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Social Issues
Not Wanted Here: Some Of The Groups Canada Excluded From Full Citizenship
October 23, 2013
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Thomas Soon, 97, and Charlie Quon, 99, hold the first redress payments to Chinese Head Tax payers in Vancouver on October 20, 2006. (Photo: CP P HOTO/Lyle Stafford)

In his message on the occasion of Citizenship Week on Monday, Governor General David Johnston said:

Each year, Canada is fortunate to welcome many new Canadians—new citizens—to our country. Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to attend or to participate in a citizenship ceremony knows how inspiring it is to see others take the oath of citizenship, or even to take it oneself. It is a proud moment for all involved, and it is equally a wonderful moment for Canada—a country where immigration is an important part of our identity and social fabric.

And indeed, each year, Canada accepts over 250,000 new immigrants to the country, the majority of whom go on to become citizens. But throughout our history, Canada hasn't been equally open to all immigrants. So today, we're taking a break from our regular Citizenship Week stories about things you might not know about Canada to look at just a few of the groups who have been excluded from full citizenship.

China — Head Tax and Exclusion Act

In the early 1880s, thousands of Chinese labourers were brought to Canada to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway. As the project was nearing completion, many of them wanted to stay behind rather than return to China. But this didn't sit too well with some trade unions and politicians, who were afraid, among other things, that Chinese workers would take jobs away from Canadians. And so, after a Royal Commission looking into the matter, Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, which for the first time placed a "head tax" on all immigrants to Canada from China.

Alone among ethnic groups at the time, each Chinese person who wanted to immigrate to Canada and eventually gain citizenship had to pay $50 — well over $1,000 in today's money. And that number soon started rising. By 1903, the head tax had reached $500. The country even had a Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration, whose mounds of paperwork are now held by Library and Archives Canada. By 1923, when the head tax came to an end, the Crown had collected about $23 million from Chinese immigrants (amounting to about $308 million today).

It wasn't a change of heart that led to the end of the head tax, however. It was the passage of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which banned nearly all forms of Chinese immigration to Canada (that's why it's often referred to as the Chinese Exclusion Act). Under the new act, the only Chinese nationals allowed to move to the country were diplomats, foreign students and those granted a so-called "special circumstance" exemption by the Minister of Immigration — which is how former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson's family immigrated in 1942.

The act was finally repealed in 1947, partially out of recognition of the contribution of Chinese Canadians to the Second World War. In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized for the head tax, and offered compensation of about $20,000 for surviving Chinese-Canadians or their spouses.

Japan — "Gentleman's Agreement" and Internment

Japanese-Canadians experienced a parallel history of exclusion from immigration (and, therefore, citizenship) in Canada. The first known Japanese person to immigrate to Canada was Manzo Nagano, who settled in British Columbia in 1877, but Japanese immigration did not begin to ramp up until about 1900. In 1907, at the request of the Canadian government, Japan implemented a hard limit on the number of its citizens who could emigrate to Canada, restricting the flow to only 400, mostly made of up women leaving to join their husbands. In 1928, that "gentleman's agreement" between the two countries was revised down to 150, a quota that Citizenship and Immigration Canada says was rarely met. And those who did make it to Canada were denied the right to vote.

But the most famous act of exclusion took place following the attack on Pearl Harbour, when Japanese-Canadians were labelled as "enemy aliens" under the War Measures Act. On January 14, 1942, the federal government issued an order removing all Japanese men from 18 to 45 years of age from a 160-kilometre strip of "proctected" land on the B.C. coast, followed soon thereafter by "all persons of Japanese origin." About 27,000 Japanese-Canadians ended up spending the latter half of the war in an internment camp in the B.C. interior or on farms in Alberta and Manitoba. Resisters were placed in a prisoner-of-war camp in Angler, Ontario, and the property of the interned Japanese-Canadians was seized and eventually sold off.

As the war came to a close, the interned Japanese-Canadians were encouraged to either move east of the Rockies or be "repatriated" to Japan, even though many of them had been born in Canada. It wasn't until 1949, four years after the end of the war, that Japanese-Canadians were given full citizenship and voting rights. In 1988, following the lead of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney offered a formal apology along with compensation to each surviving internee.

India — Continuous Passage

In 1908, the federal government enacted a piece of legislation called the Continuous Passage Act. The intention? Blocking any immigrant who didn't arrive on an uninterrupted journey from their point of origin to Canada. In practice, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, this was intended to stem the so-called "Indian invasion" of South Asians, whose ships usually had to stop over in Japan or Hawaii on their way to Canada. This indirect form of exclusion was partially due to the fact that as fellow subjects of the British Empire, Indians could not be excluded explicitly. Despite several legal challenges and amendments, the Act remained in effect until 1947. In 2008, Stephen Harper issued a formal apology to the Sikh community in British Columbia in connection to the Komagata Maru incident, when a ship carrying 376 Indians was turned around and forced to return to India under the authority of the act.

First Nations — Voting Rights

Two-hundred-and-fifty years ago, King George III issued a Royal Proclamation that established the legal relationship between the British Crown and Canada's First Nations. But until 1960, First Nations people were caught in a difficult dilemma: renounce their status as registered Indians, along with all associated treaty rights, or be excluded from the vote. When that restriction was removed, it was the final race- or religion-based restriction on the right to vote in the country, according to Elections Canada. And while Canadian citizenship was first separated from British nationality in 1947, it wasn't extended to status Indians until 1956.


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