The Politics of Racism by Ann Gomer Sunahara
Chapter 3: Expulsion
The announcement that all Japanese Canadians were to be moved from the Pacific Coast stunned Canada's Japanese minority. Not even the most pessimistic had considered such an extreme measure possible. Rumours were rampant in February 1942 that the adult male Nisei and the naturalized would be forced to join the Civilian Service Corps and that they would be placed on dangerous projects.1 Extremist demands that the women, the children and the aged also be uprooted, however, had never been taken seriously. Preoccupied with the unemployment produced by the war and the impending removal of male Japanese aliens, Canada's Japanese minority had trusted that the federal government would protect them from the absurd measures advocated by British Columbia's racists. It was a shock to realize that while Japanese Canadians had sought to minimize tensions by supporting the unemployed and by buying $300,000 in Victory Bonds,2 their government had, in effect, declared them traitors.
Shock quickly turned into feelings of impotent rage, and idealism into cynicism. Writing to her brother, Wesley Fujiwara, on 2 March 1942, five days after King's announcement, New Canadian reporter Muriel Kitagawa gave free rein to her feelings:
Oh Wes, the things that have been happening here are beyond words…. We are forced to move from our homes, Wes, to where we don't know.
Oh Wes, the Nisei are bitter, too bitter for their own good, or for Canada. How can cool heads like Tom [Shoyama]'s prevail when the general feeling is to stand up and fight…. You should see the faces here, all pinched, grey, uncertain. If the bank fails Eddie do you know what the kids and I will have to live on? $39. For everything: food, clothing, rent, taxes, upkeep, insurance premiums, emergencies…. And also I get that $39 only if Eddie joins the Chain Gang, you know, forced to volunteer to let the authorities wash their hands of any responsibilities. That's the likeliest interpretation of Ian Mackenzie's "Volunteer or Else"…. Can you wonder that there is deep bitterness among the Nisei who believed so gullibly in the democratic blahblah that's been dished out?
How can the hakujin face us without a sense of shame for their treachery to the principles they fight for? One man was so damned sorry, he came up to me, hat off, squirming like mad, stuttering how sorry he was. These kind of people too are betrayed by the [Halford] Wilsonites. God damn his soul! Yet there are other people who, while they don't go so far as to persecute us, are so ignorant, so indifferent. They believe we are being very well treated for what we are. The irony of it all is enough to choke me. [Kitagawa's emphasis.]3
Outraged and disillusioned, frightened of a forced separation from her husband, and worried about how she would care for her four children, Kitagawa reflected the feelings of both Nisei and Issei. King's announcement dashed the hopes of those Japanese aliens who had been seeking to avoid separation from their families. Like the Jews of Europe who thought that the Nazis could be appeased by bribes or token cooperation, many Japanese aliens thought that the B.C. politicians could be appeased with the token removal of a few hundred aliens, preferably single men, to spare the majority the pain of family separation. Even as the hysteria mounted through February 1942, many had clung to the hope that through service or business connections they, as individuals, might be permitted to stay.4
With the announcement of a total uprooting, citizenship became irrelevant. Whether Issei or Nisei, Japanese alien or Canadian citizen, everyone had become an enemy alien. Everyone was now subject to the same regulations as German and Italian aliens. Like the German and Italian aliens, all Japanese Canadians had to register with and report biweekly to the RCMP, could not travel more than twelve miles from their residence or change their address without permission. In addition, all Japanese Canadians, unlike the German and Italian aliens, were required to observe a dusk-to-dawn curfew and to abandon their homes, farms and businesses for an unknown destination.
This time the government moved swiftly. In a flurry of telegrams initiated by Ian Mackenzie, the British Columbia Security Commission (BCSC) was created and empowered to carry out the uprooting of over twenty thousand Japanese Canadians. Its duties included organizing and supervising the removal of Japanese Canadians from the coastal area, implementing programs to provide them with employment and housing, and administering the necessary social welfare programs, the temporary processing facility at Hastings Park (now the Pacific National Exhibition grounds) in Vancouver, and the camps to which Japanese Canadians were eventually sent.5 Importantly, however, in matters of policy the BCSC could only advise the government. Only the Cabinet Committee on Japanese Questions and the Departments of Labour and Justice in Ottawa could set policy.
The British Columbia Security Commission was administered by three men: industrialist Austin C. Taylor, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Frederick J. Mead, and John Shirras, the Assistant Commissioner of the B.C. Provincial Police. The fifty-two-year-old Taylor acted as chairman, a role for which he qualified by virtue of the administrative abilities he had demonstrated in his very successful business career and by virtue of his extensive contacts throughout the Interior of British Columbia. Those contacts had been built up through his business interests in oil, gas and mining resources. A wealthy man, Taylor could afford to donate his services to the war effort as he had done previously when coordinating the provincial Victory Bond campaign in 1940.
The Japanese assumed that Taylor was anti-Japanese. These presumptions arose from his gruff personal manner, his aloofness, his Liberal politics, and his past association with the Citizens' Defence Committee, a hastily formed committee of "leading citizens" that in February 1942 had petitioned the federal government for the removal of Japanese Canadians. The attitudes of the members of that committee varied from a strongly anti-Japanese stance to the feeling that protective custody was necessary to prevent riots on the West Coast. Taylor was among the latter.6 Although his attitudes were some what paternalistic, Taylor held Japanese Canadians in high esteem. "The Japanese are a very clean, dependable, industrious race," he instructed his subordinates in April 1942, "and with kindly treatment can be guided most advantageously."7 Taylor wanted the removal of Japanese Canadians to be carried out as kindly as possible. The Japanese also assumed that Asst. Comnr. John Shirras was anti-Japanese. They believed that he held the same attitudes they had met many times before on the part of the British Columbia Provincial Police. Shirras was tarred with the same brush as his superior, Comnr. T.W.S. Parsons, who had gone to the Ottawa conference in January to lend the support of his position to the politicians who claimed that Japanese Canadians were a potential "Fifth Column" of spies and saboteurs. (In February 1942 Parsons had reiterated his position in a letter to Justice Minister Louis St. Laurent. "With these people," he wrote, "neither Canadian birth nor naturalization guarantees good faith. Something to remember in case of invasion or planned sabotage.")8 John Shirras, unfortunately, left no public record of his own opinions.
To Japanese Canadians only Assistant Commissioner Mead seemed trustworthy and reasonably fairminded. Mead, however, suffered from the general distrust of the police commonly felt by immigrant groups, especially those subjected to restrictive laws. Japanese Canadians had no way of knowing that while bound to carry out the instructions of the government, Mead and his superiors were insisting on the letter of the law where the spirit was offensive. By this tactic they had already frustrated Ian Mackenzie's demands for the removal of Japanese Canadians from what Mackenzie defined as "defence installations." By refusing to act without direct authorization from the very busy Minister of National Defence, J.L. Ralston, they had delayed the removal of any Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry until the Order-in-Council uprooting all Japanese Canadians prevented any further delays.9
Assisting the three commissioners was an Advisory Board of Liberals, likeminded Conservatives, and a token member of the CCF. The advisory committee was handpicked by Ian Mackenzie in an effort to ensure the smooth implementation of Ottawa's policies. The selection of the Advisory Board and the formation of the BCSC was also an opportunity for Ian Mackenzie to dispense Liberal patronage. Most of the Advisory Board and all of the support staff and consulting lawyers were Liberals. In the case of support staff the ban on non-Liberals extended right down to the typists, to the chagrin of one young woman whom Mackenzie had dismissed because "her people" voted Conservative.10 The presence of the few Conservatives on the Advisory Board was a gesture to the newly formed coalition government in B.C. Having been offended by the political mileage Conservatives had made of their positions on the Standing Committee on Orientals, Mackenzie made sure that the Conservatives on the Advisory Board were relatively inactive. The CCF member, Grant MacNeil, who became the Executive Secretary of the Board, was an appointment Mackenzie disliked, but probably made because it embarrassed the federal CCF,11 who would not wish to be highlighted in a body involved with the removal of the Japanese Canadians.
