|RJ McMaster was a committee member of the Co-operative Committee on Japanese Canadians, while he was employed as an attorney for Campbell, Brazier, Fisher and McMaster Barristers and Solicitors law firm (now Davis & Co.) in Vancouver, BC|
The Canadian Co-operative Committee on Japanese Canadians was formed in June 1943 to help Japanese Canadian women who arrived in Toronto from relocation centres in BC looking for work. A small group of non-Japanese individuals associated with the YWCA, women’s missionary societies of the United Church, the Church of England and the Church of All Nations rallied together and formed a committee to help the women adjust to their new environment. The individuals who offered help either had personal friends who were Japanese or had worked in missions in Japan. This resulted in familiarity and admiration of the Japanese people. The members of the committee attempted to find job placements and accommodations for the Japanese women. Later on, representatives of the YMCA, the Student Christian Movement, the Fellowship for a Christian Social-Order, the Catholic Diocese of Toronto, and the Metropolitan Church became affiliated with the group, and extended their services to assist men as well as women.
At the suggestion of the committee, Japanese Canadians in Toronto formed two subcommittees of their own to help with problems as they occurred. (Later, the two Japanese Canadian subcommittees joined to form the Japanese Canadian Committee for Democracy, and later developed into the Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association).
As the issue of relocating members of the Japanese Canadian community began to become more pervasive, the committee decided that it was necessary to begin educating the general public about the community’s plight, and try to diffuse some of the racist tension which existed. As a result, the Co-operative Committee began to fight local opposition to the Japanese Canadians concerning their right to obtain business licenses in the city of Toronto. The Committee then began to oppose federal legislation regarding relocated British Columbians right to vote in federal elections.
On August 5 1944, Prime Minister Mackenzie King outlined the policy of his government towards Japanese Canadians in part by indicating that for those individuals perceived to be found loyal to Japan, it was important that "they be given encouragement to move and remain elsewhere". As a result, early in 1945 the government initiated its "repatriation" plan. Alarmed by the government’s actions, the Co-operative Committee felt that it was imperative that it should make an even greater attempt of protecting Japanese Canadians from the threat to their civil liberties. The Committee extended its scope and man-power by working in association with concerned delegates from 20 more organizations. Due to its increased size, the Co-operative Committee on Japanese Canadians officially became a federation of all the involved organizations interested in securing justice for Japanese Canadians.
In September 1945, as plans were underway to deport the first of 10,000 people to Japan, the Committee began to actively campaign against the action in leaflets, speeches and petitions: "It is of vital importance to Japanese Canadian democracy at home, and our reputation abroad that we deal justly with the Japanese Canadians in our land who, in the words of Prime Minister King, ‘have been guilty of no act of sabotage and have manifested no disloyalty even during periods of utmost trial’."
The committee’s strongest opposition was in regards to the government’s determination to deport all Japanese nationals who signed the repatriation application, even after they had asked to have their requests canceled. Lawyers on the committee, such as RJ McMaster, collected statements from the individuals appealing their deportation, (as is evident in his donated files). However, as a result of the need to expedite the process due to the impending deportation dates which were set for January 1946, the Committee’s legal consul quickly issued writs against the Attorney General to test the legality of the orders-in-council. The writs were created in the name of Yutaka Shioyama and Mrs. Yae Nasu, a Canadian-born Japanese and a naturalized Japanese Canadian. The committee claimed on the individuals behalf that the government’s actions were "invalid, illegal, and beyond the powers of governor-in-council." With the case being taken to the Supreme Court, the decision was made that under the War Measure’s Act, the government quite simply had the right to do practically anything. The orders were maintained in spite of the fact that the war had been over for several months, and the government’s repatriation policies were rushed through just before the War Measures Act was to expire.
Appealing the case before the Privy Council, it was finally announced on January 24 1947, that the orders-in-council providing for the deportation of the Japanese Canadians had been repealed. Unfortunately this occurred after 3,700 persons of Japanese origin had already gone to Japan.
With the orders of deportation being rescinded, the Co-operative Committee then dedicated its attention to helping individuals and families obtain fair market value for their property losses. With the aid of the Japanese Canadian Committee for Democracy, the Co-operative committee began a survey to gather detailed information about the extent of property losses. After attempting to obtain clarification on the property claim issue before the government, a Property Commission was established. Mr. Justice Henry Irvine Bird of British Columbia, was appointed as commissioner to evaluate the claims. In association with the Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association, the Co-operative Committee arranged for legal representatives to handle the claims from across Canada. Approximately thirteen hundred claims, amounting to over four million dollars, were prepared for filing with the aid of JCCA officers across the country. Valuations experts, under the supervision of RJ McMaster, engaged to deal with each different type of property and compiled evidence. Most claims were completed by January, 1948. The findings of Justice Bird were that it was evident that Japanese claims for their land and chattels were greatly less than the fair market price. He found that the greatest under-valuation of real estate had occurred in the Fraser Valley, where the custodian had turned over Japanese farms to the Veterans’ Land Act administration for about half their value.
Continuing to assist with individual claims until 1951, the Co-operative Committee, after years of hard work and dedication, dissolved as a separate organization. The JCCA and National Association of Japanese Canadians eventually took over its lead in the community’s efforts to obtain greater human rights and to fight racism.