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Whence They Came

Barbara Roberts

1. The Functions of Deportation

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1This book is a study of deportation of immigrants from Canada to the countries whence they had come, between 1900 and 1935. The first chapter considers the part that deportation played in managing the labour supply and maintaining the social order. The next chapter provides an overview of the legal framework for deportation, looking also at factors that influenced the timing and specific provisions of the pertinent sections of the legislation. Chapter 3 offers a critical look at the official statistics on deportation, and explores some of the misleading conclusions suggested by the official reports of the Department of Immigration. The fourth chapter outlines the early years of deportation, identifying the patterns developed in those years that would be significant in subsequent decades. Chapter 5 examines in more detail one of these patterns: the systematic deportation of radicals and dissidents in the period immediately before and after the First World War. Next, Chapter 6 describes the deportation practices of the mature bureaucracy between 1920 and 1935. Chapter 7 returns to the theme of political deportation to explore the use of deportation to control those who resisted the social and economic conditions of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The wholesale deportation of the unemployed (denied by the government) from Canada during that same period is described in Chapter 8. Finally, Chapter 9 considers the arbitrary and unjust manner (and often illegal) in which deportation has been carried out.

2Although deportation played a crucial part in immigration policy, and was from time to time the subject of controversy, it has been little studied by historians. Perhaps this lack of interest is due to the general impression, carefully cultivated by officials and politicians responsible for its management, that deportation was an exceptional and infrequent occurrence, caused by the failing or malfeasance of individual immigrants. As this book will show, nothing could be further from the truth. It is only through careful examination of behind-the-scenes evidence that the fallacy of this blame-the-victim explanation can be seen. The sources upon which this book is based include internal records of the Department of Immigration, as well as those of municipal and provincial governments and other federal departments; oral history interviews; first-hand accounts of victims and their supporters; contemporary and historical legal and other documents, and scholarly studies.

3The responsibility for deportation-and immigration-has moved from one ministry to another over the years, and operated under various names. (For the sake of consistency, I have referred to “the Department of Immigration” throughout.) At Confederation, immigration and quarantine matters were dealt with by the Department of Agriculture. In 1892, immigration matters were moved to the Department of the Interior, which dealt with land settlement; a separate Immigration Branch was set up as part of Interior in 1893. (Quarantine services remained under Agriculture until 1918, when they, along with immigration medical inspection services, moved to the newly created Department of Health.) An independent Department of Immigration and Colonization was established in 1917; this arrangement endured until 1936.

4Although the period after that date is beyond the scope of this study, readers may wish to know the recent history of the Department. From 1936 to 1950, Immigration was reduced to a branch of the Department of Mines and Resources. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration was formed in 1950 from the Immigration Branch of Mines and Resources and the Citizenship and Citizenship Registration Branch of the Secretary of State; this was replaced by the Department of Manpower and Immigration in 1966, which became the Canada Employment and Immigration Commission in 1977, now part of the Ministry of Employment and Immigration. Since 1967 deportation has been the responsibility of the Immigration Appeal Board. Although certain features of the law, policy, and procedures have been changed, the essentials have remained consistent to the present day.

5Canada’s deportation practices were among the most arbitrary in the Commonwealth. Parliament and the courts were neither well informed about, nor had significant control over, the policies and practices of the Department of Immigration, whose bureaucrats carried out a clandestine and illegal immigrant selection process, and deported immigrants according to their own informal and extralegal system of justice. Immigration officials misrepresented and concealed their activities. “Deports” had fewer rights than criminals; they were not entitled to due process, to know the precise nature of charges against them, to confront their accusers, or to be tried by a jury of their peers. They were presumed guilty and their hearings took place at closed administrative tribunals.

  • 1 Dr. J. Halpenny of Winnipeg, writing in the October 1919 issue of The Canadian Journal of Mental H (...)

