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The Politics of Racism by Ann Gomer Sunahara

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8: Seeking Civil Rights and Compensation

The tide had turned. The time had come for Japanese Canadians to build anew. The time had come to seek compensation for the pain and trauma they had experienced, for the economic losses they had suffered and for the lies that had libelled them as traitors in the minds of their fellow Canadians. Canada's Japanese minority realized that their wartime experiences must not be ignored. The Canadian government must be made to acknowledge the injustice they had suffered, to restore their civil liberties, and to pay compensation for their losses; to fail to do so, they knew, would mean that the wartime myths of Japanese Canadian disloyalty would continue.

In January 1947 the federal government had no intention of either immediately granting Japanese Canadians full rights and privileges or of compensating them in any manner. Publicly the federal government still clung to the stance that Japanese Canadians had suffered no injustice. The government maintained that the wartime measures imposed upon them were nothing more than necessary measures to alleviate the wartime emergency created by their presence on the Pacific coast. There was, therefore, no obligation to compensate them for any inconvenience they may have suffered.1

The federal government wanted the Japanese question to die, and so sought to trivialize the remaining issues. On 24 January 1947 Prime Minister King explained to Parliament that restrictions on the movement of Japanese Canadians to and within British Columbia were being continued only to ensure the success of the resettlement program. The government was satisfied, King reiterated, that the sale of Japanese property in B.C. had been made at a fair price since the total amount obtained from those sales exceeded the government's appraised values.2 The government chose not to disclose that its appraised values were arbitrarily low.

King's rationalizations, however, did not appease the CCF. The war was over. The CCF saw no justification for continuing to prohibit Japanese Canadians from returning to the Pacific Coast as the Japanese Americans had been allowed to do two years before. Accordingly, when Bill C-104 was introduced in April 1947 to extend the life of the National Emergency Powers Act of 1945 for another year, the CCF attempted to have the Order-in-Council denying Japanese Canadians freedom of movement annulled by Parliament. The debate on Bill C-104 revealed subtle but important changes in attitudes toward Japanese Canadians. When replying to the CCF arguments, the B.C. M.P.'s showed uncharacteristic restraint. Carefully acknowledging liberalizing postwar attitudes, several M.P.'s denied that racial prejudice underlay their opposition to Japanese Canadians. They claimed that the security of British Columbia demanded the continued exclusion of Japanese Canadians. The repatriation requests of two years previously, they argued, were proof that Japanese Canadians were loyal to Japan, not to Canada. Ian Mackenzie, soon to be ousted from the Cabinet, argued that the rest of Canada had no right to interfere with British Columbia policies on Japanese matters. To deny British Columbia "the right to adequate internal security," he charged, "would be striking a blow against Confederation."3 Arguing for the government, Labour Minister Humphrey Mitchell claimed that the restrictions on Japanese Canadians were "in the best interests of the Japanese themselves," and were not harsh compared with what Canadians trapped in Japan by the war had suffered.4 Mitchell still could not understand that Japanese Canadians were as Canadian as the Caucasians trapped in Japan by the outbreak of the Pacific War.

While the restraint of the B.C. M.P.'s was encouraging, the response of most Members of Parliament was discouraging. After two days of debate, the CCF motion was defeated. Only 2 Conservatives and 4 Liberals supported the CCF, while 107 M.P.'s failed to be present for the vote.5 In the aftermath of the deportation furor, it appeared that both Parliament and the federal government were slipping back into their traditional methods and prejudices when dealing with the Japanese question.

The shallowness of Prime Minister King's liberalism was revealed again in the spring of 1948. At that time King found himself in what he considered to be a tight political situation. The 1945 election had given him only a 5-seat majority over the combined opposition, an opposition that was working well together in 1948. In late 1947 two vacancies occurred through the death of a Liberal member from Ontario and the resignation of a Conservative from Yale, British Columbia. In mid-January 1948 King also finally decided that Ian Mackenzie's alcoholism had become so aggravated that he was neglecting his ministry and had lost the respect of Cabinet.6 Removing Mackenzie through promotion to the Senate, however, raised the spectre of a by-election for his Vancouver Centre seat, a seat he had only narrowly held against a strong CCF assault.