MacNeil's presence on the Advisory Board and earlier, along with his provincial leader, Harold Winch, on the Citizens' Defence Committee, reflected the divisions within the CCF in the spring of 1942. David Lewis, CCF National Secretary at the time, recalled members of the B.C. CCF
arguing not so much about fear of attack as that "you cannot have these people here. There will be outbursts. There will be demonstrations and fights."… They were all concerned that the Japanese be treated fairly when they [were] moved out rather than just yanked out as was the case to start with…. I suppose socialists are human. They are influenced by the same environment as other people.
Intellectually you would have to divide the CCF position into three: the position against the mishandling of the Japanese and their rights as Canadian citizens – that was Angus MacInnis's [CCF M.P. for Vancouver East] position, and that had the support of the majority of the CCF. The others [in B.C.] were divided into two: the hysterical, which included strangely enough… the leftwing Marxists, and then there were the people who were afraid of the local situation.12
MacNeil, Lewis remembered, was in the last group. He was a pacifist who joined the Advisory Board in order to try to assure fair treatment for the Japanese Canadians.
By 4 March 1942 the British Columbia Security Commission was functioning. By March 9, all adult male Japanese aliens had been ordered to report to the RCMP to learn the date of their removal to road camps. By March 16 the first of a steady stream of shocked and angry Japanese families from the fishing villages and pulp towns along the Pacific coast stumbled into the Livestock Building at Hastings Park in Vancouver.
Hastings Park Manning Pool was a holding pen for human beings. Expropriated in the first week of March, it had been converted from animal to human shelter in only seven days. The facilities were crude. In the former Women's Building and the livestock barns, rows of bunks had been erected, each equipped with a straw mattress, three army blankets and a small bolster. Each bunk was separated from its neighbour by only three feet of concrete floor, which still reeked of the animals that had recently been kept there. Toilets were open troughs and fortyeight showers had been hastily installed: ten in the building housing men and boys over thirteen years of age, the rest in the Livestock Building for the women and children held there. Eating facilities were equally crude – an army field kitchen hastily erected in the former poultry section of the Livestock Building. Designed to produce mass meals for able-bodied men, that kitchen could not provide the dietary needs of babies and the aged, especially the aged of a different culture. Most shocking to the inmates, whose culture demanded fastidious personal cleanliness, was the everpresent stink of animals and the maggots and the dirt that encrusted the buildings in Hastings Park.13
Work on improvements began almost immediately. Amy Leigh, the Director of Social Services for the City of Vancouver, was seconded to the Security Commission to set up social services within Hastings Park and the camps to which the uprooted Japanese were to be sent. To accomplish this task, Leigh drew on Japanese Canadian volunteers and recruited Caucasians through the Selective Service. In general Leigh was pleased with those she and other supervisors were able to recruit. "Of all the people I encountered on the staff," she recalled, AI think that there were only two that I really thought should change their attitude…. The rest were just simply breaking their necks to do the best job they could."14 Like Grant MacNeil, the CCF Executive Secretary to the Advisory Board, Leigh believed that Japanese Canadians had to be moved for their own protection. She recalled:
It had to be…. It was a war emergency. You always have to remember that. It wasn't a normal situation…. We had nothing in the world against them, but they had to be evacuated…. None of us were happy that the job had to be done, but when we were in it, we did it, and enjoyed and became friends with those we worked with…. It wasn't a pleasant time for them, no matter what we did; and we knew that. It was a shock…. We did the best we could. [The selling off of their property and deportation] that was Ottawa's policy. When the B.C. Security Commission was handling it there was all the consideration that was possible and as good a job done as possible. [Leigh's emphasis.]15
Leigh's objective was to make conditions more tolerable. Under her direction, welfare services were set up to provide the destitute with necessities and to attempt to alleviate some of the social problems created by the uprooting and separation of families.16 On March 18 public health nurse Trenna Hunter, working under BCSC medical advisor Dr. Lyall Hodgins, began to set up badly needed health facilities, including a laundry, a kitchen for the preparation of infants' formula, and a rudimentary hospital. The last task had to be done twice. No sooner had Hunter set up one 60-bed hospital, using discarded equipment from Vancouver's Shaughnessy Hospital, than she lost it to the Director of Vancouver's Tuberculosis Hospital. Anxious to free beds for use by Caucasian patients, the Director of the T.B. hospital shipped his Japanese patients to dusty Hastings Park at the first opportunity. Eventually Hunter created a second hospital, this one with 180 beds, staffed by Japanese Canadians and with wards for communicable childhood diseases, new mothers, and male and female patients.17 In the crowded conditions of Hastings Park, which at its peak accommodated over three thousand people daily, hospital accommodations were prized. Only in the wooden stalls of the contagious diseases ward and behind the curtains defining the other wards could the inmates find a minimum of privacy.18
Much of the work was done by the inmates themselves. Faced with separation from their families, family heads scrambled to volunteer for work duties in the Park.19 They hauled baggage, built partitions, set up additional accommodation in the Pure Foods Building, constructed rudimentary desks for a temporary school, organized recreational activities and served in dozens of other capacities to meet the needs of the steady stream of new arrivals. The inmates also set up a liaison committee between themselves and Superintendent E.C.P. Salt, a retired RCMP officer and former colleague of Asst. Comnr. Mead. Composed of camp workers and dormitory representatives, the Hastings Park Japanese Committee in time secured improvements in the diet of the inmates, partitions for the toilets, a separate dormitory for boys between thirteen and eighteen years of age, and the dismissal of unsympathetic Caucasian workers.20
The Nisei, denied most jobs in the larger society, discovered that their education and unused skills were suddenly badly needed in the administration of Hastings Park. Sometimes, however, their work placed them uncomfortably between the demands of the bitter and confused inmates and the policies of the British Columbia Security Commission. For one young Nisei woman, working for the BCSC meant breaking with her family. "They were so upset," she recalled. "They just felt when I started working for the B.C. Security Commission that I was a Ôstool pigeon', an inu, a dog. If taking social work meant that I would sell myself to the government, they were not going to have anything more to do with me. I felt that there was something important I could do."21
No matter how hard everyone worked, nothing they could do would compensate for the traumatic effect Hastings Park had on the inmates. Conditions within the Park remained a sad contrast to the normal living standards of Japanese Canadians,22 and only served to drive home the contempt in which other British Columbians held them. Hastings Park was a degrading experience. Arriving by train still dazed from the task of reducing the accumulations of a lifetime to 150 pounds of baggage per adult and 75 pounds per child, families found themselves physically separated. On arrival the men, if they had not already been processed before shipment, were required to strip to the waist for a physical examination that would determine their suitability for road work, and to sign over to the Custodian of Enemy Property the right to administer any real or personal property they had not already disposed of in forced sales. Following assignment to a road camp, the men and their sons over thirteen years of age were held in a separate guarded building, where they would stay until shipment to a road camp. They were prohibited from entering the building housing their wives and young children.23 The shipment of men to the road camps often meant a further fragmentation of families. Fathers who were aliens were shipped to camps near Jasper, while their adult Nisei sons went to camps near Hope or Princeton, B.C., or to Schreiber, Ontario. Boys between thirteen and eighteen years of age were left behind alone in the men's dormitory in Hastings Park, unsupervised by their mothers, who were confined in the livestock barns.24 Unless they could find employment with the Security Commission, the men had no choice but to abandon their dependents to the chaos of Hastings Park, ignorant of whether they would ever see them again.
