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Timeline of Canadian Immigration Policy

15,000 - 11,000 BC – The very first people on the North American continent are immigrants. They cross to Canada from Asia across the Bering Straight.

1 July 1867 – Canada becomes a country.

1869 – The Canadian government buys the land known as the Northwest from the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Prairies become part of Canada.

1869 – The Canadian parliament passes its first Act dealing with immigration. This Act says nothing about which people will be allowed to immigrate to Canada. As a result, it is necessary to make amendments, or changes, to the law. These amendments prohibit criminals and destitute people from coming to Canada.

Dominion Lands interin homestead receipt

1872 – The Dominion Lands Act is passed. On the payment of a ten-dollar fee, men aged over twenty-one can receive 160 acres of land. The Canadian government wants to settle the West with farmers loyal to Canada. They want to prevent American settlers from moving into the Canadian prairies and annexing the land to the United States. The government is also afraid of the territory becoming rampant with crime.

1885 – The federal government passes an Act restricting Chinese immigration to Canada. A fifty-dollar head tax is charged to each immigrant. The head tax is gradually increased over the years, finally peaking at five hundred dollars in 1903.

Canadian Pacific Railway poster, western Canada Chinese section men on handcars 1885 – The Canadian Pacific Railway Line reaches Alberta.


Farm home Settlers at Olds, Alberta, 1902. 1896 – Clifford Sifton is appointed Minister of the Interior, the government portfolio in charge of immigration. He is determined to populate the Canadian West with farmers and pursues this plan aggressively. Sifton prints pamphlets encouraging immigration to the
Hon. Clifford Sifton, M.P. Brandon, Man.

Canadian Prairies in many languages and distributes them across the United States and Europe.

1899 – The North Atlantic Trading Company is organized by Sifton. European shipping agents would direct agricultural settlers to Canada. If they did this, and the settlers were genuine farmers with at least one hundred dollars per family, the government in Ottawa would pay the shipping companies a large bonus.

American settlers looking for a home on Stephen Avenue (8th Avenue), Calgary, Alberta. ca.1900-1903 Shield of Alberta

1905 – Alberta becomes a province.


Frank Oliver 1905 – Frank Oliver, the founder of the Edmonton Bulletin, the first Edmonton newspaper, becomes Minister of the Interior. While Sifton worried only about attracting farmers to Canada, Oliver worries about the ethnic origins of the immigrants. He moves to make Canada’s immigration policy more selective.

1906 – A new Immigration Act is passed. This law amalgamates all previous legislation dealing with immigration. It also prohibits immigration to Canada for a group of undesirable people, primarily people either mentally or physically handicapped. The bill also gives the government the right to deport undesirable immigrants.

1910 – Frank Oliver passes another Immigration Act which places further restrictions on Canadian immigration. Although it does not openly restrict any ethnic group from coming to Canada, it gives the cabinet power to restrict access to any group on any grounds it chooses.

1914 -1918 – World War I. The battles are fought primarily on European soil.

1918 – Europe has been badly affected by the war, and many people are looking to emigrate. Canada does not want these immigrants. Anti-foreigner sentiment is high after the war, and the Canadian government is fearful of letting too many immigrants into Canada. They think these European immigrants might cause a rebellion similar to the one that occurred in Russia in 1917.

1919 – A new Immigration Act is passed at the end of the First World War that formalizes immigration guidelines based on ethnic race and culture. Immigrants whose ideological beliefs are considered unacceptable by the Canadian government can be excluded from Canada.

1923 – The restrictions applying to immigrants from Germany and other World War I enemy countries are lifted.

1923 – A law is passed that almost stops Chinese immigration.

Canada West magazine, 1925

1925 – Ottawa signs an agreement with the Canadian Pacific and the Canadian National Railways. These railways are given control over recruiting European agricultural workers to settle in Western Europe. People from Eastern European countries, as well as Germany and Austria, begin to settle in WesternCanada.


Employment opportunities, 1931 1930 – The Great Depression begins, and Canada falls into an economic slump. A law is passed forbidding immigration to anyone except for people with enough money to establish and maintain themselves on a farm.


1931 – An Order-in-Council stops all immigration from Continental Europe. British and American subjects with enough money or with guaranteed employment are the only people granted entry.

1939 -1945 – World War II.

A family of displaced persons waiting at Halifax, July 3rd, 1947.

1946 – There are over a million displaced persons living in United Nations’ refugee camps in Europe. A debate rages in Canada over whether or not the immigration policy should be opened up to allow these refugees in Canada.


1947 – Prime Minister Mackenzie King makes a statement about the new direction of Canada’s immigration policy. More immigrants will be allowed into Canada, and the 1923 Act forbidding Chinese immigration is repealed. King states, however, that the overall character of Canadian society will not be changed by the influx of immigrants.

1947 – Orders-in-Council are passed which allow up to 45,000 displaced people to immigrate to Canada. By 1952, almost 250,000 displaced people from Europe arrive in Canada, many of whom settle in Alberta.

1947 – The Canadian Citizenship Act is passed, and Canadian citizenship is legally established. Previously, Canadians officially had been British subjects. Canadian citizenship is given to people whether or not they were born in Canada. Immigrants generally have to live in Canada for five years before applying for citizenship. The Act also implements a revised oath of allegiance to Canada.

1948 – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

1951 – The United Nations Convention on Refugees is held. The rights, obligations, and qualifications of refugees are officially set out.

1952 – A new Immigration Act is passed. The cabinet retains its power to discriminate against people they deem unsuitable for Canadian society.

