Trebilcock, Michael J
A Nation of Immigrants: Past, Present and Future
Christopher G. Anderson
Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.
“Immigration made the last century a success for Canada.”(1) So declared Elinor Caplan, the minister of Citizenship and Immigration, as she announced the government’s intention to admit between 200,000 and 225,000 immigrants and refugees into the country during 2000. It is a remark that none of the authors under review here would probably contest, as they all, each in their own fashion, explore various ways in which newcomers have contributed to Canada throughout its history. Whereas the minister’s comment was offered as an expression of millennial optimism, however, there is another, darker side to the immigration story that is also the focus of the books examined below. Canada has not always opened its door to immigrants and refugees, and those admitted have not always found themselves welcomed as equal members of society. For much of the country’s history, immigration has been used as a means to increase the labour pool in the pursuit of economic growth, and most immigrants did not share in the wealth that was thereby created. Of course, the immigrant experience in Canada (and the Canadian experience with immigration) has never simply been an economic process, but also one of managing the reality of social diversity and understanding the meaning of political equality. As well, the experience has involved a search for safety by the persecuted, and Canada’s response to the needs of refugees constitutes another way in which to assess the country’s success in the twentieth century.
Thus, Caplan’s statement – like the familiar refrain that Canada is “a nation of immigrants” – is at first blush telling more for what it hides than what it reveals. The books under review here help to develop the tools necessary to comprehend more fully the complexity of what it means for Canada to succeed as a country of permanent settlement for immigrants and refugees. The five volumes reflect the diversity of the field across disciplines and methodologies. Here the reader is drawn through the realms of demography, history, political science and sociology, carried by empirical and theoretical work, macro- and micro-level studies, qualitative and quantitative analyses, archival research and surveys of the literature, often undertaken in compelling combinations. The authors and editors explore the distant and recent past, but always with an eye towards the present and the near future. If there is one common theme that joins these texts it is that to understand Canada, it is necessary to study the many ways in which newcomers have shaped its evolution. Not surprisingly, the authors and editors do not manage all that they set out to achieve. Indeed, individually and collectively, these works reveal in particular the extent to which the last quarter of the twentieth century remains little understood. None the less, each book makes a distinct contribution to the study of Canadian immigration (and therefore of Canada as well) and establishes important signposts for future research.
With the publication of The Making of the Mosaic, a notable need in the Canadian immigration policy literature has at last been, if not satiated, then at least well satisfied. Prior to Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock’s volume, students lacked a comprehensive guide to this policy area.(2) In providing such a resource, the authors offer more than just an introduction for those unfamiliar with the field, or an overview for others already well-versed. They also provide, in effect, a useful guide to the literature that brings attention to some of its strengths and weaknesses. In seeking “to describe and interpret the major epochs or episodes in the evolution of Canadian immigration policy with a view to uncovering and rendering explicit the ideas or values, the interests, and the issues that engaged public debates, and to examining the institutions through which these ideas, interests, and issues were mediated in each of these periods” (4), Kelley and Trebilcock have set themselves a formidable task. In essence, they want to describe and to analyze the past so as to understand present trends and anticipate future developments better. To these ends, they draw upon an impressive range of published sources, in the main consisting of state documents and a broad secondary literature. In the course of its more than 600 pages covering both pre- and post-Confederation Canada, the book is ultimately more successful in its descriptive than in its analytical endeavours, and both facets of the study are hampered by the fact that it too often reproduces gaps in the literature without explanation.
That being said, the authors do make several significant and welcome contributions. On a practical level, they have created an important resource for scholars new and old. The 113 pages of endnotes reference hundreds of published state documents and survey the range of laws, regulations and policies that have both been indicative of and shaped developments in this field. The 31-page bibliography lists hundreds of secondary sources on both immigration and immigrant groups, showcasing the strides that have been made (notwithstanding the many research tasks that remain). In bringing such a wide range of sources to bear on their work, the authors have created an essential point of entry for those embarking on new research as well as a ready survey of the literature for the more experienced.