Hastings Park was hardest on the women. In the road camps, the men had a good diet and healthy, if crude, accommodations. At Hastings Park screaming children, distraught adults, dysentery, nervous tension, prying eyes and the stink of animals defined the women's existence. A wooden horse stall was a luxury; its walls provided limited relief from the tensions of living in full view of a thousand strangers. Only women with sick children or small babies could get such prime accommodation. The rest had to make themselves "homes," for periods ranging from a few days to several months, from the bunks allotted them and the three feet of space between bunks. New Canadian reporter Muriel Kitagawa described the Livestock Building to her brother five weeks after the first families had arrived:
The whole place is impregnated with the smell of ancient manure and maggots. Every other day it is swept with dichloride of lime, or something, but you can't disguise horse smell, cow smell, sheep, pigs, rabbits and goats. And is it dusty! The toilets are just a sheet metal trough, and up until now they did not have partitions or seats. The women kicked so they put up partitions and a terribly makeshift seat. Twelveyearold boys stay with the women too, you know…. As for the bunks, they were the most tragic things there. Steel and wooden frames with a thin lumpy straw tick, a bolster, and three army blankets… no sheets unless you bring your own. These are the "homes" of the women I saw…. These bunks were hung with sheets and blankets and clothes of every hue and variety – a regular gypsy tent of colours, age and cleanliness – all hung in a pathetic attempt at privacy…. An old, old lady was crying, saying she would rather have died than have come to such a place…. There are ten showers for 1,500 women.25
To the inmates of Hastings Park the stink of the livestock barns was more than just an irritating smell. It was a constant reminder that to Canadian politicians and their white electors, Japanese Canadians were no better than animals.26 The psychological effect of the stink only added to the despondency of the inmates. Weight loss, headaches, skin rashes, dysentery, short tempers, and nervous anxiety affected almost everyone as they sat and waited, locked in a foulsmelling world.
On occasion inmate anxiety and misunderstandings by some Caucasian authorities led to clashes between staff and inmates. Such incidents were inevitable in a situation in which the staff, no matter how sympathetic, were straining to cope with chaos, and the inmates were under severe stress, disoriented and angry. It is a testimony to the calibre of the staff and the self-control of the inmates that these incidents were few in number.A
One such incident occurred on the evening of 23 March 1942. Hastings Park had been in operation for only a week. The confused and disoriented inmates were the former inhabitants of Prince Rupert and of tiny and isolated coastal outports. Some had been ignorant of the fact that Japan and Canada were at war when they were told they had only a few hours to pack what they could carry before being herded onto ferries for shipment to Vancouver. Bewildered, they faced Hastings Park in its rawest state, without any information about their fate but rumours.
Throughout this particular day Hastings Park had been rife with rumours. That evening, after the women had been shut into the Livestock Building for the night, yet another foreboding rumour swept through the building. Some frightened women became hysterical. Panicking, they rushed from the building and spilled down the steps of the livestock barns in a milling mass. Faced with the surging women, an RCMP officer on duty overreacted. Wading in among them, he swung his truncheon, beating them and yelling, "Get the hell back in there!" Drawn from her office by the noise, Nisei camp worker Eiko Henmi was appalled. Striding up to the policeman, the diminutive Henmi blocked his blow and shouted: "You put that stick down! What do you think you are doing! Do you think these women are so much cows that you can beat them back into place!" Stung by her words, the officer stopped and retreated to his office while Henmi and other camp workers calmed the women and guided them back into their stinking horse stalls to sit and wait to learn what would be done with them.27
The fate of the women, the children and the aged plagued the Commissioners of the British Columbia Security Commission from the beginning. When he took the job as chairman of the BCSC, Austin Taylor assumed that Japanese Canadians would be uprooted and resettled in family units. On his first day on the job, however, he discovered that plans for shipping all able-bodied men to road camps had been worked out even before the decision to uproot all Japanese Canadians had been taken. More importantly, he learned that in the interests of quieting West Coast hysteria, Ottawa wanted the road camp scheme implemented immediately. Ian Mackenzie's instructions were explicit: "Male Japanese of adult years should be assembled immediately using any available buildings on [the] coast and transferring [sic] as soon as practicable."28 The women and children could be held at Hastings Park until a more permanent solution was worked out. Taylor, accordingly, recruited Vancouver realtor E.L. "Len" Boultbee to investigate the possibilities and costs of accommodating the women and children in the decaying mining towns of the B.C. Interior; others studied the feasibility of using Indian Residential Schools on the Prairies. Anxious to avoid separating families, Taylor also actively investigated requests from Alberta and Manitoba sugar beet growers who wanted to use farming families from the Fraser Valley as sugar beet labour.29
As Japanese Canadians from the coastal villages and Vancouver Island streamed into Hastings Park throughout March, 1942, Japanese Canadians in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver waited to learn when their time would come. With the Japanese-language press closed, their only sources of information were the highly censored New Canadian and the public notice boards in the Powell Street ghetto. For the majority, who did not live in the ghetto, rumours filled the communications void. Not all rumours were unwelcome. Some, like the rumour that racist Alderman Wilson had been beaten up, were welcomed and savoured. Most, however, only created more uncertainty and panic. In March the rumour mill told them that the men in the road camps were being deprived of food and were freezing in the mountains, that the Nisei who volunteered to go to the Ontario camps would never be allowed to return to the West Coast, and that the bad food at Hastings Park resulted from profiteering by camp administrators, both Japanese and Caucasian. The most chilling, however, was the rumour that all 13,000 women and children were to remain crammed within Hastings Park for the duration of the war as insurance against Japanese air raids.30
Unable to attack the source of their anxieties – the Canadian government – some Japanese Canadians took out their anger on the Japanese Liaison Committee. The Japanese Liaison Committee was comprised of three Issei31 appointed by the BCSC to act as a liaison between itself and the Japanese community. The growing anger focussed on Etsuji Morii, the committee's Chairman who also managed two social clubs in the Powell Street ghetto. In his role as padrone of the Japanese ghetto, he had won the trust of RCMP Asst. Comnr. Frederick J. Mead. Through his association with Morii, Mead had become convinced of both the benign nature of the Japanese community and Morii's ability to ensure the peaceful behaviour of Japanese Canadians. Mead was aware of Morii's unsavoury past but considered it inconsequential. It was enough that Morii had been "honourable and cooperative in the extreme" in all his dealings with Mead.32 Consequently, when Mead found himself faced with the distasteful task of uprooting the Japanese aliens in January 1942, he turned to Morii. Mead needed calm and cooperation from the Japanese community if violent incidents by white fanatics were to be avoided. Morii, Mead was confident, could not only handle such a distasteful task, but could carry it off without incident. Believing, like many Issei, that only a token uprooting would be necessary, Morii readily guaranteed the cooperation of the Japanese minority.33
Morii's selection in January 1942 seemed reasonable to much of the Japanese community. At the time, most Japanese believed that only the token uprooting of a few aliens would be necessary. Those who were not affected were content to leave negotiations with the authorities to Morii. As one Issei recalled:
Morii was running things because the Nisei and naturalized people thought they were safe…. They kept silent. "Let Morii do it." And Morii was doing good. The [Victory Bond] campaign was very successful and he was the chairman of the thing. Naturally if you were the B.C. Security Commission or the government, who would you pick? Somebody you know and who gets the result. You are not going to put a big problem like that to teenagers.34
Unfortunately, matters did not proceed as smoothly as Morii and the RCMP had hoped. When programs to employ the displaced Japanese aliens in private industry failed to materialize by mid-February, the federal government chose to implement its road camp program immediately. Morii was called upon to produce volunteers who would leave the coastal zone before the official deadline of 1 April 1942. Conscious of mounting hate, however, Japanese aliens were unwilling to volunteer. In the absence of guarantees that their families would receive the necessities of life, most had no intention of leaving the coast before the official deadline.
On February 22 Morii called a meeting to appeal for volunteers. At that meeting he stressed the Japanese virtue of self-sacrifice for the good of the majority. As one observer remembered:
So Morii explained to everybody, "If you will go voluntarily maybe I could save the Nisei, your family and other persons…. You have to go. [This way] you are more or less sacrificing yourself for the others." But some say, "It is a big thing for you to ask me. If I go to be a soldier to fight for Canada, I know the government will take care of my family. You ask me to go voluntarily… and you don't explain… how my family will be taken care of or how I am going to come out of this afterwards." Morii said, "If I fail at this I will commit harakiri."… He appealed to real Japanese emotion…. The meeting went back and forth but never came to a conclusion.35
Frustrated, Morii turned to force. Official notices for removal, enforced by Morii's "lieutenants," produced the required hundred men for the February 23 shipment to Rainbow, B.C. However, only half of those notified showed up at the railway station for the February 24 shipment to Red Pass.36 With the announcement of a total uprooting on February 25 – an announcement that invalidated Morii's justification that a few should go to save the rest – the seeds of distrust planted by Morii's authoritarian methods began to germinate. When Mead asked Morii on March 5 to set up an official liaison committee and empowered him to police the Hastings Park Manning Pool, he was unaware that opposition to Morii as the primary representative of the Japanese community, with power over that community, was already building within the Powell Street ghetto.
The first to object openly were Nisei leaders Kunio Shimizu, secretary of the Japanese Canadian Citizens' League, and Thomas Shoyama, English-language editor of the New Canadian. By mid-February they were convinced that male Nisei and naturalized Japanese Canadians would be forced, like the Japanese aliens, to leave the Pacific Coast. Accordingly, Shoyama and Shimizu began agitating for greater Nisei participation in the affairs of the Japanese community. They were especially disturbed by the apparent power of Morii, whom they viewed as un-Canadian because of his emphasis on Japanese values and practices instead of on the "British" values and practices the Nisei had absorbed in the public schools.37 At the February 22 meeting, Shimizu, a Nisei educated in Japan and at the University of British Columbia and fluent in Japanese, appealed strongly for Nisei input into community decisions but was rebuffed by Morii. On March 7 Shoyama and Shimizu tried again to have Nisei included on Morii's liaison committee but failed when the only candidate Morii would accept, Dr. George Ishiwara, declined, claiming he could not legitimately represent all Nisei. On March 15 Shoyama and Shimizu had better luck when at a general meeting of Issei and Nisei in Vancouver the Japanese Liaison Committee was expanded to twenty-five members, including ten Nisei.38 It was soon evident, however, that this larger committee was too cumbersome to be effective. It functioned solely to rubberstamp Morii's wishes.
By mid-March it was becoming increasingly evident to Japanese Canadians that Morii had lost much of his former influence. Japanese Canadians who had only tolerated him previously began openly to call him a collaborator. It was not long before the old charges against Morii resurfaced, and new charges were added. Morii was said to be taking bribes to arrange for deferments from the road camps. There were rumours of corruption at Hastings Park, and charges by the inmates of Hastings Park that Morii's subordinates were abusing their powers and making no effort to improve conditions in the Park.39
By the third week of March Shoyama and Shimizu had joined forces with a group of naturalized Issei who also resented the power Morii held over the community. Abandoning all hope of working with Morii, they created an alternative to the Morii committee and set out to try to persuade the government to change its policies and procedures. In mid-March anti-Morii Issei from thirtyeight organizations, including the Canadian Japanese Association (CJA) and the Japanese Camp and Mill Workers Union, united under CJA President Bunji Hisaoka to form the Naturalized Japanese Canadian Association, known colloquially as the Kikajin-kai. At the same time the JCCL leaders, acknowledging that theirs was not a representative organization, met with the representatives of fiftythree Nisei groups to form the Japanese Canadian Citizens' Council (JCCC) to cooperate with the BCSC and the Kikajin-kai in organizing social services and easing the problems of removal.40
On March 29 the Kikajin-kai and the JCCC brought the feud with Morii into the open. In a letter to the BCSC they declared that "the present head of the Japanese Liaison Committee, E. Morii, does not represent the Japanese community of British Columbia," and they requested that the government take the necessary steps to form a representative committee. At the same time the Kikajin-kai put forward a plan under which the Japanese community would assume responsibility for its own uprooting. Asking the government for $1.8 million in building supplies and Crown land on which to build accommodations, the Kikajin-kai offered to undertake the care and feeding of all Japanese Canadians until they could become established.41
The resolution condemning Morii and the Kikajin-kai plan were presented to Austin Taylor on 1 April 1942. Ignoring the Morii resolution, Taylor rejected the Kikajin-kai plan outright, pointing out that he lacked the authority to make expenditures over $15,000 and that no Crown land existed on which nearby residents would permit the government to build a Japanese Canadian town for 20,000 Japanese Canadians.42
The BCSC, Taylor informed the Kikajin-kai, had its own plans. Five "ghost towns" – Greenwood, Slocan, New Denver, Sandon and Kaslo – were to be rehabilitated to accommodate 5,000 do the women and children, with plans for the remainder to be developed later. A further 5,000 Japanese Canadians were to be sent in family units to work in the sugar beet fields of Alberta and Manitoba. Preference in the latter scheme would be given to farming families from the Fraser Valley who had four or more workers for every non-worker. Finally, Japanese Canadians capable of supporting themselves were to be allowed to move to locations outside the coastal area, provided that they received the consent of the civil authorities of the centres chosen.
