Canadian Liberalism and the Politics of Border Control, 1867–1967 by Christopher G. Anderson (review)

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Christopher G. Anderson, a political scientist at Wilfrid Laurier University, argues that from the time of Confederation the rights-based claims of non-citizens and their supporters vied with a strategy of rights-restrictive control in shaping Canada’s immigration policies. Liberal internationalism, which stressed the rights of non-citizens vis-à-vis Canada, alternated with liberal nationalism, which emphasized state sovereignty over a narrow set of rights of international migrants seeking to become Canadian citizens. Anderson traces these changes through a thorough analysis of parliamentary debates and the records of immigration officials. Anderson’s research reveals that, contrary to the widely held view that rights-based claims of non-citizens constitute a recent development, liberal internationalism has deep roots in Canada. Even as Canada adopted increasingly exclusionary policies against migrants from Asia at the turn of the twentieth century, ostensibly to defend national interests, liberal internationalists in both the House of Commons and the Senate maintained that every law-abiding and industrious member of the “human family” was entitled to the same rights, regardless of citizenship or race. Protesting against the imposition of a head tax on Chinese immigrants, liberal internationalists, such as Liberal mp Thomas Christie, condemned discrimination based on class, creed, or nationality. Such views were based on Canada’s British liberal traditions, “which posited a positive link between the state and the rights of non-citizens” (8). Anderson’s discussion of the period between 1914 and 1945 resembles older accounts of Canadian immigration policy. During and immediately after the First World War, “enemy aliens” were prohibited from entering Canada. Following the Winnipeg General Strike, radicals and labour activists were deported. Chinese immigrants were excluded in 1923 and strict limits were set on immigration from Japan. During the 1930s Canada denied entry to refugees from Nazi-dominated Europe. After a relatively short period during the prosperous 1920s, strict limits were also placed on immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe on the grounds that they failed to assimilate. Anderson describes this period as one dominated by liberal nationalism. Growing recognition of human rights in the next era of Canadian immigration policy – 1945 to 1952 – signalled the ascendancy of liberal internationalism. The ccf and ethnic minorities were the most outspoken supporters of such internationalism. Canada repealed the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act in 1947. The 1952 Immigration Act, however, afforded the Canadian government discretionary powers that allowed it to continue restrictions based on colour. Canada asserted the rights of state over the rights of non-citizens, moreover, by declining to sign the 1951 un Refugee Convention, which invoked international human rights to challenge the idea of the absolute sovereignty of states. Liberal internationalism came to dominate policy between 1952 and 1967. The initiative for this change came primarily from the Conservatives rather than the Liberals. Ethnic and labour associations and the ccf/ndp also contributed to the shift by challenging the discrimination and unfairness embedded in the 1952 Immigration Act. Criticism of the system focused on non-citizens’ rights to due process, as well as the relationship between rights and race. The victory of liberal internationalists was accompanied by greater transparency in the determination of refugee claims and the right of prospective immigrants and refugee claimants to appeal decisions made against them. Historians reading this book may conclude that by limiting his analysis to policy and political settings, Anderson does not distinguish himself sufficiently from recent writing on Canadian control policy, which he criticizes as more descriptive than analytical. Although Anderson is clearly familiar with the most important historical writings about Canadian immigration policy, the context of his analysis remains narrowly focused on policy and politics. Changes in Canada’s border control policies are understood as the consequences of tensions between state control of immigration and the rights of non-citizens. Anderson’s lack of attention to other reasons for the character and changes in policy-makers’ attitudes toward control and rights leaves important questions unanswered. Although the early advocates of liberal internationalism justified their position on the grounds of British justice, were they not motivated to invoke such arguments because they favoured the entry of cheap labour to Canada? Should political ideologies such as the socialism of ccf mps not...

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