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magazine / jf01

January/February 2001 issue


Visible majorities
History of Canadian immigration policy
Tobi McIntyre

Visible majorities | Immigration timeline: 1900 | Immigration timeline: 1950
Immigration timeline: 2001 | Diversity facts | Immigration Acts

Movement of immigrants into Canada largely unrestricted, although a Chinese Head Tax was introduced in British Columbia in 1885 to restrict Chinese immigration (it would be the first of such measures, which lasted until the 1940s).


Prior to 1906, the immigration laws used dated back to 1869. Frank Oliver, a former newspaper publisher who sat as a Liberal MP between 1896-1917 made one of the first steps in 20th century toward defining immigration laws, following in the footsteps of Sir Clifford Sifton. In fact, he defined the term "immigrant."

He barred a broad spectrum of people and increased government power in the area of immigration and deportation of persons chosen with these new, harsher laws. He also established a $25 landing fee by order of council added to any tickets purchased and/or funds brought into the country. A $500 head tax was imposed on Asian immigrants.

On January 19, 1962, the Honourable Ellen Fairclough, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, virtually eliminated racial discrimination through the introduction of a new immigration act. This new act stated that any unsponsored immigrant that had the required education skill or other quality was able to enter Canada if suitable, irrespective of colour, race, or national origin.

However, there were provisions: they had to have a specific job waiting in Canada or be able to support themselves until one was found, they could not be criminals or terrorists, and they could not suffer from disease that could endanger the public health. The only catch to this act was the favourtism toward Americans: they could sponsor more relatives than immigrants from other countries.

Pearson government introduces White Paper on immigration policies. This document shows that Canadians should accept and encourage as many immigrants into Canada as possible, stating immigration has increased national population and economic growth. It outlines how Canadians should accept those who can adapt to Canadian society and barring those who can not adapt. Pearson's document also makes admissions to certain immigrants for humanitarian or compassionate reasons.

The Points System is established, judging immigrants on qualifications such as language and skill. This system attempts to remove all discrimination and prejudice because of Canada's cementing role in diplomatic mediation and international peacekeeping. During this time, the pattern of immigration swerved from Europeans to Asian immigrants, concommitant with Canada's increased trade with third world countries (Japan becomes Canada's third largest source of trade after the U.S. and Britain).

The immigration act that formed the laws we follow today was intended to promote Canada's demographic, economic, cultural and social goals. This new act encouraged family reunification and attempted to fulfill Canada's international obligation with the UN, made in 1951.

This act was non-discriminatory in its policy and required cooperation between all levels of government. Thus, the federal government had to consult with the provinces regarding planning and management of Canadian immigration.

There are four basic categories for landed immigrants in Canada following this act. The fist classification is family; second, humanitarian, including refugees, persecuted or displaced persons; third, independents who followed their own initiative to immigrate to Canada; and finally, assisted relatives.


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