6.1 The Growth of Restrictive Immigration
In the late nineteenth century, the Canadian government began to concern itself with encouraging the further settlement of the prairies. Partly to inhibit the imperialist ambitions of the United States, and partly to increase the agricultural output of the nation, Canada began to consider immigration to the west of primary importance. To this end a network of emigration agents was set up abroad. These agents encouraged migration from Europe and the United States to the Canadian prairies, focussing on farmers with capital, agricultural labourers, and female domestics. Shortly after this practice was begun the government passed the first Immigration Act in 1869. This act merely formalised the federal control of immigration, saying nothing about who should be admitted or in what numbers. It was not until 1872 that the act was amended to exclude criminals and other ‘vicious classes’. This pattern of making amendments to the original act was continued when, in 1879, paupers and the destitute were added to the ranks of the excluded.
By 1885 the immigration of Chinese labourers into British Columbia had become a serious issue for politicians and white citizens of the province alike. Chinese citizens had been migrating across the Pacific since the middle of the nineteenth century, essentially as impermanent labourers in gold mines and on the railways. The year 1885 saw a peak in the numbers of migrants arriving from China. These immigrants were mostly male labourers who remained socially isolated from the white community and did not establish many businesses or families in the New World. Their presence was opposed by many citizens for the very reasons that they were welcomed by the government and the railway companies: they were temporary migrants and they provided cheap labour. The federal government was pressured by public opinion in British Columbia, and in 1885 an act was passed to restrict and regulate Chinese immigration. This act did not ban immigration outright, but instead imposed a head tax on Chinese migrants arriving in Canada. Initially fifty dollars, the head tax was raised to one hundred, and then five hundred. This was sufficient to keep Chinese immigration down to a trickle.
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For a more comprehensive look at Asian labour in the Americas, please see Section 4: Asian and African Labour: Indenture and Beyond
During the 1890s immigration to the prairies, which had been very slow, began to pick up. Good economic conditions prevailed throughout North America, and the countries of eastern and southern Europe saw rapid increases in their populations. The prairies expanded rapidly from this time to the onset of the First World War, not only demographically, but also economically. The appointment of Charles Sifton as Minister of the Interior (the governmental department that controlled immigration) in 1896 furthered this trend. He was determined to increase the population and the agricultural output of the Canadian prairies, and intended to do so by remaking the immigration service that had come under his control. He began by aggressively promoting emigration to Canada throughout Europe. He was only minimally concerned with the nationality and ethnicity of immigrants. He preferred to concentrate on profession, encouraging farmers, farm labourers, and rural domestic help. Canada sought out agriculturists and discouraged urban dwellers and people with sedentary professions. His campaign was helped by a widely perceived shift of the North American frontier. People, both in the United States and in Europe, felt that the opportunities for expansion had played out in the United States, and that the frontier, and with it good land and economic possibility, was now located in the Canadian prairies.
Many governments in Europe were ill disposed towards emigration of their citizens, and some forbade it outright. This proved to be a minimal barrier to Sifton’s plans, as he employed a series of secretive arrangements with shipping agents that soon evolved into the North Atlantic Trading Company. In return for directing agricultural settlers to Canada, shipping agents were given a larger bonus than was usual. This agreement, enacted in 1899, covered Russia, Austria, Germany, Romania, Switzerland, northern Italy, Belgium, Holland, and France. It was relatively short-lived, and was abandoned six years later by Sifton’s successor. On the whole, Sifton’s policies succeeded in boosting immigration to Canada. In 1897, total immigration was 21,716. Six years later, in 1903, it had risen to 138,660.
One of the few restrictive policies that came into being during the Sifton years was the Alien Labour Act of 1879. This act was geared towards the prevention of foreigners entering Canada as contract labour, and had been enacted due to pressure from Canadian labour Unions, as well as in response to similar legislation in the United States. The policies of Sifton were exclusive in another sense as well, for although he courted agriculturists from the United States as well as from Europe, he did not encourage black farmers to migrate into the Canadian prairies. Although they were not officially barred from entering the country, Canadian emigration agents operating in the United States were deliberately told not to seek them out and not to encourage them.
In 1905 Sifton was replaced by Frank Oliver. Oliver’s policy regarding immigration was significantly different from that of Sifton. He favoured a far more selective approach, and considered the ethnic and cultural origins of immigrants to be of more significance than their occupation. In regards to the populating of the prairies, he once said:
For Oliver, the most desirable immigrants for the prairies were to be found in eastern Canada, Britain, and America, in that order.
