The Politics of Racism by Ann Gomer Sunahara
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The Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and Hong Kong on 7 December 1941 devastated Japanese Canadians. They were shocked that a state of war existed, amazed at the tactic that had precipitated that war, and fearful of what war would mean for themselves, both as individuals and as a group. Some were proud that Japan had shown such strength and ingenuity, and thought it meant that Japan might emerge victorious. Most were appalled. It was one thing to take on a weak and divided China1. It was quite another to so directly confront the American colossus. Gathering in their homes in small groups of family and friends, Japanese Canadians on December 7 could only speculate on the meaning of the attacks, on the outcome of the war, and, most importantly, on how the government and the public in British Columbia would react.2
In both Ottawa and British Columbia the authorities responded with deliberate action. Within hours the federal Cabinet declared war on Japan for "wantonly and treacherously" attacking British territory at Hong Kong, attacks described as "a threat to the defence and freedom of Canada." At the same time, the Cabinet issued a statement urging calm, counselling against anti-Japanese demonstrations in British Columbia, and expressing its confidence in the loyalty of Japanese aliens and Canadian-born Japanese in B.C.3
On December 8 Norman Robertson, the Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, discussed the Japanese question with the American ambassador to Canada, Jay Pierrepont Moffat. Moffat described that meeting in his journal. Robertson expressed the hope, Moffat wrote
that the two Governments would be able to concert as to their policies in regard to interning Japanese citizens. There would, of course, be a number of individual internments here, but the Government had hoped not to have to intern all Japanese. However that might be difficult in view of the treacherous nature of the Japanese attack, the evidence of premeditation, the news reports coming from Latin American countries that they had interned all Japanese residents, etc.4
Robertson seemed concerned that in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack the government might act precipitously and with undue harshness with respect to Japanese Canadians.
On the West Coast, defence decisions taken in conjunction with the Americans as early as 1938 were quickly implemented. Thirtyone Japanese aliens were taken into custody by the RCMP.5 A further seven were subsequently picked up on the suggestion of unspecified Japanese Canadian leaders. The detained men were judo instructors, veterans of the Imperial Japanese Army and minor officials in local Japanese associations. Two RCMP officers visited the Secretary of the Japanese-language schools, Tsutae Sato, and obtained his ready agreement that the language schools and the vernacular press should close in order to minimize the danger of a white backlash against the Japanese offensive. Like their German and Italian counterparts, Japanese aliens were ordered to reregister6 with the RCMP. Finally, all fishing vessels operated by Japanese Canadians were ordered by radio into the nearest port.7
At dawn on December 8 the Royal Canadian Navy began to impound the 1,200 vessels in the Japanese Canadian fishing fleet. Preassigned naval vessels proceeded from outport to outport, disabling beached vessels and escorting the rest to assembly points at Prince Rupert, Nanaimo and New Westminster.8 As Shoyama had predicted, the impounding of the Japanese Canadian fishing fleet was officially explained as a defensive measure.
The Japanese Canadian fishermen, all of whom were Canadian nationals, willingly cooperated in the roundup of their vessels. Their cooperation, however, was not without bitterness as they witnessed the mishandling of their craft during the long and difficult trips to the assembly points. Initially the inexperienced naval personnel lashed the vessels in double lines and towed them in a manner that caused them to collide together and to be swamped by the sea.9 Ordered into their vessels without notice and uninformed of their destination, many of the fishermen were inadequately clothed and provisioned for the long, cold trip down the coast to New Westminster.
The bitterness of the fishermen deepened upon arrival in New Westminster. There they found that no provision had been made to transport them back to their waiting families, many of whom had no idea where they had gone. In addition, the facilities for holding the vessels were woefully inadequate. The vessels were arriving at a rate of 125 a day; in the absence of a supervising naval officer, the weary fishermen and their naval escorts were required to moor them as best they could. The result was a jumble in which the vessels were moored 14 abreast to the Annieville dyke, without regard to their respective size or relative draught at low tide. As a result, several hundred grounded at low tide, sustaining hull damage and forcing larger vessels over onto smaller ones. By the time they were re-moored six to eight weeks later, 162 had sunk.10
Within five days of the impounding of the fishing fleet, others felt the immediate effects of the war. The Canadian Pacific Railway began discharging its section hands and porters. The example of the CPR was quickly followed by the major hotels, the Vancouver Club and sawmills in Vancouver. Japanese Canadian businesses slumped, and vandals broke the windows of a few stores and made a clumsy attempt to burn down a Japanese rooming house, prompting insurance companies to cancel fire insurance policies on buildings owned by Japanese Canadians.11
Despite the growing unemployment, Japanese Canadians were both relieved and optimistic. Leading figures in the Vancouver Japanese community expressed their keen appreciation to the RCMP for the steps taken to protect them, as they had feared that irresponsible Caucasians might attack them.12 The Nisei showed their optimism in letters to the Prime Minister in which they pledged their loyalty and again requested the privilege of serving in Canada's armed forces.13 "We are taking it in our stride," a Nisei mother and reporter for the New Canadian, Muriel Fujiwara Kitagawa, informed her brother, a student at the University of Toronto, in midDecember 1941:
We are so used to wars and alarms, and we have been tempered by antifeelings these long years…. The majority of the people are decent and fairminded, and they say so in letters too, and in opinions in the editorials. The RCMP is our friend too, for they, more than anyone else, know how blameless and helpless we are…. I personally have had no change in my relationship with my neighbours…. Most of the hakujin [whites] deplore the war but do not change to their known Japanese friends. It is the small businesses that are most affected, like dressmakers, the corner store, etc., because the clientele are rather shy of patronizing in public such places whatever their private thoughts may be…. We are Canadians and can expect decent treatment from decent people…. Let us not think of the dark side, but hope for the best.14
Even as Kitagawa emphasized the positive, she was painfully aware that the attack on Pearl Harbor had given those who hated Japanese Canadians an excuse to parade their hatred. While she could rationalize that such people were silly, absurd and uninformed, the lies, insults and attacks on Japanese Canadian loyalty galled her.15 The renewed attacks were fuelled by the conclusions such people drew from the events following December 7. The fishing fleet had been impounded as a "defensive measure," a measure which "proved" the fishermen were traitors. There were the almost daily warnings of impending Japanese attacks emanating from the panicridden and amateurish Western Defense Command Headquarters in San Francisco, warnings that "proved" that B.C. was in danger of invasion. Most importantly, there was the corroboration of the rumours of sabotage at Pearl Harbor by no less than the American secretary of the navy, Frank Knox. Returning on December 15 from a whirlwind inspection of the damages at Pearl Harbor, Knox unthinkingly and erroneously described the December 7 attack as "the most effective fifth column work that has come out of this war since Norway."16
