Home History Discover Nikkei Looking South: Anglophone Canadian Reactions to Japanese American Incarceration – Part 1

Looking South: Anglophone Canadian Reactions to Japanese American Incarceration – Part 1

Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada and supporter of the forced removal of Japanese Canadians.

By Jonathan van Harmelen

As I have discussed in previous articles in “Discover Nikkei,” the news of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II seeped beyond the borders of the U.S. and traveled around the world. In Japan and Axis-dominated Europe, news outlets picked up the story as proof of the hypocrisy of Americans in proclaiming democratic ideals but persecuting their own citizens on racial grounds. Likely the most intensive foreign coverage of the incarceration took place to the north. In the Dominion of Canada, which itself engaged in a policy of exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Canadians between 1942 to 1949 – nearly four years longer than their southern neighbors – news outlets reported at length on the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans. Reviewing the coverage in the Canadian media offers an opportunity to understand how friendly, if critical, foreigners viewed American actions.

In this article, I will examine how English language news outlets across Canada, from Montreal to Vancouver, commented on the incarceration. Greg Robinson will follow up this article with research into coverage of Japanese American confinement in Canada’s French-language newspapers.

Perhaps the most respected anglophone news outlet in Canada, then as now, was “The Globe and Mail” of Toronto, which functioned as Canada’s main newspaper of record. Starting in early 1942, “The Globe and Mail” presented readers with a set of stories from American newspapers citing the danger represented by Japanese Americans on the West Coast. On February 12, 1942, “The Globe and Mail” reprinted Walter Lippmann’s infamous article “The Fifth Column on the Coast,” which questioned the loyalty of Japanese Americans regardless of their background.

On February 19, 1942, the day President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, “The Globe and Mail” ran the headline “Attack on West Coast in April is Predicted.” Originally published by the Associated Press, the accompanying story heavily cited the statements of Korean nationalist activist Kilsoo Haan – well known for his repeated accusations of disloyalty among Japanese Americans – regarding purported attack plans he claimed were found in Portland, Oregon. The same article also appeared in the “Vancouver Daily Province.”

Two days later, on February 21, “The Globe and Mail” announced Executive Order 9066. The announcement added that the order, issued in response to protests from the West Coast, deliberately targeted the Japanese communities on the West Coast. While the article did not mention any reactions by Canadians, “The Globe and Mail” continued to print news that would have spurred anti-Japanese fears in the Canadian West. Most notably, on February 24, “The Globe and Mail” printed news of the shelling of oil derricks near Santa Barbara by Japanese submarines, and later argued that General DeWitt of the Western Defense Command was planning how to oust “aliens and citizens alike under discretionary powers given him by President Roosevelt.”

Although these accounts focused specifically on the United States, some of the articles framed the West Coasts of the United States and Canada as contiguous battlegrounds. On September 15, 1942, when “The Globe and Mail” broke news of a Japanese bomber starting a fire in Southern Oregon, the article noted an earlier incident when a submarine had shelled Estevan Point, Vancouver Island.

Soon enough, forced removal of Japanese Americans and Canadians alike began to occur. On March 18, 1942, “The Globe and Mail” announced the removal of the Japanese Canadian community from Vancouver and their confinement in Hastings Park. A few days later on March 24, “The Globe and Mail” ran an article describing the exodus of 1000 Japanese Americans from Southern California to Manzanar in a caravan of buses. “The Globe and Mail” also reported other relevant news, such as the movement of Japanese American students from the West Coast to Midwestern schools.

Most of the news on the camps that appeared in the pages of “The Globe and Mail” in the months that followed depicted them as centers of anti-American hatred and subversion. On June 24, 1943, an article detailed the Dies Committee’s investigation into the Race Riots in Detroit, just south of the Canadian border. The article noted that the Dies Committee had begun an investigation into the War Relocation Authority’s handling of the camps for Japanese Americans, even as Committee Chair Rep. Martin Dies charged that the Detroit riots were started by “Japanese agents.”

News of the Tule Lake “riots” of November 1943 received several days of coverage, which highlighted the Army’s occupation of the camp and its use of tear gas to quell protests. “The Globe and Mail” noted that Tule Lake’s inhabitants “wish repatriation to Japan,” and reprinted reports that the Japanese government had called for investigations of the camps by the Spanish consul, while also broadcasting messages criticizing the American government’s handling of the situation. A month later, “The Globe and Mail” reprinted Republican North Dakota congressman Karl Mundt’s dismissive response to suggestions by Dillon Myer that confined Japanese Americans should police themselves, stating “that’s like hiring an arsonist for a fire department.”

