ARCHIVED – Forging Our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and Immigration, 1900–1977

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Chapter 6
Trail–Blazing Initiatives

During the boom period, 1947–1957, immigration restrictions were gradually eased to admit not only unsponsored refugees and displaced persons but ordinary immigrants from a growing number of countries. This was always done, however, with a view to preserving the fundamental character of the Canadian population. Access from countries other than those that belonged to the “old” Commonwealth, the United States, and Europe was severely restricted, because the Liberals under Mackenzie King and his successor, Louis St. Laurent, were not prepared to abolish Canada’s racist immigration policy. The nominal credit for banishing racism from Canada’s immigration policy belongs to the Progressive Conservatives, who toppled the Grits in the federal election of 10 June 1957 after a 22–year absence from the government benches.

Initially, John Diefenbaker and the Progressive Conservatives did little to signal that they would introduce bold changes in immigration policy. True, during the election campaign the combative Saskatchewan lawyer had promised that under a Progressive Conservative government immigration would play a vital role in Canada’s development. Referring to the 1952 Immigration Act, “the Chief” announced, “We will overhaul the act’s administration to ensure that humanity will be considered and put an end to the bureaucratic interpretations which keep out from Canada many potentially good citizens.” And in an interview in March 1958, the month his government was returned to office with an unprecedented number of seats, he confidently predicted that Canada’s population would reach 40 million in the foreseeable future, provided the federal government pursued a vigorous immigration policy. Nevertheless, despite these and similar pronouncements to journalists and gatherings of ethnic groups, Diefenbaker did not assign top priority to immigration in his government’s early years.

top of page  Ellen Fairclough

Perhaps because of the Progressive Conservatives’ reluctance to take decisive action on immigration issues, the uninfluential Citizenship and Immigration portfolio was assigned in May 1958 to someone Diefenbaker mistakenly thought would serve as a caretaker minister. This was Ellen Fairclough, the vivacious Member of Parliament from Hamilton, Ontario, who in 1957 had become the first woman to serve as a federal Cabinet Minister when the Prime Minister appointed her Secretary of State during his initial term in office. By profession a chartered accountant who owned her own accounting firm, Ellen Fairclough would preside over the fortunes of Citizenship and Immigration for four years and three months.

Photo of Ellen Fairclough

Ellen Fairclough, who in 1957
became the first woman to serve
as a federal Cabinet Minister.

National Archives of Canada
(PA 148646)

Unfortunately, Fairclough’s political fortunes took a drubbing during her first two years in Citizenship and Immigration, largely because of problems triggered by a deepening recession and the large influx of unskilled sponsored workers and sponsored family workers without paid employment. Family sponsorship was undermining attempts to relate immigration more closely to labour–market requirements. Furthermore, when sponsored family members became a public charge, municipal welfare costs rose, creating some resentment. In March 1959, therefore, the government embarked on a brave attempt to curb the escalating sponsorship movement, made up largely of unskilled Italian relatives from southern Italy.

When the new regulation limiting sponsorship to immediate family members was announced a month later, both the Liberal opposition and Canada’s ethnic communities objected strenuously. Especially vocal were Italian Canadians who were well represented in Mrs. Fairclough’s own riding. Defending her government’s action, the embattled Minister informed the House of Commons that the backlog of sponsored applicants had grown from some 77,158 as of 31 December 1955 to 131,785 as of 28 February 1959. From Italy alone, the numbers had soared from approximately 12,000 at the end of 1954 and 23,000 at the end of 1955 to about 63,000 as of 28 February 1959.

In the face of all the uproar and a lack of support in Cabinet, Mrs. Fairclough backed down and on 22 April 1959 rescinded the new regulation. Thoroughly intimidated by the furor that had been aroused, the Diefenbaker government abandoned any further thought of early legislative changes to immigration policy. In the autumn of 1960, it would announce its intention to produce a new Immigration Act, but then fail to do so.

With the rescinding of the regulation, the sponsored movement continued to mushroom. This continued until mid–1960 when it became evident that immigration from Italy would outstrip immigration from Great Britain for the third consecutive year. When confronted by this prospect, Mrs. Fairclough’s department renewed its efforts to curb the growth of the sponsorship program. To reduce the numbers, it once again attempted to make administrative adjustments. The changes introduced achieved the desired results and remained in effect, with minor modifications, until 1964.

top of page  World Refugee Year, 1959–60

Photo of Ellen Fairclough with a young refugee, 1959

The Honourable Ellen Fairclough,
Minister of Citizenship and
Immigration, gets a kiss from one
of the refugees allowed into Canada
during World Refugee Year, 1959.