Knox's remark stimulated an immediate change in the editorial policies of most British Columbia papers. After the Pearl Harbor attack the major newspapers, as Shoyama had predicted, had called for calm and tolerance. While conceding that some Japanese Canadians might be disloyal, they had assured their readers that the RCMP had the situation under control, and they had reminded them that Canada's quarrel was "with Japan, not with the Japanese nationals here or people of Japanese blood."17 But following Knox's statement, editorial attitudes changed. Typical of the ensuing articles was the Vancouver Sun's December 16 editorial that warned that the fate of Japanese Canadians would depend on their own conduct and that, at the slightest evidence of sabotage or lack of cooperation, British Columbia's Japanese should be interned.18
The B.C. press, unlike its American counterpart, exercised restraint through much of December. Its discussion of the Japanese problem centred on the question of whether Japanese Canadians should be allowed to continue fishing. Generally the press supported the demands of the United Federal Fishermen's Union that the Japanese be expelled from the fishing industry. Demands for the internment of all or part of the minority were confined almost exclusively to the often unsigned letters-to-the-editor.19
With the fall of Hong Kong and the capture of two thousand Canadian troops on Christmas day, organized opposition to the Japanese minority crystallized. Throughout the 1930s, while Nazi propagandists had been promoting the "big lie" of a Jewish conspiracy to overthrow Germany, B.C.'s public figures had promoted the "big lie" of a Japanese conspiracy to overthrow British Columbia. As each victory made Imperial Japan seem more invincible and B.C.'s defences more inadequate, the same public figures fanned public prejudice and criticized the federal government for failing to take drastic measures against Canada's Japanese minority. Vancouver's Alderman Wilson not only personally demanded harsher measures against Japanese Canadians – including expulsion – but also organized the Pacific Coast Security League in order to better promote his racist views.20 B.C.'s new Premier, Liberal John Hart, and his Conservative Attorney General, R.A. Maitland, publicly demanded that Ottawa Aremove the menace of Fifth Column activity from B.C."21 The mayors of five Vancouver Island communities demanded the internment of all Japanese Canadians. Several Members of Parliament from British Columbia ominously declared that both the federal government and the Japanese would suffer if drastic action were not undertaken immediately.22 Even the bulk of the Standing Committee on Orientals aligned themselves with Premier Hart against the Japanese minority. No longer constrained by the moderating influences of Prof. Henry Angus, who had gone to Ottawa as a special assistant to the Department of External Affairs, Mayor F.J. Hume, Lt. Col. A.W. Sparling, and Lt. Col. Macgregor Macintosh announced on January 5 that they favoured the internment of all male Japanese Canadians of military age.23
The anti-Japanese propaganda had infected the military, notably Maj. Gen. R.O. Alexander, Commanding-Officer-in-Chief, Pacific Command. Alexander was in close personal contact with both Premier Hart and Lieutenant Colonel Sparling, whose prejudices against Japanese Canadians he shared. Following private discussions with Hart and Sparling, Alexander wrote the Chief of General Staff in Ottawa on December 30 in support of the position of B.C.'s anti-Japanese politicians. Alexander urged the internment of Japanese males of military age as a means of calming the local population and of preventing the "interracial riots and bloodshed" that he thought might follow scheduled anti-Japanese demonstrations.24 Alexander did not tell his superiors that the demonstrations in question were being organized by the Canadian Legion.
Alexander's superiors in Ottawa, while aware of a certain potential for violence by the white population, were not impressed with Alexander's assessment. To the General Staff, punishing the victim was not the way Canadian justice was supposed to operate. In their opinion it was Alexander's duty "to block the holding of such demonstrations and parades. These things should not be allowed to get started and the most severe penalties provided by the appropriate laws should be invoked against any person or persons who insist on going ahead with such subversive and disloyal activities."25
Alexander's position was in direct opposition to that of the General Staff, who, unlike Alexander, possessed the entire defence picture. The attack on Pearl Harbor had indeed increased the dangers along Canada's coasts, but it had affected the east coast far more than the west coast. With the American entry into the war, the Pacific coast had gained the added protection of American naval and air patrols, while the East Coast was now exposed to the full fury of the German submarines, which had previously operated only in midAtlantic in accordance with Hitler's efforts to keep the United States neutral. The only danger to the Pacific Coast lay in the remote possibility of small harassment raids by Japanese forces landing from submarines.26 Even Alexander admitted that at its worst the anticipated scale of attack by the Japanese would be limited to:
bombardment by one capital ship, by 2 8-inch gun cruisers or by one merchant raider mounting medium guns. Attack by minelaying craft, submarines, small surface craft and small underwater craft. Attack by small raiding parties, seaborne or airborne. Light to medium scale bombing by shipborne aircraft on coastal and inland objectives. Slight risk of torpedo and gas attack from aircraft.27
British Columbia insecurities, as far as the General Staff was concerned, were totally unfounded. "At times," Lt. Gen. Maurice A. Pope would recall, "I almost hoped that the Japanese would attempt a raid of some kind, for this would have been repulsed and, most assuredly, our people would have recovered their balance."28
On 8 January 1942 those who believed in the loyalty of Japanese Canadians and those who hated them clashed in Ottawa. The occasion was the Conference on Japanese Problems, chaired by the ubiquitous Ian Mackenzie. Attending in support of the demands of B.C.'s politicians were Hume, Sparling and Macintosh of the Standing Committee on Orientals; B.C.'s Minister of Labour, George S. Pearson; and Comnr. T.W.S. Parsons of the B.C. Provincial Police. Before leaving British Columbia, all the B.C. delegates had pledged publicly to press for the suspension of Japanese Canadian fishing licences, the sale of Japanese Canadian fishing vessels to nonJapanese, and the internment of all male Japanese Canadians of military age. Supporting Japanese Canadians in Ottawa were Norman Robertson, undersecretary for external affairs; Dr. Hugh Keenleyside, head of the American and Far Eastern Divisions at External Affairs; H.F. Angus and Escott Reid, Keenleyside's special assistants; Col. S.T. Wood, commissioner of the RCMP, and Asst. Comnr. F.J. Mead; Lt. Gen. Maurice A. Pope, vice chief of general staff; Commodore H.E. Reid, deputy chief of naval staff; and representatives of the Departments of Labour and Fisheries, and the Office of the Press Censor.29 Convinced that the measures already undertaken were more than adequate, and fearful that further discrimination might result in retaliations against Canadian prisoners of war in Japanese hands, the military, the RCMP and the civil servants hoped the conference would allay apprehensions in British Columbia.
