‘Injustices’ toward Japanese Canadian Anglicans acknowledged

By Marites N. Sison
Posted Mar 20, 2013
From left to right: Lynne Shozawa and Joy Kogawa present Archbishop Fred Hiltz with a memorial plaque that tells the story about the fate of Japanese Canadian Anglican churches before and after World War II. Photo: Marites N. Sison/Anglican Journal

From left to right: Lynne Shozawa and Joy Kogawa present Archbishop Fred Hiltz with a memorial plaque that tells the story about the fate of Japanese Canadian Anglican churches before and after World War II. Photo: Marites N. Sison/Anglican Journal

[Anglican Journal, Mississauga, Ontario] The Council of General Synod (CoGS) on March 14 acknowledged the injustices and racism experienced by Japanese Canadian Anglicans at the hands of the Anglican Church of Canada during and after World War II, and said it confessed “the error of our ways.”

CoGS, the church’s governing body between General Synods, also supported the 2010 apology made by Bishop Michael Ingham for the sale of Japanese congregation churches in the Diocese of New Westminster during World War II and months after Japanese Canadian exiles returned to Vancouver.

In a resolution, CoGS said it recognized that “deep-seated historic racism continues as a source of pain to Japanese Canadians across Canada” and commended “every effort in the interests of healing and reconciliation.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz supported the resolution, calling it “a sign to the whole church to acknowledge sins of the past…[one that] expresses a desire to be continually reconciled.”

The resolution was approved after an emotional presentation made by members of the Japanese-Canadian Vancouver Consultation Council (JC-VCC) who had spent more than a decade digging into the truth about what happened to their churches during the war.

In 1942, the Canadian government ordered Japanese Canadians — 22,000 of them from British Columbia — to pack a single suitcase, then sent them to internment camps. The push to confine them to shantytowns in the wilderness came from Ian MacKenzie, federal cabinet minister from B.C., and provincial politicians angered by the December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and fearful of an invasion of the Pacific coast.

“It is my personal intention, as long as I remain in public life, to see they never come back here,” MacKenzie had pledged. “Let our slogan be for British Columbia: ‘No Japs from the Rockies to the seas.’ ” In 1943, the federal government ordered the sale of all properties seized from Japanese Canadians.

Such virulence extended to the church, the JC-VCC’s investigation showed. And that, said Greg Tatchell in his presentation to CoGS, “has been the hardest part of our project.”

Their research showed that New Westminster held three pre-World War II Anglican church properties in trust for 1,500 Japanese Canadian parishioners in Vancouver, said Tatchell. Two, including Church of the Ascension, were sold in 1945 near the end of World War II; one, Holy Cross Church, was sold after the war, on Aug. 19, 1949, several months after the first Japanese Canadians were allowed to return to Vancouver.

“The sale of the church after the war ended was especially insensitive and wrong,” said Lynne Shozawa, her voice breaking. Shozawa was born to Japanese Anglican parents in an internment camp in B.C.

The diocese had also held the funds of these congregations, but after their exile ended and they were allowed to return to Vancouver, the diocese opted to divert $8,107.64 of these funds into the Bishop’s Endowment Fund, with authorization from the diocesan executive council.

Instead of welcoming back their Japanese Canadian parishioners after the war, the diocesan executive council passed a motion on May 10, 1949, stating that  “the need for Japanese Mission work was nil.”

In 1953, the Rev. Canon Tim Makoto Nakayama — then studying to become a priest — asked then bishop of the diocese of New Westminster, Godfrey Philip Gower, what had happened to the Japanese Canadian churches and was simply told, “They were relinquished.” Nakayama, whose father was the priest at the Church of the Ascension before the war, was “stunned,” said Tatchell.

Tatchell said their research showed that “institutional racism” was aided by the fact that the diocese’s executive council had included one of the “worst purveyors” of racism, Halford D. Wilson, an alderman who made no secret that he despised Japanese Canadians.

The JV-VCC delegation, which also included well-known Japanese Canadian author Joy Kogawa, said they came to CoGS “to seek your support in finding some kind of reconciliation.”

CoGS’s approval of the resolution, submitted by the partners in mission and eco-justice committee, is an assurance that “a justice has been revealed and acknowledged,” said Shozawa. “This marks just the beginning for us. We are heartened by the church’s promise to be with us on the road to healing and reconnection with those we lost.”

She added that while there were church leaders who turned their backs on Japanese Canadian Anglicans during the war, there were others who stood by them. “We remember with love the missionary workers and clergy who followed us to the camps. They were the face of the church,” she said. “We are grateful to these few who were so faithful in their calling that they inspired within us a similar commitment to this day.”

They presented the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, with a bronze Relinquished Memorial Plaque, which includes highlights from their research and Ingham’s apology; the same plaque has been mounted next to the pulpit of Holy Cross Japanese Canadian Anglican Church, and the primate has promised to hang it at the national church office in Toronto.

“This is our story, our small memorial, to remind us to see what we do not see and to care for the least among us, whoever they may be,” said Shozawa in her presentation of the plaque.

—With files from Topic, CBC Archives and B.C. Archives