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Immigration Act, 1906

The Immigration Act of 1906 introduced a more restrictive immigration policy, expanding the categories of prohibited immigrants, formalizing a deportation process and assigning the government enhanced powers to make arbitrary judgements on admission.

The new immigration act was developed under the guidance of Frank Oliver, minister of the interior from 1905 to 1911. Unlike his predecessor Clifford Sifton, Oliver did not promote the unregulated immigration of European farmers to the Canadian West. He supported a more selective policy to limit the arrival of undesirable immigrants, focusing more attention on their cultural and ethnic origins rather than their economic potential.[1]

A large segment of society supported the imposition of more stringent regulations. Immigration was becoming increasingly diverse at the beginning of the twentieth century as a result of Canada’s relatively open immigration policy, with growing numbers of migrants from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. Many Canadians expressed concern that these immigrants threatened the preservation of Anglo-Saxon norms and were incapable of assimilating. Trade unionists feared the uninhibited flow of immigrants would create a surplus of labour and lower wages for Canadians.[2]

The new immigration act maintained many of the provisions of the Immigration Act of 1869, but significantly expanded the list of prohibited immigrants. Entry was denied to epileptics, the insane, individuals with impairments of sight, speech and sound, those with contagious diseases, as well as the destitute, impoverished and anyone likely to become a public charge. Other inadmissible immigrants included those convicted of crimes of moral turpitude, prostitutes and anyone involved in the procurement of prostitutes. A key feature of the act was the legislative framework it provided for deporting undesirable immigrants. Any individual that fell into one of the prohibited classes within two years of arriving in Canada was subject to deportation. Instances of deportation rose dramatically after 1906 as the government became more aggressive in seeking out prospective deportees.[3]

While the act did not specifically restrict immigrants based on their culture, ethnicity or nationality, it stipulated that the governor-in-council (i.e. federal cabinet) could prohibit any class of immigrants whenever it was considered necessary or expedient. The governor-in-council could also impose conditions requiring immigrants to possess a prescribed amount of money before being permitted to enter Canada. The broad interpretive framework of these provisions granted the government absolute discretionary powers to effectively restrict the flow of immigration according to prevailing ideologies about race, desirability and assimilation. To regulate the admission process, the act established boards of inquiry at each port to decide cases of immigrants seeking entry.

Despite the introduction of a more selective immigration policy, immigrants from undesirable nations such as Italy, Ukraine, Poland and Russia arrived in Canada in increasing numbers. The industrial demands for labour necessitated the continued immigration of unskilled workers from non-preferred countries.[4]

Library and Archives Canada. Statutes of Canada. An Act Respecting Immigration and Immigrants, 1906. Ottawa: SC 6 Edward VII, Chapter 19

  1. [1] K. Tony Hollihan,”’A brake upon the wheel’: Frank Oliver and the Creation of the Immigration Act of 1906,” Past Imperfect 1 (1992): 96.
  2. [2] Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock, The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 131-133.
  3. [3] Barbara Roberts, Whence they Came: Deportation from Canada 1900-1935 (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1998), 57-58
  4. [4] Hollihan, 106-107.