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Boat People: Rocking the World’s Conscience

The Story

Toronto's Stephen Tomosvary is one of the many Canadians who wants to help the refugees. He explains to CBC Television that his own experiences as an immigrant from Hungary have inspired him to sponsor a refugee family. As a sponsor, he has pledged to support a family while it gets on its feet -- that means helping to provide food, clothing and shelter for up to one year. Meanwhile, in a Hong Kong refugee camp, 22-year-old Montrealer Scott Mullin works for Canada's Board of Immigration, interviewing prospective refugee families. He talks about what it's like to do his job and how he thinks refugees will adapt to Canada. Immigration criteria required that refugees speak English or French, or have a relative in Canada, or have a desirable profession or trade.

In this half-hour news special from July 1979, the CBC's Peter Mansbridge travels to Southeast Asia to meet some of the 10,000 refugees who fled Vietnam on boats and have been waiting for weeks, even months, to move on to a new life.

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: July 9, 1979
Guests: John Johnson, Le Van Trang, Lam Thi Whan, Scott Mullin, Bill Newell, Ron Atkey, Flora MacDonald, Stephen Tomosvary, Harvey Dyck, Tony Leung
Host: Don McNeill
Reporter: Bill Boyd, Peter Mansbridge, David Halton
Duration: 27:54

Did You know?

• In July 1979, the Canadian government introduced a matching formula: it would sponsor one refugee for each one sponsored privately. Churches, corporations or groups of five or more adult Canadian citizens were eligible to sponsor refugees directly. The goal was 42,000 refugees (21,000 privately-sponsored and 21,000 government-sponsored) over two years, on top of the government's own quota of 8,000. In a mere four months, private sponsorships reached their goal.

• Sponsoring a family cost private groups between $2,500 and $8,000, depending on the size of the family sponsored and how long it took them to get established. The general rule was $1,200 per refugee. The money went to providing clothing, food and accommodation for a family for a maximum of one year. A government pamphlet assured sponsors that refugee families usually became self-supporting in four to six months.

• On June 24, 1979, York University philosophy professor Howard Adelman organized The Campaign to Save the Boat People in the federal riding of St. Paul's in Toronto. Its goal of saving 50 families was surpassed in nine days. In six days, there were 10 more groups like the one in St. Paul's. In nine days, 58. The Campaign to Save the Boat People became Operation Lifeline, an umbrella organization to help support the other Ontario groups.

• Indochinese refugees made up a quarter of the immigrants to Canada between 1978 and 1981. Despite the thousands lingering in refugee camps in Southeast Asia, only 9,000 Indochinese refugees settled in Canada between 1975 and 1978. Public outcry led to the government accepting 60,000 refugees between 1979 and 1980.

• A new Canadian Immigration Act went into effect in 1978. It contained Canada's first formal policy on the status of refugees. A provision in the new act allowed the government to admit a whole class of persons -- such as Indochinese -- into the country under special circumstances.


Boat People: A Refugee Crisis more