Canadian-Italian Centennial (1964)

1962 – A reform is passed that eliminates racial discrimination in Canada’s immigration policy. Any unsponsored person who has the necessary qualifications can be considered for immigration to Canada, regardless of skin colour, race, or ethnic origin.

Canadian-Italian Centennial (1964)

1967 – The Points System is created. Because the right to immigrate is no longer based on race or ethnicity, a new system is needed that is not based on racial criteria. Potential immigrants are assigned points in a number of categories, including education, age, personal characteristics, fluency in French or English, and job opportunities in Canada. If they receive more than fifty points, they are accepted into Canada.

Italian Canadian Community Centre

1969 – The Official Languages Act is passed. Canada becomes a bilingual nation, with English and French as its two official languages.

Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau

1971 – Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau announces that Canada will embrace a policy of multiculturalism.


1976 – An Immigration Act is passed. This Act removes the restrictions placed on immigration of people with mental or physical handicaps and provides the framework for modern-day immigration policy. Potential immigrants to Canada are separated into three classes:
  1. Family class, which is composed of immediate family of Canadian citizens or residents
  2. Humanitarian class, which includes refugees who fit the official United Nations description, as well as persecuted or displaced people who fall into a special humanitarian class set up by the cabinet
  3. Independent class, made up of people who apply for landed immigrant status on their own and must go through selection based on the points system

1977 – The Citizenship Act is passed. This Act states that naturalized and native-born Canadian citizens have equal citizenship rights and obligations. The preferential treatment given to immigrants from other Commonwealth countries is removed and equality becomes legally guaranteed in Canadian immigration policy.

1980s – More and more refugees want to come to Canada. Officially, refugees should go through a screening process at a refugee camp or Canadian immigration station outside of Canada. However, if immigrants can come to Canada independently, they can apply as landed refugees, avoid the screening process, and receive Canadian residency permits much more easily. Many Canadians were worried, not only because of the large number of refugees in Canada but also because many of the so-called refugees did not qualify as refugees under the UN convention of 1951. Canadian officials could not process the landed refugee applications quickly enough and a backlog was created. The government also experiences problems with the family class of immigrants. People in Canada are sponsoring members of their very extended families. As a result, the immigration quotas are being filled by extended family members, often unskilled, when the government would prefer to have skilled and educated workers. In the 1980s, the government tries to tighten refugee policy and to increase the immigration of richer and more educated people.

1982 – The Canada Act is passed. Canada repatriates its constitution and adds the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

1985 – The Citizenship Act is passed. It specifies all the regulations governing Canadian citizenship and is still being used in 2006.

1985 – The Conservative government increases the Business-Class Immigration Program to attract more business people to Canada. Self-employed people, entrepreneurs, and investors are encouraged to immigrate.

1986 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees awards the Nansen Medal to Canada, the first time it is awarded to an entire nation. The medal recognizes contributions made to the refugee cause.

December 1986 – More than three thousand people in Canada claim refugee status.

Canada's Parliament Building

July 1988 – The Canadian Multiculturalism Act is passed unanimously by both the House of Commons and the Senate, making Canada the first country in the world to have a national multiculturalism law. The law re-affirms multiculturalism as an essential component of Canadian society.


Kosovar refugees from Blace Area 1989 – There are twelve million refugees in the world.

1 January 1989 – Bill C-55 officially amends the Immigration Act. It provides a new structure and procedures for processing refugee claims. It also creates an independent Immigration and Refugee Board. The government wants to deter people who are not legitimate refugees.

1990s – 73 percent of Canadian immigrants are from visible minority groups, a large increase from 52 percent in the 1970s.

1991 – Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board grants refugee status to 64 percent of the people who ask for it. On a per capita basis, Canada accepts five times more refugees than the United States.

23 June 1994 – The federal government creates Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).This department is responsible for setting immigration levels and criteria, the application process, refugees, and visa requirements. It is also responsible for the citizenship application process. These two areas are combined out of the belief that citizenship is the final stage of immigration.

1994 – A $975 right-of-landing fee (ROLF) is charged to every immigrant and refugee entering Canada.

2000 – The right-of-landing fee is repealed.

2001 – Out of the 250,346 immigrants who come to Canada:
-66,644 were from the family class
-137,085 were from the skilled worker, independent class
-15,854 came as entrepreneurs, investors, or self-employed
-27,094 came as refugees.

11 September 2001 – Attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.

28 June 2002 – The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act comes into effect. It emphasizes the importance of immigration to improving Canadian society and economy and creating a culturally diverse nation. The Act also states the government’s commitment to reuniting families in Canada, integrating immigrants, and protecting the health and safety of all Canadians. The refugee program plans to fulfill Canada’s international legal obligations and give fair consideration to all people being persecuted. The Act guarantees the policies will be consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also states that intergovernmental co-operation will be important, as will be greater public awareness of policies.

12 December 2003 – The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is created. It is part of a broader package of programs designed to deal with the security concerns raised by the 11 September attack on the WorldTrade Center. The CBSA’s mandate is to facilitate the legal movement of goods and people across Canada’s borders while stopping illegal or threatening shipments.

31 December 2003 – Introduction of the Permanent Resident Card. The card is required for permanent residents leaving and re-entering Canada. It is designed to increase border security.

2005 – 18 percent of Canada’s population is born outside of Canada. Over 150,000 people become Canadian citizens a year. China and Hong Kong, India, and the Philippines are the top three sources for Canadian immigrants.

2006 – A bill is being discussed in parliament to allow a child born outside Canada but adopted by Canadian citizens to receive Canadian citizenship without first having to become a permanent resident.


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