Immigration Act (Canada) (1906)


The capstone of Minister of the Interior Frank Oliver’s immigration policy, the Immigration Act of 1906 consolidated all Canadian immigrant legislation, thus making it easier for “the Department of Immigration to deal with undesirable immigrants.” The measure greatly expanded the number of exclusion categories, gave legislative weight to the process of deportation, and set the tone for the generally arbitrary expulsion of undesirable immigrants that characterized Canadian policy throughout much of the 20th century.
Among the excluded categories of immigrants were prostitutes and others convicted of crimes of “moral turpitude”; epileptics, the mentally challenged, and the insane; the hearing, sight, and speech impaired; and those with contagious diseases. The act also made the transportation companies responsible for the costs of deportation of both illegal immigrants and those who became public burdens within two years of arrival. The minister of the interior was given the authority to deny entry to anyone not arriving directly from the land of his or her birth or citizenship, a measure implemented by P.C. 27 in 1908 and used to effectively deny entry to Japanese and Chinese citizens who had first traveled to Hawaii. Most important, the 1906 Immigration Act established an arbitrary system in which a board of inquiry named by the minister of the interior passed judgment on admissibility, while all appeals were heard by the minister. The powers of the immigration service were also greatly enhanced by enabling it to pass any regulation “necessary or expedient” for attaining the measure’s “true intent.” Although Liberals and industrialists generally preferred a more open policy, the prevailing mood in the country was one of caution, seeking to avoid many of the urban problems associated with the relatively open immigration policies of the United States.

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