After carefully weighing the odds, King decided to risk Mackenzie's seat and sought advice on how to minimize that risk. Would a repeal of the Order-in-Council prohibiting Japanese Canadians from returning to the Pacific Coast affect the by-election, King asked B.C.'s Liberal Premier Byron "Boss" Johnson on 25 January 1948. Repealing that Order, Johnson replied, would make losing the Vancouver Centre seat a certainty. King decided that in a choice between Japanese Canadian civil liberties and winning a by-election the civil liberties must suffer; he sought Cabinet approval for an extension of the restrictions on Japanese Canadians.

Cabinet approval, however, was not automatic. Japanese Canadians now had a friend in Cabinet, Justice Minister J.L. Ilsley. "History," Ilsley informed King, "would denounce the party for having continued those orders." "History," King replied, "would condemn a Government standing for certain principles if it allowed itself to be defeated and an enemy government take its place, when it has within its power to carry on…. One had always to take the larger view."7 Principles, he thus implied, were secondary in politics. Staying in power was more important.

The position of liberals like Ilsley, however, could not be ignored. Nor could the Canadian public be given a political explanation for the unwillingness of the Liberal government to allow Japanese Canadians the same freedom of movement as their American counterparts. Accordingly, a compromise was reached. The restricting Order-in-Council was replaced by an Order-in-Council that revoked the restrictions on Japanese Canadians on 31 March 1949 C a full year later and seven years after their initial uprooting.8 The new order meant that the restrictions would still be in force during the by-election but that Ilsley and the liberals in the Cabinet could console themselves that these would soon be abolished.

King now had to convince the Liberal caucus to support the new Order-in-Council. Meeting with the caucus on 18 February 1948 King began by endorsing the principle of minority rights. However, he asked rhetorically, which minority should be first protected: Japanese Canadians or British Columbia's Liberals? King informed the caucus that every one of the last group, "felt that the order should be extended and that if it were not, the consequences would be very serious for the party in British Columbia."9 The choice, in King's opinion, was between the Japanese minority and the Liberal Party, and the Party came first. The caucus concurred. To further assure that the new Order would not be annulled by Parliament, it was presented to Parliament at a poorly attended Saturday session. It passed, over CCF objections, by a vote of 73 to 23. The Liberal candidates in Yale and Vancouver Centre, in whose interests the restrictions on Japanese Canadians had been extended, subsequently lost to CCF candidates.10 Restricting the civil liberties of Japanese Canadians for a seventh year, in the final analysis, accomplished nothing.

In 1948 B.C.'s provincial politicians were also learning the hard way to re-evaluate the racial attitudes of the general public. Three days after Premier Johnson had advised King to continue the restrictions on Japanese Canadians, he was chastised by the B.C. public for his racism. The occasion was the re-institution of a regulation prohibiting the use of Japanese labour in the logging industry, a regulation that had been suspended during the war in the interests of wartime production.11 Its re-institution meant that 800 Japanese Canadian forest workers faced unemployment, and the companies employing them – mostly small companies in the labour-short Interior – faced bankruptcy.

Public reaction took the provincial government by surprise. Instead of quiet agreement, the government found vocal opposition. The International Woodworkers of America charged that owners dismissing their Japanese employees because of the regulation would be violating their contracts with that union. The operators affected by the regulation quickly and strongly protested the ban, both individually and through the Canadian Manufacturers' Association. At the same time, the Vancouver branch of the Canadian Civil Liberties Union, the provincial executive of the Japanese Canadian Citizens' Association and the opposition CCF party all publicly condemned the regulation and sought to interview the provincial Cabinet. In addition, the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council and unions in other industries all supported the protesters. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, British Columbia's formerly anti-Japanese press condemned the regulation as "an act of deplorable discrimination."12 In the absence of corresponding public support for retaining the regulation, the Government of British Columbia wisely bowed to liberal pressure and abolished the offending regulation.13 Growing public pressure, liberal in nature, had finally succeeded in discrediting B.C.'s traditionally racist employment policies.

