A hundred years of immigration to Canada 1900 - 1999

A chronology focusing on refugees and discrimination

Part 1: 1900 - 1949

1900 41,681 immigrants were admitted to Canada.
1896-1905 Clifford Sifton held the position of Minister of Interior (with responsibilities for immigration). He energetically pursued his vision of peopling the prairies with agricultural immigrants. The immigrants he sought for the Canadian West were farmers (preferably from the U.S. or Britain, otherwise (northern) European). Immigrants to cities were to be discouraged (in fact, many of the immigrants quickly joined the industrial labour force). "I think that a stalwart peasant in a sheepskin coat, born to the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half dozen children, is good quality". Immigration of black Americans was actively discouraged, often on the grounds that they were unsuitable for the climate.
1900-1921 138,000 Jews immigrated to Canada, many of them refugees fleeing pogroms in Czarist Russia and Eastern Europe. There were also arrivals of Doukhobors from Russia, where they suffered persecution.
1900 The Head tax on Chinese immigrants was increased from $50 (set in 1885 in the first Chinese Exclusion Act) to $100.
1901 Census.(1) Of the 5,371,315 population in Canada, 684,671 (12.7%) were immigrants (i.e. born outside Canada). 57% of the immigrants were male. About a quarter of the immigrant population had arrived in the previous 5 years. 57% of immigrants were born in the British Isles, 19% in the U.S., 5% in Russia, 4% in Germany and 2.5% (17,043 people) in China. There were 4,674 people born in Japan, 1,222 people born in Syria, 357 people from Turkey, and 699 born in the West Indies. The only African country listed was South Africa (128 people). Of the 278,788 immigrants who were "foreign-born" (meaning born outside the British Empire), 55% were naturalized citizens. However, only 4% (668) of the Chinese-born were citizens. In terms of "origins", the census counted 17,437 "Negroes" in Canada. 42% of the population was of British origin, while 31% was of French origin. There were 16,131 Jews and 22,050 Chinese/Japanese (given as one category). 96% of the population was of European origin.
1903 Chinese head tax increased to $500. From 1901 to 1918, $18 million was collected from Chinese immigrants (compared to $10 million spent on promoting immigration from Europe).
1906 Immigration Act. According to Frank Oliver, Minister of the Interior, the purpose of the Act was "to enable the Department of Immigration to deal with undesirable immigrants" by providing a means of control. The Act enshrined and reinforced measures of restriction and enforcement. The categories of "prohibited" immigrants were expanded. The Act also gave the government legal authority to deport immigrants within two years of landing (later extended to three and then five years). Grounds for deportation included becoming a public charge, insanity, infirmity, disease, handicap, becoming an inmate of a jail or hospital and committing crimes of "moral turpitude". Such deportations had occurred prior to 1905 without the benefit of law, but after 1906, numbers increased dramatically.
1906-1907 c. 4,700 Indians, mainly Sikhs from the Punjab, arrived in Vancouver. Arrivals of Japanese and Chinese increased (more than 2,300 Japanese arrived in B.C. in 1907). Reaction by white British Columbians was described by the Minister of the Interior as "almost hysterical". An "Anti-Asiatic Parade" organized by the Asiatic Exclusion League ended in a riot, with extensive damage done to property in Chinatown and the Japanese quarter.
1907 A government delegation to Japan resulted in an agreement whereby the Japanese government would voluntarily limit emigration of Japanese to Canada to 400 a year.
1908 Order in council issued imposing a "continuous journey" rule, prohibiting immigrants who did not come by continuous journey from their country of origin. At the time steamships from India and Japan made a stop in Hawaii. The "landing money" required of Indians was also increased from $50 to $200.
1908 Amendments were made to Chinese Immigration Act expanding the list of prohibited persons and narrowing the classes of persons exempt from the head tax.
1908 A border inspection service was created on the U.S.-Canada border.
1910 Immigration Act. This Act gave the government enormous discretionary power to regulate immigration through Orders in Council. Section 38 allowed the government to prohibit landing of immigrants under the "continuous journey" rule, and of immigrants "belonging to any race deemed unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada, or of immigrants of any specified class, occupation or character". The Act also extended the grounds on which immigrants could be deported to include immorality and political offenses (Section 41). The Act introduced the concept of "domicile" which was acquired after three years of residence in Canada (later five years).
1910 Black Oklahoman farmers developed an interest in moving to Canada to flee increased racism at home. A number of boards of trade and the Edmonton Municipal Council called on Ottawa to prevent black immigration. In 1911 an order in council was drafted prohibiting the landing of "any immigrant belonging to the Negro race, which race is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada". The order was never proclaimed, but the movement was nevertheless effectively stopped by agents hired by the Canadian government, who held public meetings in Oklahoma to discourage people, and by "strict interpretation" of medical and character examinations. Of more than 1 million Americans estimated to have immigrated to Canada between 1896 and 1911, fewer than 1,000 were African Americans.
1910-1911 First Caribbean Domestic Scheme: 100 Guadeloupian women came to Québec.