6Deportation helped to relieve employers, municipalities, and the state from the burdens of poverty, unemployment, and political unrest. Deportation helped the municipalities to “shovel out” some of their poor in much the same way as emigration had helped English parishes in the early nineteenth century, and reduced relief and other maintenance costs. Deportation removed workers when they became useless, surplus, or obstreperous. It helped the state to reduce maintenance costs for some of its non-producing members, by deferring these costs to the economies of the sending countries. It also served some function of social and political control by eliminating social protesters. Deportation was a necessary part of immigration, the equivalent of the sewage system of cities. It was the drain through which our immigration refuse was directed, in order to assure that “the river of our national life” would not be “polluted by the turbid streams”1 of the immigrant unfit, unemployed, and unprofitable.

  • 2 Pat Thane, “Women and the Poor Law in Victorian and Edwardian England,” History Workshop Journal, (...)
  • 3 Dorothy George, London Life Before the Eighteenth Century, Evanston, Illinois, Harper and Row, [19 (...)

7Deportation of the economically unfit is a practice going back to the early days of English poor relief. Eligibility for poor relief (welfare) was based on the right of “settlement”, akin to domicile or citizenship. Settlement was acquired through birth; women took their husband’s settlement upon marriage. By the mid-nineteenth century, settlement could be gained in some circumstances by five years’ residence. Parishes could rid themselves of paupers or prospective paupers who did not have settlement by a process called “removal”.2 Legal removal was carried out by an overseer of the removing parish, and took place from the parish where the person lived but did not have settlement, to the parish of settlement. When done legally, it was a costly process. Less expensive alternatives were popular. One was to have the person arrested for vagrancy. This was so common as to lead one scholar to comment that vagrancy laws were “the penal side of the poor law.” The vagrant could simply be sent through parishes by cart from constable to constable until he or she reached the home parish. The minimal costs were paid by the parishes through which the vagrant moved. In some cases the vagrant was punished by whipping or imprisonment, or both, before being sent away. Another cheap method was used against pregnant women who did not have settlement. Even non-pauper pregnant women represented a potential cost to the parish. If their child was born in a given parish, there it would have settlement. Single women, and married women who may have been settled by birth, but lost their own settlement when they married a man from another parish, were vulnerable to such removals. Sometimes parishes tried to smuggle women over the line into the next parish, quite late in their pregnancy. Substantial numbers of pregnant women became vagrants because they were expelled from parishes. The practices employed were often “bereft of both humanity and decency.”3

  • 4 See “Poor Laws Report,” Westminister Review, 1834, in Poverty in the Victorian Age. Debates on the (...)

8The powers of the parish to remove were increased by the Act of Settlement of 1662, which defined categories of removables. As long as people did not apply for relief, they might be left alone unless it seemed likely that they would become public charges. If they did apply for relief, however, their removal was likely. The 1834 Poor Law Report recommended some reform in this area, notably that the practice of removing pregnant women cease, and that a child born outside of marriage take its mother’s settlement, regardless of where it was born.4

9The parallels between British poor law removal in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and deportation from Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth are striking. In most instances, persons were safe from expulsion if they had settlement or domicile. Expulsion was usually contingent upon becoming a public charge. Persons who did not apply for relief were generally untouched. Legal removal or deportation was used to pass paupers and their relief costs back to their home parish or country of origin, where they could not be deferred or refused. To follow the legal procedures laid out in the legislation was costly to the removing parish or to the federal government. Attempts were frequently made to cut down the expenses: by sending vagrants away in carts and having the in-transit parishes pay costs, in the one case, or forcing the transportation companies to pay, in the other.

  • 5 Public Archives of Canada (PAC) Record Group (RG) 76, File 837, McNicholls to Department, 3 Septem (...)

10Deportation was intimately connected to poor relief in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Canada. The Department of Immigration stated on numerous occasions (and the law confirmed it) that deportation was a relief to the municipalities and provinces. Canadian transportation companies seem to have concurred in this view, as a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Passenger Agent made clear in his complaint that the CPR was being asked by Immigration to help municipalities “shovel out” their paupers: “Municipalities should take care of their own poor,” he said; “there is no reason that I can see why private corporations should participate in a matter of this kind anymore than any other tax payer.”5 Deputy Minister of Agriculture J. C. Taché testified in 1877 that:

  • 6 Ibid., Lowe’s Testimony before The Select Standing Committee on Immigration and Colonization, 1877 (...)

