Monday, 3 February 2014

History of Canada's Citizenship Act and Calgary!

A magazine cover from 1880 - white and tiny people welcomed to Canada
 The Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper announced on February 3rd of 2014, the Citizenship Act will be reformed.

As reported by CBC News last month, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander will introduce sweeping changes which are "the first comprehensive reform to the Citizenship Act in more than a generation​". The more controversial changes include new rules that would allow the government to strip dual nationals of their citizenship in "extreme cases," such as in cases of "treason" or "acts of terrorism."

"We need to be able to take citizenship away from dual nationals in extreme cases, where they've crossed a line that I think all Canadians will agree are grounds for that kind of move," Alexander told CBC News on Jan. 23.

The new rules will also look to right a wrong and give Canadian citizenship to "Lost Canadians" who had seen it denied from them for one reason or another over the years."Some are children of war brides, some have other complicated circumstances which should never have barred them from citizenship, and we have to fix the legislation," Alexander told CBC News.

While these and other changes will be decided on, the idea that your citizenship is a fluid construct on which the government can change and control is not new. What will be the impact on the patterns of immigration to Canada, no one can tell. We only know through our history that policies of who could be Canadian and who could not really shaped the country. We can see that in one city specifically - Calgary.

Between 1901 and 1914, over 750,000 immigrants entered Canada from the United States. While many were Canadians, about one–third were newcomers of European extraction—Germans, Hungarians, Norwegians, Swedes, and Icelanders—who had originally settled in the American West – settled in the West.

Galician Immigrants upon arrival to Canada, 1900s, LAC Archives

One large group that came to Calgary was ethnic Germans. The statistics for Calgary in 1901 are indicative of this: approximately 200 ethnic Germans called Calgary home. Listing their place of birth, 8 Austria, 37 Germans, 32 Russians, and 20 Americans has all settled in the town. Interestingly, the people who stated they were born in Canada including the 58 from Ontario, stated that their parents were German. 
In Calgary, certain areas of the city were settled by ethnic groups of new immigrants. The Chinese settled in downtown near centre street, immigrants of German descent settle mostly in Riverside which is now a part of Bridgeland. The reason was simply because of shared language and culture of these people, and a more welcoming and accepting community. A great deal of suspicion and prejudice existed in Calgary of new immigrants, and many believed it was best if these new immigrants stayed within their own groups. 
Italians arrived in two waves to Calgary, the first from 1900 to 1914, and the second after 1940s because of World War Two. The first arrivals came as temporary and seasonal workers, often returning to southern Italy after a few years. Other became permanent urban dwellers, especially when the First World War prevented international travel. From the outset they began to have an impact on the cultural and commercial life of Calgary. They settled mostly in Bridgeland which was then called "Little Italy" up until the 1980s.

Chinese men posing, 1920s, LAC Archives

One group did not fit this narrative of a European settled Southern Alberta: the Chinese. Many had come from the Canton region of China, then the United States for work on railroads and gold mines. They migrated north to Canada to work on the building of the railroads. When the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1885, unemployed Chinese men came to Calgary. The first Chinese laundries opened near the railway station. They also took jobs as cooks at ranches or started their own cafes. While most people were accepting of the newcomers, certain active anti-Chinese groups began to appear. In August 1892, a group of 300 men attacked the laundries, smashing doors and windows and set fires, all in an effort to chase the Chinese out of town. The NWMP put down the attack and patrolled the city for weeks after to make sure no further violence occurred. Despite the racist fuelled attack, the small community of 200 Chinese stayed. Some brought over their families from China. However, due to anti-Chinese immigration policies in Canada, that number increased very little.
Although immigration to Canada between 1919 and 1925 was largely restricted to newcomers from Canada’s traditional source countries, there were two notable exceptions. One involved the Russian Mennonites, who were fleeing persecution in their homeland. The government of Canada wanted them to settle in the west, as they were farmers. Most headed to southern Alberta. Their descendants moved into local towns including Calgary, which has to this day many Mennonite churches with large congregations.
Joseph, Luba and Ida Roginsky, Jewish Immigrant Family, 1925 

 The other exception was Russian Jews. Even though the Department of Immigration and Colonization was generally hostile to the idea of admitting Jews, placing various impediments in their way, approximately 40,000 Jews did succeed in entering this country between 1920 and 1930, most being admitted by special permit. In 1923, the Canadian government agreed to admit 5,000 Jewish refugees who had fled from Russia to Romania between 1918 and 1920 and had subsequently been ordered to leave their adopted country. Many of these immigrants would choose to join the Jewish community in Calgary. Calgary had a small but active Jewish community since the later 1890s. Most of them were of Russian origin and came to Calgary through the United States or from Eastern Canada. By 1907, the Jewish population in Calgary was about 400. After the influx in the 1920s and 30s, that population grew to over 1200.

