General Articles

Why B.C. Draws the Color Line

JACK SCOTT February 1 1948
General Articles

Why B.C. Draws the Color Line

JACK SCOTT February 1 1948

Why B.C. Draws the Color Line


A YOUNG Japanese Canadian, travelling on an RCMP permit from Alberta, returned west recently to visit his birthplace, the town of

Steveston at the mouth of the Fraser River.

Before the war Steveston, a short tram ride out of Vancouver, was a village of Nipponese fishermen. Today its population is almost ent irely white, most of them using the expensive fishboats and the bleak cottages once owned by the Japanese.

The young Nisei visitor’s pilgrimage was short and unhappy. An informal “delegation” of whites suggested politely, hut firmly, that it would be healthier to cut the visit short. The native son left town by the next outbound tram.

Such outward evidence of race feeling against Japanese Canadians in the British Columbia coastal belt is rare these days. Most white citizens, whether proor anti-Japanese, regard it as a dead issue. They don’t expect any trouble ahead when jand if the gates are finally lowered.

I This does not represent any triumph of con-

science fever against over prejudice 25,000 fellow or any citizens. cooling in It the is wartime simply that the problem was moved away five years ago. Few expect it to move back.

The happy conviction that the Federal Government’s dispersal plan is now permanent—that the Japanese are settled and content across Canadá and will never dare return to the scene of hostilities — has grown steadily in recent months.

More than a year ago a Vancouver radio station public opinion poll asked its listeners: “Do you

think the Japanese will return to the Coast?' Yes, said 54.7% of the listeners, they’d be back. A few weeks ago the same question was asked again. This time 72.5% said no, the Japanese would never

return. -----------------------------------------------------------ZlZ

% BrrrThere’s no doubt that the hostility continues under the surface and will most certainly fiare up if the Japanese make any mass attempt to return. • It is no longer expressed in public speeches or resolutions. But when the public-opinion program polled its listeners on the subject a hefty 83%

opposed the return

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Continued from page 17

of Canadian-born Japanese to the coast.

Actually, the views of most “men in the street” are paradoxical. Of a dozen people interviewed in Vancouver the general feeling was that any minority group should have full rights of citizenship—“but we don’t want those Japs back.”

“The war solved that problem for us,” said Burt Millet, who runs a small downtown smoke shop. “If they start trying to mob back in here I’m in favor of putting the ban right back on. We want this to be a free country, sure. But why should B. C. take the cutthroat competition of any one group?”

Francis Putnam, a businessman, said this: “We’ve taken a lot of nasty

insults from the East about racial intolerance. This Japanese question is no such thing. It’s purely an economic problem. The Japanese always were cheap labor or undersold their competitors. We can’t afford to let them get back in that position.”

Even the Indians

Since the movement away from the coast began five years ago there has never been any polite double talk about the motives that inspired such

public opinion. It has been purely an economic matter.

No one was surprised that the Indian group, the Native Brotherhood ofB. C.,an organization all too familiar with racial intolerance, should join in the demand for the permanent exclusion of the Japanese Canadians. The Indians are fishermen, too.

Business organizations, veterans’ groups, Liberal and Conservative branches, vegetable and fruit growers and virtually every other group in direct or indirect prewar competition with the Japanese have spoken out for a permanent ban of the Japanese.

In the face of such overwhelming opinion the West Coast newspapers have been surprisingly moderate. The single important exception is the Vancouver Sun. In Sun editorials the Nisei or Japanese Canadians are seldom called anything but “Japs.” Sun editorials bitterly denounce Eastern Canadian cries of “intolerance” in one paragraph and demand rigid control of Japanese Canadians in the next.

Nevertheless, there is a hard core of resistance in British Columbia to the continuing restrictions, notably in church groups and in the CCF. The CCF has maintained its stand in favor of the franchise and full rights for Canadian-born Japanese, a policy that has met with resistance within the party itself. “We know that it has cost us votes,” says Frank McKenzie, provincial secretary of the party.

The most active group in support of the Japanese has been the Van-

couver Consultative Council, a group set up early in the war to deal with problems of citizenship aggravated by the war.

The moving force behind this organization has been a 71-year-old retired educationalist, Dr. Norman F. Black. Throughout the war this group gave its advice to provincial and federal governments on the evacuation, was largely instrumental in convincing the Japanese to leave the coast in orderly fashion, and through meetings and pamphlets has attempted to remind British Columbians of the dangers to democracy involved.

“The fact that these are Japanese is irrelevant now in the question of returning to the coast,” says Dr. Black. “It is virtually impossible for any numbers of them to return and take up their old lives. Our concern is not in facilitating that. We believe it is in their own interests to be dispersed. We are fighting for their rights as a minority group entitled to all the freedoms of citizenship.”

But there are still people who fear the eventual return of the Japanese.

One such public figure is Tom Reid, Liberal M.P. from New Westminster.

“We can’t afford to go to sleep,” said Mr. Reid recently. “Those Ontario interests won’t stop until they’ve sent the Japs back here to compete with our fishermen and farmers as they did before. If that happens there is only one thing we can do. We can keep raising hell until we’ve driven them out again.” ★