1911 Census. The population of Canada was 7,206,643, of which 22% was composed of immigrants (i.e. born outside Canada). Only 39% of those born outside Canada were female (2% of those born in China, representing 646 women). 49% of immigrants were born in the British Isles, 19% in the U.S., and 6% in Russia. 223 were identified as being born in Africa (outside South Africa), 211 in the West Indies. Of the 752,732 immigrants who were "foreign-born" (meaning born outside the British Empire), 47% were naturalized citizens. 9.5% (2,578) of the Chinese-born and 22.5% (1,898) of the Japanese-born were citizens. In terms of "origins", the census counted only 16,877 "Negroes", 560 fewer than in 1901. 54% of the population was of British origin (up from 47% in 1901), while 29% was of French origin. There were now 75,681 Jews, 27,774 of Chinese origin, 9,021 of Japanese origin and 2,342 were classified as "Hindu". 5% of the population had German origins and 1.8% Austro-Hungarian. 97% of the population was of European origin.
1912-1914 Dominion Iron and Steel Company sent two Barbadian steelworkers to Barbados to recruit steelworkers.
1913 Immigration reached a record level of 400,810 new arrivals (the highest level in the century). Taken as a proportion of the population at the time, it was equivalent to present-day Canada receiving about one and half million immigrants in a year.
June 1914 An MP in the House of Commons: "How can we go on encouraging trade between Canada and Asia and then hope to prevent Asiatics from coming into our country?"
1914 The Komagatu Maru arrived in Vancouver, having sailed from China with 376 Indians aboard, who were refused admittance to Canada. After two months in the harbour, and following an unsuccessful appeal to the BC Supreme Court, the boat sailed back to India. Between 1914 and 1920 only one Indian was admitted to Canada as an immigrant.
1914 The War Measures Act was passed, giving the government wide powers to arrest, detain and deport. "Enemy aliens" were forced to register themselves and subjected to many restrictions. In the course of the war, 8,000-9,000 "enemy aliens" were interned. Many were subsequently released in response to labour shortages.
1915-19 Very limited immigration during the war.
1917 The Wartime Elections Act disenfranchised all persons from "enemy alien" countries who had been naturalized since 1902.
1917 The Office of Immigration and Colonization was created by order in council.
1917 About 4,000 Hutterites immigrated to Alberta from South Dakota, where they were suffering prejudice because they were German-speaking and unwilling to sustain the military efforts. Their entry to Canada was permitted under an 1899 order in council originally intended for Doukhobors.
1918 The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, known as the "Wobblies") and 13 other socialist or anarchist groups were declared illegal. Another order in council banned publications using Finnish, Russian, Ukrainian, Hungarian and German. The Wobblies had been for several years a primary target of government anti-agitator activities, as a result of fears of enemy alien subversion and the "Bolshevik menace", and pressure from industrialists interested in suppressing labour activism. Immigration officials used whatever measures they could find to deport IWW members. For example, one man was deported because he had "created an agitation and a disturbance by openly advocating the views of the IWW" while on a train. The legal basis for deporting him was that he had created or attempted to create a riot or public disorder in Canada (Section 41 of the Act).
1918-19 At the end of war, immigrants were dismissed from some jobs in order to offer work to returning soldiers.
1919 A Women's Division was created within the Immigration Department. Systems for the "care" of single women immigrants (mostly British in the 1920s) were developed, including meeting by women officers, escorts to final destination and long-term follow up. The government was concerned to save the women from being "ruined". Immigrant women who engaged in sexual relationships outside marriage were liable to be deported (sometimes on the grounds of prostitution, or if they had an illegitimate child, on the grounds that they had become a public charge, since they would generally be forced out of their job).
1919 Amendments to the Immigration Act were made, adding new grounds for denying entry and deportation (e.g. constitutional psychopathic inferiority, chronic alcoholism and illiteracy). Section 38 allowed Cabinet to prohibit any race, nationality or class of immigrants by reason of "economic, industrial, or other condition temporarily existing in Canada" (unemployment was then high), because of their unsuitability, or because of their "peculiar habits, modes of life and methods of holding property". In a last minute extra amendment, in response to the Winnipeg General Strike, among whose leaders were British-born activists, the British-born were made subject to deportation on political grounds. This particular amendment was repealed in 1928, after five previous efforts at repeal failed, many blocked in the Senate.
June 1919 Under the authority of Section 38 of the Immigration Act, an Order in Council was issued prohibiting the entry of Doukhobors, Mennonitesand Hutterites, because of their "peculiar habits, modes of life and methods of holding property".
1919 Amendment to the Naturalization Act. Citizenship could be revoked if anyone were found to be "disaffected" or "disloyal" or if the person "was not of good character at the date of the grant of the certificate".
1920 Immigration official: "At the present moment, we are casting about for some more effective method than we have in operation to prevent the arrival here of many of the nondescript of Europe, whose coming here is regarded more in the light of a catastrophe than anything else".
