On 4 June 1969, Canada belatedly signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 18 years after it was adopted by the United Nations, and 15 years after it entered into force.

In the 40 years since Canada became a party to the Refugee Convention, it has gained the enviable reputation of being a world leader in protecting refugees.

In fact, there has been good and bad in Canadian responses to refugees, both before and after signing the Refugee Convention.


Before confederation Loyalists and pacifists (including Mennonites and Quakers) fled to Canada during the American Revolution. Escaped slaves and free blacks fled the US in search of greater rights.
1869 Canada’s first Immigration Act was adopted.  It contained no specific provisions relating to refugees.
Late 19th century, early 20th century Refugees from Russia, especially Jews, Mennonites and Doukhobors, settled in Canada.
1920s Following World War I, hundreds of thousands were displaced in Europe.  Canada opposed the admission of refugees on the grounds that once admitted stateless refugees could not be deported.
1922 The League of Nations convened an intergovernmental conference, under the leadership of Fridtjof Nansen, leading to the development of a travel document for refugees, “the Nansen passport”.   Canada refused to accept the Nansen passport because it did not allow for the return of refugees.
1923 The government adopted an Order in Council excluding immigrants “of any Asiatic race”.  The definition of “Asiatic” included Armenians seeking refuge from persecution in Turkey. Only 1,300 Armenians were admitted to Canada between the two world wars.
1923-1930 The Canadian government cooperated with efforts of the Mennonite community to admit 20,000 Mennonite refugees between 1923 and 1930.
Doukhobor women breaking the prairie sod by pulling a plough themselves, Thunder Hill Colony, Manitoba. c 1899. Library and Archives Canada,C-000681.


MP Samuel Jacobs spoke in favour of “those who are obliged to leave their own countries in Europe by reason of religious and social persecution.  Now, this country, it seems to me, should be the haven of rest for people of that kind, and we ought to have our doors wide open for all those who flee from persecution, social or otherwise, in European countries.” 30 March 1921, House of Commons


- - - > 1930-1945