Canadian Missionary Gets His Day in Court

By Brian Covert
Staff Writer

Judgment Day is fast approaching for the Rev. John Henderson McIntosh.

Not in the biblical sense just yet, but in the legal sense: On March 29, a final decision is expected in Osaka District Court on the Canadian missionary’s seven-year legal battle against the Justice Ministry over the Japanese fingerprinting system.

The final court session will serve as a milestone of sorts for this self-dubbed “outlaw missionary,” capping years of protest against Japan’s fingerprinting system and its effects in particular on ethnic Korean residents of Japan.

Although several court cases involving ethnic Korean fingerprint refusers are still pending in Japanese courts. McIntosh’s case is the last one by a westerner in this country yet to be ruled on. A similar case by one of McIntosh’s fellow protesters, American lay missionary Ronald Susumu Fujiyoshi, is on appeal to the Supreme Court.

“The importance of people is something I am always impressed, even overwhelmed, by: people acting, cooperating and supporting each other,” McIntosh says. “That’s been story of seven years in this pioneer mission effort in the Japanese court system.”

It has been a long battle for the 58-year-old McIntosh, who first came to Japan in 1961 with the Presbyterian Church of Canada and was later called to work with the Korean Christian Church in Japan.

In 1969, he moved to Ikuno-ku, Osaka, home of the largest Korean population in Japan — with an estimated 40,000 out of more than 700,000 Koreans nationwide — and became a well-known figure in the community.

By the early 1980s. the issue of fingerprinting began heating up as Korean residents nationwide openly refused to be fingerprinted for their Certificate of Alien Registration as required under the 1952 Alien Registration Law.

Many ethnic Koreans have viewed the fingerprint requirement that starts at age 16 as part of a governmental system that treats ethnic Koreans more like potential criminals than as citizens who were born and raised in Japan.

In August 1985, McIntosh showed solidarity with the Korean protesters by refusing to be fingerprinted at the local ward office. A year later, when he sought a re-entry permit to enter Japan in connection with a planned one-year return to Canada, immigration authorities refused his application.

Procedures were soon begun to deport McIntosh. “In other words, ‘Give your fingerprint or get out of Japan’ — this was the sort of persuasion that they used,” he said.

McIntosh responded by filing a lawsuit against the Justice Ministry in February 1987, seeking to nullify the immigration bureau’s refusal of his requests for visa extension and re-entry into Japan.

He viewed his suit from the beginning as a test case that would throw light on the government’s fingerprinting system — and by extension the denial of voting rights to Japan-born Korean taxpayers — as a violation of international human rights.

The most recent revisions to the Alien Registration Law went into effect in January 1993, excusing about 645,000 permanent residents from being fingerprinted. But critics such as McIntosh blast the revisions as being “cosmetic”: At least 320,000 nonpermanent residents — including 40,000 Japan-born Koreans, along with other foreigners who stay in Japan longer than one year — must be fingerprinted as before.

With human rights and religious organizations both in and outside Japan now watching the outcome of his case, McIntosh believes that Japan’s treatment of its ethnic Korean population can never again be considered merely a domestic dispute.

“I’m quite at peace with my conscience,” says McIntosh. “They say I’ve broken the law and that I’ve got to obey it. But I’m confident that the laws of Japan, the Constitution, and the United Nations human rights covenant have clear, written guarantees for all people in Japan.”