They were to be disappointed. The British Columbia delegation absolutely refused to accept the RCMP opinion that Japanese Canadians were loyal. Unanimously they declared that they did not trust persons of Japanese racial origin and that they considered the continuing presence of Japanese Canadians in B.C. a menace to public safety. Even if the RCMP were correct and the minority harmless, they argued, it made no difference. Indoctrinated by years of anti-Japanese propaganda, the people of B.C. could not possibly be convinced that Japanese Canadians were not a menace. Declaring that anti-Japanese riots might well break out – a possibility the police did not deny – B.C.'s representatives demanded the removal of all Japanese from the Pacific Coast.30 Besides, one B.C. delegate conceded privately to Maurice Pope, the war afforded a "heavensent opportunity to rid themselves of the Japanese economic menace for ever more."31 (Pope's emphasis.) "They spoke of the Japanese Canadians," Escott Reid, a special assistant at External Affairs, would recall, "in the way that the Nazis would have spoken about Jewish-Germans. When they spoke, I felt in that committee room the physical presence of evil."32
The situation improved only slightly on the second day of the conference. That day started badly with the B.C. delegation rejecting the argument that racial discrimination was not only unjust but inefficient and, as such, detrimental to the war effort. British Columbia, they retorted, had a surplus of labour, and white workingmen, convinced of their untrustworthyness, would refuse to work with the Japanese despite any appeal the government might make. Only Keenleyside's appeal for moderation for the sake of British subjects in the hands of the Japanese had any effect on the B.C. delegates. Reluctantly they agreed to drop their demands for the internment of all adult male Japanese Canadians, demanding instead the internment of only the aliens. The internment of male Japanese aliens, they argued, was the minimum necessary to satisfy the B.C. public and to prevent riots.33 The RCMP, the civil servants and the military, however, rejected the idea that Japanese aliens should be sacrificed on the altar of B.C. public opinion.
The conference closed with bitterness and division. While able to agree on suspending Japanese fishing licences, selling the fishing vessels to nonJapanese, prohibiting shortwave radios to Japanese aliens, and forming a civilian service corps to employ Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry, neither side would give way on the issue of the internment of Japanese aliens. At the concluding meeting B.C.'s Provincial Secretary George Pearson reiterated the threats of the B.C. delegates. The federal government, he warned, "could not expect the government of British Columbia to be enthusiastic or very effective in trying to 'sell' " Japanese Canadian policies if the views of the B.C. delegation were ignored.34 For most the conference left a bitter taste. As Lt. Gen. Maurice A. Pope later commented: "I came away from that meeting feeling dirty all over."35
The arguments of the members of the British Columbia delegation were based on their assessment of B.C. public opinion. They took no surveys but presumed that public opinion conformed with their own prejudices and with the rhetoric of their previous election campaigns. They therefore concluded that all British Columbians were smouldering with hatred for, and fear of, Japanese Canadians.
The records of Prime Minister King tell a very different story. Between 17 December 1941 and 10 January 1942, when the matter went to Cabinet, the Office of the Prime Minister received only fortyfive letters and resolutions on the subject of Japanese Canadians, twentyeight of which demanded the incarceration of all Japanese Canadians or of only Japanese aliens. Of the rest, six wanted Japanese Canadian fishing licences suspended, four wanted to use unemployed Japanese as labour in the interior of B.C., one wanted Japanese Canadians expelled from the food industry, and six wrote in support of the loyalty of Japanese Canadians.36
Although most of B.C.'s Japanese population lived on the Mainland, in or around Vancouver, of the twentyeight letters and resolutions demanding the removal of all or part of the Japanese minority, only eight had come from the Mainland. The remaining twenty came from communities in and around Victoria, where the Japanese population was comparatively small. One town with a strong antiAsian reputation, Duncan, B.C., by itself contributed four. Politicians and their riding associations were responsible for five letters and resolutions, while veterans and air raid precaution groups, mostly from the Victoria area, accounted for seven of the total.37 anti-Japanese agitation in January 1942, it would appear, was confined almost totally to certain specific and traditionally antiAsian groups near Victoria, groups without contact with Japanese Canadians, groups whose support politicians sought, and groups that had similarly agitated against German Canadians in 1940. Letters and resolutions that demanded the removal of Japanese Canadians from people who actually lived among them were conspicuous by their absence.