Concluding that the separation of most families was inevitable, the Kikajin-kai offered a second plan on April 4. Under the second plan they stated that the men would be prepared to go to the road camp but only after all their dependents were safely settled in the ghost towns of the Interior. At the same time the Kikajin-kai reiterated that Morii's "character, his past record, and his principles make it impossible to accept" him as leader of the community and "guardian of our families during the period of separation." Again they requested that the government take steps to form a democratically elected Japanese liaison committee.43
On April 7, with the rejection by the B.C. Security Commission of this second proposal, the Kikajin-kai gave up. They announced their decision at a meeting at the Japanese-language school attended by Jitaro Charlie Tanaka, a forty-two-year-old naturalized Issei who had been appointed advisor to the Spanish consul, the "protecting power" under the Geneva Convention for Japanese aliens in Canada. Paraphrasing the proceedings, Tanaka recalled that the Kikajin-kai president, Bunji Hisaoka, said, "We have negotiated with the Security Commission for a family evacuation, but they refuse under these terms so it is no use for us to continue negotiations. If we do, who knows [our chance] will be shot forever. At this moment we can't do any more and we are planning our own family evacuation."44 Hisaoka's opinion, Tanaka recalled, was reiterated by Kunio Shimizu, spokesman for the JCCC, who pointed out that in the road camps the men received a wage and their families an allowance. If they were interned for disobedience, Shimizu warned, their families would receive nothing from the government. Others, Tanaka remembered, pointed out that the Kikajin-kai had been negotiating for less than a week and urged them to restart negotiations "so at least we know you have done your best." As Tanaka recalled: "They didn't answer. None of the people on the platform answered. So the people just walked out…. That lost all the confidence of the people. [They said] ÔYou were just negotiating for your own families.'"45
The Kikajin-kai was successful in only one of its objectives: the undermining of Morii's power. While the Commissioners of the BCSC regarded the charges against Morii as "a campaign of vilification," they had recognized by early April that Morii's influence was limited to a group of personal supporters, principally urban Issei.46 Consequently, on April 9 they announced that henceforth they would consider representations from any bona fide group of Japanese Canadians, while recognizing none as official. Morii's committee would continue to administer aspects of the uprooting,47 but it would no longer be the only group cooperating with the BCSC. The JCCC, already working in Hastings Park on recreational and educational programs, and the Kikajin-kai would be equal to the Morii committee.
The feud with Morii became public on only one further occasion. In October 1942, Judge C.J.A. Cameron conducted a public inquiry into charges made against Morii by members of the Japanese minority, in particular the charge that he was a member of an association of Japanese fascists. Lasting twentythree days and highlighted by florid rhetoric and colourful press, the inquiry found the vast majority of charges against him to be either unsupported by evidence or upheld only by hearsay. This public washing of Japanese community laundry, while sensational to Caucasian British Columbians, had little effect on Japanese Canadians. Morii's influence within the community as a whole was minimal after April 1942.48
The demotion of Morii in April 1942 left Japanese Canadians leaderless. Having successfully undermined Morii's authority but despairing of ever persuading the government to change its policies, the Kikajin-kai leaders turned their energies elsewhere. The wealthier among them chartered special trains to move their families and friends to autonomous self-supporting communities at Christina Lake, Bridge River-Lillooet, McGillivray Falls and Minto City. Several Kikajin-kai leaders in the Fraser Valley and Steveston turned to the sugar beet program.49 Grabbing at the opportunity to keep their families intact, Japanese communities in the Fraser Valley volunteered en masse for sugar beet work in Alberta and Manitoba. Within a month much of the Kikajin-kai leadership was gone, while those who remained were urging Japanese Canadians to cooperate completely with the British Columbia Security Commission for their own safety and the security of Japanese Canadians as a whole.50
Cooperation as promoted by the Kikajin-kai and the JCCC did not appeal to everyone. Angered and embittered by their government's betrayal of them, Nisei in Vancouver and Steveston watched silently through March as the women and children from the coastal outports were dumped into Hastings Park and increasing numbers of Issei were torn from their families and shipped to road camps. Muriel Kitagawa described their mood to her brother as follows:
There is a pall of ignorance and fear and uncertainty, which arouses defiant resistance and plain mulish balking…. Nobody knows the exact details of what is happening, but we know plenty happens every day and everyone that reports it to another gets a different version and this spreads like wildfire through the town…. There is great distrust of the R.C.M.P., and mostly a kind of helpless panic, not the hysterical kind, but the kind that goes round and round going nowhere.51
Beginning in the last week of March, the "helpless panic" of some began to harden into defiance. The event that tipped the scale was the announcement on March 23 that the first group of Nisei would be shipped to road camps in Ontario the next day. Finally realizing that this development meant that the government intended to ignore their Canadian nationality and to regard them as enemy aliens, the 135 Nisei involved sought assurances from the Security Commission that they would be treated as Canadians in the camps.52 In the absence of definite assurances regarding their status, most elected to defy the road camp order, aware as they did so that they risked incarceration for disobeying an order of the BCSC. Their freedom was shortlived. The 86 who elected to sleep in the former offices of the Tairiku Nippo newspaper were quickly taken into custody, along with 17 others picked up elsewhere. Confined in the Immigration Shed in Vancouver, they were informed that they would be interned in a prisoner of war camp in Ontario unless they left immediately for road camp. Most chose internment.53
Legally, of course, the Nisei could not be "interned". They were Canadian nationals and internment under the Geneva Convention is a legal act applicable only to aliens, a fact Assistant Commissioner Mead quickly pointed out to Ottawa. Accordingly, the Nisei were legally never interned, but "detained at the pleasure of the Minister of Justice," Louis St. Laurent. Their legal status was equivalent to that of a criminal under psychiatric care. None of them, however, were aware of their unusual legal status. Nor were any aware that legally they had thirty days in which to appeal their detention. Isolated, friendless, angry and without legal counsel, the detained Nisei indeed considered their detention "internment" – as did the government, the press and the public of B.C.54
The seed of defiance planted, Nisei in Vancouver and Steveston began to split into two camps. A small group of Nisei began circulating an illegal pamphlet urging defiance of the road camp orders until the government agreed to a mass evacuation; that is, a plan of removal in which family units remained intact, as in the American uprooting. Appalled at such open disobedience, the JCCC responded with a pamphlet of its own urging cooperation with the government "for the sake of the whole community," and praising those who volunteered for road camps in Ontario.55 Ironically, as the RCMP later noted, both pamphlets were typed on the same typewriter.