In 1906 a second Immigration Act was passed. It compiled and amended previous legislation, while providing a basis for defining ‘immigrant’, for barring many classes of individuals, for establishing a more elaborate immigration service, and for deportation. This was the first legal mechanism for enacting and enforcing a system of restrictive immigration in Canada. It dramatically increased the number of categories of excluded migrants, adding prostitutes, the insane, epileptics, those with contagious diseases, and the mentally infirm. It was under this act that Oliver established Canada’s first border inspection service in 1908. Four years later a third Immigration Act was passed, this one allowing the cabinet almost unlimited powers through the use of orders-in-council. This gave the cabinet the authority to regulate the volume, origin, and occupation of immigration destined for Canada. This third act also allowed for the exclusion of charity cases (impoverished or disadvantaged migrants brought to Canada by the actions of private individuals), and also allowed the exclusion of those potential immigrants with suspicious political or moral beliefs.
In the early years of the twentieth century, migration from Japan to the Pacific coast of North America was high. These Japanese immigrants were often regarded by the white population as being loyal to Japan and a potential threat to Canada. This was in spite of the fact that, unlike earlier Asian immigrants, many Japanese settled permanently in the region, bringing families and becoming fairly assimilated within North American society. Nonetheless, resentment and racial prejudice ran high, and in 1907 an anti-Asian parade in Vancouver turned into a full-fledged riot, an event that was to significantly influence the Canadian government’s policy regarding Asian immigrants. In the aftermath of the riot, the Canadian and Japanese governments negotiated an agreement whereby Japan voluntarily limited emigrants to Canada to four hundred per year. This riot was also a major factor encouraging the introduction of the Continuous Journey Regulation in 1908. This law enforced a policy whereby all immigrants arriving in Canada were obliged to come directly from their country of birthplace or citizenship by an uninterrupted journey on a ticket procured in that country. The absence of such legislation had been a key factor in the high numbers of Japanese immigrants arriving in Vancouver in 1907, as many of them had come not from Japan but from Hawaii. Conveniently, this legislation also closed the door to all immigrants from India, as there was no direct steamship from there to Canada.
Despite the increasingly restrictive Immigration Acts and the anti-Asian policies of the government, it was widely believed at this time that immigration, in large quantities, was necessary to ensure Canada’s prosperity. Although Oliver dramatically reduced the influx of Asian labour, he had a negligible effect on the numbers of Eastern and Central Europeans entering the country. In fact, from 1896 to 1914, approximately three million immigrants arrived in Canada, increasing the population by forty-three percent. In 1913 400,810 immigrants entered the nation. Two years later, immigration had slowed to a trickle, with only 36,665 new immigrants in that year.
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From 1915 to 1945 war, recession, and depression combined to create indifference towards immigration issues within Canada, while at the same time considerably diminishing the flow of migrants into the country. On the eve on the First World War, twenty-two per cent of the Canadian population was foreign-born, and a significant proportion of these individuals became ‘enemy aliens’ after the outbreak of war. In the early stages of the war the government urged toleration and restraint regarding foreign-born Canadians, but as the war progressed so too did hostilities and harassment. Numerous Germans, Hungarians, Poles, Romanians, Czechs, and Ukranians were interred or disenfranchised. The foreign language press was more severely censored than the English and French presses were, and eventually publication in a foreign tongue without a government license was prohibited. In 1917 the government passed the Wartime Elections Act, designed to eliminate opposition to conscription from the foreign-born population. This act formally disenfranchised any person living in Canada who was of ‘enemy alien’ birth or who customarily spoke an ‘enemy alien’ language, and altered the balance of power significantly in Western Canada, where a large segment of the population was from Eastern and Central Europe.
Despite all this, immigration never stopped completely during the First World War, and in October of 1917 a distinct Office of Immigration and Colonisation was created, probably in anticipation of increasing immigration levels after the war. However, although levels did increase (from 41,845 in 1918 to 107,698 in 1919), there remained several obstacles facing potential immigrants. Anti-foreigner sentiment continued after the war had ended; public opinion did not favour welcoming Europeans from enemy countries. Additionally, Canada was gripped by a ‘Red Scare’ following the Russian Revolution in 1917, and the prospect of welcoming European Communists into the nation did not sit well with many. Finally, widespread unemployment following the war provided an economic incentive for protectionist policy. These factors all played into a general atmosphere in which immigrants were simply not welcome in Canada.