In contrast to B.C.'s politicians, Ira Dilworth, the CBC's Vancouver representative and a more disinterested observer, felt that the public in general was calm but that selfseeking individuals were deliberately fomenting trouble. "Most people," he reported on 6 January 1942,
have been taking a reasonable attitude toward the Japanese residents in B.C., but there has been a concerted and organized attempt on the part of certain individuals to disturb the good relations which exist and to foment trouble between Japanese and White Canadians…. Individuals such as Alderman Wilson and Capt. Macgregor Macintosh, who set themselves at the head of organizations to take direct action, are, it seems to me, in danger of wrecking the whole constitutional framework of our state…. I believe that their activities in most instances arise either from a desire to serve their own interests by gaining notoriety, or from a limited understanding of the situation.38
Concerned "that the minority be treated with justice and fairness," Dilworth urged that the CBC "should not leave undone anything in our power which would help to stabilize the situation." Within a few days, Wilson verified Dilworth's worst fears by submitting to the Victoria Daily Colonist a "dangerous and entirely false report… of an alleged clash at Prince Rupert between personnel of the Canadian Navy and Japanese fishermen."39
Now the federal Cabinet had to decide the fate of Japanese Canadians. They made their decision on the basis of the conference report written and presented by their acknowledged expert on Asian matters, Ian Mackenzie. As a man who believed that his political career depended on an antiAsian stance, Mackenzie threw the full force of his considerable influence behind the demands of the B.C. delegation. His arguments were subtle. Submitting a report that masked the strong sentiments of the B.C. delegation, Mackenzie played up the danger of rioting by the white population. Diplomatically rephrasing B.C.'s blatant demands, he proposed that Japanese aliens be "transferred" to work camps "without necessarily being interned." Such a policy, he urged, would remove the 1,700 male Japanese aliens from the West Coast, while the Canadianborn and naturalized would be "controlled" by the proposed Civilian Service Corps, a corps Mackenzie assumed they would readily join to prove their loyalty to Canada.40
To neutralize the expected objections of senior military and police officials, Mackenzie appealed to Prime Minister King's distrust of the Ottawa military establishment. As noted earlier, King in the winter of 1941-42 was locked in conflict with the military establishment on the issue of overseas conscription. To King, conscription, like Japanese Canadian policy, was an issue to be decided in the political, and not the military, arena. As an ally of King's in the conscription crisis, Ian Mackenzie was well aware of this bias. Mackenzie thus included in his presentation selected excerpts from a letter from Major General Alexander (the Officer-in-Command, Pacific Coast) to the Chiefs of General Staff that supported the B.C. arguments. At the same time Mackenzie, or his supporters in British Columbia, arranged for Alexander, to make a formal request for the internment of all male enemy aliens.41 While the brass in Ottawa opposed B.C.'s demands, Mackenzie deftly implied, the soldier on the ground supported them.
Alexander's formal request for the removal of all Japanese and Axis male aliens between sixteen and fifty mystified his superiors. Maj. Gen. Maurice Pope was "unable to agree to such a drastic step, as Vancouver is subject only to bombardment and the Japanese, of whom 80 per cent are Canadian nationals, are unarmed."42 Pope's confidence was reinforced by the assurances of the American Federal Bureau of Investigation that "both in Honolulu and at Manila Japanese residents had behaved correctly from a U.S. point of view during the attacks on those places." The position of West Coast Japanese Americans, FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover had assured RCMP Commissioner Wood "was entirely satisfactory."43
In fact, the position of Japanese Americans was under attack. The removal of enemy aliens from certain coastal areas became American policy in early January 1942. The new American policy had evolved from the dangerous mixing of traditional West Coast racism with the tactics of a military clique centred in the office of the Provost Marshall General, Maj. Gen. Allen W. Gullion. This clique, with the support of senior War Department officials, was attempting to build an administrative empire by transferring control over enemy aliens from the Justice Department to the War Department. In the Commander of the Western Defense Command in San Francisco, Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, Gullion found a very confused and rabidly anti-Japanese commander who could be persuaded that enemy aliens should not be left under civilian control. He also found a West Coast populace with welldeveloped racist traditions and fearful of a Japanese conspiracy to overthrow the Pacific coast states. To force the transfer of jurisdiction over enemy aliens, Gullion had been using DeWitt and West Coast politicians to pressure the Justice Department for stronger measures against enemy aliens, a task many of the politicians were happy to undertake, if only for the publicity it afforded them for the 1942 elections. Aware that the Justice Department opposed the creation of a massive internal bureaucracy, DeWitt and Gullion's subordinate, Col. Karl R. Bendetsen, met on 4 January 1942 with federal and local officials to demand stronger measures against enemy aliens, including their exclusion from the Pacific Coast through a passandpermit system. The failure of Justice to comply with this demand, Gullion felt, would supply the leverage he needed to effect the transfer of responsibility for aliens to his own office in the War Department. To his surprise, however, Justice Department officials agreed to remove enemy aliens from whatever coastal areas DeWitt desired, effectively frustrating Gullion's ambition.44
The American position was important because Canada and the United States had previously agreed to follow parallel policies with respect to their Japanese minorities. The agreement did not require them to consult each other when deciding policy, but only to keep each other informed of policy changes in order to bring about "a practical coincidence of policy."45 While the Americans never took this agreement very seriously, Prime Minister King did, at least as long as it served his purposes to use American policy to justify Canadian policy.
On 14 January 1942 the Cabinet appeased the demands of the British Columbia delegation in their entirety. "For reasons of national security," Japanese Canadians, although citizens, were to be prohibited from fishing for the duration of the war. Their vessels were to be sold to nonJapanese. Shortwave radios were denied to all Japanese aliens, and sales of gasoline and dynamite to any Japanese Canadian were to be strictly controlled. Most importantly, all male enemy aliens of military age were to be removed from the coastal defence zone before 1 April 1942 under an Order-in-Council that gave the Minister of Justice complete power over enemy aliens in Canada and the right to detain any resident of Canada without trial on the grounds of national security.46 Although broad and unprecedented, the new powers were not intended to be used against German and Italian aliens. As in the United States, their sole purpose was to effect the removal from the Pacific Coast of all male Japanese aliens of military age and "between 800 and 1,000 Canadian citizens" of Japanese ancestry.47
British Columbia was pleased. The B.C. press and politicians heralded the new policies as wise policies that showed that Ottawa had finally understood B.C.'s Japanese problem. Congratulating the government on its "calm and common sense view of the situation," the press predicted a rapid end to the Japanese "menace" in British Columbia.48 The returning B.C. delegates assumed full credit for the new policies. Ottawa's attitude, Mayor Hume reported to the welcoming crowd, "was that there was a lot of wild hysteria on the Pacific Coast and that the situation as far as the Japanese were concerned had been grossly exaggerated."49 Only with great difficulty and the help of George Pearson and Ian Mackenzie, he claimed, had B.C.'s views finally been accepted. Reassured that the federal government had finally understood the dangers they had long seen in the presence of the Japanese minority, B.C.'s press and politicians retired in expectation of immediate action.