National Archives of Canada
(PA 181041)

Although the battle over sponsored immigrants cost Ellen Fairclough much in the way of political capital, the spirited Minister was still prepared to tackle difficult issues and run political risks. In 1959–60, for example, she allowed tubercular refugees and their families to be admitted to Canada as part of this country’s contribution to the United Nations–sponsored World Refugee Year. This was a courageous move, given the fact that Canadian enthusiasm for refugee immigration had abated considerably since the arrival of the Hungarians two years earlier. The presence of die–hard Communists and other undesirables in the Hungarian influx had done much to awaken anti–immigration sentiment across the country.

At first, the Minister resisted the idea of admitting desperate refugees to Canada, but eventually she changed her mind. By flexibly interpreting the regulations and making liberal use of her ministerial powers, Ellen Fairclough opened Canada’s doors to 325 tubercular refugees and 501 members of their families during World Refugee Year. They were among a total of 6,912 refugees admitted that year, which saw 70 countries intensify their efforts to close down the world’s refugee camps and rehabilitate countless thousands of despairing people without a country. The refugees who arrived in Canada came from many parts of Europe, although the majority were Polish, Ukrainian, and Yugoslavian.

During her term as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Ellen Fairclough oversaw a steady improvement in the operation and procedures of the Immigration Service. Measured against this and her other accomplishments, however, was one of even greater significance—the long–overdue and radical reform that virtually abolished the “White Canada” immigration policy.

top of page  Canada abolishes its racist immigration policy

The reform was introduced to the public on 19 January 1962 when Ellen Fairclough tabled new regulations in the House that virtually eliminated racial discrimination as a major feature of Canada’s immigration policy. Henceforth any unsponsored immigrants who had the requisite education, skill, or other qualifications were to be considered suitable for admission, irrespective of colour, race, or national origin, provided (1) they had a specific job waiting for them in Canada or were able to support themselves until they found employment, (2) they were not criminals or terrorists, and (3) they did not suffer from a disease that endangered public health. Only one vestige of true discrimination remained and that was the provision that allowed European immigrants and immigrants from the Americas to sponsor a wider range of relatives. This clause would be removed five years later, however, in the immigration regulations of 1967.

When the new regulations were implemented on 1 February 1962, Canada became the first of the three large receiving countries in international migration—the other two being the United States and Australia—to dismantle its discriminatory immigration policy. In 1975, the United States embarked on a similar course by introducing amendments to the Immigration Act, which came into effect in 1978. Australia abolished its White Australia policy in February 1973 by simply announcing that it would grant citizenship on conditions applying equally to all.

The new regulations tabled by Fairclough in the House of Commons before she left the Department of Citizenship and Immigration were foreshadowed by John Diefenbaker’s cherished Canadian Bill of Rights (1960). Since the Bill of Rights had rejected discrimination by reason of race, colour, national origin, religion, or sex, the federal government could no longer justify selecting immigrants on the basis of race or national origin. Moreover, the long–standing discriminatory provisions now seemed anachronistic and untenable in an era when provincial governments were legislating against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and origin in such areas as employment, education, and accommodation.

The government had decided that the new immigration policy should be embodied in regulations rather than in statutes because regulations can be implemented quickly, while a new and complex Immigration Act—something the Progressive Conservatives had been promising—must first be steered through Parliament and that takes time. This last point was alluded to by the noted Canadian immigration expert David Corbett, who greeted the new regulations enthusiastically. He congratulated Ellen Fairclough for placing “immigration policy in its proper context as part of foreign policy” and speculated that the new regulations were ahead of public opinion and more liberal than those the Minister could have obtained had she tabled a new Immigration Act.

Richard Bell, the decisive Progressive Conservative minister who succeeded Ellen Fairclough in the Citizenship and Immigration portfolio on 9 August 1962, was a true believer in immigration. Time and time again he tried to persuade his fellow MPs that immigration is a stimulus to the economy and a powerful tool in nation–building. His enthusiasm for the cause led him to suggest to a Toronto audience on 18 November 1962 that annual immigration should be increased to a rate equivalent to 1 percent of Canada’s population. Under questioning in the House of Commons the next day, however, the Minister explained that he had made “no statement of new policy, but a simple statement of what are appropriate targets and objectives.”

