Immigration Act (Canada) (1952)


The Immigration Act of 1952 was the first new immigration legislation since 1910. It was officially described as an act that “clarified and simplified” immigration procedures that had evolved across four decades, but it further established the cabinet’s ample discretionary powers over immigration. It defined wide-ranging powers of the minister of citizenship and immigration and clearly established the principle that the governor-in-council could prohibit or limit immigration on the basis of a wide range of suitability issues, including race, ethnicity, citizenship, customs, health, and probable success of assimilation. The doctrine of “suitability,” established in 1906 and 1910, remained the foundation of Canadian immigration policy throughout the 20th century. The Immigration Act went into effect on June 1, 1953, along with Order-in-Council P.C. 1953–859 (“Immigration Regulations”).
The measure defined the rights of admission for Canadian citizens and those with Canadian “domicile.” At the same time, it exhaustively listed prohibited classes, including criminals, subversives, “idiots,” epileptics, beggars, the insane, the “ill,” the physically “defective,” and prostitutes. In addition to these categories, which had been part of the 1910 measure, homosexuals, drug addicts, and drug traffickers were added. There were no specific limits. British subjects from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa and Irish, French, and U.S. citizens were allowed to immigrate under the measure so long as they could support themselves until finding employment. Asian immigration was limited to spouses or unmarried children under the age of 21 of Canadian citizens. The measure also provided a series of administrative prerogatives for ensuring control, including right of examination and conditions for arrest and deportation of those failing to meet standards. For immigrants who did qualify for admission, the Immigration Act offered some support. It made exploitation of immigrants a criminal offense and provided interest-free travel loans to immigrants deemed necessary for Canadian economic development.
The major weaknesses of the measure revolved around the almost unlimited discretionary power granted to the minister of citizenship and immigration. According to Section 39, no court or judge was allowed to “review, quash, reverse, restrain or otherwise interfere with any proceeding, decision or order of the Minister, Deputy Minister, Director, Immigration Appeal Board, Special Inquiry Officer or immigration officer” in reference to detentions or deportations unless the person enjoyed Canadian citizenship or domicile. With every case potentially under review by the minister, the bureaucracy was overworked. And as the language of the measure was essentially negative and favored exclusion, there was a presumption that immigration officers would not offer fair hearings. The measure was especially hard on immigrants from newly independent India, Ceylon, and Pakistan. As disappointed applicants applied to members of Parliament and lawyers for assistance, the legal weaknesses in the measure became apparent.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Brent (1956), the government was required to pass new regulations reducing discretionary powers of admission and establishing categories of preferred status. Privy Council order 1956–785 (1956) divided admissible immigrants into four categories:
1. British subjects born or naturalized in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa; citizens of Ireland, the United States, or those born or naturalized in France or the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, providing they could support themselves while finding employment
2. citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, West Germany, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, or Switzerland, who found employment under the direction of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, or who could establish themselves in business
3. citizens of any country of Europe or the Western Hemisphere, or of Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, or Turkey, whose relatives were both legal residents and willing to sponsor the proposed immigrant
4. citizens of any other country who were spouses of Canadian citizens or unmarried children under the age of 21
By 1962, most elements of racial and ethnic discrimination had been eliminated, replaced with standards emphasizing skills, education, and training. Rather than produce a completely new measure, however, political complications led the Canadian government to amend the regulations. The amendments of 1967, creating a new Immigration Appeal Board, addressed the most glaring weakness of the measure but were considered inadequate by most critics. In 1973, the Department of Manpower and Immigration, formed in 1966, began a review of Canadian immigration policy, but an inadequate green paper led to nationwide public hearings on the matter under a special joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons during 1975. The findings of the committee led directly to the Immigration Act of 1976.

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