All countries which receive large numbers of immigrants naturally adopt a rule of this nature; I notice in the report of the New York Immigration Commissioners, very considerable sums for a service of this kind, even in prosperous years.6

  • 7 Jane Perry Clark, ibid., pp. 132-3.

11States often “repatriated” foreign paupers. New York State alone removed 1,672 public charges between 1923 and 1928, removed 177 insane immigrants in 1928, and 197 in 1929. This was in addition to the bulk of legal deportation, which was carried out by the U.S. federal government.7 Canada too “repatriated” immigrants; this is shown by the Department’s internal statistics on problems with British female domestics in the 1920s and 1930s. “Repatriation”, whether by federal or local government, constituted an informal and extralegal system of deportation. Both informal and legal systems of deportation played an important role in Canadian immigration policy.

  • 8 See E. Gibbon Wakefield, Letters from Sydney and Other Writings, London, Dent, 1929; Gary Teeple, (...)
  • 9 See S. D. Clark, The Position of the French Speaking Population in the Northern Industrial Communi (...)
  • 10 Donald Avery, “Canadian Immigration Policy and the ’Foreign’ Navvy, 1896-1916,” Canadian Historica (...)

12The stated ideal of Canadian immigration policy was to attract a permanent agricultural population. Behind this ideal, thinly concealed and little denied, lay a more-or-less Wakefieldian system.8 These permanent settlers would often be forced into wage labour, either in the short term to accumulate the capital to start farming their own land (“cash stake”), or in the long term to supplement inadequate farm earnings.9 Hidden behind that bitter but still palatable modification of the ideal lay yet another reality: a massive system of importing industrial workers who could hardly claim to be farmers, even potentially. As Donald Avery has shown, Canada’s immigration policy promoted the recruitment of a large body of unskilled industrial workers who would function (and likely remain) as an industrial proletariat.10 Yet whether the immigrants were thought to go straight to their Prairie homesteads, to detour briefly or intermittently into wage labour, or to be permanently absorbed into the industrial sector of the economy, one thing was clear: Canada claimed to expect these immigrants to become Canadians.

  • 11 D. Avery, Dangerous Foreigners, p. 12.

13Even the severest critics of Canadian immigration policy accepted the claim that Canada was trying to attract a permanent population. Attempts by corporate interests to import large numbers of contract workers for short-term jobs were refused by the government. As Avery points out, Immigration officials “time after time refused to allow industrial workers into the country on temporary permits.”11 If industrial workers entered Canada, they came on the same legal terms as the highly prized legitimate agriculturalists on whose work of building the nation it was much more politically sound to focus: as landed immigrants who were eligible for citizenship after three years. (After 1919 the period was extended to five years.)

  • 12 Ibid., see also Robert Harney, “Men Without Women: Italian Immigrants in Canada, 1885-1930,” TheIt (...)
  • 13 George Haythorne, “Harvest Labor,” pp. 536-7, 542; the majority of harvesters were Canadian but ot (...)

14The federal government was uncomfortable about what they recognized to be the reality of the immigrant industrial proletariat lying behind the myth of the immigrant independent agricultural producer. But this “reality” was little more than another myth that disguised a politically devastating truth: “many of the Europeans who came to Canada were in effect guest workers, who met the needs of Canadian industry and agriculture and then went home.”12 In fact, by 1920 the federal government systematically determined how many harvesters would be needed, and encouraged and sometimes directly supervised their importation from the U.S. and the British Isles. Although harvesters came in as landed immigrants, “the Annual harvest migrations to the Prairie Provinces led to no considerable permanent movements of population,” George Haythorne (later Assistant Deputy Minister of Labour) explained in 1933.13

  • 14 D. Avery, Dangerous Foreigners, pp. 12, 29.