New policy or not, Richard Bell decided to inject new vigour into his department. In the face of continuing high unemployment and the Cabinet’s anti–immigration stance, he instructed Citizenship and Immigration to oil the machinery and reopen the doors to immigration. Partly as a result of the steps taken to crank up operations, as well as an upturn in the Canadian economy, immigration figures began to rise. Richard Bell, the member from Ottawa–Carleton, had presided over a veritable resurrection.

top of page  The 1966 white paper

Image of the 1966 white paper on immigration

The 1966 white paper.

Citizenship and
Immigration Canada
Historical Collection

Despite Bell’s initiatives, truly bold moves in policy had to await the Liberals’ return to power. When they took office under Lester B. Pearson in 1963, the Canadian economy was undergoing significant change. Because of the quickening pace of technological innovation, certain acquired skills were becoming obsolete and workers needed periodic training to keep up. Furthermore, notwithstanding an improved economy, the unemployment rate was still unacceptably high. And perhaps not surprisingly, the largest component of the reservoir of unutilized labour consisted of unskilled and undereducated workers.

Realizing that these harsh economic realities had a bearing not only on worker training but also on immigration policy, Pearson’s government instituted a sweeping review of all aspects of immigration. The resulting white paper on immigration, which was tabled in Parliament in 1966, noted that immigration had “made a major contribution to the national objectives of maintaining a high rate of population and economic growth.” Nevertheless, to prevent an explosive growth in the unskilled labour force, the paper proposed that the government tighten up the sponsorship system and admit more independent immigrants (immigrants who applied on their own initiative and had skills required in the labour market).

The Liberals also instituted an important structural change: the establishment of the Department of Manpower and Immigration. It owed its creation largely to the government’s concern about the shortage of skilled workers and a conviction that manpower development programs could play an important part in training workers required by Canada’s expanding economy. The Pearson government believed that the dearth of skilled workers could be solved by an increase in the flow of skilled workers to Canada and by the adoption of manpower development programs offering specialized training. One department, it was believed, should deal with both issues.

top of page  The points system

By far the most significant development in immigration policy in these years, however, was the introduction of the points system, a method designed to eliminate caprice and prejudice in the selection of independent immigrants. In the points system, immigration officers assign points up to a fixed maximum in each of several categories, such as education, employment opportunities in Canada, age, the individual’s personal characteristics, and degree of fluency in English or French. The points system was incorporated into new immigration regulations that went into effect in 1967. Other features of these regulations included the elimination of discrimination based on nationality or race from all classes of immigrants and the creation of a special provision that allowed visitors to apply for immigrant status while in Canada.

Closely related to this last provision was the passage of the Immigration Appeal Board Act (1967), which set up a new and fully independent appeal board. Anyone who had been ordered deported could appeal to the board, no matter what his or her status was under the Immigration Act.

Now that visitors could apply for landed–immigrant status and there was the option of appealing to the Immigration Appeal Board (IAB), the numbers of people applying for landed–immigrant status increased dramatically. As a result, the effectiveness of the selection process abroad was seriously undermined and the appeal board was soon confronted by a staggering backlog of cases. Visitors who were refused landed–immigrant status invariably appealed to the board, confident that its case backlog would enable them to enjoy the benefits of legally admitted immigrants for several years, and that whatever the result of their eventual appeal, by then the political pressure from the ethnic community and perhaps even the general public would make it extremely difficult for the government to deport them.

top of page  Robert Andras

During the first four years of Pierre Trudeau’s administration, from 1968 to 1972, Ministers of Manpower and Immigration came and went with unseemly frequency. Such a rapid turnover did not augur well for a sweeping revision of Canadian immigration policy—and neither did the seriously troubled Canadian economy. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister paved the way for a dramatic and sorely needed overhaul of Canadian immigration policy when he appointed Robert Andras Minister of Manpower and Immigration in November 1972. Unlike his three immediate predecessors, Mr. Andras would oversee the production of not just a new Immigration Act but a radically new immigration statute. His remarkable achievement can be attributed to his determination to obtain a forward–looking new Act, his skills as a minister, and his strong voice in Cabinet. Moreover, he had the good fortune to take on the challenge at a time when there was a general recognition that change in immigration policy was long overdue.

