The Politics of Racism by Ann Gomer Sunahara
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Politics of Racism Home
Dispossession was a necessary first step toward deportation, and the deportation of Canada's "Japs" was Ian Mackenzie's ultimate objective. In 1942, as soon as the government had announced the removal of Japanese Canadians "for reasons of national security," Mackenzie and his supporters in British Columbia resurrected the time-worn charge that Japanese Canadians were a danger to B.C. in peace as well as in war. British Columbia, they warned, would never be secure as long as any Japanese Canadian, citizen or alien, remained within its boundaries.1 On the West Coast, where the public readily accepted Mackenzie's contention that Japanese Canadians were dangerous traitors, deportation quickly became a popular cause among B.C.'s traditionally anti-Japanese leaders. Such enthusiasm, however, was less easily aroused in Ottawa where, Mackenzie acknowledged, there would be "a great many bad days ahead of us all before we can get [deportation] implemented."2
By 1943 Mackenzie and his supporters appeared to have good reasons to hope for eventual success. In Ottawa the most vocal opponents within the civil service to the government's repressive policies, Hugh L. Keenleyside and Henry F. Angus of External Affairs, had been virtually muzzled. Their blunt comments on policies they considered "unjustifiable on any basis of decency or humanity"3 had annoyed those among their superiors who had supported those policies. By the spring of 1943 Keenleyside and Angus had been squeezed from the decision-making process.4 Ignored, they soon found themselves assigned to a series of odd jobs, which kept them largely isolated from questions involving Japanese Canadians.5
On the West Coast only a few members of the clergy and the tiny Consultative Council for Cooperation in Wartime Problems of Canadian Citizenship opposed the racists.6 Condemning mass deportation as fascistic, the Consultative Council by 1943 was urging the government to disperse Japanese Canadians across Canada in order to accelerate their assimilation into Canadian society, and to assist those who wished to go to Japan after the war to do so. Only those Japanese Canadians who "manifest disloyalty to Canadian institutions," they argued, should be deported.7 A just policy, in their opinion, required a truly voluntary choice between going to Japan and remaining in Canada, and a fair definition of disloyalty.
In 1943 Ottawa still leaned more toward the position of the Consultative Council than toward that of B.C.'s extremists. A policy of encouraging the resettlement of Japanese Canadians east of the Rocky Mountains – for the duration of the war at least – had been introduced in the winter of 1942-43.8 Permanent resettlement, however, was uncertain because of the agreement between Ottawa and Alberta that pledged to remove after the war the B.C. Japanese relocated there in 1942. Ottawa was already considering a program of voluntary "repatriation," while the deportation of the disloyal was presumed.9
The main problem lay in defining the term "disloyal." By 1943 Norman Robertson, one of Prime Minister King's principal advisors, favoured regarding as disloyal all Japanese Canadians who had been interned at Angler, or who had at any time placed themselves under the protection of the Spanish consul.10 Since simply applying to see the Spanish consul in order to place a complaint before him was sufficient to put a Japanese Canadian into this category, almost all the wartime leaders in the camps in B.C. and in the sugar beet fields of Alberta and Manitoba would be deported, as would the Nisei who had been interned for protesting the denial of their civil liberties.11 (See Chapter 3)
Other civil servants12 favoured a loyalty survey similar to that undertaken in the American concentration camps in early 1943.13 The Canadian survey, it was suggested, should require all Japanese aliens to swear to abide by Canadian laws and to refrain from interfering with the war effort. The naturalized and the Nisei should be required to swear allegiance to Canada and to deny their loyalty to Japan. Those who refused, along with their families, should then be segregated into special camps and deported after armistice together with the men interned at Angler and any Japanese Canadian whose behaviour was deemed disloyal. The last category would include anyone who broke Canadian laws or incited others to disobey Canadian authorities. Deportation, the senior civil servants contended, was justified on the grounds that it was necessary in order to convince the provinces to accept Japanese Canadians as permanent residents. Deporting a few to gain permanent resettlement for the majority, they hoped, would result in postwar policies "not too flagrantly unjust" to those Japanese Canadians "who have been blameless."14 In their estimation, the end justified the means.
Although approved by the Cabinet War Committee in April 1944, the loyalty survey and the segregation of "loyal" and "disloyal" Japanese Canadians was delayed because of uncertainties about American policy. Canadian officials were anxious to develop postwar policies on Japanese Canadians that were consistent with those adopted in the United States regarding Japanese Americans. A joint policy, Robertson felt, would stabilize internal political opinion on the Japanese question.15 Strong objections from either liberals or racists could be blunted by pointing out the need for international consistency.
