CHANGE AND CONTINUITY: REFUGEES AND CANADA
This participatory activity is intended for use with groups interested
in learning more about Canada’s response to refugees from a historical perspective.
The activity provides some historical and current information but invites
participation by asking people to look for contrasts and similarities.
You will need half an hour or more. If there are more than 8 people
in the group, they should be divided into small groups for the activity.
The 5 “Points from Canadian history” are printed on cards, one per card
and the cards are distributed to the participants in small groups (for example,
5 participants per group, each participant in the group receives a different
one of the 5 cards). The 5 “Points from current policy” should all be
either posted on a large sheet of paper visible to all participants, or handed
out to everyone on paper. The participants in turn read their card
and the group then looks for points from current policy (either from the
sheet or from their own knowledge) that represent change or continuity.
Points from Canadian history
1. Continuous journey
In 1908 the Canadian government adopted an order in council requiring immigrants
to come to Canada by “continuous journey” on a through ticket purchased in
their country of origin. This measure was principally aimed at excluding
immigrants from India (there was no direct passage offered between India and
The regulation was neutral on its face but was applied only to “undesirable
immigrants”, whereas officials were encouraged to use discretion in the case
of European immigrants who had been living in another country (for example
the United States) before coming to Canada.
The Minister of Immigration explained to his officials how the rule was
to be applied: “This regulation is intended as a means of excluding those
whom it is the policy of the Government to exclude, but not to exclude those
whom the policy is to admit.”
SOURCE: NAC, RG 76, File 745162, Parts 1 & Part 2, Reel C-10415.
Quotation is from Part 2, Frank Oliver to W.D.Scott, 11 April 1908
2. Canada, refugees and security
In 1951, when the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was concluded,
Canada did not sign on, out of fears that it would prevent the deportation
of people on grounds of security.
Canada only became a signatory to the Convention in 1969.
3. Deportations of communists and labour rights activists
During the first part of the 20th century, immigrants suspected of being
communist or associating with communists were liable to be deported as part
of the government’s war against communism and leftist radicalism. There
were many deportations of this sort in particular in the 30s. For example,
on 1 May 1932, 10 activists were arrested in various cities. Accused
of being communists, there were sent to Halifax and, within days, they were
deported. “Radical” immigrants were deported even when there was evidence
that there live might be at risk in their country of origin (as was the case
for countries that persecuted communists). Among the 10 deported in
May 1932, one, Hans Kist, allegedly died as a result of torture suffered in
a German concentration camp. No law or policy protected immigrants from
deportation to persecution. On the contrary, when immigration officers
heard that two people managed to escape during their deportation to Yugoslavia,
where they would have been killed, they tightened security measures to prevent
future such escapes.
4. Exclusion of Jews
During the 30s and 40s, while European Jews were seeking refuge from the
Nazi genocide, Canadian policy kept its doors firmly closed on Jewish immigrants.
Canada’s hostitility towards these refugees surpassed most other Western countries,
who themselves had less than impressive records.
A memo prepared in 1938 by the Departments of External Affairs and Mines
and Resources said: “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”.
In the years following the First World War, many refugees and other people
displaced as a result of the war and economic conditions were seeking to come
to Canada and to the United States. According to the Canadian government,
these immigrants, many of whom were from Central Europe, were undesirable.
For the first time, immigration officials were sent abroad to do immigration
controls on the other side of the ocean and thus to prevent the “undesirables”
from boarding ships bound for Canada. In 1921, an official explained
the rationale as follows:
“If we can stop any appreciable proportion of this Continental movement
at port of origin we will thereby save at this end. In other words,
if we can put up a fence at the top of the precipice it will be less costly
than to maintain hospitals at the bottom for the people who fall over...”
SOURCE: NAC, RG 76, vol. 355, File 390480, Reel C-10259. Quotation
is from Memo, 9 April 1921, FC Blair to Cory.
Points from current policy
A. Canada has signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
as well as the Convention against Torture
. Elements from both
these conventions have been incorporated into the Immigration and Refugee
. The Act also says that it must be construed and
applied in a manner that “complies with international human rights instruments
to which Canada is signatory.”
B. Canada boasts about being a leader in the field of interdiction, meaning
the collection of measures designed to prevent “improperly documented travellers”
from travelling to Canada. Canada has stationed a team of intediction
officers abroad. They work in airports and elsewhere, interdicting people,
including refugees, who attempt to come to Canada.
C. The National Security Policy, announced by the federal government in
April 2004, included a commitment to simplify the refugee determination process.
This link between refugees and national security was not explained, leaving
as a subtext the myth that refugees represent a threat to security.
D. Canada abandonned all policies of explicit racial discrimination in immigrant
selection in the 1960s. Since 1982 the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms has formally prohibited discrimination based on race or religion.
This has not however eliminated the various forms of racism that persist in
immigration programs as elsewhere in Canadian society.
E. On 29 December 2004, Canada imposed the safe third country rule, which
closed the door on most refugee claimants who have passed through the United
States before asking Canada for refugee protection.