- Voices Raised in Protest: Defending North American Citizens of Japanese Ancestry, 1942-49
Writing a comparative history takes twice the research required for a single study but the results can be very rewarding. By examining how Canadian and American individuals and groups protested the treatment of the Japanese during and after the Second World War, Stephanie Bangarth has done signal service by adding to knowledge of those events, by underscoring differences in the political cultures of Canada and the United States, by illustrating the evolution of concerns for human rights, and by showing changing concepts of 'race.'
In many respects, the Japanese experienced similar treatment on both sides of the border. Early in 1942, they were ordered to leave the coast. Sympathy for them developed slowly. Governments, advocates for the Japanese, and, in many cases, the Japanese themselves favoured dispersal as a means of assimilation into the larger culture. By 1945, however, significant differences were emerging across the border. The United States began to allow the Japanese to return to the coast early in 1945; Canada did not permit that until 1949. The United States deported only Japanese who renounced their American citizenship; only after many voices were raised in protest did Canada halt the expatriation of Japanese - including Canadian citizens - who refused to move east of the Rocky Mountains.
In Canada, the lead group in calling for justice, the Co-operative Committee on Japanese Canadians (CCJC), began in 1943 with YWCA and church groups in Toronto who wanted to assist with the immediate practical problem of resettling young Japanese Canadians who were moving into the area. When Canada proposed to disfranchise all Japanese in Canada and then to expatriate others to Japan, the CCJC expanded its membership and moved to press for human rights. The CCJC was well named. Japanese Canadians were its only cause and it co-operated with [End Page 588] Japanese-Canadian groups. In the United States, the well-established American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was the most prominent advocate for the Japanese Americans but their plight was one of many civil liberties issues on its agenda and it suffered from internal divisions.
Bangarth rightly demonstrates that the majority of the Nisei - the children of Japanese immigrants - tended not to protest their removal from the coast in 1942 lest confrontation be interpreted as disloyalty to their native lands: Canada and the United States. Yet, despite differences of opinion among them, they were not 'passive victims.' Some Japanese Canadians worked closely with the CCJC; in time, the Japanese American Citizens League and the ACLU worked together.
A central thesis is that Canadian advocates of fair treatment for the Japanese initially called on British justice and fair play but later appealed to human rights as expressed in the Atlantic and United Nations Charters. (The change from a British to an international perspective invites further analysis in a broader context than the Japanese issue.) In contrast, the ACLU appealed for civil liberties based on the Bill of Rights and the American Constitution. In Canada, as the courts determined in several cases, Parliament was supreme in wartime, but events showed that public opinion could influence government. The American cases demonstrated that the courts had the final say. For both Canada and the United States, Bangarth analyzes the majority and dissenting opinions in the relevant cases.
In her introduction, Bangarth acknowledges that readers at times may experience a sense of déjà vu. While her thematic approach is logical, it does lead to repetition. And a few careless slips have crept in. Howard Green, a long-time Progressive Conservative member of Parliament and one of the more outspoken of the British Columbian opponents of the Japanese, would be astonished to find himself labelled as a Liberal! These minor problems aside, this fine and exceptionally well-researched book is important reading for those interested in the evolution of interest in human rights and civil liberties in Canada and the United States. And its moral, that collective voices can make a difference, should not be forgotten...