In fact, the two groups of Nisei had more than the typewriter in common. Both groups recognized that the uprooting could not be stopped and that open defiance could cause a violent backlash against all Japanese Canadians. They knew that they were too few, too scattered, and surrounded by too hostile a social atmosphere for overt defiance. They were divided only on how to persuade the government to change the means by which Japanese Canadians were to be moved from the Coast. To the dissidents, many of whom were married men with young children, confinement in an internment camp differed little from restriction to a road camp. In both cases they would be separated from their families. Indeed, internment had the glamour of self-sacrifice, of suffering for a noble cause. It was something positive and active, a way of showing their anger, rather than just going passively off to road camp in the hope that the government would change its policies. The government, many felt, had done its worst by separating families. There was nothing to lose and everything to gain by defying the road camp orders.56
The JCCC took a more cynical attitude. Its leaders had only limited confidence in the government, but they trusted it more than they trusted the riffraff of Vancouver. The almost tangible hate and paranoia that developed after the government announced the uprooting had made them doubly cautious. In such an atmosphere, JCCC spokesman Kunio Shimizu later recalled, he had operated on the principle that things could always get worse. A government that had betrayed its citizens in the way that the Canadian government had betrayed Japanese Canadians had to be handled with extreme caution and given no excuse to send in the army. That was also the opinion of the few Caucasians who openly supported Japanese Canadians. "Even people like Norman F. Black and Howard Norman of the Consultative Council," Shimizu recalled, "felt that there would be a riot in Vancouver if there was any organized rebellion against the government order to evacuate." Only by cooperating, by acting as loyal Canadians – which to the JCCC meant obeying every regulation no matter how absurd – could Japanese Canadians hope to convince the public of their loyalty and gain the concessions they desired from the government.57
By the second week in April the dissidents had organized. Under the leadership of expelled JCCC members Fujikazu Tanaka and Robert Y. Shimoda, they formed the Nisei Mass Evacuation Group (NMEG) and set about making their demands known to the Security Commission and the Japanese community. "We have said 'YES' to all your previous orders, however unreasonable they might have seemed," the NMEG wrote in an open letter on 15 April 1942,
but we are saying a firm "NO" to your last order which calls for the breakup of our families.
When we say "NO" at this point we request you to remember that we are British subjects by birth, and that we are no less loyal to Canada than any other Canadian, that we have done nothing to deserve the breakup of our families, that we are lawabiding Canadian citizens, and that we are willing to accept suspension of our civil rights – rights to retain our homes and businesses, boats, cars, radios and cameras….
Please also remember that we are not refusing to go. Indeed if it is for our country's sake, we shall evacuate to whatever place Canada commands….
Family separation, the letter continued, would not contribute to the Canadian war effort. The revocation of this last human right, the right to live with their families, they argued, was "totally unnecessary."58
The Commissioners of the B.C. Security Commission were in a difficult position. Personally Taylor and Mead agreed with the dissidents and had wanted to remove Japanese Canadians in family groups from the beginning. Unfortunately, their hands were tied, since policy on such matters was set in Ottawa. Moreover, they too were afraid that open defiance would produce a backlash against Japanese Canadians. Accordingly, when refusing demands of the delegation that presented the open letter, Taylor warned that failure to obey the road camp orders would only lead to the internment of the resisters and a forced uprooting under martial law of the rest.59 Given his gruff manner, it is not surprising that the delegation concluded that Taylor personally opposed removal in family units. The Security Commission, the dissidents decided, was responsible for the separation of men from their families.
Their request for removal in family units rejected, the Nisei dissidents proceeded with their plans. Seeking to publicize their position in the hope of receiving support from the B.C. public, Shimoda approached sympathetic editors at the Vancouver Daily Province and the News Herald and requested that they publish the open letter. While initially supportive, the Province's editor subsequently declined to publish it because he feared it would produce more hysteria than sympathy. The News Herald declined to publish the letter because the Security Commission refused to grant permission for its publication, permission required under wartime censorship regulations.60
Rebuffed by the press, the NMEG members turned their attention to Ottawa. They authorized Vancouver lawyer Paul Murphy to make enquiries there on behalf of Japanese Canadians. In Ottawa Murphy found a glimmer of hope. Humphrey Mitchell, the Minister of Labour, informed Murphy that he had funds with which to build family housing for Japanese Canadians but, apparently ignorant of the ghost town scheme, claimed he had nowhere to build them. Unaware of the true chain of command, Murphy decided that Mitchell would be amenable to a family uprooting to the ghost towns if the Security Commission were to request it. Returning to Vancouver, Murphy advised the Nisei dissidents to continue pressuring the BCSC.61
The success of the dissidents' protest was undeniable. By the end of April over 140 Nisei had disobeyed their road camp orders and gone underground, sleeping in vacant buildings or hiding with friends and relatives, and moving about at night under the impunity of an "I am a Chinese" button taken, sometimes violently, from its legitimate owner. In addition, groups of Nisei and naturalized Japanese Canadians had begun to intern themselves voluntarily rather than leave for road camp. The precedent had been set on April 25 when 66 young men from Steveston and Vancouver, bolstered by the cheers of 800 supporters, had demanded internment at the Immigration Shed in Vancouver. Refused by Austin Taylor, four spokesmen forced their way into the building, a task easily accomplished once they discovered that the guards had guns, but no bullets. The RCMP then called in Assistant Commissioner Mead, who, after deliberating with the spokesmen, granted their demand.62 By May 13, ninety-six had been sent on to the POW Camp at Petawawa, Ontario, and a further 106 were awaiting shipment.63
On May 13 the dissidents finally caught the attention of the Vancouver press by wrecking part of the Immigration Shed. The incident was precipitated by an order prohibiting the families and friends of the inmates from approaching the building to talk to them or pass them food. Unhappy with this latest prohibition, the inmates became restive and requested the opportunity to give their views to a higher authority. When the officer of the guard arrived at 1:30 P.M., the inmates sent him a letter demanding removal in family units and the rescinding of restrictions on visitors. At this point some frustrated inmates turned a firehose on a sentry and proceeded to wreck the room in which they were being kept, breaking down the wall between that room and the adjoining one in which the rest of the inmates were being held. At 4:00 P.M. the Officer-in-Command of the Vancouver defences, Brig. D.R. Sargent, arrived and offered to receive a delegation, only to be told by the inmates that he should come to them. Eighty men from the First Irish Fusiliers were then brought to the Immigration Shed and issued police batons. At 6:00 P.M. the inmates were ordered to clean up the glass and debris. When they refused, Brigadier Sargent ordered that no evening meal be served, thus precipitating further damage by the inmates and the use of tear gas by the military. By 9:00 P.M. the soldiers had been dismissed, and Austin Taylor was frantically calming the press, calling the incident "more playful than anything else."64
The show of force by the military during the Immigration Shed incident did nothing to deter the growing protest. By May 26 another ninety-nine Nisei and naturalized had been detained for failing to obey their road camp orders, and over three hundred delinquents were still at large.65 Defiance had become popular, although the reasons for supporting it varied from person to person. Some simply did not like being pushed around and were determined to make things difficult for the authorities. Some, who faced up to six months in Oakalla Prison for breaking the dusk-to-dawn curfew, decided that voluntary internment might accomplish something where prison would accomplish nothing. Some, who believed Japan would win the war, saw voluntary internment as a way of showing their loyalty to Japan and believed they would be rewarded after victory for their suffering. These were mostly Kibei, Japaneducated Nisei. Most balked because they had become convinced that disobedience was a legitimate protest against the inhuman separation of husbands from their wives and children.66