15Agriculture’s seasonality makes it easy to detect this stream of migrant labour thinly concealed within the flow of would-be permanent settlers. Yet other industries were equally if not more dependent upon this type of work force. This was particularly true of lumbering, mining, and railway construction. The Department was not particularly pleased about this. As Avery points out, “by 1913, Immigration officials were concerned that Canada was becoming increasingly committed to a guestworker form of immigration.” But there was little that the Department could do. These industries wanted “an expendable labour force [that] takes its problems away when it is re-exported,” as the American Dillingham Commission on immigration put it in 1910. The Department could only refuse to issue temporary work permits.14 This did not matter to the employers: as long as there was a flow of cheap immigrant labour, it made little difference whether they were legally guest workers or landed immigrants. In fact, the latter status offered a number of advantages to the employer, in part because it was unregulated.

  • 15 Michael Burawoy, “The Functions and Reproduction of Migrant Labour: Comparative Material from Sout (...)

16Canada’s concealed guest worker system offered significant economic and political advantages to employers and the state. A migrant work force displays certain characteristics. As Michael Burawoy has pointed out, the functions of maintenance and reproduction of the migrant work force invariably take place in different locations. In a migrant labour system, the costs of renewing the work force are passed on completely or partially to the sending economy or state. The employer of migrant labour is “neither responsible politically nor accountable financially to the external political and economic systems,” that is, to the sending countries.15 The receiving, or employing, country has greatly reduced costs for social services partly because the families of workers remain in the sending country, where the costs of educational, medical, and other social services are paid. These reproductive costs (of family formation, child rearing, and labour market training) are thus of no concern to the receiving employers or government. Migrant labour is cheap not only in terms of lower wages paid to the migrant worker, but in terms of other maintenance costs of the work force. Migrant workers can be kept in camps, fed en masse, and provided with minimal welfare services. Moreover, if these workers are injured, incapacitated, or incapable, neither the employer nor the state is obliged to take care of them in the long term. Since, under this system, these workers have no claim on the resources of the receiving country or the employer, they can be sent back “home” when their usefulness is at an end. In some instances, migrant workers may end up becoming domestic workers as long-term residents or citizens, and change from migrant to immigrant with a consequent improvement in status in terms of political if not economic rights.

17The situations of South African migrant miners and California farm workers have much in common with those of immigrant industrial workers in Canada earlier this century. South African mine tasks were allotted according to race, workers were housed in barracks in isolated camps, and paid enough to keep themselves going and send a bit home, but not to save a large enough amount to stop wage work. In Canada there was also a system of occupational segregation and subordination based on ethnicity; many workers were housed and fed in isolated camps, often at very low standards. Sojourners who came to Canada in boom times may have realised their dream of returning home rich but, for many-or possibly the majority, in times of economic depression-suddenly the dream could turn to ashes. The pre-First World War railway workers are a case in point: thousands were trapped by the depression, imprisoned in internment camps during the war, and released to the big companies when the demand for their labour again became acute.

  • 16 Burawoy, ibid., pp. 1052-1063. See also P. C. Lloyd, Africa in Social Change: Changing Traditional (...)

18The alternatives for many of these immigrants, if not the majority, were: to continue working in Canada, taking (or hoping to take) long visits back home; to become an agricultural settler, often on land so marginal or so expensive to put into production that continued seasonal wage work was necessary; or to join the permanent industrial proletariat. Deciding to remain permanently in Canada was no guarantee that they would be permitted to do so. Unless immigrants lived here continuously long enough to attain domicile and, ideally, citizenship, they could be deported if they got into trouble or ceased to be productive workers. This deportation could take place legally and formally, under the auspices of the Department, or it could take place informally, outside the legal framework. For instance, an immigrant thrown out of work might apply to a municipality for some form of poor relief; the municipality would then report the immigrant to the Department and set in motion the legal deportation process. Alternatively, the municipality could refuse to grant relief. In many cases, this would leave the immigrant little alternative but to effect his or her own do-it-yourself “deportation”. This method was even cheaper for the municipality and the federal government, and was favoured in times of economic distress.16

19There was much less incentive to give poor relief to immigrants in Canada than in some other places. In the British Isles in the eighteenth century, in parts of the U.S. in the twentieth, poor relief was given to agricultural and other workers to retain them until their labour was needed, at which time the relief was cut off and they were forced to take the available jobs. In Canada it was not necessary to use poor relief to maintain a readily available supply of cheap labour; immigration provided this, particularly after the First World War when inflow was directly adjusted to the labour requirements of certain large employers.