Robertson's tactic of arguing for continental conformity was a backhanded way of urging moderation. Robertson knew from communications with the Canadian ambassadors in Washington, first Hume Wrong and then Lester Pearson, that the American policies were more liberal than Canadian policies. This phenomenon occurred not because the American authorities were any less willing to discriminate than the Canadian authorities, but because the American Constitution protected the Nisei, the American-born Japanese Americans. There had been no wholesale dispossession of Japanese Americans because the Alien Land Laws of the Pacific coast states meant that Japanese American property was owned not by the immigrant Issei, but by their Nisei children, in name at least. The property rights of the Nisei were protected by the U.S. Constitution. Similarly, the Constitution of the United States prohibited the deportation of citizens. It was unlikely, therefore, that the Americans would be able to stage any large-scale deportations even if they wished to do so.
When the Americans were approached in November 1943 for information on their plans for deporting Japanese Americans, they replied that the matter was "under consideration." The American silence arose from the fact that congressional sentiment favoured getting "rid of Japanese Americans when the war ended."16 The American authorities, accordingly, were in the process of creating legislation intended to circumvent the Constitution by making the renunciation of American citizenship in time of war relatively easy. The new law, they reasoned, would be used by the most strident Japanese American dissidents so that they might protest their uprooting by renouncing their citizenship. Once having denied their citizenship, they could be deported as aliens. In the end the American authorities would fail. Japanese American renunciations, the Supreme Court would later rule, were made under duress and were, therefore, unconstitutional and invalid.17 In the spring of 1944, when the Denaturalization Act was before Congress, however, the Americans could not commit themselves to a joint policy with Canada. Thus, the matter was shelved in Ottawa.
While Ottawa procrastinated, B.C.'s racists demanded the deportation of Canada's Japanese minority. In the week preceding the Allied invasion of Normandy, the annual convention of the B.C. Canadian Legion and Vancouver's Mayor J.W. Cornett demanded that the "Japanese and their children be shipped to Japan after the war and never be allowed to return here."18 Applauded by Ian Mackenzie, Legion representatives from Lillooet and Rossland argued that Japanese Canadians "had betrayed the trust placed in them by the Canadian government," and were "a serious threat to the existence of other Canadians" because of their low standard of living and high birthrate.A Endorsing the anti-Japanese resolutions, Mayor Cornett pledged his wholehearted support and lamented that some of his fellow council Members felt that the Nisei should be allowed to stay in Canada. "But I say," he informed the enthusiastic crowd, "they have Japanese nationals for wives and how are you going to split them up?"19
Contrary to the headlines in the press, however, the legionnaires lacked solidarity on the deportation question. Some of the recently returned veterans saw the resolution as a denial of everything they had fought for, and said so. One such soldier, Eric S. Flowerdew of Langley Prairie, protested the resolution, pleading to no avail that the Nisei were loyal.20 While rejected by most of his fellow legionnaires, Flowerdew's opinions, in fact, conformed with those of most British Columbians. In February 1944, a Gallup poll had indicated that while 80 per cent of Canadians favoured the deportation of Japanese aliens, only 33 per cent favoured the deportation of the Canadian-born and the naturalized. Opinion in British Columbia did not differ significantly from the national opinion.21 While some public figures like Ian Mackenzie ignored this poll and clung tenaciously to their anti-Japanese prejudices, others had begun to adjust their stance. Among these were the majority of Vancouver's aldermen, who rejected Mayor Cornett's mass deportation resolution on 5 June 1944.22
The rights of Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry were also being debated in the House of Commons in June 1944. The occasion was the introduction of the Soldiers' Vote Act, which set up the machinery by which Canadian soldiers serving overseas could vote in the forthcoming general election. After the bill had passed the Commons, it was discovered that one clause within it disenfranchised "any person whose racial origin [was] that of a country at war with Canada."23 Since that clause would disenfranchise considerable numbers of German and Italian Canadians, opposition to the bill rapidly escalated. Amid charges that the clause embodied Nazi principles of racial hatred, Senators J.J. Bench and Norman Lambert of Ontario attempted to have it deleted. They only succeeded in changing the wording so that it applied to Japanese Canadians alone. Returned to the Commons for approval as amended, the offending clause was further modified, amid heated and well-publicized debate, to leave disenfranchised only those Japanese Canadians who had previously been without the franchise by virtue of their residence in British Columbia in 1940. This meant that Japanese Canadians who had already moved east of the Rocky Mountains remained disenfranchised. The bill was just, Prime Minister King argued, because it avoided the racial discrimination of disenfranchising those few Japanese Canadians who had previously enjoyed the franchise, while also avoiding the "racial favouritism" of granting Pacific Coast Japanese privileges they had not previously enjoyed.24 King was not about to acknowledge that the bill also prevented the uprooted Japanese from voting against the Liberal government and for the only party that had publicly defended them, the CCF.