1921 Census. The population of Canada was 8,787,949, of which 22% was composed of immigrants (i.e. born outside Canada). 44% of the immigrant population was female (but only 3% of the Chinese and 32% of the Italians). 82% of immigrants had been in Canada for 10 years or more. 52% of immigrants were born in the British Isles, 19% in the U.S. and 5% in Russia. 1,760 immigrants were born in South Africa; Africa is not otherwise listed as a place of birth. Of the 890,282 immigrants who were "foreign-born" (born outside the British Empire), 58% were naturalized citizens. The number of naturalized Chinese-born had decreased from 2,578 in 1911 to 1,766 (representing 4% of the Chinese-born). The number of German-born naturalized citizens had also decreased (from 23,283 in 1911 - before the war - to 21,630). 33% (3,902) of the Japanese-born were citizens. 44% of the immigrant population was rural (but only 40% of female immigrants). In terms of the "origins" of the total population, the census counted 18,291 "Negroes" in Canada, 126,196 "Hebrews", 39,587 people of Chinese origin and 23,342 of Japanese origin. 55% of the population had origins in the British Isles, while 33% was of French origin. 97.5% of the population was of European origin.
1922 Empire Settlement Act passed in the British Parliament. It provided assisted passage and training opportunities for married couples, single agricultural labourers, domestics and juveniles aged 14 - 17. 130,000 immigrants to Canada were assisted under the Act. An "Aftercare Agreement" provided for selection, supervision and assistance of female domestic workers. Between Jan. 1926 and 31 March 1931, 689 women who arrived under this agreement (4.6% of arrivals) were deported, on grounds such as "illegitimacy", "immorality", "medical", "marriage", "bad conduct" and "criminal conviction" (these were the department's reasons though not necessarily the legal bases for the deportations).
June 1922 Revocation of Order in Council "modes of living and methods of holding property" as it applied to Mennonites and Hutterites, opening the door to Russian Mennonites facing persecution in communist Russia. 20,000 settled in Canada between 1923 and 1929. Doukhobors remained prohibited.
June 1922 An amendment to the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act provided for the deportation of "domiciled aliens" (i.e. immigrants who had been in Canada 5 years or more) with drug-related convictions. This measure was particularly directed against the Chinese. In 1923-4, 35% of deportations by the Pacific Division were under these provisions.
Jan. 1923 Order in Council issued excluding "any immigrant of any Asiatic race" except agriculturalists, farm labourers, female domestic servants, and wife and children of a person legally in Canada. ("Asia" was conceived broadly, going as far west as Turkey and Syria).
1923 Immigration official: "There are continual attempts by undesirables of alien and impoverished nationalities to enter Canada, but these attempts will be checked as much as possible at their source".
1923 After a period of post-war economic gloom and low immigration, there was a cautious encouragement of immigration. The door opened to British subjects, Americans and citizens of "preferred countries" (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium and France). Only agriculturalists, farm labourers, domestics and sponsored family members could be admitted from "non-preferred" countries: Austria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. Southern Europe was not even mentioned.
June 1923 Chinese Immigration Act. This Act prohibited all Chinese immigrants except diplomats, students, children of Canadians and an investor class. Aside from protests from the Chinese community in Canada, there were virtually no voices of opposition. The day on which this Act came into force - July 1 - became known to Chinese Canadians as "Humiliation Day".
1923-24 The suicides of three home children led to a study by a British parliamentary delegation into this program which sent children from Britain into indentured labour in Canada. Some were orphans, but most left parents behind. About 100,000 children immigrated to Canada through the program, which lasted from 1868 until the 1930s. In 1925, following the delegation's report, the Canadian government put a stop to immigration of children under 14 years of age unaccompanied by parents.
1925 The Railway Agreement was signed by the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways and the government, providing for the railways to recruit immigrants, including from the "non-preferred" countries of Northern and Central Europe. More than 185,000 Central Europeans entered Canada under the agreement (1925-1929).
1929 The Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization desperately sought admission for 1,000 Mennonite families facing deportation to Siberia. The Saskatchewan government refused them outright, as in turn did other prairie provinces. Eventually 1,300 Mennonites were able to enter, mostly settling in Ontario.
1930 As the depression took hold, the number of deportations on the grounds of "becoming a public charge" rose. From 1930 to 1934, 16,765 immigrants were deported on this ground (more than 6 times as many as in the previous 5 year period). The numbers of deportations on the grounds of medical causes and criminality also increased.
Sept. 1930 Order in Council (P.C. 2115) issued prohibiting the landing of "any immigrant of any Asiatic race", except wives and minor children of Canadian citizens (and few Asians could get citizenship).
1931 Order in Council requiring Chinese and Japanese to renounce their former citizenship before being naturalized. This effectively barred Japanese from becoming citizens since Japanese law did not provide for revocation of citizenship. In any case since 1923 very few Asians applying for naturalization were approved in what was a highly discretionary process.
1931 Census. The population of Canada was 10,376,786, of whom 22% were immigrants (i.e. born outside Canada). 44% of immigrants were female (but only 14% of Asian immigrants), 67% had been in Canada more than 10 years and 40% lived in rural localities. 49% of immigrants were born in the British Isles, 15% in the U.S., 14% in Central Europe and less than 3% in Asia. Africa only appears as a place of birth in South Africa. 1,296 people were listed as born in South America. 55% of the foreign-born population were naturalized citizens. In terms of "racial origins", 52% of the total population had origins in the British Isles, 28% in France. There were 156,726 Jews, 84,548 people of "Asiatic" origin and 19,456 "Negroes". 97.7% of the population was of European origin.