The forest workers incident in January 1948 and the by-election defeats in May finally convinced the B.C. Liberal machine of the futility of an anti-Japanese stance. By June 1948 only one Member of Parliament from British Columbia bothered to object to Bill C-138, which granted the federal franchise to Japanese Canadians in British Columbia. Unsupported, even he dropped his objections and Bill C-138 passed unopposed on 15 June 1948.14 Recognizing the futility of continuing to deny Japanese Canadians the provincial franchise, Premier Johnson presented a similar bill to the provincial legislature on 7 March 1949. Passed amid minimal resistance, the bill became law on 24 March 1949, thereby destroying the legal basis for all discriminatory laws against Japanese Canadians in British Columbia.15

By the spring of 1949 only the question of compensation remained, and a partial solution to it was in progress. While the first impulse of the federal government had been to deny that any losses had occurred, federal officials knew as early as 1944 that that fiction would be impossible to maintain. By 1944 the Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property had begun to doubt the fairness of the bulk sale of Japanese Canadian farms to the Veterans' Land Act administration. By 1944 farms withdrawn from that sale because of title difficulties had begun to sell for amounts considerably in excess of the VLA offer. By June 1946 sixty-five such farms had been sold to private buyers at an average price of more than double the VLA offer, an increase that could not be explained by wartime inflation alone.16 Japanese Canadians had less specific data on which to base their doubts about the propriety of the sale of their property. They knew only that their farms, homes and businesses had all too often been sold by the Custodian for less than the owners had been offered by neighbouring farmers when they were uprooted in 1942. Moreover, the disappointment over the low sale prices had been compounded by the fact that the government had deducted relief payments from the proceeds before forwarding the residue to the owner. The paltry sums reaching the owners only reinforced rumours of profiteering, graft, and mismanagement by the government.17

In the fall of 1946 the Japanese Canadian Committee for Democracy in Toronto tried to determine just how true the rumours of unfair sales were. To find out, they undertook a comprehensive survey of the economic losses of the 198 family heads who had resettled in Toronto. The respondents were asked to list all possible types of losses, keeping their estimates as accurate and as conservative as possible. To ensure accuracy, the JCCD enlisted the assistance of knowledgeable Issei who had known the properties or had been in the same businesses.18

The results surprised even the most cynical Japanese Canadians. The 198 Toronto families estimated the aggregate value of their prewar property at over $1.6 million. Of that property, fully $1.3 million had been sold off by 1946, netting the owners slightly over $500,000. The portion that the owner recouped varied according to the type of property. The best returns, 55 per cent, were obtained on automobiles; businesses, personal property and Fraser Valley farms returned the least to their owners. Returns on businesses were highest when the owner sold it himself, presumably because such sales occurred during or shortly after the uprooting, and before the business had suffered the neglect of an absentee owner or overworked administrator. Similarly, those who liquidated their personal property on uprooting fared slightly better than those who, hoping to return soon, stored their belongings. By contrast, trucks and cars sold by their owners into the flooded market of the spring of 1942 returned slightly less than vehicles sold later by the Custodian of Enemy Property. Only 16 per cent of the Japanese Canadian property surveyed, however, had been sold in forced sales. The rest, some 84 per cent, was sold by the Custodian or, in the case of fishing vessels, by the Japanese Fishing Vessel Disposal Committee.

The overall losses were staggering. The estimated losses on sold property approached $800,000, while an additional $300,000 worth of property remained unaccounted for or had been lost, stolen or destroyed. When combined with the estimated lost revenue and wages, and sundry other losses, gross losses for the 198 families surveyed approached $4 million for the five years between 1942 and 1946. (See Tables 5, 6, and 7.)

The Economic Losses Survey gave the JCCD and their Caucasian allies well-documented proof that there had indeed been unfair sales of Japanese Canadian property. Armed with the results of the survey and with a copy of the Evacuation Claims Act that was before the U.S. Congress in 1946, the JCCD and the Cooperative Committee on Japanese Canadians approached Ottawa seeking an inquiry into Japanese Canadian losses. Diplomatically they acknowledged the impossibility of a fair return when so many properties had been dumped so quickly into a flooded market.19 They asked only that the federal government correct the inherent injustice built into the circumstances of the sales.