At a descriptive level, Kelley and Trebilcock have put these materials to very good use to weave a coherent and lively tale that traces in considerable detail the evolution of Canadian immigration policy. Their study spans almost five centuries, from 1497 to 1995. The strongest chapters are those that cover developments to the mid-twentieth century. They succeed because the authors get behind the policy changes to explore the interplay of different ideas and interests out of which those changes emerged. Furthermore, they make two specific original contributions in their recounting of policy prior to the early post-Second World War period. First, the authors are sensitive to the presence of refugees in their narrative. Because refugees were treated for much of Canadian history primarily as prospective immigrants, it is difficult to estimate with much accuracy how many have resettled in Canada. As a result, there has been a tendency to focus on the major group movements, such as the Doukhobors of 1899 or the Hungarians of 1956, to the exclusion of others.(3) Kelley and Trebilcock, in contrast, offer constant reminders that refugees have always been a part of Canadian history, sometimes welcomed to stay but all too often actively kept out of the country. At present, the field lacks a thorough examination of the evolution of Canada’s response to the needs of the persecuted, but until it is written, The Making of the Mosaic at least serves to raise the profile of this issue in the Canadian immigration literature.
Second, Kelley and Trebilcock also move into largely uncharted waters with respect to the role of the courts. Ever since the 1985 Supreme Court decision in the Singh case, it has been recognized that judges can greatly influence decision-making in this policy area. In Singh, it was ruled that key sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms apply to non-citizens in Canada and that the standards of due process in the justice system thus require that refugee claimants be able to present their stories in person at some point in the refugee determination process. Soon thereafter, the government created the Immigration and Refugee Board and allowed claimants an oral hearing, marking a fundamental policy shift. The nature of the courts’ influence prior to Singh, however, has received much less attention. Kelley and Trebilcock begin to address this situation by studying dozens of old decisions and interpreting their significance. They conclude that as the state sought to increase its control over the immigration process at the end of the nineteenth century, the courts played an important role in sustaining the idea that sovereignty implied few, if any, limits on its actions with respect to non-citizens (and sometimes, as the internment episodes of the two world wars demonstrated, citizens, as well). They show how this consensus began to erode in the mid-twentieth century as “a minority [of judges] increasingly demanded more stringent adherence to statutory provisions and a more limited exercise of discretion” (256). With a series of reforms in the 1960s and 1970s, the immigration process became “proceduralized and judicialized… to an unprecedented extent” as concerns grew over protecting the rights of non-citizens and ensuring that due process was observed (350).
Despite such detailed coverage of the earlier periods, the book is unfortunately less successful in the breadth and the depth of its treatment of the last quarter century or so. The authors raise and examine some of the basic components that contributed to the political consensus that underpinned the passage of the landmark 1976 Immigration Act – in particular, the consolidation of forces for change within the government, the increased role of the courts, the emergence of a more active and organized non-governmental organization (NGO) sector – but have difficulty adequately describing and analyzing the breakdown of this consensus, which was evident not long after. In part, this may be because they exaggerate the extent of the earlier agreement, extrapolating from parliamentary co-operation a broader societal accord with respect to the future of Canadian immigration and refugee policy. As a result, the ways in which major conflicts during the 1980s and 1990s were rooted in positions taken during the 1970s are downplayed or overlooked. More importantly, the problems in the later chapters stem from the fact that the promised analysis of the interplay of ideas, interests, issues and institutions does not appear. Instead, the authors retreat to a description of some of the major developments (focussing more on refugee than immigration policy), concluding weakly that “a more open democratic policy-making process… led in the present period to political distrust and polarization of political and public opinions” (435). The difficulties that the authors have in describing and analyzing the contemporary period can be traced to their dependence on the published record, a method that creates two related problems.
The first is that gaps in the immigration literature are reproduced. The second is that, as a result, the authors are unable to fulfil the requirements of their analytical framework as they are missing important information concerning the relevant ideas, interests, issues and institutions that have shaped policy evolution. For example, very little has been written on NGO-state interaction. Kelley and Trebilcock, almost without exception, reduce the role of NGOs in the contemporary period to appearing before parliamentary committee hearings, while society-state relations actually occur at a number of levels and not just when major pieces of legislation are being debated. As well, the international dimensions of Canadian policy have long been overlooked in the literature. For example, multilateral efforts to harmonize refugee policy, as well as the effect of the international refugee regime (rooted in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and other international human rights documents), remain much neglected areas of study in Canada. These dimensions of policy evolution, in turn, are all but absent in Kelley and Trebilcock’s narrative. At the very least, the authors should have noted such gaps and adjusted their conclusions accordingly. In the end, The Making of the Mosaic builds on the strengths and shares the weaknesses of, even as it is a welcome addition to, the literature on Canadian immigration policy.
