The Politics of Racism by Ann Gomer Sunahara
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Politics of Racism Home
When choosing to defy Parliament and deport Japanese Canadians, Mackenzie King and his Cabinet made two important errors. Deafened by the clamour of Ian Mackenzie and his B.C. supporters, King and his Cabinet failed to realize that the fate of Japanese Canadians was no longer just a British Columbia concern. They also failed to realize that the position of the Japanese minority in 1945 was very different from their position in 1942 and 1943. Then Japanese Canadians had been virtually friendless, pariahs libelled as traitors. By 1945, however, they had made some very determined friends.
While King and his Cabinet were aware of the most vocal of those friends, the twenty-eight CCF Members of Parliament, they underestimated the quieter but growing pro-Japanese Canadian lobby centred on the Toronto-based Co-operative Committee on Japanese Canadians. The Cooperative Committee had evolved from a Young Women's Christian Association project set up in 1943 to assist with the resettlement of single Japanese Canadian women.1 Within a few months, the YWCA coordinators in Toronto joined with representatives from a number of religious groups to form a cooperative committee to develop social services for incoming Japanese Canadians. Acting individually, the committee members did what they could to ease the adjustment of the resettlers.2 The resettlement of Japanese Canadians east of the Rocky Mountains appealed to the assimilationist social ideals of the committee members. Before the advent of multiculturalism,3 most Canadians thought that the complete assimilation of non-Anglo-Canadians to the Anglo-Canadian ideal was not only desirable but necessary. Most believed that cultural homogeneity was necessary for the stability of the nation and expected immigrants to shed their old-world cultures. The difference between racists and liberals in that period lay primarily in the fact that racists believed non-white minorities could never assimilate, while liberals believed they could and should.4
Liberals also believed that to be assimilated, minorities must be geographically dispersed. Geographic concentration, they thought, inhibited assimilation by perpetuating the immigrant culture, which was seen to be the cause of racist reactions by whites. Racism and discrimination, to Canadian liberals, were largely the fault of the non-white minorities, the result of their failure to assimilate. Once they had dispersed themselves and assimilated, liberals believed, racism would disappear. It was, therefore, the duty of good Japanese Canadians to solve the Japanese problem by rapidly assimilating to the Anglo-Canadian ideal. While later sociologists would label programs aimed at the victims rather than at the causes of social ills as programs that "blamed the victim,"5 many Canadian liberals in the 1940s readily accepted that the onus was on the victims to solve the social problems facing them.
Significantly, the victims agreed. Influenced by the intensive assimilationist propaganda in Canadian public schools, the media and the Christian churches in the interwar years, the Nisei leadership and some Issei had actively promoted assimilation in the 1930s. They had urged ambitious Nisei to move to central and eastern Canada where, it was thought, discrimination would be less severe.6 The outbreak of the Pacific War, and the condemnation of all things Japanese that accompanied it, increased the social pressure on Japanese Canadians to deny their cultural heritage. Under such pressures, it is not surprising that many resettlers, especially the Nisei, came to believe that dispersal and assimilation were necessary to solve the Japanese problem.7
By 1944 both Toronto's Cooperative Committee on Japanese Canadians and its Nisei advisors realized that the dispersal of Japanese Canadians required a far more intensive program than that which currently existed. Moreover, they felt that the resettlement of Japanese Canadians should begin immediately in order to counteract the debilitating influences of the detention camps. The dominance of Japanese language and customs in the camps, the presence of the pro-Japan patriots, the isolation of Japanese Canadians from interaction with non-Japanese and the growing poverty and apathy of both Issei and Nisei inmates greatly disturbed them.8 Therefore, in 1944 the Toronto committee decided to organize a petition urging the federal government to disperse Japanese Canadians across Canada and to restore their civil rights, especially the right to own property.
The petition quickly ran into difficulties. Eastern Canadians, they soon discovered, knew little about the wartime treatment of Japanese Canadians. The few who had heard of the events of the previous few years usually assumed that the federal government had valid reasons for its actions.9 The organizers realized that only people like themselves, who had been in direct contact with resettled Nisei, had any real understanding of what had been done, and was still being done, to Japanese Canadians.