Among Japanese Canadians the new policies were not entirely unexpected. After the Standing Committee on Orientals left for Ottawa on January 5, speculation and rumour had been rampant throughout the tense Japanese communities. In the fishing villages few retained any hope that their licences would be renewed and their vessels returned. Conscious that the fishing industry had long been the principal source of anti-Japanese agitation, the leaders in these villages hoped only to minimize the effects of that agitation on their own communities and on Japanese Canadians in general. At Steveston, the largest of the Japanese Canadian fishing villages, this desire took the form of a letter to the Prime Minister on January 8 that pledged the fishermen, as Canadians, to cooperate with whatever policy their government chose to set.50 In Vancouver, Shoyama feared that the government would agree to remove all Japanese males, both citizens and aliens. On January 5, he warned his readers of the growing demand for the eastward dispersal of the Japanese minority, calling the proposal monstrous.51
In early January the strain on the Japanese minority was considerable. Unemployment continued to grow as Caucasians discharged their Japanese staff. The demands on the minorityfunded Japanese Welfare Society increased daily as the unemployed sought relief within their own community, shunning, as they always had, the shame of becoming public charges. Many Nisei became cynical and negative. Instead of the British fair play they had been taught to expect, they were fired from their jobs because they were "Japs." Even the University of British Columbia refused to recognize their Canadian status. In early January the Nisei at UBC were expelled without explanation from the Canadian Officer Training Corps. Nisei disappointment even pervaded the idealistic New Canadian. "It is a sorry day for all of us," Shoyama wrote on learning of the COTC expulsions, "thus to see fear, even at the university, so warp the wheel of British justice that not only are the accused now convicted unless they can prove themselves innocent, they are not even given the chance to prove themselves not guilty."52 Buffeted from all sides, Japanese Canadians could only wait for some relief from the tensions induced by the uncertainty of their fate.
The announcement on 14 January 1942 of the intended removal of male aliens threatened the entire social and economic structure of the Japanese community. To remove the 1,700 male aliens was to remove many of the minority's most influential leaders. Most of the Issei had made their commitment to Canada in the 1920s when they established their families and began their farms and businesses. After 1923, however, prejudice and policy changes made it almost impossible for Issei to become naturalized. As a consequence, by 1942 over 24 per cent of Japanese Canadian wage earners were still aliens, including the bulk of the employers within the Japanese minority.53
Like the Jews in Europe when confronted with antiSemitic Nazi edicts, Canada's Japanese in January 1942 sought only to find out what they could salvage from the growing tragedy. Accompanied by pleas for calm from the New Canadian, the Japanese Canadians sought clarification of the new policy. From how large an area would the male aliens be removed? How many families would be separated? Who would qualify for the special permits that would allow some Japanese aliens to stay with their families? Would any special consideration be given to those aliens who had applied for naturalization? What would happen to the families of those removed, and to their homes, farms and businesses? Where were they to go? How were they to earn their living?
While the Issei waited for the answers to their questions, new complications arose. By announcing that the Japanese aliens were being removed in order to prevent sabotage and collaboration with potential landing parties,54 the federal government had branded Japanese aliens as dangerous subversives. Some labourshort areas in the Interior of B.C., which had earlier viewed the unemployed Japanese fishermen as a source of cheap labour for road work and fruit picking, rapidly withdrew their proposals and demanded that Japanese aliens be kept in work camps under military guard. All provincial Premiers objected to the movement of Japanese aliens into their province. Demands arose from farming areas that the removed Japanese be prevented from purchasing farmland.55 Handicapped by poor English, worried about their families and property, and aware of the growing hostility towards them, the aliens were understandably reluctant to leave the West Coast on their own. Although an adventurous one hundred quickly moved themselves and their families from the Coast, most chose to wait and see what the government proposed.56
The government's proposals were slow in coming. On both sides of the border the authorities were discovering that the definition of defence areas, and the removal of aliens from them, was no simple matter. Before Japanese aliens could be removed, employment had to be found for them and road camps constructed – both difficult tasks when winter hindered the construction of camps and the aliens were assumed dangerous by the public. Consequently, the details of the proposed removal of Japanese aliens were not clarified until February 9, over three weeks after the initial announcement.57 At the same time, the formation of the proposed Civilian Service Corps for Japanese Canadian citizens languished. While the New Canadian had initially endorsed the corps as a solution to the unemployment problem caused by the war, the Nisei, like their parents, had adopted a cautious attitude. The more the press and politicians talked of the service corps as a means of "controlling" Nisei and naturalized Japanese Canadians, the more cautious they became. Sensitized by the mounting hate and prejudice against them, the increasingly disillusioned Nisei wanted full details before committing themselves. Such details, however, simply did not exist. Planning for the corps was neglected while the Minister responsible, Labour Minister Humphrey Mitchell, lacking a seat in the House of Commons, fought the byelection necessitated by his recent Cabinet appointment.
Ottawa's apparent inertia aggravated West Coast insecurities. By agreeing to remove the Japanese aliens "for reasons of national security," the government had confirmed the "big lie" of a Japanese conspiracy to overthrow British Columbia. Having confirmed B.C.'s fears, Ottawa's disinclination to act only magnified those fears and reinforced B.C.'s traditional complaint that Ottawa really did not care about the West Coast.
West Coast insecurities were intimately related to the public's perception of the inadequacy of B.C.'s defences. Those defences were intended only to repel harassment raids by small forces, the only sort of attacks, besides air raids from aircraft carriers, the General Staff in Ottawa considered possible.58 Consequently, defence consisted of air and sea patrols intended to find and intercept raiding parties, and mobile army units to repel any landing forces. The greatest weakness in the defence plan lay in the inadequate number of antiaircraft guns available to defend Victoria and Vancouver. Such weapons were unavailable, as military planners considered the need for antiaircraft guns greater in Britain than in B.C., where the danger of air raids was minimal.59 Conditioned since 1905 – when Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War – to expect an invasion by Japan, the public in British Columbia saw only that their defences were inadequate to halt such an invasion. They wanted greater protection against the hordes they assumed would invade, and they wanted removed from the province those they had been told would aid that invasion.
