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Immigration Act, 1952

In 1952, the government of Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent passed the first new immigration act since 1910. The Immigration Act of 1952 was not a significant departure from prior legislation as it largely codified existing practices and established a legislative framework from which the government could enact additional orders and regulations.[1]

The primary effect of the new act was to reinforce the authority of the governor-in-council (i.e. federal cabinet) and invest the minister of citizenship and immigration with wide-ranging powers. As in previous legislation, the governor-in-council was authorized to make regulations prohibiting immigrants based on their nationality, ethnicity, occupation, peculiar customs, unsuitability to the Canadian climate and probable inability to assimilate.

The new act additionally granted the minister of citizenship and immigration broad discretionary power over decisions of admission and deportation, with the ability to grant or cancel immigration permits and overturn the decisions of immigration officers and immigration appeals boards. In effect, the minister became the final authority in all immigration cases.[2] To ensure that the executive branch of government retained control over immigration, the act continued to bar judges and courts from reviewing, reversing or otherwise interfering in immigration proceedings, unless they related to a Canadian citizen or a person with Canadian domicile.

The act also emphasized procedural practice, outlining the conditions for the arrest, detention and deportation of prospective immigrants and the process of examination, inquiry and appeal.[3] While the specific classes of prohibited immigrants largely remained the same as in previous pieces of legislation, new restrictions were introduced to prohibit homosexuals, drug addicts and drug traffickers from entering the country. However, the act did provide immigrants with greater recourse to appeal decisions of deportation through the creation of immigration appeals boards. Appeals were brought directly to the minister of citizenship and immigration, who could then direct the request to an appeals board.[4]

Although the new act was intended to simplify the administration of immigration policy, it actually decreased the efficiency of immigration procedures. The unlimited discretionary powers granted to the minister meant that their personal decision was required on many of the individual cases under review. The minister and the staff at the Department of Citizenship and Immigration devoted considerable time to responding and reviewing the overwhelming number of individual files brought to their attention, creating a backlog of applications and limiting the time they could dedicate to other administrative tasks.[5]

Library and Archives Canada. Statutes of Canada. An Act Respecting Immigration, 1952. Ottawa: SC 1 Elizabeth II, Chapter 42


  1. Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock, The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 314, 324.
  2. Freda Hawkins, Canada and Immigration: Public Policy and Public Concern, 2nd ed. (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988), 102.
  3. Hawkins, 102.
  4. Kelley and Trebilcock, 325-326.
  5. Hawkins, 103.