To counteract the widespread ignorance in eastern Canada, the Toronto committee initiated a publicity campaign. Using their connections with the major churches, they joined with Vancouver's Consultative Council to print and distribute 10,000 copies of a pamphlet, A Challenge to Patriotism and Statesmanship. That pamphlet attempted to explode some of the myths surrounding Japanese Canadians, to describe the conditions in the detention camps, and to urge the dispersal of Japanese Canadians across Canada. The government, the pamphlet argued, should not be peddling Japanese Canadian property in B.C. to "private buyers who look upon the Tenth Commandment10 as suspended ‘for the duration'" of the war. Rather, the government should be taking steps to make the dispersal of Japanese Canadians "not only economically possible, but economically attractive."11 These steps should include the expropriation of Japanese Canadian property in B.C. at a fair price, the restoration of the right to buy property, and the creation of a special fund to re-establish Japanese Canadians outside British Columbia. The ownership of property scattered throughout Canada, the pamphlet concluded, was the best way to ensure that Japanese Canadians would neither return en masse to B.C. after the war, nor collect in ghettos elsewhere in Canada.12
In June 1944 the publicity campaign13 received some unintended help from the federal government. By attempting to disenfranchise "all persons whose racial origin is that of a country at war with Canada," the government unwittingly publicized the plight of Japanese Canadians. The overt discrimination in the Soldiers' Vote Act, followed only one month later by King's public acknowledgement that no Japanese Canadian had committed any disloyal act, disturbed both the liberal press and the newly formed Ontario Civil Liberties Association. In 1944 both the press and the civil libertarians finally began to understand the innocence of Japanese Canadians and the extent to which their civil liberties were being abused. While disturbed, neither the press nor the civil libertarians were prepared as yet to do anything about that abuse. There was a war to be won. The Japanese problem could wait.
The Soldiers' Vote Act debate also marked the emergence of a new Japanese Canadian leadership centred in Toronto. Until 1944 Nisei in Toronto were primarily concerned with their own adjustment. They lacked both the inclination and the confidence to assume a public role. Acutely conscious that any adverse public reaction to them could jeopardize the resettlement of other Japanese Canadians, the Nisei in Toronto prior to 1944 were extemely reluctant to draw attention to themselves. They made a conscious effort to avoid living on the same street, to speak only English in public, and to work in different businesses and factories. Some were even reluctant to form a Nisei social group at the Carlton Street United Church for fear that they would be branded as clannish and unassimilable. By 1943, however, they had recognized the need for a Japanese Canadian organization in Toronto to work with concerned Caucasians for the resettlement of Japanese Canadians and the restoration of their civil rights. Accordingly, several former members of the Japanese Canadian Citizens' League organized the Japanese Canadian Committee for Democracy in Toronto. By June 1944 the Nisei involved with the JCCD had recovered enough self-confidence to submit a brief to Parliament in a fruitless attempt to have the clause denying them the right to vote removed from the Soldiers' Vote Act.14 Although small and as yet unknown to the majority of Japanese Canadians, the Japanese Canadian Committee for Democracy was ready by 1944 to act as a spokesbody for Japanese Canadians should the opportunity arise.
That opportunity finally presented itself in the spring of 1945. Within days of the beginning of the government's repatriation survey in B.C., rumours of coercion in the taking of repatriation applications began to reach Toronto. It was sign or lose your job, sign or be separated from your family, Toronto Nisei were told by friends in the detention camps.15 Worried and suspicious of the government's motives, the Japanese Canadian Committee for Democracy and its Caucasian allies began to organize.
In late May 1945 the JCCD and representatives of twenty Caucasian organizations met to form the Cooperative Committee on Japanese Canadians. Officially incorporated on June 19, the Cooperative Committee quickly grew to include representatives from over thirty organizations, including the major churches, labour unions, civil liberties and professional associations, the National Council of Women and the Canadian Jewish Congress.16 Chaired by Rev. James Finlay of Carlton Street United Church, the Cooperative Committee sought to demonstrate that all Canadians were not anti-Japanese and that many were very disturbed by the wartime treatment of Japanese Canadians. They circulated a petition deploring the repatriation survey and the continuing restrictions on Japanese Canadians. In July they sent a delegation to Ottawa to try to persuade the government to change its stance on deportation and to allow Japanese Canadians to again buy property. They accelerated their public education campaign with the distribution of 50,000 copies of a pamphlet, From Citizens to Refugees – It's Happening Here! They established contact with similar groups scattered across Canada, groups who tried to use their local media in order to get the truth about Japanese Canadians before the Canadian public.17
On its own the JCCD organized the Japanese minority. Working through established Japanese committees in the camps and on the Prairies, the JCCD began to collect sworn statements from the unwilling signers, statements that detailed why they had felt compelled to sign to go to Japan.18 At the same time the JCCD founded a magazine, Nisei Affairs, to link Nisei across Canada and to discuss Japanese Canadian issues in a more forthright manner than was possible in the New Canadian, which was still located in Kaslo and subject to censorship.
