Dr. Jordan Stanger-Ross is associate professor of history at the University of Victoria and the project director for Landscapes of Injustice, a seven-year, multi-partner research project exploring the forced dispossession of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. Dr. Stanger-Ross recently spoke to us about his article in the Journal of American Ethnic History, titled, “The Unfaithful Custodian: Glenn McPherson and the Dispossession of Japanese Canadians in the 1940s.”
On January 19 1943, Canada took a decision that set its internment of Japanese Canadians on a new path, one that diverged significantly from that of the United States (which, to that point, Canadians had closely mirrored). Under the new policy, the 22,000 Japanese Canadians who had been uprooted and interned in the previous year were stripped of everything that they had been forced to leave behind. Canada’s Custodian of Enemy Property sold it all. This meant that, when Canada’s long internment era finally ended in 1949 (!) Japanese Canadians had nothing left. Their neighborhoods, homes, farms, businesses, and all of their varied personal belongings were gone. Japanese Canadians were forced start again from virtually nothing.
The dispossession was written into law by Glenn Willoughby McPherson, a low-level bureaucrat, little known and scarcely discussed before now. McPherson met with cabinet ministers on January 11 1943, reporting enthusiastically to a colleague that the discussion went “far better than I had hoped.” Federal politicians embraced his plan to sell everything that Japanese-Canadians owned and entrusted him to draft the authorizing law. For the collective of researchers of which I am a part—a group of some 70 academics, museum professionals, archivists, school teachers, students, and community leaders researching and telling the history of the dispossession of Japanese Canadians—McPherson was a person of significant interest. He was the author and executioner of the dispossession policy.
Then my co-author Will Archibald (then an MA student in history at the University of Victoria) made a startling archival discovery. In addition to directing the Office of the Custodian of Enemy Property, McPherson was a clandestine agent of the British Security Coordination. Initially entrusted to “protect” the property of Japanese Canadians, he was simultaneously writing inflammatory and fantastical secret reports of their potential perfidy. He was, to say the least, not someone to whom Japanese Canadians would have entrusted their material lives by choice.
Will and I knew we needed to write about McPherson. Examining the record (official and secret) of his activity, we find the dispossession both easier and harder to understand: easier because the records of McPherson’s life and work detail the process by which this consequential policy emerged but harder because unlike political actors, his motives are more obscure, his actions more secretive.
You can read the full text of Dr. Stanger-Ross’s article here.