It was in this environment that the Winnipeg General Strike occurred in 1919. Like the Vancouver Riot of 1907, this event led indirectly to further restrictive legislation. The strike, caused by a labour dispute, was characterised by two distinct camps. The Central Strike Committee represented the striking workers, and contained numerous foreign-born labourers. There were a vocal few amongst this group who mentioned the name of Karl Marx, sparking fears of revolutionary intrigue. The second camp was the Citizen’s Committee of One Thousand, which consisted of Winnipeg’s leading Anglo-Canadian businessmen. They claimed that the strike was indeed a Communist conspiracy led by a small group of “alien scum”. In the end, the strike was forcibly put down by the North West Mounted Police. However, in the midst of the crisis (the sixth of June, 1919) legislation that made the Immigration Act even more restrictive was approved. The grounds for deportation were extended, making an effective weapon against strike leaders in the absence of suitable provisions in the Criminal Code. In addition, the classes of people barred from entry were expanded to include “persons over fifteen years of age, physically capable of reading, who cannot read English or French or some other language or dialect...” and those with “peculiar customs, habits, modes of living, and methods of holding property.” This was a major departure from the pre-war emphasis on either occupation or ethnicity which had governed immigration policy. This amendment to the Immigration Act made an immigrant’s cultural and ideological background of primary importance.
It was during the inter-war years that the Canadian government first officially barred Chinese immigrants from entering the country. The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 excluded the Chinese from those who were permitted to migrate to Canada, excepting only members of the diplomatic corps, children born in Canada to Chinese parents, students, and merchants who had had a minimum of $2,500 invested in a business for three years and who were prepared to invest at least $2,500 in a business in Canada. This act, not repealed until 1946, was so effective that only about twenty-five Chinese were able to immigrate while it was in place. The government's policies regarding other Asian nations were also highly restrictive, although none was formalised in the manner of the Chinese Immigration Act.
As the government was excluding Asians from Canada, it was simultaneously encouraging the immigration of British citizens. Throughout the 1920s the economy improved considerably, and this encouraged the Canadian government to promote migration from Britain to the prairie provinces once more. The British government also recruited settlers for the Canadian west, passing the Empire Settlement Act in 1922. Under this act, the British government co-operated with colonial governments to provide settlement schemes such as reduced transportation fares and agricultural training for British immigrants. One such plan, the Three Thousand Families project, saw a wave of migrants arrive in the prairies in 1925 with the guarantee of financial aid from the British government to purchase farm equipment and aid from the Canadian government in the forms of financing for farm purchases, placement on farms, and practical instruction in agriculture. Despite these intensive efforts few British migrated to the Canadian west. Between 1925 and 1931 only 130,000 arrived in Canada, and less than ten per cent of these were farmers.
In 1925 the government negotiated an agreement with the CPR and Canadian National Railways that gave them control over the recruitment of European agriculturalists. A labour shortage had prompted this arrangement, and the government was willing to overlook its unease regarding Eastern and Central Europeans. The railways gathered many immigrants from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania, Austria, and Germany. This was a short-lived plan, however, as when unemployment rose in 1930 the agreement was immediately cancelled.
During the 1920s there was one notable exception to Canada’s policy of restricting immigrants to those arriving from their traditional home countries. Jewish immigrants were permitted entry on many occasions regardless of where they had sailed from. In 1920 two hundred Jewish war orphans were brought to Canada by the individual efforts of an Ottawa merchant. Three years later, the Canadian government admitted a significant number of Jews on compassionate grounds. Overall, Jewish immigration was approximately four per cent of total immigration for the decade at 48,500. However, this was not to last; the following decade, from 1930 to 1940, would see a dramatic alteration in the nature of immigration and immigration policy in Canada.
The Great Depression of the 1930s seriously curbed immigration to Canada. The Canadian government passed two orders-in-council. The first, passed in 1930, refused all immigration from Europe with the exception of those immigrants who had adequate means to establish and sustain themselves on farms, and the wives and minor children of family heads already in Canada. The second act, which was passed one year later, added further restrictions. Only British and American citizens who were either of independent means or engaged in the farming, mining, lumbering, or logging industries were to be admitted. These acts severely curtailed immigration rates. While 1,116,000 immigrants had arrived in Canada between 1921 and 1931, only 140,000 arrived in the following decade. Public opinion backed these governmental policies; the mood of the nation was decidedly anti-immigrant. Many immigrants already in Canada were deported during this period. As long as the immigrant had not lived in Canada long enough to obtain residence and citizenship, they could be deported if they no longer held a job. In the five years between 1930 and 1935, 30,000 immigrants were deported to Europe.
Throughout the 1930s little concession was made for refugee migrations. The government did not differentiate between immigrants and refugees, and the restrictive legislation kept many from gaining admittance. However, through the activities of such organisations as the Canadian National Committee on Refugees, some refugees did manage to enter the country. This organisation helped settle individuals and families in Canada while raising public awareness and encouraging the government to admit more refugees on humanitarian grounds.
In the years shortly after the Second World War, immigration to Canada remained low. In 1943 only 8,504 immigrants came to Canada. By 1947 that number had risen, but only to 64,127- nowhere near as high as the numbers for 1930, which had exceeded 100,000.
Asian & African Labour | Changing Nature of Migration | Migrations After WWII | Conclusion|
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