The role the JCCD was able to play, however, was limited by its geographic remoteness from the majority of Japanese Canadians and by its manpower shortage in 1945. In the spring of 1945 the Canadian government had finally allowed a handful of Nisei to enlist as interpreters in the Canadian Army for service with British and Anzac forces in Asia. Not surprisingly, among the first to volunteer were the men who had formed the backbone of the JCCD, men who as leaders in the prewar Japanese Canadian Citizens' League had clamoured to enlist in 1940. The bulk of the work, therefore, fell to the JCCD's overworked president, Kinzie Tanaka, who as a Japanese alien could not enlist.
The JCCD was not the only active group. In the Slocan Valley of B.C. the Japanese committees of the five camps in that area (New Denver, Bay Farm, Lemon Creek, Slocan City and Popoff) united to attack the repatriation issue by authorizing Vancouver lawyer Dennis Murphy to contest the validity of the repatriation survey in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Murphy, however, made a fundamental legal error. Failing to check which Orders-in-Council affecting Japanese Canadians were still in force, he sued the British Columbia Security Commission, arguing that the repatriation survey was beyond its powers. Once in court, however, he was rudely awakened to the fact that the BCSC had not existed since February 1943 when the Order-in-Council creating it was repealed and its duties were taken over by the Department of Labour. The case was dismissed since the defendant did not exist.19
Although disappointed by the failure of the court case, the Japanese committees across Canada forged ahead. The Tashme Japanese Committee not only won the support of Dr. J.H. Arnup, the moderator of the United Church, during his visit to Tashme in August 1945, but also organized a petition to the federal government. At the suggestion of an editor of the New Canadian, the Tashme organizers began to collect funds for a possible second court case, and to consider as a last resort a policy of gambari, or passive resistance. Large-scale passive resistance to deportation, the editor acknowledged, would not prevent the government from forcibly deporting Japanese Canadians, but it would certainly gain a great deal of publicity.20 In Winnipeg, the Japanese committees concentrated on organizing petitions to the government. They were undoubtedly helped by the strong anti-deportation stance of the influential Winnipeg Free Press. In Toronto, where the press took a weaker but still generally favourable stance, a committee composed of both Issei and Nisei coordinated fund-raising activities. Lastly, the Slocan District Committee continued its campaign against deportation with a petition to Prime Minister King signed by some 2,010 unwilling repatriates. Ironically, that petition reached Ottawa on 15 December 1945, the very day the Cabinet made the deportation Orders-in-Council.21
The efforts of the JCCD, the Cooperative Committee and their confederates across the country proved fruitless. While the publicity undoubtedly helped to tone down the deportation policy in the fall of 1945, it had not been appreciated by Cabinet. Deafened by the clamour of Ian Mackenzie and Humphrey Mitchell, the Cabinet largely ignored pleas for moderation and ordered the deportation of 10,000 Japanese Canadians.
The announcement of the deportation Orders-in-Council shocked but did not surprise the Cooperative Committee on Japanese Canadians. They had been expecting the worst since their July meeting with Labour Minister Humphrey Mitchell when he made it very clear that the government intended to follow the demands of public opinion in British Columbia in Japanese matters.22 Aware that the first shipment of deportees was scheduled for mid-January, the Cooperative Committee, along with Vancouver's Consultative Council, knew they must act quickly if they were to stop those deportations. Their first impulse was to challenge the deportation orders in the Supreme Court of Canada. A reference to the Supreme Court, however, carried with it two major problems: it required the consent of the federal government, and it did not prevent the government from deporting Japanese Canadians while the case was in progress.23 What the anti-deportation lobby needed was a way to force the government to cooperate.