Throughout January and February B.C.'s invasion fears were further stimulated by fresh rumours of impending attack and sabotage. While many of these rumours were homegrown,60 many had their origins in false reports originating in the United States. There DeWitt's Western Defense Command Headquarters continued to disseminate reports of nonexistent sightings of Japanese craft, and of radio signals emanating from Japanese agents on the Mainland. These reports have since been demonstrated to have been patently false, but they were used by the Provost Marshall General, Maj. Gen. Allan Gullion, to convince civilian officials in Washington of the "military necessity" of the emergency measures he was proposing, measures that now included the incarceration of all Japanese Americans.61 By the end of January DeWitt had also devised the perfect proof that Japanese Americans were disloyal. The fact that there had been no sabotage by Japanese Americans, he claimed, did not prove that they were loyal, but that they were being controlled by Japan in preparation for future coordinated sabotage.62 It was an argument calculated to appeal to the irrational fears of many West Coast residents.
In Ottawa resurgent anti-Japanese sentiment took the form of an attack on the Nisei and the naturalized Japanese Canadians. Continuing to argue that all Japanese Canadians were disloyal, Liberal and Conservative Members of Parliament from B.C. now urged that male Nisei and naturalized Japanese Canadians should also be compelled to leave the protected area along the Pacific coast.
The attacks of the British Columbia M.P.'s disturbed the moderates at External Affairs. On January 23 they attempted to diffuse the issue by preparing a report for the B.C. M.P.'s on the progress of the policy to remove male Japanese aliens. In that report the moderates emphasized that the "Defence Department did not ask for the removal of either Canadians of Japanese race or Japanese nationals." They pointed out that the degeneration of the war with Japan into a racial confrontation would jeopardize the support of India and China. They expressed their concern that "persons acting from interested motives" were using the natural resentment over the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to "create an atmosphere very much like that which made possible the German action against the Jews." They urged that steps be taken to stop the "war nerves" of the West Coast and to cope with the "social welfare problem of some magnitude" likely to develop through the separation of alien males from their families.63
On January 26 Hugh Keenleyside, the primary defender of Japanese Canadians at External Affairs, appealed to Ian Mackenzie as chairman of the newly created Cabinet Committee on Japanese Questions.64 Keenleyside reminded him that at the January meeting careful distinction had been made between Japanese aliens and Canadian nationals of Japanese ancestry. The compulsory removal of male Canadian nationals, Keenleyside argued, was not only unnecessary, it was downright dangerous. "Enquiries have already been made by the Japanese government," he warned, "… as to the meaning of recent decisions relating to the treatment of Japanese in Canada." (Keenleyside's emphasis.) Any policy carried out on racial grounds, he stressed, "would be used for propaganda purposes throughout Asia, and would certainly be reflected in the treatment accorded Canadian and British prisoners in Japanese hands." Keenleyside made no attempt to mask his contempt for the extremists in B.C. To satisfy a few knownothing extremists, he concluded, the government was being asked to adopt a policy that was not only inherently unjust, but would place "some two thousand residents of Winnipeg and Quebec* in jeopardy."65 In his appeal Keenleyside did everything but specifically point out to Mackenzie that should the more extreme policy be implemented, those who would suffer in both Asia and Canada would be Canadians.
Keenleyside's appeal fell on deaf ears. Ian Mackenzie was in no mood to be reasonable. In attempting to convince the Cabinet to remove the enemy aliens, he had dropped all subtlety. While he had consoled B.C. Premier John Hart after that first success with the thought that "we went as far as we could possibly go in regard to the Japanese question,"66 he was not about to pass up any opportunity to go further. Ever sensitive to the power of an Asian issue in the political arena, Mackenzie was angry with his political opponents and colleagues in B.C. who were claiming the credit for the removal of the Japanese aliens, credit that Mackenzie felt belonged to himself, George Pearson and A.W. Sparling.67 Mackenzie was not prepared to allow a Conservative opponent to accuse him of being soft on the Japanese menace. On the contrary, Mackenzie was not only ready to join the clamour for the compulsory removal of all male Japanese Canadians of military age, he was ready to lead it.
Mackenzie began this undertaking the day he received Keenleyside's letter. At a meeting he called of the Cabinet Committee on Japanese Questions on January 27, Mackenzie had the Standing Committee on Orientals dissolved, killing its usefulness as a political platform for the Conservatives. At the same time he carefully drew attention to the lack of volunteers for the Civilian Service Corps, which had been intended to siphon off the bulk of the able-bodied Nisei and naturalized Japanese Canadians. Under this guise he introduced a recommendation that compulsion should be considered if Japanese Canadians failed to join the corps in sufficiently large numbers.68 With the seed for the compulsory removal of Japanese male citizens planted, Mackenzie sought and received the public support of all fifteen Liberal and Conservative Members of Parliament from British Columbia,69 setting in motion a concerted campaign of pressure and influence in support of the compulsory removal of all Japanese Canadians. While the most virulent of the British Columbia M.P.'s immediately demanded the removal of all Japanese Canadians, and even their deportation from Canada, the more subtle, like Mackenzie, began building support for the removal of all Japanese Canadians from around strategic installations, while intimating that the families of the male aliens already scheduled for removal would probably prefer to join their men east of the Rocky Mountains. For Mackenzie and his B.C. colleagues, the issue had never been whether or not to remove the citizen males of military age, rather whether that removal should be voluntary or compulsory.70
The fall of Singapore on February 15 brought matters to a head. Psychologically the capitulation of Singapore could not have happened at a worse time. For a month British Columbians had been following the Malayan campaign with growing anxiety as the Japanese inflicted defeat after defeat on the British and Australian forces retreating to the safety of what they thought was an impregnable fortress at Singapore. At the same time municipal politicians in Victoria and Vancouver had been fighting their own battle with Ottawa over the funding of air raid precaution units. The politicians, reflecting the invasion fears of their constituents, wanted more funds, more men and more equipment. When those demands were rejected without explanation as Singapore surrendered, morale in British Columbia hit an alltime low. The illinformed and chauvinistic public and press speculated that the fall of Singapore would free Japanese forces to attack the Pacific coast, a coast which Ottawa in its continuing neglect had left woefully unprotected from attack from without and sabotage from within. "There is a growing impatience," the editors of the Vancouver Daily Province warned, "with the seeming inability of Ottawa to tell the people on this coast quite frankly what has been done and what it is proposed to do."71