1931 Deportations of immigrants who had organized or participated in strikes or other organized labour activities. Winnipeg Mayor Ralph Webb campaigned to deport and prevent the admission of communists and agitators. He urged the "deportation of all undesirables".
March 1931 In the context of the depression, an Order in Council was adopted (P.C. 695) restricting admission to American citizens, British subjects and agriculturalists with economic means.
August 1931 The Communist Party was made illegal under the Criminal Code. Even naturalized immigrants who were members of the Party could have their citizenship revoked and be deported.
Fall 1931 Political deportation became federal policy. The Minister of Justice hosted a special meeting attended by the Minister of National Defence, the Commissioner of Immigration, the military chief of staff and the RCMP Commissioner. The exact number of people deported on political grounds is unknown, because they may technically have been deported on other grounds, e.g. criminal conviction, vagrancy or being on the public charge.
Early 1930s Widespread deportation of the unemployed (28,097 people were deported 1930-1935). Following an outcry, the department changed its policy at least so far as to suspend deportations against those who had found work by the time the deportation orders were ready.
May 1932 In a "red raid" left-wing leaders from across Canada were arrested and sent to Halifax for hearings and deportations. One of them was a Canadian citizen by birth. He sued the government for false arrest, but despite criticisms from the Manitoba Court of Appeal of the Department's failure to follow due process, he lost in a 3-2 decision. The others, known as the "Halifax Ten", lost their appeal before the Nova Scotia Supreme Court (although the Court agreed that the department had not acted in complete conformity with the law). Despite extensive protests, they were deported.
1934 94% of applications for naturalization were refused. Confidential RCMP assessments led to refusals on the basis of political or labour activism or perceived "bad character".
1936 Immigration became part of the Department of Mines and Resources.
1937 Annual report, Immigration: "There is at present a great pressure at our doors for the admission of many thousands of distressed peoples of Europe".
1938 A number of individuals and groups, including the Anglican Church, the United Church, the YMCA, local service clubs and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), as well as Jewish community groups, called on the government to admit Jewish refugees. They were opposed by such groups as the Native Sons of Canada, Leadership League and Canadian Corps. Voices of anti-Semitism were particularly strong in Quebec.
March 1938 F.C. Blair, Director of Immigration Branch (an anti-Semite, who personally ensured that virtually no Jews were admitted to Canada during this period): "Ever since the war, efforts have been made by groups and individuals to get refugees into Canada but we have fought all along to protect ourselves against the admission of such stateless persons without passports, for the reason that coming out of the maelstrom of war, some of them are liable to go on the rocks and when they become public charges, we have to keep them for the balance of their lives".
July 1938 Canada participated (reluctantly) at the Evian Conference on refugees. Canadian representatives were under instructions from Prime Minister Mackenzie King not to support the creation of a permanent structure to handle refugee matters or any initiatives to commit countries to quotas of refugees.
Oct. 1938 At a meeting of the League of Nations Society of Canada the Canadian National Committee on Refugees and Victims of Persecution was formed. Since the government blamed its unwillingness to admit refugees on lack of public support, the committee focused on public education, setting up branches, organizing public meetings and producing a pamphlet "Should Canada admit refugees?" Unsuccessful in effecting any policy change, the committee intervened in individual cases, sometimes with positive results. Among the refugees admitted were the Czech industrialist Thomas Bata and 82 of his workers.
1938 Memo to Mackenzie King by Departments of External Affairs and Mines and Resources: "We do not want to take too many Jews, but in the circumstances, we do not want to say so. We do not want to legitimise the Aryan mythology by introducing any formal distinction for immigration purposes between Jews and non-Jews. The practical distinction, however, has to be made and should be drawn with discretion and sympathy by the competent department, without the need to lay down a formal minute of policy".
Nov. 1938 Britain asked Canada to take some Sudeten German refugees who had fled the Nazis to Prague. The railroad companies were sent to investigate potential immigration of farmers and glassworkers. Canada agreed to take 1,200 but insisted on Britain paying $1,500 per family for transportation and resettlement costs (Britain had offered $1,000). While negotiations were going on, Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia, preventing the resettlement of most of the refugees. 303 families and 72 single men who had previously managed to get to Britain were resettled in B.C. and Saskatchewan. They had little or no farming experience, but were not allowed to settle in the cities.
Dec. 1938 Responding to the refugee crisis, the government simply restated its general policy: refugees who met the categories for admissible immigrants according to the regulation in force (P.C. 695) could come to Canada.
1939 The St Louis sailed from Germany with 930 Jewish refugees on board. No country in the Americas would allow them to land. 44 prominent Torontonians sent a telegram to the Prime Minister of Canada urging that sanctuary be given to the refugees, to no avail. The ship was forced to return to Europe where many of the refugees died at the hands of the Nazis.
