Future Not So Bright for Fingerprint Refuser

Minister prays for positive court ruling to decide uncertain future in his favor


OSAKA — Next year is looking more and more uncertain for the Rev. Dr. John McIntosh, the Canadian missionary embroiled in a battle with the Japanese government over his refusal to comply with Japan’s fingerprint requirement as stated in the Alien Registration Law.

McIntosh’s future is unsure because as an illegal resident he knows he can be deported at any moment.

“I chose to be a self-declared resident in Japan,” he said. “According to the authorities I have no legal status.”

McIntosh is among an estimated 1,000 foreigners living in Japan who are challenging the validity of the 1952 Alien Registration Law. The law requires an imprint of the applicant’s left index finger in a 13-page certificate.

A Presbyterian missionary at the Korean Christian Center in Ikuno Ward here, McIntosh refused to provide his fingerprint in August 1985 on grounds that the law discriminates against foreign residents.

In 1986 he planned to go to Canada on missionary work and return to Osaka a year later.

He was free to leave Japan, but because of his prior fingerprinting refusal, immigration officials turned down his visa application to re-enter Japan if he should leave, McIntosh said.

“It was a case of give in or get out,” he said. “That was the proposal they made.”

Court action pending

In February 1987 he filed a lawsuit in Osaka District Court against the Ministry of Justice, seeking to reverse the immigration department’s denial of his re-entry visa request.

“In using the powers of free discretion of the minister of justice, the immigration department was acting unjustly,” claims McIntosh, 53. “They are interfering in the mission of the church.”

Osaka immigration officials handling the McIntosh case have declined comment, saying that the matter is still under investigation.

McIntosh’s upcoming court appearance in February will be his fifth in a year. During past hearings he has presented his arguments and defended himself against government accusations of being a troublemaker, he says.

And any future victory in court will not necessarily guarantee a stay in Japan.

“If I get a reversal of the denial, that does not mean that my visa is granted,” he said. “It just means that my application is under review.”

Under the Alien Registration Law, foreign residents are required to provide their fingerprint, photograph and other information that is placed in the certificate.

The certificate must be carried by foreign residents at all times and must be presented to competent authorities upon request.

Renewal of the certificate is required every five years.

Hope is only course

Some fingerprint refusers liken Japan’s certificate fingerprinting system to the “pass laws” governing blacks in South Africa.

McIntosh himself wears a “Stop Apartheid in Japan” badge made in Canada.

“I feel there are comparable elements,” he says. “This (certificate) is used in that system in South Africa as it is here.”

In Ikuno Ward, where McIntosh has lived and worked for 18 years, an estimated 40,000 Koreans make up almost one-fourth of the ward’s total population.

Having taken up the cause of Koreans there, including complaints against mandatory fingerprinting for foreign residents, McIntosh has become less popular with some of his neighbors. He cites instances of threatening phone calls and repeated vandalism.

McIntosh and his wife, Beth, also a fingerprint refuser, first arrived in Osaka in 1965.

Twenty-three years later, the minister from Ontario prays for a Japanese court ruling that will decide the uncertain future in his favor.

“That’s all we can hope for,” he says.