Ottawa's silence had its roots in the deep difference of opinion between the Prime Minister and the military over how the war should be conducted. To the military the needs of home defence were purely secondary. The presence of British and American naval forces in the Atlantic and American naval supremacy in the eastern Pacific precluded any invasion or largescale attack on either coast. The Japanese could be expected to concentrate for some time to come on consolidating their gains in Southeast Asia and extending their operations into Burma and Australia. The Chiefs of Staff Appreciation of 19 February 1942 was explicit:
Under the present conditions an invasion on either coast is not considered to be a practicable operation of war…. The immense distances involved and the maintenance of superior United States naval forces in the American Pacific [preclude the possibility of a largescale seaborne expedition]…. The consolidation of her gains in the southwest Pacific would produce more attractive results for Japan… with far less risk. Enemy strategical aims which affect the direct defence of Canada are limited to raids which may include carrierborne air attack, sporadic naval bombardment, small landing parties for the destruction of selected objectives, and submarine activity.72
The present system for home defence, the General Staff was confident, was adequate to meet the expected smallscale nuisance raids. The greatest danger, in their opinion, lay in concentrating Canada's efforts on home defence, thereby leaving the enemy free to defeat Canada's allies abroad. As far as the military was concerned, the war in Europe and the supply of men and materials to that theatre should receive top priority. Home defence was adequate.73
The Prime Minister disagreed. Home defence, he had decided, was his best defence against overseas conscription, his paramount concern. Englishspeaking Canada demanded conscription; Frenchspeaking Canada abhorred it; and King hoped he had found a means to satisfy them both. About the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, King had decided to defuse the situation with a half measure, a plebiscite in which the voters would be asked to release the government from its commitment against overseas conscription. His intention was not to impose conscription, but to lay the question to rest.74 Moving towards conscription would please Englishspeaking Canada, while refraining from actually imposing it would keep most of the sixtyone Liberal M.P.'s from Quebec in line. With the bill authorizing that plebiscite due before the Commons for its final reading on February 25, King was intent on promoting his best argument against overseas conscription: the needs of home defence. King recognized that peril on the Pacific Coast, whether real or imagined, would strengthen his position on home defence. On February 20 he lectured the Cabinet on the subject of home defence. Summarizing that lecture in his diary, he recalled:
I was glad to see the Defence Ministers come round to the point of view that we would have to take increasing account of the possibility, though not the probability of invasion. I pointed out the possibility of the Burma Road being closed; China dropping out if the Japanese continue to win; uprisings in India; strategic centres of the world in the hands of the enemy cutting off routes of supply, and the possibility of something more than mere raids on the coasts, resulting therefrom. Stressed the need of now regarding Japan as a potential aggressor in this continent; especially with Alaska a part of it…. Stressed from now on giving more attention to purely Canadian defences and to considering possible dangers from coastal air raids, all of which would necessitate increased numbers of soldiers in Canada…. The Japanese problem in B.C. itself might become a very difficult one to handle requiring more in the way of troops.75
With almost as many "ifs" as Rudyard Kipling's poem, King sought to convince his opponents of "the possibility, though not the probability," of an invasion of the West Coast. Just how much of King's assessment was based on political considerations and how much on a genuine fear of the power of Japan will never be known. Military historian C.P. Stacey has commented on "that wishful exaggeration of the direct threats to Canada which was characteristic of King and his civilian advisors," and which led them subsequently to order unnecessary reinforcements to the Pacific Coast for political reasons.76 Indeed, King's concern for the Pacific Coast vanished as soon as the plebiscite bill passed Parliament on 25 February 1942. By February 27, a week after his lecture to the Cabinet and three days after the Cabinet's decision to uproot Japanese Canadians, King was disagreeing with Vancouver columnist Bruce Hutchison about the immediacy of any danger to the Pacific Coast. As he commented in his diary: "Hutchison seemed to think the Japanese invasion would come via the Aleutian Islands, Alaska and Canada. I told him that was my own view, if the Japanese succeeded in getting the whole of the Far East, but I thought that the immediate developments would be in India."77 Becoming obsessed with a "possible but not probable" problem was inconsistent with King's political behaviour, which was always soundly based on the political reality of a situation. King was not a man given to panic unless that panic served his purpose, and in mid-February 1942 King's purpose was to defuse the allimportant conscription crisis. If the fiction that the West Coast was in extreme danger would marginally assist that purpose, King was not above using it to his advantage.
In the midst of the conscription crisis British Columbia's anti-Japanese paranoia was a minor irritation to Ottawa. Agitation against the Japanese had been expected and had been handled in the usual manner: a conference followed by a Cabinet decision taken under the guidance of the Minister assumed to be the best qualified to judge the situation, Ian Mackenzie. With the conscription crisis paramount, there was little inclination in Ottawa to seek an innovative answer to the seemingly unimportant "Japanese problem." The traditional approach was followed: the advice of civil servants like Keenleyside was weighed against the political assessment of Ian Mackenzie. The latter assessment predominated in Cabinet where the tradition of buying political power at the expense of unpopular minorities was still considered a realistic and legitimate tactic.
By February 19 Mackenzie's campaign for the removal of all male Japanese Canadians had borne fruit. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet had agreed that all adult male Japanese Canadians should be removed from the West Coast, but they were still divided on how and when that removal could be effected. King justified his support for compulsory removal with an ironic twist of Keenleyside's warning that further discriminations might lead to retaliations on Allied POWs. If the male Japanese were not removed, King rationalized, interracial riots might occur that would themselves lead to repercussions on Allied prisoners of war in Asia.78 As in the past, the civil rights of the disenfranchised Japanese Canadians simply did not matter. It was easier to solve the problem by punishing the defenceless victims of possible riots rather than by taking action against Alderman Halford Wilson and the other agitators who could retaliate against the government with their votes. The fact that Japanese Canadians were disenfranchised was fundamental in the opinion of Jack Pickersgill, King's executive assistant in 1942. "I have always felt," he recalled, "that if the Japanese had had the vote it would not have happened in the way it did…. I don't think that any Liberal government in the 1940s would have dared to take the vote away from anyone."79 In addition King was unlikely to discriminate against anyone whose vote he wanted. Disenfranchised, however, Japanese Canadians were prime scapegoats for B.C.'s fears, fears that because of the conscription crisis King would not admit were totally unfounded.
