For Labour Day 2012 : The Cost of Learning Nothing From Our History

For Labour Day 2012 : The Cost of Learning Nothing From Our History

There is something very symbolic about what has happened in Metro Vancouver’s housing industry over the past few years : Low-wage East Indian crews have been demolishing thousands of houses and literally changing the architectural face of Metro Vancouver. Not long after, East Indian crews or Mainland Chinese crews have been building new houses where the old ones sat. Canadian-born workers have been displaced and become a tiny fraction of the demolishers or builders.

The meaning of the symbolism is clear : if a country does not protect itself, outside interests will take measures to exploit it and to over-run it economically and culturally.

There is nothing “natural” about what has occurred. It is a result of Ottawa’s gross weakness in dealing with the “real” immigration issues : its foolish intake of 250,000 immigrants annually, and its mad policy of allowing an additional 300,000 Temporary Foreign Workers to work in Canada per year.

It has not always been this way.

About one hundred years ago, around half of the 60,000+ people who lived in Vancouver paraded through the city’s streets to protest the arrival of approximately 11,500 low-wage labourers in British Columbia. Vancouver’s population had concluded that Ottawa’s efforts to curb the importing of low-wage Asian labour were weak and were not working. British Columbia workers feared that they would be displaced by low-wage labourers from Asia.

An unplanned riot followed the parade. The parade and the riot produced immediate corrective action. Ottawa passed “continuous passage” legislation to stop Japanese labourers from coming to Canada unless they had the permission of the Japanese government.

A Royal Commission which investigated the incidents exposed the secretive, fraudulent actions of Japanese labour contractors who tried to import low-wage labourers from Japan. These revelations shed new light on the secretive actions of Chinese labour contractors who had been stealthily importing low-wage Chinese labourers for decades. Ottawa’s actions would later affect East Indian low-wage labourers who arrived on the Komagata Maru in 1914 to challenge Ottawa’s “continuous passage” law..

Canada’s immigration lobby, ethnic promoters, a large part of our media (particularly our CBC) and even Canada’s labour movement have distorted this chapter of Canadian history and lowered generations of Canadians into the deepest circles of Hell for showing courage and defending their country and themselves from an invasion.

What are the lessons of this part of history? Here are two : (1) Courageous people can push Ottawa to act against corruption and (2) Ottawa responds primarily to the well-directed boot.

For this Labour Day, we are copying below a description of the pertinent events of 1907.


The 1907 Arrival Of Many Low-Wage Labourers Caused The September, 1907 Vancouver Riot

Labour Day  2012 is the 105th anniversary of the 1907 Vancouver Parade and Riot.

About half of Vancouver’s population of 60,000+ turned out for the parade.

The principal cause of the high turn-out was a rumour that the Canadian Pacific Railway was secretly arranging to bring in large numbers of low-wage Japanese labourers to work in its western division (B.C. and part of Alberta) which employed about 5000.  A similar rumour that a Dunsmuir-Family coal mine on Vancouver Island was importing Japanese low-wage workers also contributed.

To add to the alarm that many Vancouver residents felt, about 11,500 Japanese, East Indians and Chinese in 1907 arrived in the first 10 months of 1907. The public was very concerned about these large numbers and had concluded that Ottawa’s measures to curb low-wage labour were again not working.

For about 25 years (early 1880’s to 1904), Chinese labour contractors had stealthily imported Chinese low-wage labourers . But after the $500 Head Tax was imposed in 1904, Chinese labour contractors found it was too expensive to continue this business.

With the drop in Chinese labourers,  a Japanese immigration company, the Canadian Nippon Supply Company, saw a business opportunity. The problem was that its opportunity would undermine the measures that Ottawa had put into place to limit cheap Japanese labour from coming to Canada. Without telling Ottawa, this company secretly arranged with the CPR to import, over a period of time, between 500 and 2000 Japanese labourers to work in the CPR’s western Division. The  newcomers would represent a significant part of the entire western CPR work force. All the Japanese would be paid less than Canadian workers and would probably be displacing higher-paid workers.

The Canadian Nippon Supply Company also secretly arranged to import about 500 Japanese labourers to work in the Dunsmuir family’s coal mines on Vancouver Island. These Japanese labourers would also be paid less than their Canadian counterparts.

Mackenzie King, Canada’s Deputy Minister of Labour in 1907, conducted a Royal Commission investigation after the riot and confirmed that the rumours were true. There is no question that the frustration with this issue which had built up over many years was a major factor in the high turn-out for the parade and for the riot.

In response to the frustration which had started in the late 1800’s, the British Columbia legislature had passed a large number of laws to curb Asian cheap labour, but almost all were disallowed by Ottawa. King stated clearly that although there were other minor reasons for conflict, the major factor in the conflict between locals and Asians was the economic advantage Asians had in the labour market.