  • 17 Henry Drystek, “The Simplest and Cheapest Mode of Dealing With Them; Deportation from Canada before (...)

20Deportation was one of the mechanisms that maintained a balance between the need for cheap labour in times of economic expansion, and the desire to cut welfare costs in times of economic contraction. Those who were superfluous to demand or useless to production, and those who upset or threatened the system could be removed, if they were immigrants-and they often were. Deportation deferred some of the costs of maintaining and reproducing the labour force onto the sending country and economy. Deportation was an unheralded but important way not only to keep the stream of immigration pure, but, more to the point, to keep profits high and problems few. An industrial economy needs a large supply of mobile labour. Canadian immigration policy made sure that acquiring that labour supply was not a problem. Deportation helped to assure that removing it was not a problem either. Deportation, both formal and informal, helped to create a hidden system of migrant labour that functioned much like a “guest worker” system, even though stated policy was that immigrants were to be permanent settlers.17 It was a concealed but necessary regulator of the balance between labour demand and labour supply, which was in it’self a critical determinant of Canadian immigration policy and practice between 1900 and 1935.


1 Dr. J. Halpenny of Winnipeg, writing in the October 1919 issue of The Canadian Journal of Mental Hygiene, cited by W. G. Smith, A Study in Canadian Immigration, Toronto, Ryerson, 1920, p. 226. See J. A. Stevenson, “The Problem of the Foreigner in Canada,” Westminster Review, September 1913, for a sympathetic but typically racist discussion; Stevenson notes the importance of immigrant labour, the power of the corporations, and the involvement of the two major political parties in building a power base among “foreigners”.

2 Pat Thane, “Women and the Poor Law in Victorian and Edwardian England,” History Workshop Journal, No. 6, Autumn 1978, p. 36. In Scotland, the situation was more or less similar. On this, see George Nicholls, A History of the Scotch Poor Law in Connexion with the Condition of the People, London, Murray, 1856.

3 Dorothy George, London Life Before the Eighteenth Century, Evanston, Illinois, Harper and Row, [1925], 1964, p. 151; Dorothy Marshall, The English Poor Law in the Eighteenth Century, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, [1926], 1969, p. 213. John Garraty, Unemployment in History. Economic Thought and Public Policy, New York, Harper and Row, 1978, pp. 24-59, describes the connections in several European countries between poor law development and attempts to control the poor, especially the use of vagrancy laws. See also Geoffry Oxley, Foot Relief in England and Wales, 1601-1834, London, David and Charles, 1974.

4 See “Poor Laws Report,” Westminister Review, 1834, in Poverty in the Victorian Age. Debates on the Issue from 19th Century Critical Journals, Vol. II, English Poor Laws, 1834-70, ed. E. W. Coats, London, Gregg, 1973, p. 475.

5 Public Archives of Canada (PAC) Record Group (RG) 76, File 837, McNicholls to Department, 3 September 1895. All RG 76 files hereafter cited by “File” and number only.

6 Ibid., Lowe’s Testimony before The Select Standing Committee on Immigration and Colonization, 1877 Session; cited in Boardman to Fortier, 19 October 1894.

7 Jane Perry Clark, ibid., pp. 132-3.

8 See E. Gibbon Wakefield, Letters from Sydney and Other Writings, London, Dent, 1929; Gary Teeple, “Land, Labour and Capital in Pre-Confederation Canada,” in Capitalism and the National Question in Canada, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1972; see also the British House of Commons Report on Agricultural Settlements in British Colonies, 1906, British Parliamentary Papers (2978) LXXVI, 533.