The government, however, was defensive. To acknowledge any injustice was to leave the government open to the charge that the whole wartime experience of Canada's Japanese minority had been unjust, an admission it was not prepared to make. While the government was reluctant to fuel public (and political) sentiment with a potentially embarrassing public inquiry, the popularity of some compensation was undeniable. Even the most anti-Japanese of British Columbia's politicians acknowledged that some losses must have occurred, losses that should be compensated.20 The main problem, therefore, lay in deciding which kinds of losses the federal government could afford to acknowledge. There were six potential sources of direct losses alone: losses from sales by the Custodian for less than the market value; from theft; from forced sales in a flooded market; from lost revenue; from lost insurance because of the uprooting; and from lost income because of the uprooting.21 To acknowledge all direct losses would not only be expensive but, by inference, would suggest that the policy creating the losses – the uprooting – had itself been wrong. Anxious to minimize costs, the Special Cabinet Committee on Repatriation and Relocation decided to confine the inquiry to only the first two types of direct losses. On 21 April 1947 they drafted an Order-in-Council confining the inquiry to losses through sales by the Custodian at less than the market value, and through theft of property in the care of the Custodian.22

Unfortunately, that draft Order-in-Council was then temporarily shelved. In April 1947, while it was being drafted, the CCF had succeeded in getting the fiscal conduct of the Custodian of Enemy Property referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts for investigation. Concentrating on the Veterans' Land Act sale, the Public Accounts Committee concluded that administrative irregularities had occurred that merited further investigation. Accordingly, on June 17 the Public Accounts Committee recommended that a royal commission be appointed to investigate the alleged losses incurred by Japanese Canadians when their property was lost or sold at less than the "fair market value."23

The recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee made it certain that there would be a Royal Commission into Japanese Canadian losses. The Royal Commission as announced on 18 July 1947, however, was totally ineffectual. Some time between April and July, the draft Order-in-Council defining the terms of the commission had been changed without explanation. Under the new terms, compensation would be paid only in cases where neglect or lack of care by the Custodian or his staff could be legally proved, an impossible task.24

The terms of the proposed Royal Commission angered Japanese Canadians and their Caucasian allies. In late August they again laid siege to Ottawa. Arguing that Canada should do no less than the United States to compensate the uprooted Japanese, and pointing out that the terms of the Royal Commission were narrower than those recommended by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, the Cooperative Committee's lawyer, Andrew Brewin, warned the government that Japanese Canadians were likely to boycott the Royal Commission and to publicize why they were doing so.25 Justice Minister Ilsley quickly assured Brewin that he would take the matter up in Cabinet. On September 17 he kept that promise and persuaded the Cabinet to expand the terms of the Royal Commission to include all property disposed of by the Custodian or stolen while in the custody of the Custodian or of an agent appointed by him.26 By inference the new terms censored the Custodian, not the government. Only the administration of the dispossession policy – not the policy itself – would be under scrutiny. With such narrow terms, there was no danger that the findings of the Royal Commission would be politically embarrassing.

The new terms of reference were far from ideal. They would, however, allow the bulk of the property owners to seek very limited compensation. Resolving to continue to seek further expansion of the terms of reference, the Cooperative Committee and the newly created National Japanese Canadian Citizens' Association agreed to participate in the Royal Commission on evacuation claims. The evidence collected for that commission, they hoped, would show the need for broader terms of reference.27

With the appointment of B.C. Justice Henry Irving Bird as the presiding Commissioner, the Cooperative Committee and the National Japanese Canadian Citizens' Association (NJCCA) plunged into a judicial process without precedent in Canadian history. Although judicial commissions had previously investigated compensation claims, no commission ever had been required to examine so many claims on so many different types of property sold under such unusual conditions and owned by people scattered across Canada. To the practical difficulties were added complicated legal questions and the difficulties inherent in establishing the value of property abandoned in the turmoil of a forced uprooting and sold one to four years later.

Many of the practical problems were rendered manageable only because of cooperative effort on the part of Japanese Canadians, facilitated by the existence of a national network linking the scattered pockets of Japanese Canadians. That national network had evolved during the deportation crisis when the largely Nisei leadership in Toronto had assumed the role of spokesmen for the Japanese minority. By 1947 Japanese associations across Canada had come to realize that the postwar battles for equal rights would require a unified effort. Therefore, in September 1947 the Japanese Canadian Committee for Democracy dissolved itself, and its members joined the Toronto chapter of the Japanese Canadian Citizens' Association (JCCA). Across Canada similar changes were made by other Japanese committees as they united under provincial and national executive committees. The latter, not surprisingly, was Toronto-based and composed largely of former members of the JCCD. Through its full-time executive secretary, George Tanaka, the National JCCA assumed responsibility for the coordination of the claims procedure.

Working with the Cooperative Committee on Japanese Canadians, the NJCCA set up the needed legal, technical and financial machinery. To cut the legal costs and assure an adequate presentation of all claims, the NJCCA set up a common fund into which the claimants paid, where possible, 1 per cent of their gross claim. In this way, those who had financial resources could subsidize the expenses incurred in preparing and presenting the cases of destitute persons. Once the fund had been established, the NJCCA-Cooperative Committee engaged lawyers in the major centres of Japanese Canadian population, and with the help of local chapters of the JCCA, printed, distributed, collected and processed claims forms from across Canada. Continuing an association begun during the deportation crisis, Andrew Brewin in Toronto and Robert J. MacMaster in Vancouver worked out the legal and logistical aspects of the inquiry. Professional appraisers, statisticians and agricultural experts compiled data to buttress the claimants' testimony as to the value of their property. Of the 1,434 claims involving 7,086 parcels of real estate and personal property considered by the inquiry, fully 1,100 were handled by NJCCA-Cooperative Committee counsel. A further 200 claims were handled by Gladstone Virtue, counsel for the Southern Alberta Japanese Committee, an Issei-dominated group that had hired Virtue to make property claims on behalf of southern Alberta Japanese prior to the announcement of the Royal Commission. The remaining claims were largely corporate claims and were usually handled by the prewar lawyers for those corporations.28

The appointment of a British Columbia Justice as the presiding Commissioner had initially disturbed the Cooperative Committee. They quickly discovered that while Justice Bird made narrow rulings and was impatient with the length of the inquiry, his understanding of the special circumstances surrounding the dispossession of Japanese Canadians gave him a flexibility decidedly lacking in the Sub-Commissioners appointed to hear cases in isolated settlements with small Japanese Canadian populations. By the time the legal arguments were completed in December 1947, a strong working relationship and mutual respect had been established between Justice Bird and the claimants' counsel.

Respect for claimants' counsel did not mean that Justice Bird agreed with the legal interpretations of that counsel. When arguing the meaning of "fair market value," for instance, claimants' counsel wanted the conditions of the properties at the time of uprooting to determine the sale price, not their condition at sale after one to four years of neglect and abuse. Justice Bird, however, ruled that the "fair market value" would be determined at the date of sale regardless of the intervening conditions. Also contrary to the arguments of claimants' counsel, Bird ruled that the "goodwill" value of the businesses, and the failure of the Custodian to collect accounts due to businesses, were beyond the inquiry's terms of reference. However, Bird did accept counsel's contention that actual physical possession of chattels by the Custodian was not necessary for claims on lost, destroyed or stolen property. Bird also assisted claimants' counsel in their efforts to have the terms of reference expanded by forwarding to Justice Minister Ilsley the question of corporate claims and claims for fees deducted by the Custodian. Both of these classes of claims were subsequently included in the final settlement.29

While claimants' counsel was disappointed with the arguments they lost, the Department of the Secretary of State was disturbed by the arguments that the claimants won. As a consequence, in January 1948 G.W. McPherson, the former head of the Custodian's Vancouver office, was dispatched to the Kamloops hearings to discipline Crown counsel, J.W.G. Hunter, who was well liked for his honesty and fairness. McPherson, who had been described in 1942 by RCMP Asst. Comnr. F.J. Mead as a "Jap-hater", had changed little. Calling McPherson "a great rationalizer; … interested in the political aspects of this deal, not in justice," Robert J. MacMaster concluded that the Department of the Secretary of State was afraid that "instead of whitewashing the Custodian, the inquiry might whitewash the Japanese."30

As the inquiry plodded on through 1948, it became obvious that if each case was argued individually the inquiry might last several years. Neither Justice Bird nor claimants' counsel was happy with this prospect. Bird wished to return as soon as possible to his duties as a B.C. justice. Claimants' counsel was aware that lengthy proceedings would mean larger costs and hence lower returns for their clients; in addition, the advanced age of many of those clients meant that many might very well die before receiving compensation.

Throughout 1948 several proposals were advanced in an attempt to shorten the proceedings. The first came from Justice Bird. In March 1948 Bird proposed that he should give Crown counsel a list of cases in which, in his opinion, there was no claim. Crown counsel, Bird suggested, could then argue a question of non-suit to eliminate those cases. Shocked that Bird should have reached such a conclusion before the presentation of evidence was completed, claimants' counsel strongly objected. The proposal was therefore dropped.31 The fact that such a proposal had been forthcoming, however, reinforced the idea that a means of shortening the proceedings was desirable.

By June 1948 the germ of the solution had been found. No longer resisting the idea that losses had in fact occurred, Bird proposed that an overall percentage award be made in the case of farms sold in the obviously unfair Veterans' Land Act sale. While claimants' counsel discouraged the proposal in such a simplified form, the idea of category settlements began to take hold. In August, Bird expanded his proposal, suggesting that a sample method be used to set up standards against which claims in each type of category could be judged. This time the veto came from the National Japanese Canadian Citizens' Association. Suspicious of the sampling method, the executive of the NJCCA expressed the wish that each claim should be upheld on its own merits. The final proposal made in September 1948 assured a thorough review of each case, although not necessarily in the open inquiry. Counsel, Bird proposed, should select and argue a number of cases in each category. He would then make recommendations for each category. Counsel would then review, in private, all the cases in a category using the principles and decisions recommended by Bird. They would then bring forth joint submissions as to the category into which each case fell and the amount they thought should be recommended. In the event of special features, counsel would make application to Bird to argue each special case individually.32

With the approval of the NJCCA and the Cooperative Committee, claimants' counsel accepted Bird's last proposal and plunged into the task of arguing the merits of each type of claim. Their success depended largely on the strength of their technical arguments, which were strongest in the Veterans' Land Act cases and weakest in the Vancouver real estate category. In the VLA case, claimants' counsel was able to convince Bird that the VLA appraisers had prior knowledge of the reason behind the survey of Japanese farms, were inexperienced with appraising that type of farm, and had given no consideration to the agricultural value of the farms. Claimants' counsel also produced strong statistical evidence of the actual agricultural value of the farms and, in some areas, comparative selling prices of Caucasian-owned farms. Gladstone Virtue of Lethbridge convinced Bird that VLA farms in residential areas had additional residential value that had to be taken into account.33

Evidence in favour of the Vancouver properties was by comparison very weak. The Greater Vancouver Advisory Committee had been very thorough in its work. It had employed almost all the experienced appraisers in Vancouver, appraisers known to Justice Bird as reputable men. Since the professional qualifications of these men could not be questioned, claimants' counsel could only fall back on the findings of its own appraiser and the argument that because the properties had been rented to tenants, their values had been artificially lowered by as much as 10 per cent. Since many Japanese Canadians had rented their homes at low rates to people they trusted and since wartime controls prohibited the eviction of tenants and drastic increases in rent, counsel argued, the presence of the tenants had depressed buyer interest and selling prices. Bird's rejection of that argument and the conservative appraisals of the claimants' appraiser combined to give a very low return on Vancouver real estate. Rejecting even the Crown counsel's suggestion of a 10 per cent award, Bird allowed only a refund of 5 per cent agent's commission on those sales.34

By February 1949, Bird was ready to propose tentative settlement figures. The compensation he proposed varied from a high of 125 per cent for farms in the village of Mission, to a low of 10 per cent for chattels sold by tender. Bird also proposed several special awards for unusual cases in each category, while an additional $300,000 was forthcoming to Japanese Canadian corporations. Bird was also prepared to recommend that a contribution to the expenses of the claimants' counsel be made by the federal government in view of the claimants' role in shortening the inquiry.35

The proposal had obvious advantages. Bird's recommendations for the VLA properties, fishing vessels, nets and fishing gear corresponded to the evidence produced by claimants' counsel. Where the proposed percentages were disappointing, especially with the Vancouver properties, claimants' counsel had been unable to secure strong evidence in support of their position. The recommendations also included awards that, in Bird's view, were actually outside the terms of reference. In his opinion, the Vancouver properties, fishing vessels and chattels had been properly handled, and hence reflected the market value. In practice, the percentages he allowed were equivalent to the realtor and auctioneer fees charged to the Japanese owners in each of these transactions.36