1940 In a comparative study of deportation in Britain, Northern Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, C.F. Fraser found Canadian practices the most arbitrary and the Canadian judiciary apathetic: "the most notable feature of deportation cases in Canada is the apparent desire to get agitators of any sort out of the country at all costs... [T]he executive branch of the government, in its haste to carry out this policy ... displayed a marked disregard for the niceties of procedure".
1940 2,500 male "potentially dangerous enemy aliens" interned by Britain were brought to Canada. They were housed in high security camps. In fact many of them were Jews. In 1945 they were reclassified as "interned refugees (Friendly Aliens)". 972 accepted an offer to become Canadian citizens. Many went on to prominent careers in academia or the arts.
1941 Census. The population of Canada was 11,506,655, of which 17.5% was composed of immigrants (i.e. born outside Canada). 45% of the immigrant population was female. Only in the case of immigrants from the U.S. were there more women than men. 90% of immigrants had been in Canada for 10 years or more (33% for more than 30 years). 44% of immigrants were born in the British Isles, 14% in the U.S., 7% in Poland and 5% in Russia. There were 29,095 immigrants from China (of whom only 1,426 were women), 9,462 from Japan and 5,886 other "Asians" (includes "Arabian, Armenian, Hindu, Syrian, Turkish..."). No African countries are listed. While 47% of the total population was rural, only 39.5% of immigrants were. However, more than half of some immigrant groups were rural: Austrians, Belgians, Czechs, Danes, Finns, Germans, Icelanders, Dutch, Norwegians and Swedes. Women immigrants were less likely to be rural than men: 37% versus 42%. Only 32% of British immigrants were rural. In terms of "racial origin", 49.7% of the population had origins in the British Isles, 30% in France, 4% were German and 2.7% were Ukrainian. There were 170,241 Jews, 34,627 Chinese and 22,174 "Negroes". 71.5% of the foreign-born were naturalized citizens (8% of the Chinese-born, 35% of the Japanese-born). 97.7% of the population was of European origin.
1942 Immigration reached its lowest level of the century: 7,576.
Feb. 1942 22,000 Japanese Canadians were expelled from within 100 miles of the Pacific. Many went to detention camps in the interior of B.C., others further east. Detention continued to the end of the war, when the Canadian government encouraged many to "repatriate" to Japan. 4,000 left, more than half Canadian-born and two-thirds Canadian citizens.
1945-1947 In the immediate post-war period, immigration controls remained tight, while pressure mounted for a more open immigration policy and a humanitarian response to the displaced persons in Europe.
May 1946 Order in Council issued allowing Canadian citizens to sponsor brothers and sisters, parents and orphaned nephews and nieces.
May 1946 Canadian officials were directed to accept identity documents and travel documents in lieu of passports from displaced persons.
July 1946 The government decided to admit 3,000 Polish veterans. They were obliged to work on a farm for one year after their arrival in Canada.
1946 Canadian Citizenship Act adopted, creating a separate Canadian citizenship, distinct from British (Canada was the first Commonwealth country to do so).
Nov. 1946 The Prime Minister announced emergency measures to aid the resettlement of European refugees. It was some months before anything was done concretely, and the door did not open for refugees without relatives in Canada until mid-1947. Selection of refugees was guided by economic considerations (the Department of Labour was involved), ethnic prejudices (Jews were routinely rejected) and political bias (those with left-wing or Communist sympathies were labelled "undesirables"). Refugees also had to be in good health. An External Affairs officer claimed that Canada selected refugees "like good beef cattle".
Jan. 1947 Italians were removed from the category of "enemy aliens" leading to a period of significant Italian immigration.
April 1947 Beginning of the Displaced Person (DP) movement. 186,154 displaced persons came to Canada between 1947 and 1952.
1 May 1947 Prime Minister Mackenzie King made a statement in the House outlining Canada's immigration policy. "The policy of the government is to foster the growth of the population of Canada by the encouragement of immigration. The government will seek by legislation, regulation, and vigorous administration, to ensure the careful selection and permanent settlement of such numbers of immigrants as can advantageously be absorbed in our national economy." Regarding discrimination, he made it clear that Canada is "perfectly within her rights in selecting the persons whom we regard as desirable future citizens". Still, he allowed that it might be as well to remove "objectionable discrimination". On the other hand, "the people of Canada do not wish, as a result of mass immigration, to make a fundamental alteration in the character of our population. Large-scale immigration from the orient would change the fundamental composition of the Canadian population".
1 May 1947 Order in Council issued allowing legal residents (and not just citizens) to sponsor fiancé(e)s, spouses and unmarried children.
May 1947 Chinese Immigration Act repealed, following pressure, e.g. by the Committee for the Repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act, formed by church and labour groups. Chinese immigration was henceforth regulated by the 1930 rules for "Asiatics" which allowed only the sponsorship of wife and children by Canadian citizens.
August 1948 The first of a total of 9 boats carrying 987 Estonian refugees arrived on the east coast of Canada. They sailed from Sweden, where they were living under threat of forced repatriation to the Soviet Union. They had been trying to resettle to Canada but had been frustrated by the long delays and barriers in Canadian immigration processing. They were detained on arrival and processed through an ad hoc arrangement. All but 12 were accepted (the 12 were deported).

(1) The figures from the census need to be viewed with caution, since there are numerous distorting factors. Groups discriminated against tend in particular to be underrepresented. The ways in which the census-takers categorized the population are in themselves revealing.


Trafficking in Persons for Forced Labour: Backgrounder

Introduction: Trafficking in persons

Trafficking in persons occurs when someone obtains a profit from the exploitation of another person by using some form of coercion, deception or fraud. Exploitation can take many different forms, including through forced labour in various areas such as the service, manufacturing, agricultural or construction sectors, through domestic work, and through work in the sex industry/prostitution. Regardless of the form of exploitation, trafficking in persons is a violation of a person’s basic human rights and it affects men, women and children.

This document aims to give information about how trafficking for labour exploitation can take place in Canada.


Global context: Trafficking for forced labour

Construction - labour traffickingTrafficking for forced labour happens in a context of both global and local economic inequalities where many people are looking for ways to better protect and provide for themselves and their families.

Around the world, approximately 21 million people are in a situation of forced labour. Most of these individuals are exploited by private individuals or businesses. A minority of people are forced to work by state entities. Women are overrepresented among forced labourers globally.[1]

Root causes of trafficking are often socio-economic or political. Poverty, conflicts, inequalities (including based on gender) and persecution are among the common contexts. While many people find themselves in situations of forced labour in their home communities, these root causes often push people to migrate in search of opportunities.

Increasingly restrictive immigration rules worldwide make it more difficult for people to migrate safely and make many migrants more vulnerable. Traffickers take advantage of these situations by exploiting the very limited options and lack of legal and social protections that are available to migrants.


Forms of labour trafficking

Trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation takes place when some means (including taking advantage of a person’s particular vulnerabilities) are used as a way of controlling someone in order to cause them to believe that they have no choice but to carry out a specific work or service.

The following shows what the various elements involved in labour trafficking might look like concretely.

An action whereby a person is:

  • Recruited by an individual or organization, and often charged large fees and persuaded to take on a large debt in order to get a job;
  • Moved from a country to another (or within a country).

A means whereby a person:

  • Is deceived through attractive promises (such as a good job or educational or other opportunities) only to find that the promises are false or that conditions (such as work and pay) are much worse than advertised;
  • Is isolated in order to control her/his freedom of movement and ability to contact other people, including family and other members of society, and is constantly monitored;
  • Is intimidated by threats of being underpaid, not being paid at all, or having penalties deducted; by threats of physical violence, denunciation to authorities and deportation; and through harassment in order to control the person and ensure that they comply;
  • Has her/his passport, identity documents and work permit taken from them;
  • Has her/his specific vulnerabilities taken advantage of, including a person’s lack of viable economic or employment options, a situation of indebtedness, language barriers, or a person’s separation from loved ones and from her/his support networks.
  • Is forced to participate in illegal activities such as fraud or stealing, in order to criminalize them as another means of control.

Exploitation, whereby a person is:

  • Underpaid, not paid at all, or whose wages are deducted unjustifiably (such as for wildly overpriced housing);
  • Forced to work unpaid overtime;
  • Charged large, fraudulent recruitment fees;
  • Manipulated into a situation of debt through a loan, wage advance or fraudulent fees charged to keep the person under control and in a situation of bonded labour;
  • Sold to different employers by recruiters or agents.

The people involved are not always just the employer or recruiter: acquaintances, neighbours and family members can also play a role.


Labour trafficking in Canada

Migrant workers and labour trafficking

In recent years, Canada has increasingly shifted its focus from permanent to more precarious temporary immigration. More workers are now being brought into Canada on a temporary basis with fewer rights than other workers to fill labour needs. These conditions and the lack of employment options available to them have made migrant workers extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Trafficking in persons is the most extreme form of exploitation faced by migrant workers in Canada.

In Canada, trafficking for the purpose of labour has predominantly affected migrant workers. Those most affected by abuse and exploitation often come with valid work permits under the “low-skilled” streams of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP), including the Low-wage and Primary Agricultural Streams and the Live-in Caregiver Program. Temporary Foreign Workers employed under these streams may be employed in restaurants, hotels or other hospitality services, on farms, in food preparation, in construction or in manufacturing, as well as in domestic work.

Vulnerabilities of Temporary Foreign Workers to trafficking in persons

The TFWP conditions place migrant workers in a situation where they are vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. These conditions include:

  • Lack of permanent status, putting workers in a precarious situation, with limited protection of their rights or opportunity to complain about mistreatment.
  • Employer-specific work permits tie migrant workers’ immigration status to a single employer, causing them to risk deportation if they leave their job. This limits complaints and the prospect of seeking alternative job options in case of mistreatment and unpaid wages.
  • Housing is often provided by, shared with, or in Live-in Caregivers’ cases is tied to an employer, making it easier to isolate workers, to extract money through rent, and exploit their labour.
  • Physical and social isolation, exacerbated by language barriers that make it difficult to establish community connections.
  • Limited access to services.
  • No access to language and legal training, education, or federally funded settlement services.
  • Lack of monitoring and enforcement, which has made it easier for illegal practices to take place, such as the charging of large recruitment fees, resulting in substantial debt and indentured labour.[2]

Unfortunately, the changes introduced to the TFWP in June 2014 do little to strengthen protection measures for workers. Although some enforcement and monitoring measures have been added, the program continues to rely overwhelmingly on a complaints system that migrant workers are unlikely to use as this can still lead to deportation.

The shift towards more restrictive immigration policies in Canada has also created additional opportunities for people to be trafficked for the purpose of forced labour, by creating additional vulnerabilities that traffickers take advantage of.

Refugee claimants and labour trafficking

Some trafficked persons are forced by their traffickers to make a refugee claim, which is either meant to fail or is not pursued, so that the person is subject to removal. This facilitates traffickers’ ability to threaten and control trafficked persons in order to exploit their labour in different ways.

Recent changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act bar people whose refugee claims have been rejected, withdrawn or abandoned, from applying for status, including the Temporary Resident Permit intended for victims of trafficking.[3] This has made it harder for trafficked persons to escape their traffickers and easier for traffickers to control them through threats of denunciation and deportation.

