Canada has had laws and regulations governing immigration since 1869. Laws concerning immigration have evolved and changed over time as a result of social, political, economic and racial factors, and dominant beliefs about integration, desirability, and race. Slowly, the open-door policy of the late nineteenth century gave way to more restrictive measures which discriminated based on race, nationality, and ethnicity. Discrimination remained an integral part of Canadian immigration policy until the latter half of the twentieth century, when skill and education became the primary criteria for admission. However, some discrimination remains. Cultural diversity has been promoted as a key component of Canadian identity since 1971, when Canada adopted multiculturalism as its official policy. In the end, immigration legislation reflects society’s beliefs and attitudes, but also of Canada’s history of inclusion and exclusion.
Canada accepted immigrants from Asia (mainly China and Japan) and other parts of the world during its first 100 years after Confederation. The number of immigrants from Asia and other regions of the world has grown steadily since the 1960s, when major changes were made to Canada’s immigration legislation and regulations.
Global events also led to a massive influx of refugees and migrants to Canada. The late 1970s saw 60,000 boat people arrive from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The 1980s saw 85,000 immigrants from the Caribbean and Bermuda (for example, Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago); 1997 saw 225,000 immigrants from Hong Kong over the 10 years before it was returned by the United Kingdom; and 2000 witnessed 800,000 immigrants from the People’s Republic of China, India, and the Philippines.
According to the 2011 National Household Survey, Asia (including the Middle East) is now the primary continent of origin, although Africa’s share is increasing. Also, for the first time since Confederation, China and India (excluding Hong Kong and Macao) have overtaken the United Kingdom as the most frequently reported country of birth.
Boyd, M. and M. Vickers. 2000. 100 years of immigration in Canada, Canadian Social Trends. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-008.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. 2015. Canada: A History of Refuge. Website consulted on April 28, 2016.
Kelley, N. and M. Trebilcock. 1998. The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy, Toronto, Buffalo and New York, University of Toronto Press.
Statistics Canada. 2013. 2011 National Household Survey: Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada. Catalogue no. 99-010-X.
150 years of immigration in Canada (statcan.gc.ca)
Canadian Immigration Acts and Legislation | Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
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