9 See S. D. Clark, The Position of the French Speaking Population in the Northern Industrial Community, Report presented to the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, 1966, for an analysis of the latter system at work. For an African comparison, see Bernard Magubane, “The ’Native Reserves’ (Bantustans) and the Role of the Migrant Labour System in the Political Economy of South Africa,” in A. Idris-Soven, E. Idris-Soven, and M. Vaughan, The World as a Company Town. Multinational Corporations and Social Change, The Hague, Mouton, 1978, p. 263. Magubane says that the South African system of intense exploitation of Africans as migrant workers developed because mine owners could not get a large and certain supply of imported cheap migrant workers. See also George Haythorne, Labour in Canadian Agriculture, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1960, pp. 22-32, 42. (At this time Haythorne was Canadian Assistant Deputy Minister of Labour.) See also his “Harvest Labour in Western Canada. An Episode in Economic Planning,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. XLVII, August 1933.

10 Donald Avery, “Canadian Immigration Policy and the ’Foreign’ Navvy, 1896-1916,” Canadian Historical Association, Historical Papers, 1972; and Dangerous Foreigners, p. 9. See also Ernest Cashmore, “The Social Organization of Canadian Immigration Law,” Canadian Journal of Sociology, Fall 1978, who says of the pre-World War II decades, “one could almost regard immigration policy during this period as a direct reflection of the CPR’s and to a more limited extent, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s interest. When economic depression or war adversely affected those groups and unemployment and unrest ensued, legal innovation in imposing severe restrictions on entrance can be seen as an attempt to alleviate a condition defined by lawmakers as potentially dangerous. Consequently, an effort was made to force a reversal of a process which seemed under way, and curtail the incoming flow of labor in such a way as to minimize the possibility of political disruption and without jeopardizing the employers’decreased need for labor and investment.”

11 D. Avery, Dangerous Foreigners, p. 12.

12 Ibid., see also Robert Harney, “Men Without Women: Italian Immigrants in Canada, 1885-1930,” TheItalian Immigrant Women in North America, Toronto, Multicultural Historical Society of Ontario, 1978, p. 82. As Harney points out, these came “intending brief sojourns, usually hoping for a summer’s work in the railway, timbering and mining camps of the Canadian North.”

13 George Haythorne, “Harvest Labor,” pp. 536-7, 542; the majority of harvesters were Canadian but others constituted an important reserve. In 1928, 90 per cent of the British workers imported (in a particularly disastrous scheme involving unemployed industrial workers) returned home after the harvest was in.

14 D. Avery, Dangerous Foreigners, pp. 12, 29.

15 Michael Burawoy, “The Functions and Reproduction of Migrant Labour: Comparative Material from South Africa and the United States,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 81, No. 5, March 1976, p. 1053. Also on the advantages to employers of “noncitizen” and undocumented workers, see Robert Thomas, “Citizenship and Gender in Work Organisation: Some Considerations for Theories of the Labor Process,” MarxistInquiries, American Journal of Sociology Supplement, Volume 88, 1982; see also S. Castles and G. Kosack, Immigrant Workers and Class Structure in Western Europe, London, Oxford University Press, 1973.

16 Burawoy, ibid., pp. 1052-1063. See also P. C. Lloyd, Africa in Social Change: Changing Traditional Societies in the Modern World, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1967, p. 94. “Migration does not create a wealthier category of men in the village.” See also Y. M. Ivanov, Agrarian Reforms and Hired Labour in Africa, Moscow, Progress Publishers, English translation, 1979, pp. 10-32. On Canada, see for example Edmund Bradwin, The Bunkhouse Man, A Study of Work and Pay in the Camps of Canada 1903-1914, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1972; see also I. Abella and D. Millar, eds. The Canadian Worker in the Twentieth Century, Toronto, Oxford, 1978.

17 Henry Drystek, “The Simplest and Cheapest Mode of Dealing With Them; Deportation from Canada before World War II,” Histoire Sociale, November 1982, denies but does not refute this. For a more sophisticated discussion of the problems of providing social services, see Michael Katz, “Origins of the Institutional State,” Marxist Perspectives, Winter 1978. On disposing of surplus labour, see B. Roberts, “Shovelling Out the Unemployed: Winnipeg City Council and Deportation, 1930-35.” Manitoba History, Fall 1983, and B. Roberts, “Shovelling Out the ‘Mutinous’: Political Deportation from Canada before 1936,” Labour/Le travail, Autumn 1986.

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