In 2010, 23 Hungarian men were trafficked to Canada. They were forced to make refugee claims, their documents were taken away and they were made to work on construction sites up to seven days a week without pay and to participate in criminal activities. They were threatened and some were physically assaulted. They were monitored, controlled and forced to live in the basement of their traffickers’ homes.

Had they faced the new legal barriers, they likely would not have received protection in Canada.

Family and domestic situations 

Trafficking for forced labour also takes place in situations where a person is forced into domestic servitude by family members or by others outside the family. Such cases can include:

  • House - labour traffickingChildren forced to work at home or exploited in other ways;
  • Domestic servants accompanying their employers into Canada, coerced into unpaid labour;
  • Spouses, parents or grandparents exploited financially and/or forced to do work inside or outside the home, under threats of violence or deportation. The new Conditional Permanent Residence policy places some sponsored spouses in a more vulnerable position.[4] Forced marriages may also be used as a means to exploit a spouse.[5]

Labour trafficking and precarious immigration status

People with insecure immigration status or no status at all are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for their labour. Whether they enter as a Temporary Foreign Worker, a refugee claimant, a student, a tourist or irregularly, traffickers may take advantage of their limited rights in Canada and the threat of detention and deportation, to force them to carry out work.

Due to changes in immigration policy, more people are in Canada with temporary and precarious status.

Possible solutions

The risk of trafficking can be reduced, and recourses for those who are trafficked improved by:

  • Increasing access to permanent status;
  • Expanding the rights of those with temporary status and enforcing laws to protect them from abuse;
  • Introducing legal protections for trafficked persons without secure immigration status in Canada.

[1] International Labour Organization (ILO) 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labour:

[2] See Profiting from the Precarious: How recruitment practices exploit migrant workers, Metcalf Foundation, available online:

[3] Canadian Council for Refugees, Access to Protection for Trafficked Non-Citizens:

[4]  Canadian Council for Refugees, Conditional Permanent

[5] See Resource Information Guide to Human Trafficking Systems through Forced Marriages, South Asian Women’s Centre (SAWC):

Refugees and Immigrants: A glossary

Many different terms are used to describe refugees and immigrants.  Some have particular legal meanings, some are mean and offensive.  Using terms properly is an important way to treat people with respect and advancing an informed debate on the issues.


Refugee – a person who is forced to flee from persecution and who is located outside of their home country.

Convention refugee – a person who meets the refugee definition in the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. This definition is used in Canadian law and is widely accepted internationally. To meet the definition, a person must be outside their country of origin and have a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

Refugee claimant or Asylum Seeker – a person who has fled their country and is asking for protection in another country. We don’t know whether a claimant is a refugee or not until their case has been decided.

'Claimant’ is the term used in Canadian law.


Resettled refugee a person who has fled their country, is temporarily in a second country and then is offered a permanent home in a third country.  Refugees resettled to Canada are selected abroad and become permanent residents as soon as they arrive in Canada. 

Resettled refugees are determined to be refugees by the Canadian government before they arrive in Canada. Refugee claimants receive a decision on whether they are refugees after they arrive in Canada.


Protected person – according to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a person who has been determined to be either (a) a Convention Refugee or (b) a person in need of protection (including, for example, a person who is in danger of being tortured if deported from Canada).

Internally displaced person – a person who is forced to leave their home, but who is still within the borders of their home country.

Stateless person – a person that no state recognizes as a citizen. Some refugees may be stateless but not all are.  Similarly, not all stateless people are refugees.

You may also hear… Political refugee, Economic refugee, Environmental refugee – these terms have no meaning in law. They can be confusing because they incorrectly suggest that there are different categories of refugees.


A refugee is forced to flee for their lives. An immigrant chooses to move to another country.



Immigrant – a person who has settled permanently in another country. 

Permanent resident – a person granted the right to live permanently in Canada.  The person may have come to Canada as an immigrant or as a refugee.  Permanent residents who become Canadian citizens are no longer permanent residents.


Temporary resident – a person who has permission to remain in Canada only for a limited period of time.  Visitors and students are temporary residents, and so are temporary foreign workers such as agricultural workers and live-in caregivers.

Migrant – a person who is outside their country of origin.  Sometimes this term is used to talk about everyone outside their country of birth, including people who have been Canadian citizens for decades.  More often, it is used for people currently on the move or people with temporary status or no status at all in the country where they live. 

Economic migrant – a person who moves countries for a job or a better economic future.  The term is correctly used for people whose motivations are entirely economic. Migrants’ motivations are often complex and may not be immediately clear, so it is dangerous to apply the “economic” label too quickly to an individual or group of migrants.

Person without status – a person who has not been granted permission to stay in the country, or who has stayed after their visa has expired.  The term can cover a person who falls between the cracks of the system, such as a refugee claimant who is refused refugee status but not removed from Canada because of a situation of generalized risk in the country of origin. 

You may also hear... Illegal migrant/illegal immigrant/Illegal – these terms are problematic because they criminalize the person, rather than the act of entering or remaining irregularly in a country.  International law recognizes refugees may need to enter a country without official documents or authorization.  It would be misleading to describe them as “illegal migrants”.  Similarly, a person without status may have been coerced by traffickers: such a person should be recognized as a victim of crime, not treated as a wrong-doer.

Download and print this document for your own use and for distribution.