February 19 was also a day of infamy for Japanese Americans. While the Canadian Cabinet vacillated over how to remove adult male Japanese Canadians, President Roosevelt, through Executive Order 9066, gave the War Department the powers it needed to remove the 110,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry in the Pacific coast states. Executive Order 9066 allowed any designated military commander to exclude "any and all persons" from any designated area within his command. Mass removal became official policy the next day when the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, authorized rabidly anti-Japanese General DeWitt to use the broad powers of the new order. Those powers would be applied only to Japanese Americans, although DeWitt personally wished to include German and Italian aliens in the removal scheme. Because removing German and Italian aliens would have been unpopular, and hence politically unwise, Stimson quickly censored DeWitt's zeal. To discriminate against the Japanese was all right; to discriminate against Yankee Joe DiMaggio's parents was not.80
Roosevelt supported the War Department's repressive proposal because of political considerations very similar to those influencing Prime Minister King. Like King, Roosevelt was preoccupied with a much larger issue: in his case the mobilization of the American war effort in the face of continuing defeats in the Pacific theatre. Under extreme pressure to get the formerly isolationist United States onto a wartime footing, Roosevelt wanted and needed the full cooperation of Congress and a unified effort from his bipartisan Cabinet. The removal of the Japanese minority would be a popular move. It would please both Congress and his Japanophobic Republican Secretaries of War and the Navy. Removing the Japanese was not only politically expedient; it was also safe. Few Americans were likely to object to the racist action if it were clothed in the useful garment of "military necessity."
Roosevelt had no qualms about discriminating against Japanese Americans. Although aware that some of his advisors felt strongly that Japanese Americans posed no threat to national security, Roosevelt personally harboured deep anti-Japanese prejudices and was convinced that the Japanese minority was dangerous. His prejudices – reinforced by the prodding of his Republican secretary of the navy, Frank Knox – would prompt Roosevelt to push for the internment of Hawaii's 160,000 Japanese Americans until bluntly informed by his Chief of General Staff, General George C. Marshall, that neither Hawaiian nor Continental Japanese Americans ever posed a threat to American security.81
The American action sealed the fate of Japanese Canadians. The Cabinet had already decided to remove all male Japanese Canadians and had assumed that the dependents of those men would voluntarily join them outside the "protected" coastal area. To conform with the American policy, Canada had only to add a forced removal of those dependents to their existing plans. To assume responsibility for the wives and children of the relocated men would change only the means, not the end product, of existing Canadian policy. Both methods assured Mackenzie's goal: the obliteration of the Japanese problem in British Columbia.
Five days later Mackenzie got the action he wanted. On the morning of 24 February 1942 the Cabinet passed an Order-in-Council almost identical to the American Executive Order.82 P.C. 1486 empowered the Minister of Justice to remove and detain "any and all persons" from any designated "protected area" in Canada. As in the American case the powers were broad enough to be used against anyone – citizen or alien, white or nonwhite, as individuals or as a group – but would be applied only to the Japanese minority.–
It is obvious that the Cabinet as a whole was never given all the facts. Their main source of information was Ian Mackenzie, who lied about the demands of public opinion in B.C. When Mackenzie informed his Cabinet colleagues on February 24 that he was being "besieged with telegrams and letters" demanding the uprooting of Japanese Canadians, he had in fact received only eighteen anti-Japanese resolutions and nine letters in the twelve weeks since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Similarly, Prime Minister King had received only one hundred letters and resolutions demanding the removal of all or part of the Japanese minority, less than forty of which were received in February. Most of these one hundred petitions came from the same groups that had demanded the incarceration of German and Italian aliens in 1940, demands that the federal government had wisely ignored.83 Jack Pickersgill contends that fear of a pogrom, not fear of the Japanese, motivated the Cabinet:
I don't think that there was a member of the Cabinet who really honestly believed [the Japanese were dangerous]. Most of them didn't pay much attention. It was a British Columbian problem and a Justice problem…. I don't think that any of the Ministers who dealt with this problem believed that the Japanese Canadian community was any real danger in itself, but they were afraid that there might be a pogrom…. Mackenzie King certainly was afraid. I know that.84
If Prime Minister King was motivated by a desire to protect Japanese Canadians, his public announcement of their impending removal from the Pacific Coast made no mention of it. Japanese Canadians, King announced on 25 February 1942, were being moved for reasons of national security, in order to safeguard the defences of the Pacific Coast.85 To the illinformed Canadian public, that meant only one thing. If the Japanese population were being uprooted for reasons of national security, then the charges of British Columbia politicians must be true. Japanese Canadians, therefore, must all be dangerous traitors.86 Whether the government actually believed this or whether, as it later claimed, it was seeking only to protect the Japanese from the white majority, the effect of the compulsory removal of the innocent Japanese was to libel them as traitors.
The uprooting of Canada's Japanese minority from the Pacific Coast was not in reality based on national security. Indeed, the entire policy was strongly opposed by Canada's top military and police officers. The military again showed their disapproval on February 26. Rejecting the suggestion that the uprooting of Japanese Canadians be carried out by the army, National Defence Minister J.L. Ralston turned King's home defence priority against him. Men, he claimed, could not be spared from home defence for the purpose of moving Japanese Canadians. He stated that if Japanese Canadians were to be moved, they should be moved by a civilian agency, reiterating by implication that the removal of Japanese Canadians from the Pacific Coast was not a security matter.87 As far as the military were concerned, the removal of Japanese Canadians was a political problem to be solved by civilians. The uprooting was, in the words of the Japanese Canadians' chief defender Hugh L. Keenleyside, "a cheap and needless capitulation to popular prejudice fanned by political bigotry or ambition or both."88 The politically inspired demands of British Columbia's Liberal and Conservative Members of Parliament – demands that marginally supported the Prime Minister's position on the allimportant conscription crisis – found ready sympathy in a government that was traditionally unconcerned with the rights of nonwhite minorities and that was unwilling to risk white votes to assure justice to nonwhites. Unwilling because of the conscription crisis to allay British Columbia's unwarranted fears of invasion and sabotage, the Cabinet ignored the counsel of Canada's military leaders and civil servants, and appeased B.C.'s demands. As Escott Reid, a career diplomat with External Affairs, would later recall: "The politicians appealed to the Prime Minister against the civil servants. The politicians won and Canada committed an evil act."89
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