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Canada's Postwar Immigration Policy

By William Lyon Mackenzie King
Leader of the Liberal Party 1919-48, Prime Minister of Canada 1921-26, 1926-30 and 1935-48
House of Commons Debates, May 1, 1947, pp. 2644-6.


Mr. Speaker, before the house resumes the debate on the second reading of the bill to amend the Immigration Act, I should like to set forth, in broad outline, the government's policy with respect to immigration.

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.

Like other major problems of today, the problem of immigration must be viewed in the light of the world situation as a whole. A wise and productive policy for Canada cannot be devised by studying only the situation within our own country. For example, temporary but effective limits on any policy that is to be applied immediately are created by the problem of providing ocean transportation and of establishing inspection facilities in certain countries to which access is difficult at present. Moreover, Canada's policy has to be related to the social, political and economic circumstances resulting from the war. Among other considerations, it should take account of the urgent problem of the resettlement of persons who are displaced and homeless, as an aftermath of the world conflict.

Under existing circumstances, therefore, Canada's policy with respect to immigration falls, necessarily, into two parts: measures designed for immediate application, and a long-term programme . . . 

. . . Because of the limitations of transport, the government decided that, as respects immigration from Europe, the emphasis for the present should be on the admission of the relatives of persons who are already in Canada, and on assisting in the resettlement of displaced persons and refugees.

Up until the end of the war and since- under order in council P.C. 695 of March 21, 1931 -four broad categories of persons were admissible to Canada. These were:

1. British subjects from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Australia or the Union of South Africa, who possessed sufficient means to maintain themselves until employment was secured.

2. United States citizens, similarly possessed of means of maintenance.

3. Wives, unmarried children under 18, or fiancees of men resident in Canada.

4. Agriculturists with sufficient means to farm in Canada.

During the 1930s, due to the adverse economic conditions of the period, these provisions were necessarily interpreted in a restrictive manner. Because of improved economic conditions, it is now possible to interpret them broadly. . . 

. . . Canada is not obliged, as a result of membership in the united nations or under the constitution of the international refugee organization, to accept any specific number of refugees or displaced persons. We have, nevertheless, a moral obligation to assist in meeting the problem, and this obligation we are prepared to recognize.

The government is sending immigration officers to examine the situation among the refugee groups, and to take steps looking towards the early admission of some thousands of their number. In developing this group movement, the immigration branch and the Department of Labour will determine jointly the approximate number of persons who can be readily placed in employment and absorbed into various industries and occupations. Selection officers will then consider applicants for entry into Canada, examine them on a basis of suitability and physical fitness, and make arrangements for their orderly movement and placement. Persons so admitted will, of course, be included in whatever quota Canada finally accepts as its share in meeting the general problem. In taking these steps, the government is seeking to ensure that the displaced persons admitted to Canada are of a type likely to make good citizens. 

Let me now speak of the government's long term programme. It is based on the conviction that Canada needs population . . . 

. . . The population of Canada at present is about 12,000,000. By 1951, in the absence of immigration, it is estimated that our population would be less than 13,000,000 and that by 1971, without immigration, the population would be approximately 14,600,000. Apart from all else, in a world of shrinking distances and international insecurity, we cannot ignore the danger that lies in a small population attempting to hold so great a heritage as ours.

The fear has been expressed that immigration would lead to a reduction in the standard of living. This need not be the case. If immigration is properly planned, the result will be the reverse. A larger population will help to develop our resources. By providing a larger number of consumers, in other words a larger domestic market, it will reduce the present dependence of Canada on the export of primary products. The essential thing is that immigrants be selected with care, and that their numbers be adjusted to the absorptive capacity of the country.

It is of the utmost importance to relate immigration to absorptive capacity. In the past, Canada has received many millions of immigrants, but at the same time many millions of people have emigrated. Of the latter, a large proportion were young people born in Canada, and others who had benefited by education or training received in Canada. The objective of the government is to secure what new population we can absorb, but not to exceed that number. The figure that represents our absorptive capacity will clearly vary from year to year in response to economic conditions . . .

. . . With regard to the selection of immigrants, much has been said about discrimination. I wish to make it quite clear that Canada is perfectly within her rights in selecting the persons whom we regard as desirable future citizens. It is not a "fundamental human right" of any alien to enter Canada. It is a privilege. It is a matter of domestic policy. Immigration is subject to the control of the parliament of Canada. This does not mean, however, that we should not seek to remove from our legislation what may appear to be objectionable discrimination.

One of the features of our legislation to which strong objection has been taken on the ground of discrimination is the Chinese Immigration Act. This act seems to place persons from one particular country in an inferior category. The government has already initiated action for the repeal of that statute. Chinese residents of Canada who are not already Canadian citizens may now be naturalized. Once naturalized, they are permitted to bring their wives and unmarried children under 18 to join them in this country.

The East Indians legally resident in Canada are British subjects who have resided here for many years. They are therefore Canadian citizens. As such, their wives and unmarried children under 18 are admissible.

With regard to the Japanese, I stated, on August 4, 1944, at which time we were at war with Japan, that the government felt that in the years after the war the immigration of Japanese should not be permitted. This is the present view and policy of the government. It will be for future parliaments to consider what change, if any, should be made in this policy.

There will, I am sure, be general agreement with the view that 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. Any considerable oriental immigration would, moreover, be certain to give rise to social and economic problems of a character that might lead to serious difficulties in the field of international relations. The government, therefore, has no thought of making any change in immigration regulations which would have consequences of the kind.

I wish to state quite definitely that, apart from the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act and the revocation of order in council P.C. 1378 of June 17, 1931, regarding naturalization, the government has no intention of removing the existing regulations respecting Asiatic immigration unless and until alternative measures of effective control have been worked out. Canada recognizes the right of all other countries to control the entry or non-entry of persons seeking to become permanent residents. We claim precisely the same tight for our country.

I wish to make it equally clear that the Canadian government is prepared, at any time, to enter into negotiations with other countries for special agreements for the control of admission of immigrants on a basis of complete equality and reciprocity.

Through the years of depression and war, and consequently of greatly restricted immigration, the immigration branch of the Department of Mines and Resources and its offices abroad were reduced to proportions wholly inadequate to cope with an active immigration policy. With the end of the war, and in the light of changed economic conditions, the government has already taken steps to expand and strengthen this branch of the public service. To carry out the government's policy effectively, immigration services will be further developed to meet expanding requirements.

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