            The 1930s, however, saw the sharp reduction of immigrants into Calgary. This was due mostly to the recession across Canada. Jobs were scarce, wages were low, and many families had very little to live on. In 1933, almost one–quarter of the labour force in Canada was unemployed. Prospective immigrants as well as immigrants already established in Canada became the targets of opposition. Many established Canadians of all backgrounds opposed the idea of new immigrants, as they believed that the newcomers would take their much needed jobs. The government agreed and limited immigrant entry into Canada.

The outcome of this decision would have long term and devastating consequences. Among those barred from entering Canada during the 1930s were thousands of desperate refugees, many of them Jews fleeing persecution at the hands of the Nazis. Two years after Canada introduced its new exclusionary immigration policy, National Socialists seized power in Germany and began waging ruthless warfare against Jews and other minorities, such as pacifists, Communists, gypsies, and Freemasons. Many of these people were murdered then or were killed by the Nazis in World War Two (1939-1945).

European Immigrants greeted by Red Cross, late 1940s , LAC archives

After World War Two, there was a slow but steady increase again of immigrants into the Calgary area. The laws changed: the Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947 allowed a lowering of immigration barriers. Although it could have been a land of hope and promise for Europe’s war–weary and oppressed, Canada admitted few bona fide immigrants and displaced persons (the label given to those individuals who had been uprooted or displaced in their own homeland by war) during this period. Immigration barriers also blocked the entrance of most refugees (people who had fled totalitarian regimes before the outbreak of the war and those who, starting in 1945, had left East European countries that had come under Communist control).

Nearly 250,000 displaced persons and other refugees were admitted to Canada between 1947 and 1962.Of the 165,000 refugees who entered this country between 1947 and 1953,Poles comprised the largest group (23 percent of all those refugees admitted). In descending order of numerical strength were Ukrainians (16 percent), Germans and Austrians (11 percent), Jews (10 percent), Latvians (6 percent), Lithuanians (6 percent), Magyars (Hungarians; 5 percent), Czechs (3 percent), Dutch (3 percent), and Russians (3 percent). All told, these groups comprised 86 percent of the Europeans allowed to enter Canada in this period.

Notable among the new arrivals to Calgary were British war brides who had married members of Canada’s fighting forces. During and after the war, some 48,000 of them arrived in this country, often with tiny babies in their arms and toddlers clinging to their skirts. Although most of the war brides and their approximately 22,000 offspring settled in Canada’s towns and cities, some of them made their homes in rural or remote regions of this vast land, including Calgary.

Another large group that settled in Calgary was hundreds of Hungarian refugees. This represents one of the few times in Canadian history when Canadians have whole–heartedly welcomed immigrants. This can be attributed directly to the pressure created by the Canadian public, whose sympathies were aroused by the plight of over 200,000 Hungarians fleeing their homeland after Russian tanks brutally crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956. This sympathy seemed to open the door to other groups. Now the majority of new arrivals came from continental Europe, especially Germany and Italy, which were originally barred from coming to Canada due to being ‘the enemy’ in World War Two.

Continued changes in Canadian immigration policies led to more diversity in immigration. Even until the 1950s, the emphasis remained on having ‘white’ immigrants come to Canada. In 1966, 87 percent of Canada’s immigrants had been of European origin. But 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.
Cambodian Chhayam drum players at rally, 2009

This again was due to two governmental changes: one being the removal of racist guidelines from the Immigration Act in 1962. Also, the introduction of the points system, a method designed to eliminate caprice and prejudice in the selection of independent immigrants, was created in 1967. 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.

Because of these changes, Calgary saw a huge spike in immigrants from these parts of the world. Many were fleeing their homes that were besieged by civil wars and mass murders. One example is South Americans. Between 1973 and 1978, nearly 13,000 Chileans fled to Canada to escape persecution and the authoritarian rule of General Pinochet. By 1978, Chilean immigration to Canada represented nearly 2.5 percent of the national total. In response to these and many other world crisis, the government announced in July 1979 that it would admit 50,000 refugees to Canada by the end of 1980. The decision provided for both privately sponsored and government–sponsored refugees, the government initially agreeing to match each refugee that individuals and church and other voluntary groups supported. Some 77,000 Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian, and Laotian refugees entered Canada between 1975 and 1992, with over 1/4th of these refugees settling in Calgary.

 For more information, check out this great site Immigration History of Canada.

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