Self-internment in demonstration of loyalty to Japan was the result of the propaganda of Japanese ViceConsul Miura. Jitaro Charlie Tanaka, advisor to the Spanish consul, explained:
The trouble with the Canadian system was it was the first time they had a war like that. They made the consul confined to his residence but they never did confine the other guys…. This guy [Miura], he is very proJapanese…. He was in Manchuria before…. and he gives a lot of talk to some Nisei, mostly Kika [Kibei], and Issei…. He says, "The war will be over in maybe half a year so why should you go like a bunch of dogs to whatever the Canadians say? When the thing is over in six months, you will be treated as a good guy [by Japan]." He did bad propaganda against the Canadian government…. A lot of Issei went there [internment camp] on the presumption the war would be over in six months.B 67
The presence of this proJapan element alienated Nisei who might otherwise have supported the Nisei Mass Evacuation Group protest. "We were sympathetic with their cause," JCCC President Kunio Shimizu explained, "but we felt firstly that it was a lost cause and secondly it was led by people we felt were not sympathetic with what we considered to be democratic causes…. Because a good number were… Kibei who were not too skilful in English,… we did help to present their views a couple of times."68
Although an illegal underground organization bitterly opposed by the JCCC, the Nisei Mass Evacuation Group had acquired some very respectable counsellors and allies. The most influential of these was Jitaro Charlie Tanaka, a naturalized Issei who had come to Canada as a child and had become a successful furniture manufacturer dealing with large Canadian department stores. A neutral figure in the pre-war Japanese community, Charlie Tanaka had been selected after the outbreak of the Pacific War to act as an advisor to, and representative of, the Spanish consul, who under the Geneva Convention was charged with the task of protecting the human rights of Japanese aliens in Canada. In this role Tanaka had unimpeded access to the BCSC, and he willingly used his office to reinforce demands for a mass uprooting. The men in the road camps, he told Mead, should be sent to the ghost towns to build accommodation for the women and children; otherwise that accommodation would not be ready before winter. At the same time he advised the largely inexperienced NMEG leaders on the conduct of their program and retained the lawyers working on their behalf.69
By the beginning of June the uprooting of Japanese Canadians had effectively ground to a halt. While shipments of women and children into the Kaslo and Greenwood ghost towns continued, the movement of men had virtually stopped. In Vancouver five hundred delinquents roamed the streets of the Japanese ghetto largely untouched, as the authorities had nowhere to put them. There was room for only fifty more in the Immigration Shed and no opportunity to ship them out, since prisoner-of-war facilities in Ontario were filled to capacity.70 More importantly, the federal government was reluctant to intern more Japanese Canadians, since holding them in POW camps was much more costly than confining them in road camps.
On June 2 the Nisei Mass Evacuation Group, at Charlie Tanaka's suggestion, held a press conference in the office of Vancouver lawyer Dennis Murphy to publicize the stalemate. Pointing out that there were currently more Japanese in Vancouver than ever before, spokesman Robert Shimoda asserted that the BCSC had refused to consider a family uprooting approach even though federal officials had given such a scheme "strong intimations of approval."71 Shimoda based his claim on the fact that Norman Robertson, the UnderSecretary of State for External Affairs, had told lawyer Paul Murphy that requests for policy changes must come from the Security Commission, not the Japanese.72 The Nisei dissidents assumed, therefore, that Taylor had only to ask to get a change of policy.
In fact, getting policy changed was not that simple. From the beginning the Commissioners of the British Columbia Security Commission had wanted Japanese Canadians moved in family units. Ottawa had favoured the road camp scheme, seeing it as the quickest means of removing Japanese Canadian males, while making effective use of their labour. Before the Commissioners could get that policy changed, they had to have a viable scheme for reuniting families, preferably one that would justify the expenses incurred in setting up the road camps and that would not arouse adverse public opinion – to which Ottawa was extremely sensitive.
The Commissioners had been working toward this objective for some three weeks prior to the NMEG press conference. In midMay Dr. Lyall Hodgins, the medical advisor to the Security Commission, had been dispatched to the Interior to assess local public opinion and the work required to make the ghost towns suitable for housing reunited families. At the same time Taylor requested the expansion of ghost town accommodation through the construction of small houses on sufficient land to enable the inmates to grow some of their own food. In addition, the Commissioners continued to investigate using Indian Residential Schools on the Prairies to house Japanese Canadian family units, and they studied the possibility of an expanded farm labour program.73
The Commissioners were helped in their task by the fact that the road camp program had proved to be a dismal failure. In its desire to get as many Japanese Canadian males away from the Coast as quickly as possible, the government had sent large numbers of old men, teenage boys, and men who had never done physical labour in their lives to the largely unmechanized camps. To the inefficiency of such unfit labour was added the deliberate inefficiency of the fit.
The Japanese road camps were healthy places physically, but very unhealthy psychologically and emotionally. Despite the government's public stance that the Japanese in the camps were only labourers and were "not to be considered as internees or prisoners in any way,"74 both Japanese Canadians and the B.C. public knew that the camps in fact were prisons. The inmates had come to them under RCMP guard and were legally unable to leave. The prison atmosphere was reinforced by the presence of four armed RCMP special constables in each camp. Officially these men were guarding the railway tracks beside which most camps were located. In the minds of the inmates and the B.C. public, however, they were guarding the Japanese, thereby giving credence to the idea that Japanese Canadians were all potential saboteurs.
In addition to the psychological problems of imprisonment, fears of impoverishment and worry over the fate of their families plagued the road camp inmates. Fear of impoverishment arose from the low wage paid in the camps. While the going rate for general labour in the B.C. Interior was 60¢ per hour,75 the government paid the inmates 25¢ to 35¢ an hour, since they felt that "enemy aliens" should not earn more than the lowestranking soldier in the Canadian army. From that wage, $22.50 per month was deducted for board and, in the case of a married man, a further $20.00 was deducted for family support. A married man earning 25¢ per hour, therefore, would net $7.50 per month if he worked eight hours a day, twenty-five days per month. Very few men, however, worked eight hours a day. The average for the camps near Revelstoke, as United Church minister Rev. W.R. McWilliams discovered in June 1942, was only two to four hours a day. The road camp scheme, McWilliams concluded, was "creating indigents."76
Fear of impoverishment was inextricably linked to fears for what would happen to their families. Many of the men in the road camps had left their families in the chaos of Hastings Park. Others had been forced to leave their homes abruptly, abandoning their families with no visible means of support. Isolated from accurate information, bombarded by rumours based on their memories of the conditions in Hastings Park, and undistracted by meaningful labour, the men in the road camps grew worried and restless. By May 1942 they were ideal targets for the agitation of troublemakers.
Every camp had its small minority of troublemakers: pessimistic and demoralized men who preyed on the fears of their fellow inmates and disrupted camp routine. Their motives varied: some were blatant proJapan agitators, while others were merely frustrated men seeking to vent their feelings.77 By June the men in the Yellowhead road camps were ready to follow the lead of the troublemakers in a program of passive resistance. Complaints to the "protecting power," the Spanish Consul, and petitions to camp officials and the Security Commission escalated to overt slowdowns and even strikes.