It was quickly apparent that, far from cooperating, the federal government had every intention of making the work of the anti-deportation lobby very difficult. In the week following the deportation announcement, the commissioner of Japanese placement, T.B. Pickersgill, presumably on orders from Ottawa, denied entry into the Tashme camp at Hope, B.C., to anyone attempting to help the unwilling repatriates. On December 28, Robert J. MacMaster, counsel for Vancouver's Consultative Council, was prevented from entering Tashme when he sought to meet with his clients there. Pickersgill's obstruction surprised MacMaster, who had previously had ready access to Tashme. Angered, MacMaster threatened to inform the press that Japanese Canadians were being denied the right to legal counsel. That threat prompted a quick consultation between Pickersgill and the Department of Labour in Ottawa, and it was decided that MacMaster must be allowed to see his clients but that he should apply to do so in an "orderly manner." In bureaucratic terms that meant that MacMaster had to apply in writing to see his clients, specifically naming them and submitting proof that they had in fact engaged him. At the same time, Pickersgill prohibited all general meetings in Tashme. Such bureaucratic obstruction not only made it difficult to organize within Tashme, but also cost MacMaster two precious days of the short time he had to stop the deportation of the unwilling repatriates.24
In the end MacMaster had the last laugh. On December 31 he discovered the legal means to bring the federal government to heel. Deportation, MacMaster noted, was a two-step process: first the deportee was detained in legal custody; then he was deported. While the second part of the process, actual deportation, could not be challenged without the consent of the government, the first step could be. The War Measures Act permitted detention without recourse to the courts only during time of war. The war was now over, which meant that the detention of the deportees prior to their deportation could be challenged in the courts by a writ of habeas corpus.25 Moreover, even if unsuccessful, habeas corpus proceedings would delay the sailing of the deportee. Since the deportation of Japanese Canadians depended heavily on a tight shipping schedule, habeas corpus proceedings for each unwilling deportee would completely disrupt the deportation program.
Faced with the threat of hundreds of habeas corpus proceedings, the federal government agreed to negotiate with the anti-deportation lobby through Toronto's Cooperative Committee on Japanese Canadians. Meeting with Justice Minister St. Laurent on January 4, lawyer Andrew Brewin outlined the position of the Cooperative Committee. The deportation Orders-in-Council, he told St. Laurent, were a threat to civil liberties in Canada and an anathema to the organizations allied with the Cooperative Committee. Further, the committee was of the opinion that the deportation order was unconstitutional, since, they felt, the power of the federal government was limited to the deportation of aliens. Reminding St. Laurent that the deportation of citizens was not only contrary to international law but had recently been declared a war crime by the newly formed United Nations, Brewin requested that the Orders-in-Council be referred to the Supreme Court of Canada.26
St. Laurent and his Deputy Minister, F.P. Varcoe, were not impressed by Brewin's legal arguments. Both men were well aware that the War Measures Act gave the Cabinet virtually unlimited power to legislate for the "security, defence, peace, order and welfare of Canada." With such a broad mandate, no appeal against an order under the War Measures Act had as yet been successful. There seemed no reason to assume that this case would be any different. While unimpressed with Brewin's legal arguments, St. Laurent and Varcoe were impressed with the people backing him. An organization that had the support of such influential Canadians as the Moderator of the United Church of Canada, Rev. J.H. Arnup, labour leader George J.A. Reany, publisher B.K. Sandwell, Liberal Senators A.W. Roebuck and Cairine Wilson and Saskatchewan's Premier T.C. Douglas was not an organization a prudent government could ignore. Because such influential people opposed deportation, it would be best, Varcoe counselled, to refer the Orders-in-Council to the Supreme Court for a quick decision, following which the deportations could begin in earnest.27 The Cabinet concurred.
This time there was no delay in arranging a hearing as there had been with the dispossession Order-in-Council. The government wanted the issue cleared up as quickly as possible. Consequently, a mere twenty days after meeting with St. Laurent, Andrew Brewin and constitutional lawyer J.R. Cartwright found themselves arguing against the deportation orders before the seven Justices of Canada's Supreme Court. The powers of the War Measures Act, they argued, were restricted to "arrest, detention, exclusion and deportation" where deportation was defined as "the return of an alien to the country from whence he came." The government, therefore, lacked the power to deport citizens of Canada. Moreover, the deportation of citizens for any reason other than the conviction of a felony is expressly forbidden by the principle of habeas corpus. On the humanitarian level, Brewin and Cartwright reminded the justices, the deportation of citizens was contrary to the accepted principles of international law and had been declared a "crime against humanity" by the United Nations. The government lawyers replied that the government was empowered to deport under the all-encompassing power of the War Measures Act as extended by section 4 of the National Emergency Powers Act. Those acts, they contended, gave the federal government the power to deport both citizens and aliens and to strip the deported citizens of their Canadian status without interference from the courts.28 The arguments took only two days. On January 25, 1946, the Justices retired to write their opinions.