Labourers’ wages in Canada were considerably higher than those  in Japan, China or India. For example, at cheap-labour wages in Canada, which contractors had set precedents for in the 1880’s and which cheap-labour employees readily agreed to, Japanese labourers received 10 times the wage they were paid in their home country; Chinese labourers, 20 times; East Indians, around 50 times.

Most Asians came to Canada as “sojourner” males, in contrast to the many married local labourers. “Sojourners” were the equivalent of Temporary Foreign Workers. Most wanted to make as much money as possible. They also lived very frugally, and sent money home. Most did not intend to stay. In the 1901 Royal Commission Report, many B.C. residents testified that they had been displaced from work and knew of many other locals who had been forced to leave. Others complained that many potential married settlers had been discouraged from coming because of the low-wage labour. A so-called “better life”, the cliched phrase used today by our immigration industry to sanctify and justify high immigration levels, really meant a “worse life” for Canadians displaced from their jobs in that era.

There were several important results of King’s inquiry. One was that his investigation confirmed what the very extensive Royal Commission Report of 1901 had uncovered. That 1901 Royal Commission had heard much talk of Chinese labourers being brought here by Chinese labour contractors. However, there was little evidence about how the Chinese labour contractors operated.  The evidence King gathered on the Canadian Nippon Supply Company provided a picture of how the Japanese contractors worked and probably also a very good picture of the methods of the Chinese who had worked in the shadows for over 2 decades. It also showed that the contractors were involved in a very profitable business. In fact, some of the richest Chinese businessmen in Chinatown were involved in labour contracting.

King’s inquiry demonstrated the chaos in Canada’s immigration system in 1907 and how labour disputes in far-off Hawaii could affect Canada. At that time, there were between 50,000 and 60,000 Japanese agricultural workers in Hawaii. Facing a cut in wages in Hawaii, thousands of Japanese labourers were encouraged by shipping companies and others to leave Hawaii for supposedly greener pastures in Canada and the U.S.

Mackenzie King concluded that if thousands more were to do the same thing,  the potential for extremely serious conflict with the resident population in Canada was great. This was because there was clearly not enough employment for those who had arrived. King pointed out that even those who had been indifferent to Asian immigration were “alarmed” at the problems the sudden high inflows had caused.

One of the major results of King’s investigation was that Ottawa enacted continuous passage legislation, which required any Japanese who wanted to come to Canada to come directly from Japan. Even before this law was approved,  it was illegal for Japanese who had been permitted to travel to Hawaii,  to travel from Hawaii or from any other place which Japan had allowed them to go to,  without the permission of the Japanese government.

It is not clear exactly how many of the 8125 Japanese who arrived in Canada in 1907 had come from Hawaii, but it is probable that about 6398 made the trip. The remaining 1650 Japanese had traveled from Japan. Of the 1650,  900 were being imported by the Canadian Nippon Supply Company (a Japanese labour contractor) and another 750 were returning to Canada or coming as  immigrants approved by the Japanese consul.

Of the total of 8125 Japanese who arrived in 1907, about 3500 would soon leave for the U.S. while about 4500 remained in Canada.

The illegal emigration from Hawaii, the scheming of the Canadian Nippon Supply Company, and the 1907 riot which resulted from the scheming, were major international embarrassments to both Canada and Japan. To compensate for the actions of its citizens, Japan quickly agreed to Canada’s continuous passage law which required that people coming from Asia (particularly Japan) had to come directly from their country of origin, not from some place like Hawaii along the way. The Japanese government quickly conceded that this law was intended to protect Canadian labourers and that there was ample justification for the law.

That law would later be applied to the East Indians aboard the Komagata Maru who tried to challenge the law in 1914 but lost. That loss continues to be met with shrill, unjustified claims which failed to look at all the immigration conflict which preceded the Komagata Maru incident.

The most significant and damning thing that can be said about the current interpretations of the 1907 Vancouver Parade and Riot is that they are wrong. In spite of this, they have long been used to elicit guilt from Canadians and subsequently to perpetuate unjustified high immigration levels today.

The great tragedy for Canadian workers today is that Labour Contractors are operating in the Canadian economy today with almost no fear of investigation or prosecution. In other words, what happened in 1907 and before is happening again with much more calamitous effect. Hundreds of thousands of low-wage labourers from China, the Philippines, India and elsewhere have arrived as regular immigrants or as Temporary foreign Workers and have displaced Canadian workers.

Canada’s Labour Movement, Canada’s governments at all three levels and their supporters seem to have learned almost nothing from our history.