Home History Discover Nikkei Looking South: Anglophone Canadian Reactions to Japanese American Incarceration – Part 2

Looking South: Anglophone Canadian Reactions to Japanese American Incarceration – Part 2

Nisei soldiers escorting captured Germans (Courtesy of NARA)

By Jonathan van Harmelen

Part 1, continued from Mar. 25 NAP

Both “The Sun” and “The Daily Province” continued to follow news of Japanese American families returning to the West Coast, with close attention paid to acts of domestic terrorism committed against returning families. Both papers continued to print stories on the fate of Japanese American returnees in the early postwar years, a time when Canada continued to exclude its own ethnic Japanese from British Columbia.

In an article dated January 1948 that was penned for “The Daily Province,” Jean Howarth told the story of Methodist minister Jitsuo Morikawa, who was originally born in Canada and later served in the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Howarth poignantly noted that despite his accomplishments, Morikawa was still banned from his home province because of the ongoing exclusion order. The exclusion order towards Japanese Canadians would finally end on April 1, 1949 – three and half years after the end of the American exclusion.

Despite the parallel situations in the U.S. and Canada and the previous articles in Vancouver papers affirming that U.S. policy ultimately influenced Canada’s decisions, throughout the postwar years Canada ignored the decisions of the U.S. and took an even harsher stance towards its Japanese Canadian population, almost going so far as to deport the entire community.

Part 2

In the eastern province of Quebec, a number of English-language newspapers tracked the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans. It should be noted that, although French remained the majority language used in Quebec, several English-language newspapers existed and were patronized by the English-speaking elites of Quebec. The principle English papers in Quebec during the war years were “The Montreal Gazette” and “The Montreal Star.” “The Gazette” reported on the news of the incarceration regularly, often reprinting sensationalized accounts of disloyalty among the Japanese community.

On February 21, 1942, “The Gazette” reprinted “The New York Times” announcement of Executive Order 9066. A few weeks later, on March 4, The Gazette printed the “evacuation” orders issued by the Western Defense Command targeting Japanese Americans. Next to this article, “The Gazette” printed a story about the Canadian government’s removal inland of 100 Japanese nationals residing in Vancouver.

Military police on watchtower at Santa Anita Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

On May 15, 1942, “Gazette” journalist Lionel Shapiro, then visiting Los Angeles, penned a story on Japanese Americans for his column “Lights and Shadows.” Noting that his sources were “Angelenos who have lived with the Japanese problem,” Shapiro repeated stereotypes of Japanese Americans, such as that the government knew nothing about Japanese Americans because “their crime rate was low and because they rarely went on relief.” Shapiro went so far as to offer the falsehood that Japanese Americans “requested the government to intern them” on the grounds that their businesses had suffered from boycotts after the outbreak of war. Shapiro’s article in fact mimicked the language used by “The Gazette” in its March 23 article (which may have itself been written by Shapiro).

In that article, “The Gazette” announced the opening of the Santa Anita detention center, and misleadingly stated that “the track property will be opened for any Japanese who wish to go there “at their own request and for their own protection.” Shapiro later returned to the subject of Japanese Americans in May 1942, again repeating falsehoods about camp conditions. In describing the Santa Anita detention center, Shapiro (rather dubiously) described housing conditions as “comfortable,” and asserted that the confined lived well on a $60 to $80 budget for food per family. (Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy reported privately at the time that food budgets were 30 to 45 cents daily per person, so the budget Shapiro mentioned must have been a monthly food allocation for a family of 5-9 people.) Lastly, he stated confidently that the military and the state of California handled the evacuation with “firmness and discipline,” and would look proudly on it in later years.

Despite its initial reliance on negative or sensationalized stories, “The Gazette” did reprint a number of positive accounts of Japanese Americans, namely on the combat record of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. In May 1945, “The Gazette” published Marquis Childs’ syndicated column about his time on the Italian front, noting in particular the distinguished performance of the 442nd. “The Gazette” likewise featured Childs’ columns deploring the acts of terrorism committed by white supremacists on the West Coast against returning Japanese American soldiers and calling for swift action against such violence.

Likewise, in August 1945 “The Gazette” printed famed comedian Bob Hope’s story about visiting occupied Germany and being billeted in Bremen. Hope recalled in his account that he shared a house with a Japanese American soldier, Private Shige Morishige, and that Morishige, a decorated soldier, spoke lovingly of his hometown of Denver, Colorado. In addition to the 442nd, a story taken from “The New York Times” told of Japanese American translators in the Philippines (news of whose activities was generally censored by the army) facing discrimination from both American GIs and from local Filipinos. The author extolled the contributions of these Nisei soldiers and argued that they “deserve better of us” given their sacrifices.