While MacMaster, Brewin and Cartwright used the law to try to halt the deportations, the Cooperative Committee and its allies used the press and the pulpit. Recognizing that the deportation issue was basically a political one, the anti-deportation lobby worked through January and February 1946 to create an anti-deportation clamour that would make the shouts of Ian Mackenzie and his supporters seem like whispers. Across Canada a myriad of organizations raised money, distributed pamphlets, organized public meetings, delivered sermons, talked to any individual or group who would listen, wrote Prime Minister King and their Members of Parliament, and sought and received the wholehearted support of the Canadian press. Their message was simple. The deportation of Canadian nationals of Japanese ancestry was an assault on Canadian democracy and must not be allowed to occur.29 They discovered that the Canadian public agreed.
Why Canadians who had remained silent through the uprooting and dispossession of Japanese Canadians should finally break their silence to oppose their deportation remains unclear. Perhaps they saw the deportation of Japanese Canadians as a threat to their own personal rights and privileges, or they had suddenly reached some new level of tolerance, or they were reacting to the news of the Nazi death camps. In the final analysis, the motive behind the response of the Canadian public was not all that important. It was sufficient that the anti-deportation campaign of January and February 1946 produced the strongest outburst of spontaneous public reaction in the long career of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, an outburst King knew better than to ignore.30
The anti-deportation campaign was also helped by the political decline of Ian Mackenzie in early 1946. Mackenzie's political influence had always hinged on his close relationship with Prime Minister King. In January 1946 that relationship was shattered by Mackenzie's vanity. While in England in 1945, Mackenzie had become convinced that he would be made a Member of the Imperial Privy Council in the 1946 New Year's Honours. When that honour failed to materialize, Mackenzie blamed King and sent him a scathing telegram, creating an irreparable rift between the two men. King decided Mackenzie's behaviour was that of an overwrought, war-weary politician no longer equal to the business of his office,31 and over the next few days his evaluation of Mackenzie, who had been drinking heavily, deteriorated even further. "The impression I get of him," King confided to his diary, "is that he is like a drowning man catching at straws. That he is breaking up completely but trying to keep a certain assurance before the public…. It is clear however that his usefulness as a Minister of the Crown is at an end…. I shall also let Mackenzie go at the first opportunity."32
On February 20, as Mackenzie's influence declined and the anti-deportation forces grew, the Supreme Court Justices handed down a badly divided decision. The deportation of Japanese aliens and naturalized Japanese Canadians was unanimously declared legal. The Justices, however, were split 5 to 2 in favour of deporting the Nisei, and, importantly, 4 to 3 against deporting the unwilling dependents of the male deportees.33
This judicial division embarrassed the government. They were now in a position to legally deport the 6,844 adults who had signed repatriation requests but not their 3,500 dependents. Faced with a growing anti-deportation movement and demands from the Cooperative Committee for deportation hearings complete with counsel and legal evidence for the 4,527 unwilling repatriates, the matter was referred to the Special Cabinet Committee on Repatriation and Relocation. On 23 February 1946, in the absence of Ian Mackenzie, that committee recommended that the offending Orders be referred to the Privy Council in England for a final ruling. On March 8 the Cabinet concurred.34 Deportation was now too hot an issue. A Privy Council appeal would buy the government time to correct what was now an obvious political mistake.
By April 1946 the divisions in the Cabinet on the deportation question were marked. Mackenzie and Mitchell still promoted a hard line, but the public posture of the Cabinet was changing quickly. Prime Minister King set the new tone in a meeting with a delegation from the Cooperative Committee on March 26, 1946 when he publicly scolded Mitchell for calling Japanese Canadians "yellow bastards."35 King blamed Ian Mackenzie and the "silent majority" for the deportation fiasco. "Now that the dust is beginning to settle," Maclean's Ottawa correspondent noted,
government people are expressing some resentment of what they call the "belated" criticism of their policy toward the Japanese. As it finally came out that policy was greatly watered-down away from the extreme "Damn the Japs" line on which Ian Mackenzie boasted he could have "won every seat in British Columbia"…. But [the small "l" liberals in the Cabinet] say that if half the pro-Japanese clamour had been raised then that was raised later, they could have backed Ian right off the map. 36
Reprieve for the potential deportees, however, was not immediately forthcoming. The Cabinet wanted the Japanese problem solved. To do so, King returned to the policies he had first outlined in August 1944. Japanese Canadians would be encouraged to voluntarily repatriate to Japan and to disperse themselves across Canada under an accelerated resettlement program.
There is often a very fine line between encouragement and coercion in government programs. The second uprooting of Japanese Canadians in the summer of 1946 contained elements of both. New policies, such as setting up hostels east of Alberta, increasing the resettlement allowances, making permits to buy property outside British Columbia easier to obtain and permitting "deportable" Japanese aliens to move east with their Canadian-born children, encouraged resettlement by easing the practical problems and the fear of family separation. Nonetheless, resettlement was not voluntary. Only the sick, the unemployable, the veterans, their families and those who lived in self-supporting communities were "free to remain in B.C."37 The rest, the so-called "relocateables," were forced to leave. Denied the right to employment in B.C., the relocateables who chose not to go to Japan were required to choose a hostel east of Alberta from which they would be channelled into employment and housing, or have one chosen for them by the commissioner of Japanese placement, T.B. Pickersgill.38
The hostels in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; Transcona, Manitoba; Neys, Hearst, Summerville and Fingal, Ontario; and Farnham, Quebec, were purposely crude. To discourage long-term residence, the facilities in these airbases and POW camps were altered only to the extent of partitioning the open barracks into four-bed cubicles and, in the case of Neys, adding extra heaters for winter. As expected, the communal dining, laundry and sanitary facilities and the minimal privacy in the quarters stimulated rapid searches for jobs and housing on the part of the resettled.
In manpower-hungry Northern Ontario, the men quickly found employment in the mines and the forest industry, sheltering their families in company housing where possible. Elsewhere most resettlers started their new life as domestics, farm labour or factory workers. While the domestics and farm workers were usually supplied with housing, the factory workers often had to cope with the severe housing shortage resulting from rapid urbanization and the freeze on home construction that had accompanied the war. The housing problem was particularly acute in Montreal, where fees of up to $1,000 were commonly demanded as "key money" when renting an apartment. Herbert Tanaka, a Nisei father of four who had left his family in Kaslo while he went to Montreal to find a job and housing, explained the situation to his wife, June, in the autumn of 1945:
Any house that is for rent now will ask the applicant to buy the furniture, old pieces of furniture and at an enormous price. But if you don't, there will be no house. I saw in the paper the other night where a returned soldier tried to rent a house but the owner asked him to buy the furniture for $1000…. The rents seem to be quite normal in these cases because the Wartime Prices and Trades Board has frozen the rent.
Often owners will ask for key money. Just to use the key to look the place over they want $250 before he hands you it. Then he might refuse to let you have the house.39
Housing was actually a double problem. Not only did Japanese Canadians have to find vacant, habitable homes whose owners would be willing to rent or sell to non-whites, but they also had to ensure that those homes were not clustered in the same area as those of other Japanese Canadians. The latter requirement was government policy, as placement officers continued to assume that a visible concentration of Japanese Canadians would generate a racist reaction. Throughout 1946, therefore, the government continued to use its regulatory powers to restrict the number and distribution of Japanese Canadians in Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal.
For the most part, Japanese Canadians cooperated with this second uprooting. A few tenacious individuals continued to protest their wartime treatment by refusing to leave the detention camps and, later, the hostel at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.40 Most recognized the futility of resistance. Some resettlers saw their second uprooting as an acceptable solution to the problems they had experienced in B.C. Others saw it as an alternative to deportation, and dared not object. Still others saw dispersal as the price of their freedom, a price they were willing to pay to return to a normal life. Slipping quietly into their new jobs and communities, the resettlers were often pleasantly surprised and reassured by the indifference toward them in most of those new communities.41
Only in Alberta did resettlement become an issue. A province, like British Columbia, with a strong nativist tradition, Alberta alone had demanded in 1942 that the B.C. Japanese be removed after armistice. Identifying the B.C. Japanese as unassimilable enemy aliens, Alberta nativists began pressuring the Social Credit premier, Ernest Manning, to hold the federal government to its original agreement. The solution to the Japanese problem, the nativists felt, was to deport all Japanese Canadians. Premier Manning largely concurred. A fundamentalist minister, Manning believed that Japanese Canadians were loyal to Japan, with that loyalty cemented by religious beliefs. "In the majority of cases," he told pro-dispersal Protestant church groups in 1945,
the Japanese' first allegiance, due primarily to their religious traditions, is to the Emperor of Japan, to whom they regard their tie as spiritual. It seems to me that as long as these people embrace this philosophy… we must recognize that their first allegiance in an hour of crisis is to the Emperor of Japan rather than to the land adopted by them or by their parents…. I do not feel that they can be regarded in the same light as citizens whose tie to their homeland was an allegiance of a similar character to that which they now have to Canada as their home.42
Manning's personal views were reinforced by political pressure from labour and civic groups and other Social Credit politicians. Both the Union of Alberta Municipalities and the Alberta Federation of Labour believed the anti-Japanese propaganda from B.C. and feared that Japanese Canadians would undermine labour relations in the province. Solon Low, M.P. for Peace River and national leader of the Social Credit party, believed Japanese Canadians should be deported "for their own good." Paternalistically he concluded that as an unassimilable minority they would never be accepted in Canada and therefore never be truly happy. It would be best, he argued, to deport them.43 As the leader of a party that had been blatantly anti-Semitic in the 1930s, it was not surprising that Low also espoused the same anti-Japanese views as his colleagues from British Columbia.
Opposing the Alberta nativists were the churches and the press. The former condemned Manning's position as "unjust and un-Christian," urging that "it is our duty as Christians to win their first loyalty to Christ through Christian treatment."44 The Alberta press argued that "if we had the slightest conscience at all we would release them from bondage, restore their full civic rights and recompense them for the economic loss they have suffered."45
In the end economic considerations decided the fate of the B.C. Japanese in Alberta. The Japanese beet workers, who had already been credited with saving the sugar beet industry during the Second World War, were virtually the only source of beet labour in 1946. The German and Italian prisoners-of-war, who had supplied a good portion of the labour in the 1945 season, were being repatriated to Europe, while displaced persons from Europe had not yet begun to arrive. Anxious to retain their reliable Japanese labour, the southern Alberta sugar interests began exerting pressure on Manning to keep the Japanese in Alberta. In March 1946, they learned that Manning sympathized with their problem. He recognized the futility of opposing dispersal, whatever his personal feelings, if the other provinces accepted that policy. Alberta would take its quota of Japanese, Manning informed the sugar interests privately, if and only if British Columbia also did its part. However, in view of how controversial the issue was in the southern Alberta heartland of Social Credit support, Manning refused to take a public stand favouring Japanese Canadians. He preferred to procrastinate until the issue died a natural death.46
While Manning's procrastination was good enough for the growers, it undermined the confidence of some of the B.C. Japanese in Alberta. Anxious for the security of permanent residence, a number of the uprooted Japanese took advantage of the resettlement program to move to the fruit and vegetable districts of southwestern Ontario. Relatively few retained any interest in returning to the Pacific Coast. As one petition urging the lifting of travel restrictions noted: "We are not stupid enough to want to rush into a province which seems to be crammed with racial intolerance and where we would only suffer discrimination of every sort…. We are smarter than most people give us credit for and will not rush back to B.C."47
Throughout the summer of 1946, Japanese Canadians trekked east. The camps in B.C. contributed 4,700 to the flow, while several hundred others left Alberta for the fruit-growing districts of southwestern Ontario. The bulk of the movement ended up in Ontario, which by December 1946 had a larger Japanese Canadian population than British Columbia.
