription.56 But King knew that conscription for overseas service would destroy the Liberal party in Quebec. Since one-third of the Liberal Members of Parliament were from Quebec, King in November 1941 was determined that the military would be thwarted and overseas conscription avoided at any and all cost.
Also by November 1941 King had recognized that peril on the Pacific Coast would marginally facilitate his opposition to overseas conscription. A Pacific war, he is said to have commented in early November, would mean the mobilization of forces for deployment on the West Coast, thus precluding the sending of conscripts to Europe.57 Obsessed with the conscription issue, King in the winter of 194142 was unlikely to act on the advice of his chiefs of staff if that advice conflicted with his political needs.
By November 1941 the stage was set. In a political climate where equal rights for nonwhite minorities was perceived as a politically dangerous proposition, Japanese Canadians had placed their trust in their government, unaware of the degree to which that government could already be expected to betray them, and equally unaware that government policy in regard to them was largely shaped by the opinions of a racist politician. Although supported by Canada's senior police and military officers, Japanese Canadians had no friends among the politicians who would determine their fate.
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