Photo of Robert Andras, 1972

Robert Andras, Minister of Manpower and Immigration, 1972.

John Evans photographer

A veteran of the Second World War, Robert Andras was president of four automotive sales and car rental firms when he was first elected to the House of Commons in 1965 as Liberal MP for Port Arthur (soon to be amalgamated with Fort William to create Thunder Bay). He would be re–elected four more times before retiring from politics in December 1979. Prior to taking on the Manpower and Immigration portfolio, he had held several Cabinet positions. Fittingly, his new appointment coincided with a period of rapidly increasing immigration. From 122,006 in 1972, immigration would climb to 184,200 in 1973 and then to 218,465 in 1974 before dipping to 187,881 in 1975 and 149,429 in 1976.

Andras lost no time in introducing reforms designed to prevent the government from losing further control over immigration policy. The most important of these was Bill C–197, which amended the Immigration Appeal Board Act. Assented to on 27 July 1973, it contained provisions designed to clear up the board’s backlog of cases and to prevent the recurrence of the current crisis. Notable among these was the provision that abolished the universal right of appeal and that allowed only permanent residents of Canada, valid visa holders, and individuals claiming to be refugees or Canadian citizens to have a right of appeal to the IAB.

This provision was intended to address the problem for the long–term, but in the meantime the IAB still faced a staggering backlog of cases, over 17,000 at the end of May 1973. In the interests of immediate relief, Bill C–197 provided for establishment of the Adjustment of Status Program. Under this program persons who had lived in Canada continuously (legally or illegally) since 30 November 1972 and who had registered with an immigration officer within 60 days of the proclamation of the legislation could apply for permanent residence. An amnesty in all but name, the program was a conspicuous success, resulting in approximately 39,000 people obtaining landed–immigrant status.

top of page  The green paper of 1974

Although these reforms were important, they only laid the groundwork for a new Immigration Act. Radically new legislation was desperately needed as the realities of modern–day Canada had long since overtaken the Immigration Act of 1952.

Conceived essentially as a gatekeeper’s act, the 1952 legislation focussed on the kinds of people who should be refused admission to Canada and outlined mechanisms for controlling the entry or visits of persons who had no legal right to be here or who were considered undesirable. It made no mention of the principles that should govern the selection of would–be immigrants nor did it reflect the fact that section 95 of the British North America Act (now known as the Constitution Act, 1867) recognizes immigration as a joint federal–provincial responsibility. In sum, it was riddled with shortcomings and should have been replaced years ago. Canada needed an Immigration Act that spelled out a coherent immigration philosophy and that took into account modern–day attitudes and practices, not to mention this country’s immigration requirements.

Robert Andras was convinced that Canada would only obtain a decent Immigration Act when an answer was found to the basic question “Why do we have immigration to this country?” If a consensus could be reached on the role played by immigration in modern industrial Canada, then perhaps, concluded Andras, this country stood a better chance of getting an exemplary new Immigration Act.

Photo of Canadian Communist Party protesting in 1975

Canadian Communist Party protesting the federal government’s green paper
on immigration policy, Toronto, 1975.

National Archives of Canada (PA 126346)

In his quest to find answers to this fundamental question, the Minister invited the provinces and any interested organizations to submit briefs. He also commissioned a study to provide a factual background to policy issues and furnish policy options. The green paper was intended to provoke discussion, and indeed, after its tabling in the House of Commons in February 1975, it unleashed an unprecedented nation–wide debate on immigration policy. Subsequently, a Special Joint Senate– House of Commons Committee was struck to stage public hearings on the controversial paper. After holding 50 public hearings in 21 cities across Canada and reviewing more than 1,400 briefs submitted to it, the hard–working committee produced a report whose recommendations formed the basis of a new Immigration Act.

top of page  The Immigration Act, 1976

The Immigration Act, the cornerstone of present–day immigration policy, was enacted in 1976 and came into force in 1978. It broke new ground by spelling out the fundamental principles and objectives of Canadian immigration policy. Included among these are the promotion of Canada’s demographic, economic, cultural, and social goals; family reunification; the fulfillment of Canada’s international obligations in relation to the United Nations Convention (1951) and its 1967 Protocol relating to refugees, which Canada had signed in 1969; non–discrimination in immigration policy; and cooperation between all levels of government and the voluntary sector in the settlement of immigrants in Canadian society.