King's "racial favouritism" rationalization was promptly ridiculed by the CCF Members of Parliament, who continued to ask pointed questions about the postwar fate of Japanese Canadians. Under CCF pressure, Prime Minister King finally acknowledged on 4 August 1944 that no acts of sabotage had been committed by any Japanese Canadian. Despite this unblemished record, King continued, the government had decided that Japanese Canadians could remain in Canada only if they were judged loyal by a loyalty commission and if they dispersed themselves across Canada. Those judged to be disloyal, King informed the Commons, would be "deported to Japan as soon as that is physically possible," and any Canadian nationals among them would be stripped of their citizenship. In addition, Japanese Canadians who wanted to go to Japan after the war would be "encouraged" to do so, while postwar immigration from Japan was to be prohibited.25 Although King acknowledged that to do other than "deal justly with those who are guilty of no crime or even of ill-intention" would be to accept "the standards of our enemies,"26 the policies he outlined were based on the assumption that the only people in Canada who were to be considered guilty until they had proven their innocence were people with Japanese faces.
While repressive in the eyes of the CCF, King's new policies were far too liberal for Ian Mackenzie and the Liberal Members of Parliament from British Columbia. Having vowed publicly that he would not remain part of a government that allowed Japanese Canadians to return to the Pacific Coast, Mackenzie, along with B.C. Liberal M.P.'s Tom Reid and George Cruickshank, took the question of deportation to the people of British Columbia in an attempt to convince Ottawa to take a harder line. Campaigning under the slogan "Not a Japanese from the Rockies to the Sea," Mackenzie fanned the embers of racial hatred and called on his audiences to "serve notice on the rest of Canada that we will not have Japanese in this fair province."27 His success, however, was minimal. Over the next eleven months, Prime Minister King received only nineteen submissions demanding the mass deportation of Japanese Canadians, while also receiving eighty-five submissions urging a moderate policy.28 In late 1944 it appeared that moderation might prevail.
In December 1944, however, the federal government panicked. The United States Constitution had finally freed Japanese Americans. Ruling on a petition of habeas corpus filed by civil rights lawyer James Purcell on behalf of a former California state employee, Mitsue Endo, the United States Supreme Court ruled that loyal Americans could not be denied freedom of movement. Neither Mitsue Endo nor any other Japanese American could be denied access to any area open to other Americans. Anticipating this judicial decision, the American authorities announced in December 1944 that Japanese Americans could return to their homes on the Pacific Coast as of 2 January 1945.29
Unwilling to allow Japanese Canadians the same freedom of movement, the federal government hurriedly set postwar policies affecting Canada's Japanese minority. The policymakers'30 objectives were twofold: to repatriate or deport as many Japanese Canadians as possible, and to disperse the rest across Canada. In their haste they decided that a repatriation survey would be the quickest way to separate those who wished to go to Japan from those who wished to stay in Canada. Anyone selecting Japan would be considered "disloyal," while the loyalty of those selecting Canada was to be further tested by a loyalty commission.
The man selected to coordinate the repatriation survey and the accompanying dispersal of Japanese Canadians was T.B. Pickersgill. Pickersgill was a former executive of the Northwest Line Elevators whose services had been loaned to the Selective Service for the duration of the war. Jack W. Pickersgill, King's Executive Assistant from 1937 to 1948, recalled that his brother accepted the position of Commissioner of Japanese Placement with extreme reluctance. When offered the appointment, Jack recalled, T.B. commented, "I disapprove of this policy. I think it is something we are not going to be proud of." He finally accepted after Jack pointed out that
it is going to be done. The government has made its decision. It would be just the kind of job for some insensitive, sadistic person to take and enjoy himself and probably cause real trouble. It's far better for this job to be done by someone who disapproves, but who knows it is going to be carried out and will carry it out to the letter, but not one step beyond the letter.31
From the beginning the job was distasteful. The repatriation survey did not offer a truly voluntary choice between Japan and Canada. Rather the choice was between repatriation to Japan at some unspecified future date, and immediate, although not necessarily permanent, resettlement east of the Rocky Mountains. It was a choice calculated to induce the bitter and confused inmates of the detention camps in B.C. to choose Japan. Repatriates, the inmates were told, could continue to live and work in British Columbia until transportation to Japan was arranged. They would receive relief without first having to use up their capital on deposit with the Custodian of Enemy Property and, upon reaching Japan, they would receive, in addition to their free passage, funds equivalent to the value of their capital in Canada. Those lacking property would receive $200 per adult and $50 per child to sustain them until established in Japan.