While the resettlers moved through the hostels into new jobs and communities, five ships left for Japan. The 3,965 people on those ships ostensibly went voluntarily.48 In fact, most went because they felt that they had no alternative. Elderly Issei, who had lost everything during the war and who despaired of reestablishing themselves, left hoping their families in Japan would support them in their old age or, at least, until their dependent children were old enough to assume that responsibility. Those whose parents, children or spouses had been trapped in Japan by the advent of the Pacific War had no alternative except to go to Japan if they wished to be reunited with them. In 1946 the Canadian government was bringing back to Canada only the Caucasians among the Canadians trapped in Japan during the war. Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry in Japan were ignored by Ottawa until 1947 when they were finally allowed to obtain documentation of their Canadian birth but were allowed no other assistance, not even a passport.49 The despair of many of the repatriates was evident in the comment of one repatriating Angler internee who, when asked why he was going to Japan, replied: "The white people hate us and we have no other place to go."50
Repatriation, for whatever reason, soon produced considerable hardship. The destruction resulting from the bombing raids on Japan was only the first shock. The second was the lack of food and the high price and poor quality of what was available. Allowed only 1,000 yen – exchanged by the occupation authorities at the rate of 13.5 yen to the dollar, one-third the going rate – the deported Canadians soon found themselves in dire straits in a country where rice was over 2 yen a kilogram and fish was 5 yen a pound. With the extra funds they had brought from Canada frozen in bank accounts that they could not touch, a great many of them found it difficult to get enough food.51
The third shock was cultural. The returning Issei who had not seen Japan for twenty or thirty years either found that Japan in 1946 was vastly different from the country they remembered or were disappointed to discover that the tiny villages in which their relatives lived had the same problems and inadequacies that had prompted them to emigrate thirty years before. The cultural adjustment of the Issei was sometimes compounded by rejection by their relatives in Japan, relatives who resented the fact that they had come begging from a fat and well-fed country like Canada. For the Nisei, postwar Japan was a society completely foreign to them and in which they were seen and treated as aliens.52
For some, repatriation proved a death sentence. One such case involved a sixty-six-year-old Fraser Valley farmer and his wife, who in 1945 found themselves destitute with seven children to support. Their farm had been sold in 1943 to the Veterans' Land Act Administration, and the proceeds had been taken by the government in repayment of the relief they had accepted in order to feed their children in the winter of 1942. Aware that as agricultural labourers they could never support their children in Canada, the farmer and his wife took their children to Japan, intending to claim and work a portion of the family farm outside Hiroshima. On arrival, however, they discovered that much of the family land, small to begin with, had been sold and that they had no legal claim to what remained. To try to survive, the family split up: the teenage children took employment with the occupation forces, the parents worked as day labourers in the coal mines. The children were lucky. While work for the occupation forces paid poorly, it assured them one full meal a day and gave them access to drugs like penicillin denied to the general Japanese population. The parents were not so lucky. Within a few months they had both died of malnutrition.53
By December 1946 the camps were virtually empty. Only a residue of 900 sick and elderly and their families remained at New Denver in the Slocan Valley. Over 13,000 Japanese Canadians had resettled east of British Columbia. By January 1947 only 6,776 Japanese Canadians remained in B.C., less than one-third of the 1942 population. (See Table 4 for the redistribution of Japanese in Canada during the Second World War.)
In December 1946 the Privy Council ruled that the deportation Orders-in-Council were legal. The federal government, however, was no longer interested in enforcing them. The overwhelming public reaction opposing deportation and the dispersal of Japanese Canadians across Canada had made such a policy not only politically unnecessary, but politically unwise. Nonetheless on 22 January 1947 the pro-deportation faction in the Cabinet, led by Justice Minister Louis St. Laurent, made one final plea – urging that the deportation Orders-in-Council be implemented in their broadest legal sense. Japanese Canadians, St. Laurent contended, "would increase the population, and demands would be made later when Japan was a settled country to have the Japanese in Canada given the same rights as the white population."54 Opposed to the idea of racial equality, St. Laurent was convinced that Japanese Canadians would again become "troublesome" if allowed to remain in Canada. Others, including Prime Minister King, argued that the government would be looked upon as inhuman and criminal if it sent to Japan people who had behaved themselves throughout the war and who had done nothing except to ask, under duress, to be sent to a now-devastated country. To King the political dangers of the issue were paramount. "We already as a Liberal party were [sic] in a false position in the minds of many people through our ill-Liberal treatment of different persons," King warned the Cabinet. A major issue could develop if the matter was not immediately dropped. Dropping deportation, but keeping restrictions on Japanese Canadians for a further two years in order to ensure their permanent resettlement, King urged, was the only policy "we could really hope to get successfully through Parliament and which, on humanitarian grounds, is right."55
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