The strikes at Geikie and Decoigne, Alberta, and Gosnell, B.C., in mid-June 1942 paralysed those road camps. Unable to discharge the Japanese workers, and equally unable to meet their demands, the Department of Mines and Resources personnel running the camps could only wait out the strikes while complaining to Ottawa. The threat of internment, they quickly discovered, was no deterrent. It had not taken the men in the road camps long to realize that they could net more income per month at the rates paid in the internment camps than they could working in the road camps.78 In fact, the threat of internment, the Security Commission soon realized, might prolong a strike, as group pressure and a sense of common identity preserved solidarity in the striking camps. As one inmate attempted to explain to Austin Taylor, the men in the camps "support the troublemakers for the simple reason that they are all in the same boat and therefore consider it necessary to stick together."79 By June it was evident that the road camp program would fail unless the men had some hope of rejoining their families.
By May 30, Taylor was in a position to push for the reunion of Japanese Canadian families, at least for the winter months. In order to convince the Associate Deputy Minister of Labour, Arthur MacNamara, Taylor used a letter written from the road camps by a Japanese alien, Kinzie Tanaka. Tanaka was a unique observer. Legally an alien because his mother had been visiting Japan when he was born, Tanaka was culturally a Nisei and had been a vice-president of the Japanese Canadian Citizens' League. Assigned to a road camp for Japanese aliens, Tanaka found himself in a philosophical bind, aware of and sympathetic to the problems of both the Issei inmates and his Caucasian supervisors.80 In late May Tanaka advised Taylor that he could expect considerable trouble in the road camps because morale was nonexistent. "You cannot forcibly separate a man from his family and expect him to be a willing worker," Tanaka wrote.
… When these men are separated from their families they cannot help but worry about them, it would not be human otherwise. And you must realize that men cannot work with any degree of efficiency when under such mental duress….
Look at the Japanese that went to the beet fields. It wasn't because they were going to an easy occupation or a more lucrative one…. no, it was because the family was together. That is the most important point. Any plan that does not take that point into consideration will ultimately result in failure.… 81
Married men should be returned to their families, Tanaka urged, and young, single men, paid standard wages, should do the road work.
Taylor's recommendation endorsing Tanaka's opinions produced no results. Ottawa, apparently, was unconvinced that the expense of reuniting families was a necessary expense. Taylor tried again a week later. Frankly pointing out the stalemate created by the Nisei Mass Evacuation Group's protest, he reiterated that the road camp program was bound to fail because the men had no hope of rejoining their families in the foreseeable future. In Ottawa the commissioner of the RCMP, Col. S.T. Wood, concurred. "Unrest will continue and increase… as the male Japs in these camps realize that this war may last for some years," he advised Justice Minister Louis St. Laurent on June 5, 1942. Japanese families, Wood urged, should be reunited as soon as possible.82
On June 10 Assistant Commissioner Mead and the BCSC medical supervisor, Dr. Hodgins, were dispatched to Ottawa in an attempt to convince the government of the wisdom of family reunification. Hodgins was prepared to argue, on the basis of his trip to the ghost towns, that there would be little or no opposition from local residents should Japanese males join their families in the detention camps. "The white population of the Interior towns," Hodgins had reported on June 1, "almost without exception are pleased with the advent of the Japanese, are kindly, and have but one criticism which was expressed often and definitely – that the Commission was not treating these people well enough."83 Mead's arguments centred on the problem of the road camp disturbances. He saw incidents like the strike as Gosnell in mid-June as "a forerunner of more of the same kind of trouble if we do not commence to keep these families united, and that is going to be our theme song when we see Mr. Mitchell and Mr. MacNamara."84
Mead and Hodgins succeeded in person where memoranda and letters had failed. At their urging the Department of Labour scrubbed its plans for housing the uprooted families in Prairie Indian Residential Schools and authorized the building of shack camps in the Slocan Valley and on the A.B. Trites Ranch near Hope, B.C.85 The most inefficient of the road camps were ordered closed: the married men to be transferred to Slocan and Hope to build the shacks needed to house Japanese Canadians, the single men to continue building roads from the remaining road camps.
The reunion of families, however, was not announced immediately. Anxious to break the stalemate produced by the Nisei Mass Evacuation Group protest, the commissioners wanted assurances that a family uprooting would, in fact, halt Nisei disobedience. Returning to Vancouver on June 28, Mead immediately contacted Charlie Tanaka, the advisor to the Spanish consul, and asked him to set up a meeting with the leaders of the dissidents. Meeting with Shigeichi Uchibori and Etsuji Yoshida86 on June 30, Mead asked them to draw up a list of conditions that, if met, would win their cooperation. Agreeing to meet with all three commissioners the next day, the NMEG leaders retired to prepare their terms. Charlie Tanaka vividly recalls the July 1 meeting. He arrived at ten o'clock with Uchibori and Yoshida and his brother Herbert Tanaka, who was to act as an interpreter for Uchibori, a Kibei whose English was poor. "First," Charlie Tanaka recalled,
Taylor and Shirras more or less reprimanded those Mass Evacuation boys. "This is wartime and if you are not careful we can put you away just like that," Taylor says…. So I thought, "Oh my gosh! … These boys are going to be interned right away from here." It scared me…. But they [the BCSC] know that they are in trouble because nobody is moving…. At the same time the RCMP didn't want to push it too much. So after they lecture those boys for about fifteen minutes, … those two [Taylor and Shirras] went out and Mead, he said, "We got word from Ottawa. We want to see what you [want]." So they [Uchibori and Yoshida] give Mead the seven points they have written on a paper…. So Mead … reads the seven points and says, "The only thing we can't agree is that the single boys [leave the road camps] because other JCCC boys went out … and you are supposed to be bad boys according to the government because you defy the order…. You just use your head and don't shout to the public that 'We got the Security Commission where we want it!'"87
Reluctantly accepting that single men would have to continue to build roads, Uchibori and Yoshida agreed to call off the protest and to assist the Security Commission with the building of the detention camps in the Slocan Valley.88
With the announcement of family reunification, disobedience effectively died. A few continued to disobey, but the bulk of Japanese Canadians threw themselves into making the detention camps habitable. By mid-July the former protesters were leaving for Slocan in a desperate effort to prepare accommodations for 12,000 people before winter.
In Vancouver there was a corresponding flurry of activity as Japanese Canadians prepared themselves for life in the detention camps. Valuables were locked in churches, buried under back porches, or left with trusted friends in expectation that their detention would be shortlived. Warm, rough clothing, bedding, old dishes and household utensils were assembled for use in the camps. When the camp at Hope was announced, women whose husbands were in road camps along the Hope-Princeton highway scrambled to register for it, while others desperately tried to get in touch with husbands, friends and relatives in an effort to make sure that they would all be sent to the same camp. Aware that the sixteen-by-twenty-four-foot shacks were to house a minimum of eight people, Japanese Canadians awaiting shipment did their best to arrange that they would share with friends or relatives wherever possible. Somehow, while all the preparation for their uprooting was a considerable strain in itself, the activity it demanded helped to ease other strains by distracting Japanese Canadians from worrying about their uncertain future.89
By November 1942, 20,881 Japanese Canadians had been uprooted from their homes and processed through Hastings Park. Some 12,000 were housed in the shacks of the detention camps and the tenements of the ghost towns. A further 4,000 huddled in granaries and chicken coops in the Prairies, while the remainder resided in self-support communities in B.C. or had made the cross-country move to Toronto and Montreal.90 For the West Coast racists the Japanese problem seemed solved. For Japanese Canadians their problems were just beginning.