In contrast, those who chose to stay in Canada could expect considerable difficulty. Firstly, they would be moved to the camp at Kaslo, B.C., from where they would be shipped at some unknown future date to any place east of the Rocky Mountains designated by the government. The failure to take government-assigned employment would be "looked upon as evidence of a lack of willingness to cooperate,"32 and presumably would be noted on an individual's file for the attention of the proposed loyalty commission. Refusal would also disqualify the inmate and his family from receiving relief benefits. In addition, the placement allowance for resettlers was only $60 per couple and $12 per child, a paltry sum the federal government considered adequate because the resettlers were being sent from the camps to "definite employment."33
The federal government, however, could not guarantee that "definite employment" would last longer than a few weeks. Nor could it guarantee adequate housing. In fact, the inmates at the Lemon Creek camp were warned that veterans would undoubtedly receive preference in housing and employment. The government could not even guarantee the resettlers that their resettlement would be permanent. The original agreements with the provinces had specified that the federal government would remove the resettled Japanese after the war. While new agreements were under negotiation, no provincial government, except Saskatchewan's, had expressed a willingness to accept Japanese Canadians.34 That is why, Japanese Canadians were told, the government was offering such generous terms "to those who come to the conclusion that conditions might be too difficult for them in Canada and the opportunity might be better… in Japan."35
The manner in which the survey was presented only reinforced what Japanese Canadians already knew. Everyone knew of someone who had gone east and met with difficulty. They knew that the eastern cities were over-crowded with war workers and that housing was often poor, very expensive and very difficult for Japanese to obtain. They knew that many of the Nisei who had gone east were working in dirty, low-paying jobs, and that they had met with discrimination in public places and even in some churches. Most also knew of the hostility and violence the Japanese Americans were experiencing on their return to the Pacific Coast. They feared that similar violence might erupt in Canada once the war in Europe was over and Canada's full attention was focussed on the war with Japan.
The recent acceptance of 150 Nisei into the Canadian army also raised the spectre of a different kind of violence. The Nisei enlistments created fears that Nisei men who moved east would be drafted into the army. After three years in government detention camps, the prospect of their sons being drafted to fight against their ancestral homeland disturbed most Issei. In addition, rumours were rampant that the Nisei were to be used as cannon fodder. Such rumours were reinforced by the tremendously high casualty rates experienced by the U.S. 442 Regiment, the largely Japanese American unit that had fought in Italy and France.36
In addition, morale in the camps was at an all-time low in the spring of 1945. The classic signs of failing morale were everywhere: neglected homes and gardens; an upsurge in petty quarrels, some of which became violent; rising consumption of alcohol; increased gambling; fewer community activities; a sullen restlessness among the young.37 Battered by the triple shocks of uprooting, dispossession and destitution, some of the inmates had slipped into a reserve mentality. Their poverty, combined with three years of obeying orders they despised, had stripped some of any hope of regaining control over their own lives. Apathetic, some inmates were ripe for manipulation by anyone with strong views, and in the detention camps the strongest views were held by the pro-Japan patriots. The patriots firmly believed that Japan must inevitably defeat the Allies. Relying on shortwave broadcasts from Tokyo, they had formed very unrealistic ideas about the progress of the war. They dismissed the victories reported in the Canadian press as propaganda, and countered that Japan's apparent retreat was a strategic move "to draw her enemies into one spot and defeat them."38 Bolstered by their belief in Japan's imminent victory, the pro-Japan element welcomed the repatriation survey and attacked any who championed resettlement.39 By coercing friends, neighbours and family members into signing for repatriation, the pro-Japan element unwittingly helped the Canadian government.
The number of Japanese Canadians signing up for repatriation was further inflated by misunderstandings, administrative errors and practical considerations that the federal government refused to acknowledge. In outlining the program, the Commissioner of Japanese placement, T.B. Pickersgill, had incorrectly assumed that those signing for repatriation would not lose their Canadian nationality unless, and until, they were actually deported. Consequently, he informed the inmates of the Tashme camp that "there was no suggestion of disloyalty because of signing the form" for repatriation.40 Pickersgill's error was probably due to his newness on the job and his unfamiliarity with both the survey and the policymakers who designed it. That error, when combined with some administrators telling the inmates that they could revoke their requests at a later date, led many to believe that they could apply for repatriation in order to keep their jobs in British Columbia and later revoke their request if the likelihood for permanent settlement elsewhere improved.41 In view of the uncertainties emphasized by the federal government, many felt that a steady, if low-paying, job in B.C. was infinitely preferable to indefinite employment in a hostile atmosphere where housing was scarce and expensive. The fact that the resettling families would also have to abandon the shacks they had improved at their own expense for uncertain quarters in Kaslo's decaying tenements made many inmates determined to stay where they were, in the homes and jobs they had, until peace could bring normal conditions again.42
Many also believed that there was no need for hasty resettlement. Like most Canadians and Americans, they believed that the war with Japan would go on for years, a belief reinforced by Japanese propaganda that claimed Japan could fight for another twenty years.43 In 1945, given the tenacity with which the Japanese army was defending the Pacific islands, this was not unreasonable. Indeed, fear of a long and costly campaign against Japan is assumed to have been one element in President Truman's decision a few months later to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The number signing for repatriation was also inflated by those who simply could not move. These included the sick, the disabled, the unemployable and their families. Most of the unemployable were Issei, nearly all of whom were over sixty by 1945. Their age and their poor English made it virtually impossible for them to find decent employment. Yet, because they had often married late in life, many still had school-aged dependents. The farms, businesses or fishing vessels with which they had intended to support those dependents were gone, and the capital from their sale had long since been spent on the necessities of life. Unable to re-establish themselves in Canada, such families sought to remain in the security of the detention camps until the children became old enough to support their parents.44
The confusion, the indecision, the anger, the fear, the misunderstandings and the very real practical problems were all reflected in the letters Japanese Canadians wrote in the spring of 1945. "Such a hubbub as you cannot imagine at the time of registration here," an inmate at New Denver wrote. "Some took the attitude that if relocation was forced, they would rather repatriate. So much confusion and uncertainty…. Almost as bad as the turbulent days of pre-evacuation when the destination of folks was so uncertain."45 "If I don't go to Japan," an elderly man interned at Angler, Ontario, informed his sister, "there is no other place for me to go. My wife has been sick over a year and a half,… I have two children in school in Japan. My house where I lived for so long is sold for almost nothing."46 For two families at Greenwood, worries about jobs and family separation were the deciding factors. "Mrs T. and her son decided [to sign] to go to Japan," a woman wrote her husband at Angler,
because if they do not the daughters will lose their jobs, and also they did not know where they would be forced to go and did not want to be all separated, so they could not help but sign to go to Japan…. No one wants to sign by their own choice. However, when one thinks of the present situation it is better to sign so that we can all be together rather than being separated. So I am one of those who signed because I want my family to be together.47
For a family at Cascade, it was future – not present – employment opportunities that decided their fate. "Yesterday we thought it over," the wife reported to a friend in Ontario. "My husband said it would be better to go back to Japan because he is too old to get any work in this country. Therefore our whole family has decided to go back to Japan after the war."48
That whole family probably included some Nisei who may not have been willing to "go back" to Japan. While some Nisei quietly accepted their parents' decision, others made up their own minds, making their decisions sometimes in anger, sometimes in confusion, sometimes in optimism. For a Nisei at Oyama, B.C., anger won out:
All this stinking system gets stinkier every moment…. Those God-damned so-and-so's don't give a hoot as to what happens to us so long as they get paid for asking or rather telling us to do radical things…. If it isn't one thing, it's something else, namely the cussed Custodian. All this junk about a so-called democracy, racial equality and toleration, all men are born equal. Like the devil they are. Chase us from one place to another, stick us into places worse than pig pens or cow stalls…. 49
For a relocated Nisei in Montreal whose family still lived in New Denver, the decision was harder. "What is your real opinion?" he demanded of his sister:
… My way of thinking is that it is going to be tough wherever we are at. Japan ain't going to be a bed of roses. You can bet on that…. On the other hand if we stay here there is going to be tough monetary discrimination, but at least we know what we are in for…. What is in store for us if we do go to Japan? What chances have I or we got? That is what I am afraid of. What chances for survival have we got there? … I know it is going to be tough wherever we go. I figure we are worse thought of than Jews are. Canada or Japan won't accept us into the society of the human….50
Others based their decisions only on their recent experiences. "I remember Mom and Dad talking about never wanting to go back to Japan," a Nisei at Okanagan Centre reminded a friend in the Lemon Creek camp:
In a way I don't blame them for making a decision like that [repatriation] after hearing of our loss in Vancouver. I am getting disgusted with the life we are now leading. After all the hard times we came through trying for a decent home and then to lose everything. I guess I may as well sign up like the folks. It is no use of us fellows going out of B.C. It will be the same old thing. As soon as you get settled down they don't want you.51
Still others had no doubts about their decision; they were staying in Canada. "In spite of the fact that we have not had the vote, we have been pretty lucky so far," one particularly optimistic Nisei living in Toronto reminded a friend in Vernon, B.C. "We have had our rough spots but when one thinks about it we have been pretty lucky too. I know in comparison to the Canadians we have had one hell of a time, but compared to the Jews and the Chinese boys we are doing all right."52
The government knew of the stresses and strains dividing the camps and influencing the repatriation decisions, but chose to ignore them. Government officials privately admitted that loyal Japanese Canadians who would prefer to remain in Canada would probably sign for repatriation out of "discouragement" with their wartime experiences, or to avoid family separation. Publicly, however, they stated that signing for repatriation was "strictly voluntary" and that "no pressure whatsoever was being exerted" on Japanese Canadians to do so.53 The repatriation survey, they rationalized, was "reasonably fair in terms of what is politically feasible at the moment."54
Politically the results of the survey looked very good, at least to Ian Mackenzie and the anti-Japanese B.C. Members of Parliament. By August 1945, 6,884 Japanese Canadians over sixteen years of age had signed for repatriation. With their 3,503 dependents, they represented almost 43 per cent of the Japanese population of Canada. More importantly, 86 per cent of those 10,347 potential repatriates resided in British Columbia. Should they all go to Japan, British Columbia would be left with less than 4,200 Japanese Canadians, a number that would be further reduced by the resettlement program. To anti-Japanese British Columbians the survey results must have been heartening. (See Table 3.) They now had only to ensure that the "voluntary repatriates" actually repatriated in order to virtually obliterate the "Japanese problem" in British Columbia.
The sudden end of the Pacific War in August 1945 surprised both the federal government and the voluntary repatriates. With Japan's capitulation came the realization that life in Japan would be far more difficult than resettling east of the Rocky Mountains. Japan's defeat also totally undermined the power of the pro-Japan patriots over their relatives and neighbours. People who had signed for repatriation under family, religious or neighbourhood pressure, in anger, or to keep their jobs, soon sought to revoke their signatures. By April 1946, 4,527 of the 6,844 adult repatriates had applied to remain in Canada.55
Beginning in September 1945, the federal government sought to make those signatures binding. On September 5 Labour Minister Humphrey Mitchell called a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Japanese Questions, now re-titled the Special Cabinet Committee on Repatriation and Relocation. At that meeting Mitchell submitted the most repressive deportation program yet proposed. His new plan called for the deportation of all Japanese aliens, except a few who would be allowed to remain on compassionate grounds; of all naturalized Japanese Canadians who had signed repatriation requests; and all Nisei who had not revoked their repatriation requests before the surrender of Japan on 2 September 1945, three days previously. To implement his program, which he wanted completed in three months, Mitchell asked for the committee's support for three Orders-in-Council under the War Measures Act: one declaring the repatriation requests binding on the persons signing them and their dependents; a second stripping the repatriates of their status as Canadian citizens; and a third setting up a loyalty commission to decide which Japanese aliens could remain on compassionate grounds.56
If Mitchell had expected the Special Cabinet Committee on Repatriation and Relocation to rubberstamp his proposals as the old Cabinet Committee on Japanese Questions had, he was in for a rude surprise, for more than the name of the committee had changed. While still chaired by Mitchell, dominated by Ian Mackenzie and advised by Norman Robertson, the new committee had gained three more members: Douglas G. Abbott, the Minister of National Defence; Joseph Jean, the Solicitor General; and Colin Gibson, the Minister of National Defence for Air. Abbott, Jean and Gibson did not have the strongly anti-Japanese opinions of Mitchell and Mackenzie. They were far less willing to use racism for political gain. Moreover, their ministries put them in daily contact with Canada's senior military and police officers, men who had remained convinced throughout the war of the loyalty and innocence of Japanese Canadians. In addition to the presence of these more broad minded M.P.'s, Norman Robertson was becoming less willing to go along quietly with the repressive measures against Japanese Canadians. Robertson explained his feelings to Prime Minister King a few months later:
We do discriminate against the Japanese, against the Chinese, and against the British Indians, in our immigration laws and indirectly in our electoral laws, but until my native province of British Columbia achieves some change of heart, I do not see what we can do about it except to strive to limit and lessen the discriminations every time an opportunity offers.57
The meeting on 5 September 1945 proved to be just such an opportunity, as the new committee members rejected the idea that all Japanese aliens should be summarily deported.58
Because of the division within the Special Cabinet Committee it was almost two weeks before that committee could make any recommendations to Cabinet. The compromise they reached, however, was only marginally more moderate than Mitchell's original proposal. The Special Cabinet Committee had agreed to recommend that everyone who had requested repatriation, except those among the Canadian-born and naturalized who had revoked their requests before the surrender of Japan, should be deported along with all Japanese Canadians interned at Angler. In addition, they recommended that no action be taken until General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander in occupied Japan, had indicated when the repatriation of Canadian Japanese could begin.59
MacArthur's approval was not likely to be immediate. Conditions in Japan were desperate. In the fall of 1945 Japan was a starving nation. Disease, malnutrition and starvation were commonplace. Faced with the problem of feeding Japan, MacArthur was understandably reluctant to increase the number of hungry mouths unnecessarily.60 It was soon clear that the deportations would have to wait until 1946.
The delay was a considerable inconvenience to the federal government. Mitchell had intended using the all-encompassing powers of the War Measures Act to make the deportations legal. The War Measures Act, however, was due to expire on 1 January 1946, when it would be replaced by the National Emergency Powers Act, which in late 1945 was before Parliament as Bill 15. Bill 15 was a transition measure that would permit the gradual removal of wartime economic controls. While Parliament had been unable to censor orders-in-council passed under the War Measures Act, Orders-in-Council passed under Bill 15/National Emergency Powers Act could be annulled by Parliament. Aware that the deportation of Japanese Canadians would become a sensitive issue in Parliament, where the CCF would almost certainly seek to annul any deportation orders, King and his Cabinet wanted the power to deport Japanese Canadians without a confrontation in Parliament. In October 1945 they took steps to ensure that power.
The method used reflected the Cabinet's mastery of parliamentary techniques. To avoid discussion of deportation, the federal government quietly inserted a clause into Bill C-15, which gave the Governor-in-Council (in fact the Cabinet) power over "entry into Canada, exclusion and deportation, and revocation of nationality." As written, paragraph 3(g) would give the federal Cabinet a year in which to revoke the Canadian nationality of, and to deport, any resident of Canada. Further the deportations could not be challenged by Parliament, since no Orders-in-Council would be involved. Rather, the deportations could be effected by a Ministerial Order.
The bill was introduced in the House of Commons at the beginning of October, but it was not until mid-October that anyone noticed paragraph 3(g). Once it was noticed, however, opposition was immediate. Damned by the CCF as racist, paragraph 3(g) was condemned by the press as contrary to the principles for which Canadians had so recently fought and died. At the same time the Liberal and Conservative Members of Parliament from British Columbia supported it with equal passion. Through November, as Bill C-15 moved through the parliamentary process, both sides vented their feelings. The B.C. M.P.'s who supported Bill C-15 trotted out the old lies and innuendos that had been used against Japanese Canadians for fifty years. The CCF countered by continually reiterating that no Japanese Canadian had been convicted of, or even charged with, any treasonable crime.61 Apparently embarrassed by the furor over paragraph 3(g), the government quietly withdrew it on December 6. With paragraph 3(g) deleted, the House of Commons quickly approved Bill C-15 on 7 December 1945.
The withdrawal of paragraph 3(g), however, did not alter the government's goal. It changed only the means by which that goal would be achieved. In their euphoria over the defeat of paragraph 3(g), the anti-deportation Members of Parliament overlooked the implications of section 4 of the same bill. Section 4 provided that all Orders-in-Council extant under the War Measures Act on 1 January 1946 would automatically be extended for one year under the powers of Bill C-15 Further, while Parliament could annul Orders-in-Council passed under Bill C-15, Parliament could do nothing about Orders-in-Council passed under the War Measures Act and subsequently extended by Bill C-15 To grant itself the power to deport Japanese Canadians, therefore, the Cabinet needed only to pass an Order-in-Council under the War Measures Act before it expired on I January 1946.
Accordingly, while Justice Minister St. Laurent was withdrawing paragraph 3(g) on 6 December 1945 C and assuring the Commons that they would be consulted on any further deportation legislation62 – the Orders-in-Council circumventing Parliament were being prepared. There was, however, a great deal of uncertainty as to how broad they should be. Ian Mackenzie and his supporters were pushing for the broadest terms possible, even though they knew that deportation had been ignored during the October 1945 provincial election in B.C., a fact that suggested it was a dead issue politically. Some Ministers, notably J.L. Ilsley, Minister of Finance, Brooke Claxton, Minister of Health and Welfare, and Paul Martin, the Secretary of State, were opposed to the deportation policy on philosophical and ideological grounds.63 Others feared that a harsh policy would only serve to fuel CCF attacks on the government. None, however, seemed to be aware, as Prime Minister King was, that public submissions to King on deportation favoured moderation by a margin of 4 to 1.64
On December 13, in the absence of Ian Mackenzie, the draft Orders-in-Council were discussed by the Cabinet. The major issue under discussion was how the deportation policy should be applied to the Nisei. The majority of the Cabinet wanted to give the Nisei the absolute right to remain in Canada, regardless of whether they were considered loyal or disloyal, in accordance with the rights of every other Canadian. The Cabinet was persuaded to postpone its decision, however, until Mackenzie could be present, since he would have to cope with the B.C. backlash that a lenient policy was expected to produce.65
Mackenzie's presence at the December 15 Cabinet meeting, however, changed nothing. Rejecting the idea that Nisei should be forcibly deported, the Cabinet approved an Order-in-Council deporting four classes of Japanese Canadians: all Japanese aliens who had signed for repatriation or who had been interned at Angler; all naturalized Japanese Canadians who had not revoked their repatriation requests before 2 September 1945; all Nisei who did not revoke their repatriation requests before their actual deportation; and the wives and minor children of the above three classes.66 A second stripped the deported naturalized Japanese Canadians of their Canadian status, while a third set up a loyalty tribunal to review the loyalty of any Japanese Canadian referred to it by the Minister of Labour. The three Orders-in-Council, the majority of the Cabinet felt, would limit the "repatriation [sic] of Canadian-born Japanese to those who wish to be sent to Japan," while at the same time protecting the Canadian status of those who were deported, since only the naturalized were to be stripped of their Canadian citizenship.67
Two days later Prime Minister King told a House of Commons depleted by the impending Christmas recess about the new Orders-in-Council. "The circumstances of war and the peculiar character of the present problem," King told the Commons, "require more expeditious and broader action than the present statutes allow." The new Orders-in-Council, he contended, "raise no new principles, nor do they depart from any established principles."68 It was still legitimate, in the eyes of King and his Cabinet, to discriminate against a non-white minority if they thought public opinion in British Columbia demanded it.69
The CCF Members of Parliament were outraged. In a sharp exchange with the Prime Minister, Alistair Stewart, M.P. for Winnipeg North, branded the Orders-in-Council as hypocritical and an official endorsement of racial discrimination. To assume that Japanese Canadians were disloyal because they signed repatriation requests was not a legitimate argument, he protested, since coercion was used to obtain the signatures. Denying again that any coercion was involved, Labour Minister Mitchell replied that the repatriates "had backed the wrong horse."70 Signing a request to go to Japan when Canada was at war with Japan, Prime Minister King countered, was "prima facie evidence that their naturalization should be revoked" and the signers should be deported.71
Caught unprepared by the fait accompli of the government, the House of Commons dissolved for Christmas. It remained for future Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker to put the whole matter into perspective during the next session. "Under the Emergency Powers bill," Diefenbaker reminded the Commons in March 1946,
…the government endeavoured to get power to deport and to exclude Canadian citizens, or to revoke nationality…. Parliament spoke on that occasion in words which could be understood by the government. Parliament pointed out that to deport Canadian citizens was the very antithesis of the principles of democracy, one of the first of which is that minorities are entitled to protection.
What did the government do? It could not get that iniquitous piece of legislation through Parliament; so, while Parliament sat, on December 15, 1945, the Governor-in-Council passed an Order-in-Council to do that which Parliament would not allow it to do between October 5 and December 15, 1945.72
Japanese Canadians, it appeared, were to be deported against the will of Parliament.
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