Select a primary language to get the most out of our Journal pages:
English 日本語 Español Português

We have made a lot of improvements to our Journal section pages. Please send your feedback to!



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

Read Part 1 >>

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’s 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.

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 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).

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

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 that 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, 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’s syndicated column about his time on the Italian front, noting in particular the distinguished performance of the 442nd. The Gazette likewise featured Childs’s 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.

Nisei soldiers escorting captured Germans (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)

From Pacific Citizen, Aug 11, 1945 issue.

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, they 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.

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 about 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 their 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.”

Like some moderate West Coast exclusionists in the United States, the author admitted that Canadians of Japanese ancestry were citizens, but envisioned them only as second-class citizens with “some rights.” (In this the letter writer’s position also resembled that of Justice Minister and future Prime Minister Louis St, Laurent, who insisted in Cabinet that if Japanese Canadians were not deported to Japan wholesale after the war, they would be troublesome and end by demanding the same rights as white people).

Another such reference to Japanese Americans came in September 1945, following the end of the war. In an editorial titled “Tolerating Hirohito,” the author asked whether it would be possible (in racial language) to “modernize” Japan after years of totalitarianism. The author then suggested “an answer to that can be found in the record of the Nisei troops who fought so gallantly for America.” The Nisei soldiers, while born to immigrant parents that “came from the same culture,” nonetheless demonstrated that their “loyalty to democratic principles was unquestioned.”

Unlike the Vancouver newspapers that drew comparisons between the Japanese American and Japanese Canadian communities, the Montreal newspapers viewed the Japanese American wartime incarceration as a unique policy. While the Montreal papers echoed some of the praise given by U.S. newspapers towards Japanese Americans in the military, it blatantly ignored the mistreatment of Japanese Canadians. Likewise, these newspapers said little regarding the issue of military service by Japanese Canadians. The Canadian government refused to permit Japanese Canadians to enlist for the balance of the war, and in the end only about 200 were allowed to serve as translators.

In sum, the English-language press of Canada, in particular the West Coast press, maintained a steady interest in the wartime treatment of Japanese Americans. Canadian journalists and editors published a good deal of favorable coverage of Japanese Americans, especially soldiers. The choice made by editors to reprint U.S. news reports on Japanese Americans reflects a keen interest by editors to share these accounts with Canadian readers and generate conversations within the editorial section. In view of the fact that Canada’s policy towards its own ethnic Japanese population was even harsher than that of the U.S., and the often-hostile wartime treatment of Japanese Canadians by the Canadian press, the coverage they afforded Japanese Americans represents a curious double standard. The inability of the Canadian press and its readers to readily compare the treatment of Japanese Americans with Japanese Canadians speaks to the marginalization of the Japanese Canadian community and the power of white exclusionists north of the 49th parallel.


© 2022 Jonathan van Harmelen

Japanese Americans Japanese Canadians medias The Montreal Gazette The Montreal Star World War II