“The Gazette” continued to print news on the incarceration circulated by other press services. In May 1944, “The Gazette” noted the death of Shoichi James Okamoto at the hands of a guard at Tule Lake concentration camp. Printed alongside the report of Okamoto’s death was a dispatch noting that the news of Okamoto’s death had been broadcast on Nazi German radio and that it had angered the Japanese government.

Although “The Gazette” made very few comparisons between the situations of Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians, deportation did occur. As mentioned, in its March 4, 1942 issue, “The Gazette” printed stories about removal in both countries. In February 1946, “The Gazette” reported that Margaret Peck of the Montreal Committee for Japanese Canadians had organized a meeting to raise public awareness regarding the threatened deportation of thousands of Japanese Canadians to Japan. Invited as a speaker for the meeting was Mrs. Celia E. Deschin, a former welfare counsellor at the Tule Lake concentration camp. Surprisingly, given the extent of coverage of the American case, very little commentary was made regarding the deportation of Japanese Canadians.

from Pacific Citizen Aug 11 1945

In contrast, “The Montreal Star” presented Japanese Americans from the beginning in a more sympathetic light. In November 1941, “The Star” ran two articles that commented on the issues facing Japanese Americans and Canadians. On November 19, “The Star” published an AP report. titled “Born in U.S., They Say They’re American,” that featured quotes from Nisei student Mitsuye Toda, including her declaration that the Nisei had little in common with Japan. Ten days later, “The Star” published a similar article on the Japanese Canadian community with the headline “Pacific Tension Heightens Difficulties of B.C. Citizens – Spokesmen for Nisei Declares Loyalty to British Empire.”

Even more so than the “Gazette,” “The Star” followed the saga of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe. In October 1943, “The Star” published a photo of the 100th Battalion marching through Italy. Captioned “Niseis: In Italy, They Prove They’re Yankees True,” the photo notes that the soldiers were recruited in Hawaii. On April 30th, 1945, “The Star” noted that the 442nd RCT had been the first American army unit to march through the city of Turin in Northern Italy.

In October 1943, “The Star” briefly mentioned the release of some Japanese Americans to East Coast cities, with hints that more might be released for work. In January 1944, however, following reports of Japanese soldiers torturing Americans prisoners of war, “The Star” reported that members of the U.S. Congress had spoken of “vows of vengeance.” Representative Carl Hinshaw of California went so far as to say the Japanese should be “wiped off the map.” Subsequently, the report stated that the WRA had tightened security in camp following news of protests in surrounding towns. It should be mentioned that “The Star” was much less favorable to resettlement of Japanese Canadians. “The Star” editorialized in May 1944 the need to “clear out lock stock and barrel” and deport the entire Japanese Canadian population

Lastly, “The Daily Record” of Sherbrooke, Quebec kept its readers informed on U.S. wartime policies towards Japanese Americans. Like “The Star,” “The Daily Record” reprinted Mitsuye Toda’s remarks on the loyalty of Japanese Americans. On July 13, 1943, in its pop culture section “Did You Know,” “The Daily Record” asked readers: “Among American-born Japs, distinguish between the Nisei and the Kibei.” The answer it supplied stated that “The Nisei are loyal to the U.S.; the Kibei disloyal.”

Arguably, the most interesting article on Japanese Americans published by “The Daily Record” was a letter that appeared in June 12, 1944 issue. Written by an “Ottawa citizen” regarding the question of deporting Japanese Canadians, the letter stated “as to the Nisei, or second-generation Japs, born either in Canada or the United States, well, that’s where the trouble is. For Canadian citizenship either means something or it doesn’t. If a man is born in Canada, be he red, yellow, black, or white, he is a Canadian. There is no escaping it. To send these people away is not to deport them, but to exile them.”

While the author defended the right of Japanese Canadians to stay in Canada, the text nonetheless resorted to stereotypes, asserting that the Japanese Canadians “make good servants, they are good workers” and that the problem of their presence lay in the prewar separation of Japanese Canadian neighborhoods on the West Coast. The author proposed that the Japanese Canadians needed to be removed permanently from British Columbia and the population spread out; so that “perhaps Eastern Canada can swallow them up.”

to be continued (next issue)

Editor’s note. More on the Japanese Canadian WWII experience, which was more severe than that for U.S Nikkei, is available from the University of Victoria “Landscapes of Injustice” project. 

Info: uvic.ca/research/centres/capi/