On December 18, 1944, “The Globe and Mail” printed the Army’s announcement lifting the Exclusion Order of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Without mentioning the Supreme Court case of “Ex Parte Endo” that led the military to take its action, the article asserted that the order “was prompted by military considerations.” The article finished with a brief description of the condition of Japanese Canadians forced out of British Columbia, with no mention of when their exclusion would end. There was no mention of the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in “The Globe and Mail” until April 1945, when a report appeared that the unit had participated in major offensives with the Fifth Army against German lines in Italy.

Two West Coast Canadian newspapers, “The Sun” and “The Daily Province,” each printed articles related to Japanese Americans. In contrast with “The Globe and Mail,” the reports from “The Vancouver Sun” and “The Daily Province” presented a West Coast view of incarcerated Japanese. In the process, both journals drew comparisons between the incarceration of Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians.

Immediately after Pearl Harbor, “The Vancouver Sun” described the Pacific Coast “from Alaska to Mexico” as a war zone, and noted that the U.S. had arrested hundreds of Japanese community leaders during the night. Likewise, “The Daily Province” reprinted an AP article on February 19, 1942 that reported on a mass raid conducted by the FBI in the small town of Santa Maria, California, which included arrests of 200 Japanese Americans and seizure of guns, cameras, and radios. On February 21, “The Sun” reported both Executive Order 9066, and mentions of mass arrests occurring throughout West Coast cities.

On March 20, 1942, “The Sun” published a short article titled “Santa Anita same as Hastings Park?,” alluding to the conversion of both the Santa Anita racetrack in Los Angeles and the Hastings Park fairground in Vancouver into detention camps for individuals of Japanese descent. In May 1942, “The Daily Province” ran a detailed report of the farming crisis facing Washington state following the incarceration of Japanese Americans. The author noted that the creation of “colonies under military control” in the Western United States was in line with “the similar program in British Columbia, where during the next few months Japanese will be settled in the formerly well populated cities of the old mining country of the Kootenay and Slocan.” The author also argued that British Columbia could avoid the agricultural crisis facing Washington state because few Japanese Canadians operated truck farms.

An article in April 1943 noted the enlistment of Japanese Americans from Hawaii into the 100th Battalion, and called upon Canadian officials to consider enlisting Japanese Canadians as well, instead of deporting them. The author noted: “it would profit us here in Canada to remind ourselves that what the United States does about its Japanese is inevitably bound to affect very greatly what we do about ours.”

Building A Section of Womens Dormitory formerly Live Stock Building at Hastings Park Vancouver BC Courtesy of the Nikkei National Museum 199469320

Other major events in the WRA camps were reported in the pages of “The Vancouver Sun” and “The Daily Province.” On December 7, 1942, following the Manzanar riot, the “Daily Province” published the eye-catching headline “Internees Battle Troops.” Both “The Sun” and the “Daily Province” continued to report on the effects of the riot, such as the imposition of martial law in the camp.

In August 1943, both newspapers printed a statement by Dillon Myer, head of the War Relocation Authority, to the effect that there was no evidence of disloyalty among Japanese American resettlers leaving the camps. Conversely, both papers also reported on the disturbances at the Tule Lake Segregation Center that took place in November 1943.

Unlike “The Globe and Mail,” “The Vancouver Sun” reported regularly on the exploits of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. One column, by journalist (and future parliamentarian) Elmore Philpott, applauded the Canadian government’s decision to deport disloyal Canadians and allow Japanese Canadians to remain, but also referred to the decision of the U.S. government to allow Japanese American soldiers to enlist. Philpott repeated the familiar rhetoric made by Western Canadian exclusionists that Japanese Canadians needed to leave the coast and disperse throughout the Canadian countryside. Although Philpott recognized that Japanese Canadians were able to fit into Canadian society like their counterparts in the U.S., he still repeated the false charges of disloyalty and mistrust that had led to the incarceration.

Beginning in mid-1944, Vancouver papers also tracked the debates over the exclusion of Japanese Americans on the West Coast – an issue that paralleled their own case. On August 22, 1944, “The Vancouver Sun” announced that a federal judge had ordered the Western Defense Command to show cause as to why its exclusion of Japanese Americans remained in effect.

On November 22, 1944, the “Sun” ran another article stating that 800 Japanese American families of mixed-race marriages had been permitted to return to the West Coast by the Western Defense Command. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in “Ex Parte Endo” a month later, which led to the lifting of the exclusion order, the “Sun” announced the end of the exclusion zone, but noted that Canada’s own exclusion policy towards Japanese Canadians would remain.

Jonathan van Harmelen is a PhD student in history at UC Santa Cruz specializing in the history of Japanese American incarceration. He holds a BA in history and French from Pomona College and an MA from Georgetown University. He can be reached at jvanharm@ucsc.edu.

This article was originally published in discovernikkei.org, which is a project of the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles.