Hit The Books, Jack, Stephen and Others. And Don’t Come Back Till You’ve Done Your Homework!


“Hit The Books, Jack, Stephen and Others. And Don’t Come Back Till You’ve Done Your Homework !!”

NDP leader Jack Layton has recently called upon the Harper government to apologize to Canada’s Sikhs for the Komagata Maru incident of 1914. The Komagata Maru was a ship which several hundred Sikhs had chartered in Hong Kong to take them on the last leg of their journey from India to Vancouver. Most of the Sikhs were denied entry to Canada.

Prime Minister Harper has expressed sentiments similar to those of Mr. Layton.

Before others join this “Vote for Me Chorus”, they should all do some serious homework on one of the reasons the Canadian government had for rejecting most of the Sikhs: the cheap labour turmoil of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Mr. Layton, Prime Minister Harper and others will find that reason explained in a 1907 Royal Commission Report which Mackenzie King did on why 11,440 Japanese, Chinese and East Indian workers arrived at Vancouver and Victoria in 1907.

At that time, Mackenzie King was Deputy Minister of Labour and had just finished a Royal Commission report on compensation to the Japanese for the losses they had suffered during the September, 1907 Vancouver Riot. Specifically, King was asked to examine the methods by which oriental labourers had been induced to come to Canada.

King conducted his inquiry in Vancouver and Victoria between Nov. 11 and 30, 1907. He interviewed 101 witnesses.

King’s findings reveal a fascinating picture of that time and many similarities between 1907 and 2007.

King divided his report into three sections, one each for the Japanese, Chinese and East Indians. (This release deals with the largest section of King’s report: his investigation of the Japanese.)

King observes that Japanese society was permeated by “a spirit of intense patriotism, a devotion to emperor and country, so profound as to constitute a religion”. (P.4) The governors of Japan’s prefectures (provinces) ensured that births, deaths, marriages, internal migration, etc. were rigorously tracked. Emigration from Japan was carefully regulated. Individuals and emigration companies had to comply with strict regulations which tried to ensure that Japanese emigrants did not “become a public charge” on the countries to which thay emigrated. Military service of 2 to 3 years was required of every fit Japanese male between 21 and 31. These males could be recalled from the countries to which they migrated to perform their duty. Passports were stamped with the destination of the emigrant. It was against Japanese emigration law for Japanese labourers who were working as agricultural labourers on rice and sugar plantations in Hawaii to go from Hawaii to Canada or the U.S. (Pp.4-6)

Census figures indicate that there were 4674 Japanese in Canada in 1901. King concluded that “practically all” of them were male labourers. (P.7) On August 1, 1901, Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs had prohibited “entirely the emigration of Japanese labourers for the Dominion of Canada or for the United States”. (P.7)

However, a flow of Japanese continued to move between Japan and Canada. King estimated that in the years 1902 to 1904, less than 250 Japanese per year came to Canada. Figures which started to be kept in 1904 showed that between the start of the fiscal year 1905-06 and the end of 1906 (about 21 months), 3357 Japanese came to Canada.

It is probable that a number of these were from non-excluded groups such as students, officials and merchants. It is also probable that a significant number were labourers who had already been working in Canada at continuing seasonal jobs and who had returned to Japan during non-working months. It is possible that a number of these new arrivals were Japanese who had been working in Hawaii.

King estimates that with the post-1901 arrivals, the Japanese population in British Columbia at the beginning of 1907 had increased to around 7500 at most. (P.8)

However, the 1907 inflow created major changes. “It is not a matter of surprise,” King says, “that with the arrival of 8125 Japanese” in the first ten months of 1907, that” the people of British Columbia and more especially the residents of Vancouver, should have experienced some concern”… and that as the number of arrivals exceeded the total already here, “that consternation should have been felt in many quarters”. (P.8) “If anything more were needed to occasion unrest, it was to be found in the simultaneous arrival from the Orient of Hindus by the hundreds and Chinese in larger numbers than those of the immediately preceding years.” (P.8)

Chinese immigration had decreased to a trickle in 1904 because of the increase from $100 to $500 in the Chinese Head Tax. Undoubtedly, Japanese contractors in Canada regarded the decrease in Chinese labourers as an opportunity to fill the labour gap with equally cheap Japanese labourers. A similar conclusion can probably be drawn about the sudden arrival of large numbers of East Indian labourers. However, the Japanese contractors had to overcome a major obstacle: the Japanese law which prohibited Japanese labourers from coming to Canada.

The Japanese government’s law was, in effect, a policy of imposing on its labourers virtual exclusion from Canada. It was seen in Canada as Japanese sensitivity to domestic peace in Canada and to the employment needs of Canada’s work force. However, it was open to change, particularly to sel-interested situations in which Japanese contractors in Canada could produce contracts which stated that Canadian employers would guarantee employment to Japanese labourers. A Japanese contractor company in Vancouver, one of whose directors had worked at the Japanese consulate in Vancouver, was the first contractor who managed to convince the Japanese government to approve this plan. This resulted, finally, in the Japanese government agreeing to issue passports to Japanese labourers involved in specific contract work.

However, the Canadian government was unaware of the contracts and Mackenzie King was shocked when he learned about these agreements from witnesses testifying at the Royal Commission. The Japanese government would soon be equally shocked to learn that its own labourers in Hawaii would undermine all the care it took in catering to Canadian sensitivities. The Hawaiian Japanese labourers travelled to Canada at the same time as the government-approved labourers from Japan. The near-simultaneous arrival of all of these labourers created even more of the turmoil than had been generated in 1901—something which the Japanese government had tried to avoid.

Canadians were placated somewhat to learn that about half of the newly-arrived Japanese would soon be leaving. Of the 8125 Japanese who arrived in B.C. in 1907, 77 were refused admission and returned to Japan. “Of the 8048 who were allowed to land, 3619 or 45% held passports for the U.S. and were admitted to the U.S.” (P.9) The U.S.-bound Japanese had deliberately travelled to a Canadian port in order to avoid the rigorous medical check which American government agents, stationed in Japan, performed on Japanese travelling directly from Japan to the U.S. It is possible that a number of these U.S.-bound labourers were involved in the same kind of contractual arrangements as those approved to go to Canada. It is also possible that a number of the Japanese who arrived at the U.S. border were travelling from Hawaii.

However, 4429 Japanese intended to come to Canada. Of these, “2779 came from the Hawaiian Islands and 9 from Mexico, leaving 1641 who came to Canada direct from Japan”. (P.9) The Japanese in Hawaii were working as agricultural labourers. They had tried to get wage increases from their employer, the Hawaiian Plantation Owners Association, but failed. Instead, the owners decided to import 3000 Portugese workers from the Canary Islands to replace the Japanese. Having heard rumours about job prospects in Canada, the displaced (or about to be displaced) Japanese labourers decided to go to Canada.

The largest of the Japanese labour contractors in Canada, the Canadian Nippon Supply Company (CNSC), appear not to have known this. But it was clearly involved in other intrigue. Despite the denials of one of its directors, it had ties to a large Japanese emigration company, the Tokyo Emigration Company. Together, these two companies arranged for the employment of over 900 of the 1641 Japanese who travelled directly from Japan in 1907. The remaining 741 were Japanese returnees to Canada, relatives of Japanese in Canada, those who had been refused admission to the U.S., and a small number of “officials, merchants, travellers and students”. There was also a group identified as “friends” of Japanese in Canada who were given permission to come because they too had guaranteed job offers with acquaintances in Canada. (Pp.9-10)

Seven other Japanese employment agencies in B.C. found jobs for the remaining 741 who had come directly from Japan and some of the 2779 who had arrived from Hawaii. (Pp.49-50) Although Japanese employment agencies had become involved in securing employment for these new arrivals, it does not appear that they induced them to come.

The remainder of the 2779 were thrown into the British Columbia cheap labour pool, much like the Chinese and East Indians. These people added to the tensions over cheap labour which had originated 25 years earlier with the importing of Chinese railway workers and which had been perpetuated by the ongoing importation of other cheap Chinese labour by Chinese businessman-contractors.

King notes that “If there was a change in the policy of Japan, it was not one which could adversely affect the interests of this country without a Canadian citizen, or a Canadian corporation, first placing upon it the seal of his or her approval”. In other words, if Canadian workers suffered from an inflow of cheap Japanese labour, the CPR and Canadians who had acted similarly were responsible.

King’s investigation uncovered some unsavoury facts about Canadian employers. The CPR had secretly negotiated with the Japanese contractor (CNSC) to get between 500 and 2000 Japanese labourers for a five year contract. This was a significant part of the western CPR’s work force which totalled over 5000 and would probably displace a large number of host population employees. (P.35)

The Japanese contractor (CNSC) also secretly negotiated a contract for over 500 workers with the Wellington Coal Company on Vancouver Island. (P.35) Ironically, this mining company was owned by the family of B.C.’s Lieutenant Governor, James Dunsmuir. The CPR contract went ahead, but the coal company contract fell apart because the Japanese preferred railway work to mining. The economic issue (the savings to the CPR, the hiring of cheaper foreign workers, and the antagonism this was guaranteed to raise) was the obvious reason for all of the secrecy.

A third contract between the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and the Japanese contractor (CNSC) for a large number of Japanese workers was based on a letter written by a Grand Trunk official who, it was alleged by other Grand Trunk officials, had not been authorized to make such an offer.

After sifting through all the evidence, Deputy Minister of Labour Mackenzie King said that two things had to be done “not only in the interest of the people of British Columbia, but of the whole Dominion”: (P.54)

(1) “Prohibition of such immigration as may come from countries beyond the jurisdiction of Japan” (P.54) Here, he was recommending that Canada refuse entry to Japanese not coming directly from Japan, that is, labourers that had come from Hawaii. This would result in legislation that required workers/immigrants to come directly from their country of origin. This applied to Japanese labourers who might in future come from Hawaii. It also applied later to Sikhs whose ship, the Komagata Maru, did not come directly from India, but from Hong Kong.

(2) “An absolute restriction in the numbers (of contract labourers) that may come from Japan direct” (P.54) Here, he was referring to refusing entry to cheap labour contract labourers, who had been hired under clandestine and less-than-honourable arrangements with companies like the CPR.

Mr. Layton, Mr. Harper and others should note that Mr. King put the interests of Canada and Canadian workers first. Mr. Layton, Mr. Harper and others indicate that the governments of 1914 (the year of the Komagata Maru incident) and earlier were unenlightened to have done what they did.

These two political leaders should be able to see that the Japanese cheap labourer incident sheds considerable light on the Komagata Maru incident. It is not the only case that can be put forward to justify what occurred. But in general, the idea that Canada should take everyone who knocks on its door, that immigration industry interests should be given primacy, and that the wishes and needs of the majority of its own population should be ignored, made no sense in the past and it makes no sense now.

Mr. Layton, Mr. Harper and others should know this and have the courage to say it. Unless their recent statements are revoked, the people of Canada should ponder and remember what has been said when next election day arrives.


NOTE: The above information is taken from the “Report of W.L.Mackenzie King, C.M.G., Commissioner Appointed To Enquire Into The Methods By Which Oriental Labourers Have Been Induced To Come To Canada.”