Undoubtedly the most important advantage lay in the time Bird's proposal saved, and the way in which it bolstered weak cases. Individual proceedings would have taken many years and would have produced a lower overall recovery. In Brewin's estimate, up to 25 per cent of the claims, while valid, might have been nullified under the close scrutiny of individual examination simply because of the difficulty of securing corroborating evidence. When these factors were considered in conjunction with Bird's proposal that the government contribute to the expenses incurred in preparing the cases and with the high death rate of the aging Issei, the National JCCA and the Co-operative Committee decided that they had no choice but to recommend the acceptance of Bird's proposal.37

The acceptance of the proposal, however, included reservations. The Co-operative Committee and the NJCCA had never considered that the Bird Commission should be the end of the compensation issue. Nor was either organization entirely happy with all of Bird's proposals, especially with the 5 per cent Vancouver property proposal or with the terms of reference under which he had operated. Throughout the inquiry both organizations had tried publicly and privately to have the terms of reference modified and the Vancouver property award increased. Interest on Japanese accounts with the Custodian, losses through forced sales and cancelled policies and contracts, uncollected accounts receivable, and the sale of fishing vessels by the Japanese Fishing Vessel Disposal Committee had all been the subject of letters and briefs to Bird and to Ottawa.38

The Cooperative Committee and the NJCCA were both under pressure from a sub-group of claimants, the Toronto Claimants' Committee. Composed of the owners of some 175 Vancouver properties who were dissatisfied with the 5 per cent proposed award, the TCC wanted to boycott any settlement until the Vancouver awards were increased. Highly critical of Justice Bird, the TCC tried to gain the support of the Japanese minority through the New Canadian and public meetings. When polled, however, the claimants at large overwhelmingly supported the position of the NJCCA and the Cooperative Committee. Accordingly, Bird's proposal was accepted in mid-May 1949, with a strong protest against the Vancouver awards.39

The conclusion of the special cases and the preparation of the final report took yet another year. Finally submitted to the Cabinet in April 1950, Bird's report was tabled in the House of Commons on June 14, on which day the government announced that it would pay $1,222,829 in awards. A further $150,000 in special awards was later paid on Bird's recommendation: $57,000 to the Cooperative Committee for expenses exclusive of legal fees, and $93,000 in claims outside the terms of reference.40 Excluding corporations, the overall recovery on the claims was estimated at 56 per cent of the gross value claimed, from which, however, the claimants had to pay the legal costs he government refused to assume.41

The very success of that recovery proved to be the death of the claims issue. In the spring of 1950, while awaiting the approval of Bird's report, the National JCCA had approached the Ontario Civil Liberties Association in an attempt to keep the claims issue alive. They met with a cool reception. The fact that a Royal Commission had already studied the question, albeit under restricted terms, they were warned, normally meant that the general public would consider that justice had been done. The stimulation of public opinion in favour of further compensation, therefore, would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.42

When the awards were announced in June 1950, the National JCCA and the Cooperative Committee, now reduced to a small executive committee, tried again. In a statement to the press, they urged the government to pay interest on the awards just granted. Although their request elicited a sympathetic response from the powerful Globe and Mail, the general public failed to take notice.43 In September the NJCCA tried again, submitting a brief to the Cabinet outlining the limitations of the Bird Commission and urging the government to "remedy the injustice suffered by the claimants."44 The NJCCA proposed an indemnity for general losses, interest on all awards, the creation of an agency to adjust losses on forced sales, and percentage settlements for a variety of losses.45

Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent's reply to the NJCCA effectively killed the issue. St. Laurent considered that the findings of the Bird Commission should be the end to the now embarrassing wartime experience of Canada's Japanese minority. "The government," St. Laurent wrote, "has concurred in the recommendations [of the Bird Commission] and money has been made available to meet the claims. In carrying out the recommendations of Mr. Justice Bird we feel we have discharged our obligation to both the Japanese Canadians and to the general public."46 The matter, as far as the government was concerned, was closed. In the absence of strong public demand, there was no political need for the government to compensate the innocent victims of its politically inspired policies. Efforts aimed at changing the government's mind have continued to the present day. The legal releases signed by the claimants on receipt of their settlements have been upheld in the Supreme Court of Canada.47 The 1,434 Japanese Canadians who made claims through the Bird Commission cannot legally make another claim on the government. Only a moral basis for compensation remains. In the absence of overwhelming public support for compensation, however, morality has proved insufficient grounds for justice.

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Notes

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