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Banner: Moving Here, Staying Here. The Canadian Immigrant Experience

The Documentary TrailTraces of the PastFind an Immigrant
Free From Local Prejudice
A National Open-Door Policy
Filling the Promised Land
A Preferred Policy
A Depressing Period

Radical Policies

by Vadim Kukushkin, University of Alberta

The tightening of Canadian admissions policy in the 1930s was an entirely administrative procedure, implemented by means of orders-in-council and by the rigorous application of existing regulations. With public opinion focussed on combating the Depression, a small group of senior officials within the Department of Immigration and Colonization (after 1936, a branch of the Department of Mines and Resources) received a free hand to make crucial policy decisions behind closed doors. The 1919 amendments to the Immigration Act had considerably expanded the Cabinet's authority to determine who was to be admitted or excluded. According to the amended Section 38 of the Act, the government could prohibit any class of immigrants from entering Canada at any time on the grounds of "economic, industrial or other condition" temporarily existing in the country, the group's probable inability to adopt Canadian ways of life or their unsuitability to the labour requirements of the Canadian economy.

As part of its new policy, the Department of Immigration and Colonization quickly phased out all promotional and recruitment activities in Europe and the United States. One of the first victims of the new policy was the 1925 Railways Agreement, which served as the main vehicle for bringing immigrants from "non-preferred" European countries. Limited immigration from Britain under the Empire Settlement Act (including domestic servants and farm boys) was allowed to continue but assisted passage schemes were drastically curtailed.

In addition to general changes in admissions policy, the Cabinet also adopted measures targeting specific ethnic groups, demonstrating that racial stereotypes continued to shape Canadian policy-making. In December 1930, the maximum time during which Canadian residents of Chinese origin could stay outside Canada was extended from two to four years. The rationale behind this regulation was to reduce the number of unemployed Chinese Canadians by encouraging their temporary return to the homeland. New immigration from China was so effectively restricted by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 that only three Chinese immigrants were able to enter Canada between 1930 and 1935. Immigration from other Asian countries was also subject to severe restrictions.

In the uncertain climate of the Great Depression, anti-immigrant prejudice often went hand in hand with the growing fear of political radicalism. During the early 1930s, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) increased its surveillance of communist-affiliated ethnic organizations such as the Ukrainian Labour and Farmer Temple Association and the Finnish Organization of Canada. Even the Doukhobors were monitored for possible Bolshevik leanings. The culmination of anti-communist measures came in mid-August 1931, when eight leading communist activists in various Canadian cities were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment for being members of an unlawful association and for seditious conspiracy. Five of the convicted men -- John Boychuk, Matthew Popovich, Sam Carr, Amos Hill and Tomo Cacic -- were immigrants from eastern Europe. Although the "Red Scare" subsided after 1932, the authorities continued to keep tabs on the activities of left-wing immigrant organizations.

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