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Immigration Act Amendment, 1919

The government introduced new restrictive immigration regulations in 1919 in response to the social and economic turmoil of the immediate postwar period. Following the First World War, the Canadian economy fell into a recession, unemployment steadily increased and the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 generated widespread fear of communism and suspicion of enemy alien immigrants.

The Winnipeg General Strike in 1919 exacerbated anti-foreign sentiment as many European workers were involved in the disruptive work stoppage. What began as a dispute between management and labour in the building and metal trades over wages and collective bargaining soon escalated into a widespread general strike in which close to 30,000 workers walked off the job.[1] Blame for the labour unrest was placed upon foreign radicals and interpreted as evidence of an impending Bolshevik revolution, despite nearly all the strike leaders being British-born and educated.[2]

The events of 1919 convinced the government to add more restrictive regulations to its immigration policy in an effort to protect the country from dangerous ideologies and subversive activities.[3] Immigrants originating from countries that fought against Canada during the war were specifically prohibited. The restricted categories of political dissidents were expanded to include those who disbelieved in or opposed organized government, those advocating for the assassination of public officials, those advocating or teaching the unlawful destruction of property and those guilty of espionage and treason. Other inadmissible immigrants included the illiterate, individuals of “chronic psychopathic inferiority,” persons with chronic alcoholism, those suffering from tuberculosis and anyone certified as being mentally or physically defective.

An amendment to the domicile provisions increased the requirement for acquiring permanent residency from three to five years, allowing the governor-in-council (i.e. federal cabinet) to deport immigrants at any time within that period if they became a member of an inadmissible class. This revision enabled the governor-in-council to increase its deportation efforts, specifically targeting those accused of engaging in anti-government activity and those that had become public charges.[4]

Further amendments authorized the governor-in-council to prohibit immigrants of any nationality, race, occupation and class if they were deemed unsuitable to the “climatic, industrial, social and educational, labour or other conditions or requirements of Canada,” because of their “peculiar customs, habits, modes of life and methods of holding property and because of their probable inability to become readily assimilated.” This revision was used to bar Doukhobors, Mennonites and Hutterites from settling in Canada in 1919.[5]

The Immigration Act of 1919 demonstrated the growing importance of ethnic, cultural and political considerations in developing immigration policy. The economic factors that had weighed most heavily in policy development prior to the First World War became less significant in the uncertain social and economic climate of the postwar period.[6]

Library and Archives Canada. Statutes of Canada. An Act to Amend the Immigration Act, 1919. Ottawa: SC 9-10 George V, Chapter 25

  1. Valerie Knowles, Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-1997 (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1997), 104.
  2. Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock, The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 180.
  3. Donald Avery, ‘Dangerous Foreigners:’ European Immigrant Workers and Labour Radicalism in Canada, 1896-1932 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1979), 88; “Immigration Act (Canada) (1919),” last modified 16 February 2011,
  4. Kelley and Trebilcock, 181, 207-208.
  5. Knowles, 106.
  6. Avery, 88-90; Knowles, 106.