Distinguishes between common terms used to talk about refugee and immigrants in Canada and around the world, 2 pages. 2010.


Refugee Health Care: Impacts of recent cuts

On June 30, 2012, the federal government implemented cuts to its Interim Federal Health (IFH) Program, which covers basic health care for refugees, refugee claimants and certain other non-citizens. Now that the changes have been in effect for several months, what have the impacts been?

Year in Review: Changes in 2012 for refugees and other newcomers to Canada

2012 brought many important and difficult changes for resettled refugees, refugee claimants and other newcomers to Canada. These changes mean that Canada is slipping in its respect for the basic rights of refugee and newcomer families. The mostly negative rhetoric accompanying the changes also makes Canada a less welcoming country.

Changes to refugee protection in Canada

Significant changes to Canada’s refugee determination system were introduced on 15 December 2012. Under the new system:

  • Refugee claimants face very short timelines to present their claims.
  • Claimants from 27 ‘Designated Countries of Origin’, so-called ‘safe’ countries, face even shorter timelines and have no right of appeal.
  • Refused refugee claimants cannot apply for pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA) or humanitarian and compassionate consideration for one year.

All refugee claims should be treated fairly and equally, based on merit and independent of political considerations.

In addition, the law now allows the Minister of Public Safety to designate groups of two or more people, based on mode of arrival. Individuals designated face mandatory detention and a 5 year bar on family reunification, among other rights restrictions. Five groups were designated on 4 December.

On the positive side, some refused refugee claimants finally have access to a full appeal on the merits (although many are denied this right) and accepted refugees no longer face a 180-day time limit to apply for permanent residence, which complicated procedures and delayed family reunification for some in the past.  

Refugee resettlement: towards the transformation of refugee sponsorship?

A series of changes combine to suggest that Canadians will have less say over which refugees are resettled to Canada, but will be asked to pay for more. 

Private sponsorship of refugees in Canada must:

  • Be available to refugees everywhere in the world, without discrimination
  • Engage Canadians as true partners through private sponsorship
  • Have the government do its part to resettle refugees, based on need
  • In 2012, Sponsorship Agreement Holders for the first time faced caps on the numbers of refugees they could sponsor. Applications to four visa offices (Nairobi, Cairo, Pretoria and Islamabad) were under especially severe limits.
  • Since October, Groups of Five can only sponsor refugees who have already been recognized as refugees by the UNHCR or a State. Some vulnerable or marginalized refugees will be excluded.
  • More resettlement spaces are being allocated to priorities decided by the Minister, without consultation.
  • Private sponsors are being asked to provide partial support for refugees selected by the government, and for whom the government had previously committed full support (blended sponsorships).



Changes to refugee healthcare

On June 30, 2012, the federal government implemented cuts to its Interim Federal Health Program, which covers basic health care for refugees, refugee claimants and certain other non-citizens.

Everyone who lives in Canada should be entitled to an acceptable level of healthcare. Canadians are at their best when they treat refugees fairly and with respect.

The cuts have led to:

  • Confusion and anxiety for refugee claimants and others affected
  • Confusion for health care providers about patients' entitlements
  • Some people left without any health care coverage, including those waiting for an appointment in order to make a refugee claim
  • Some people left without any means of paying for necessary medications
  • The loss of psychological support services for refugees who are survivors of torture, rape or other organized violence
  • Groups sponsoring refugees now responsible for extra medical expenses, potentially deterring sponsors
  • Extremely divisive rhetoric pitting Canadian citizens against refugees


Precarious status, vulnerability to violence

Canada must return to a policy of permanent immigration to Canada. Special attention must be paid to situations of inequality between spouses and of potential violence and exploitation due to precarious status.

In 2012, the federal government implemented a period of “conditional permanent residence” for some sponsored spouses and partners. Under the new rules, if an affected spouse leaves his or her sponsor within two years of arrival in Canada, he or she could be stripped of permanent resident status and deported. This change increases the risk of conjugal violence.




Shifting from permanent to temporary labour

2012 has seen a series of changes, which reduce migrant workers’ rights:

Canada must return to a permanent immigration policy for all migrant workers, regardless of skill category, to address long-term employment needs. External oversight of employers must be mandatory. All migrant workers should gain access to settlement services.

  • Migrant workers can now legally be paid up to 15% less than their Canadian counterparts, for the same work.
  • Migrant workers applying for permanent residence through the Provincial Nominee Program must satisfy minimum language requirements, posing a significant barrier to many.
  • Migrant workers will be unable to access to Employment Insurance benefits, despite their contributions to the program.

There are increasing concerns that migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and even trafficking. 



Changes to Canadian citizenship applications

Citizenship should be accessible to all permanent residents, including refugees and stateless persons who have no other State to protect them.

Starting 1 November 2012, applicants for Canadian citizenship must provide proof of their English or French skills, at their own expense. Previously, the government assessed applicants’ language competencies.

The CCR is concerned that these new citizenship language requirements will place additional burdens on refugees and other vulnerable newcomers.




Bill C-31 – Diminishing Refugee Protection: Submission to Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration

The CCR has called for the withdrawal of Bill C-31 because it provides for an unworkable process that will fail to respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international obligations and will fail to give protection to refugees. What is more, it will be harmful to the successful settlement of refugees in Canada.