Among the Act’s other important innovations is a provision requiring the government to plan immigration (that is, to set target numbers for different classifications of immigrants, etc.) and to consult with the provinces regarding the planning and management of Canadian immigration. The inclusion of an identifiable class for refugees, selected and admitted separately from immigrants, is another significant innovation in the new Act.

The Act recognizes four basic categories of individuals eligible for landed–immigrant status: (1) family class, which includes the immediate family and dependent children, as well as parents and grandparents over 60, or if widowed or incapable of earning a livelihood, under 60; (2) humanitarian class, which includes (a) refugees as defined in the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to refugees and (b) persecuted and displaced persons who do not qualify as refugees under the rigid UN definition but who are members of a specially designated class created by the Cabinet for humanitarian reasons; (3) independent class, which comprises applicants who apply for landed–immigrant status on their own initiative and are selected on the basis of the points system; and (4) assisted relatives, that is, more distant relatives who are sponsored by a family member in Canada and who meet some of the selection criteria of the independent class.

The 1976 Immigration Act received almost unanimous support from all parties in the House as well as the widespread approval of public and private interest groups, the media, and academics. Nearly all these interested observers lauded it as a liberal and progressive measure.

top of page  The 1977 Citizenship Act

In the wake of the new Immigration Act came the 1977 Citizenship Act, whose provisions on nationality are still in force today. This act defines “citizen” as a “Canadian citizen” and declares that not only are naturalized and native–born citizens equally entitled to all the powers, rights, and privileges of a citizen, they are also equally subject to all the obligations, duties, and liabilities of a citizen.

Although the 1947 Canadian Citizenship Act had been an immediate success, it was not without flaws. One was the discriminatory treatment of future Canadians. Under the 1947 Act, all non–Canadians, including those who were British subjects (British subjects were defined as citizens of Australia, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, Southern Rhodesia, Republic of South Africa and the United Kingdom), had to wait five years before becoming naturalized. But as modern parlance has it, that is where the level playing field ended when it came to applying for Canadian citizenship. For, unlike an alien (defined by the Act as a “person who is not a Canadian citizen, Commonwealth citizen, British subject, or citizen of the Republic of Ireland”), a British subject could qualify for Canadian citizenship without being called before a judge for a hearing or taking the oath of allegiance in a formal ceremony.

Thanks to changing attitudes and the soaring numbers of non–British immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s, the distinction in treatment between British subjects and aliens began to come under attack. The concept that citizenship is a privilege and not a right was also being questioned. In June 1967, for example, during the course of discussing some amendments to the Canadian Citizenship Act, one Member of Parliament observed:

Those of us who are natural born citizens are increasingly coming to question whether this concept is one that should be perpetuated forever. We are coming to believe that a legally admitted landed immigrant who has been in this country a reasonable period of time should acquire the right to become a citizen…. I am suggesting that this artificial distinction of a right which exists by virtue of birth in Canada as against birth somewhere else on this small planet is one that should be examined.


It was to rectify such anomalies and the unequal treatment accorded different groups of people that An Act Respecting Citizenship was first introduced in the House of Commons in May 1974. It received Royal Assent on 16 July 1976 and came into force, along with the Citizenship Regulations, on 15 February 1977. Henceforth, improved access and equal treatment of all applicants would be the guiding principles in the granting of Canadian citizenship.

top of page  New faces in the immigration queue

The changes set in motion by the abolition of Canada’s racist immigration policy and the introduction of the points system did not take long to become apparent. In 1966, 87 percent of Canada’s immigrants had been of European origin, while only four years later 50 percent came from quite different regions of the world: the West Indies, Guyana, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, the Philippines, and Indochina. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, newcomers would more often than not have emigrated from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, or Latin America; and they would settle in disproportionate numbers in the lower Fraser Valley (the heavily populated area extending from Hope, British Columbia, to Vancouver), the Toronto area, and the greater Montreal region. To even the casual observer, it was obvious that visible ethnic and racial minorities were becoming a significant part of Canada’s social fabric. By contrast, other parts of the country, such as the four Atlantic provinces, remained virtually untouched by this immigration.

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