Another hazard in depending on the published record in writing such a metanarrative is, of course, that sources can be inaccurate or at least misleading. For example, Kelley and Trebilcock state that “those leaving Ontario in the 1870s generally did so for the American prairies” (104), citing the classic study from the 1940s, The Mingling of the Canadian and American Peoples.(4) It is a blunt portrayal that Randy William Widdis goes to great lengths to recast. In With Scarcely a Ripple he explores “the importance of migration in linking people and communities on both sides of the border and the role of mobility in shaping the development of both Canadian and American regions” (xx). Although the decision to move from Canada to the United States did not represent as fundamental a break with the past as it did for Europeans crossing the Atlantic, neither was it as easy as is commonly purported. One of Widdis’s achievements is to arrive at a more nuanced understanding, on an empirical level, of Canadian migration south. Moreover, by rethinking the act of crossing the border, he also opens up a discussion on a conceptual level of the relationship between national boundaries and Canadian identity at the end of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. He does so through a multi-layered and complex analysis that ably mediates between a wide range of sources to make an original contribution to the field.
Migration between Canada and the United States, Widdis maintains, has generally received less scrutiny than trans-Atlantic population movements to the two countries. Despite the fact that by 1900 Canadians were counted as the third largest immigrant group in the republic, Anglo-Canadians have largely remained “invisible immigrants” in the literature. Generally, it has been assumed that as anglophones with a shared British heritage, they had few troubles assimilating into their new American communities, and that unlike other immigrant groups, they suffered little sense of displacement in terms of their identity in North America as they crossed the border. In a study that takes him from southern Ontario through New York state to Nebraska and finally to Saskatchewan, Widdis questions the validity of this assumption. The study of these migrants is difficult because information on their patterns of movement and their experiences is disparate and incomplete. The author therefore pursues a multi-dimensional tracing strategy that incorporates a variety of macro- and micro-level sources. While census materials allow for some broad generalizations, both border entry papers and naturalization petitions permit more detailed comments to be made about those who moved. To get a more direct sense of the meaning of such migration, however, Widdis turns to “directories, local histories,… tax records, homestead records, family histories, genealogies, and oral histories” (xxi).
The macro-level conditions that helped to shape migration patterns in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century southern Ontario are set out in the third chapter. There are few surprises here: decreasing land availability and an increased labour supply at a time of declining jobs and wages as well as changing systems of agricultural production and marketing set the stage for a large population shift. Widdis argues that too much emphasis is usually placed on those who moved, leaving obscured the other half of the picture – those who remained. To get a better grasp on why some stayed while others left, Widdis shifts in chapter four to the micro level and examines in detail the choices made by five families in the Bay of Quinte region over three generations. Migration options, he finds, were not as open-ended as they are commonly held to have been: people did not simply pick up and leave. Rather, both push and pull factors were mediated through the family and its structures of inheritance, land-holding and marriage, with chain migration and kin clustering playing additional roles in promoting primarily regional movements, either within Ontario or across the border into neighbouring New York state. Thus, migration was often a means to achieve stability and should not, the author maintains, be viewed as a uniformly disruptive or even a persistent event dividing kin. “For many,” he concludes, “mobility was perceived as the best way to achieve stability, while for others, order was best attained by persistence in both place and occupation” (162).
In chapters five and six, Widdis traces where these migrants went in the United States and attempts to assess their settlement experiences. As noted, many migrants settled near the border and close to their families. In fact, through an examination of border-crossing records, Widdis discovers that many had already been south before, suggesting either that return migration was a regular occurrence or that people first went to survey the options before making a long-term commitment. As well, he notes that many who went to the United States were immigrants to Canada who had already obtained Canadian citizenship, cautioning against the argument that immigrants who did not stay in Canada had seen it only as a means to get to America. As to the extent to which the experiences of Anglo-Canadian migrants resembled those of other immigrant groups, the evidence is more speculative (based on an examination of two New York cities) but points towards their sharing certain characteristics with immigrants and the native-born. While Anglo-Canadians created fewer ethnic associations than other newcomers, it seems that they were often more likely to keep their old citizenship and to marry within their own community. Furthermore, they do not appear to have had much more economic success than other immigrants. For Widdis, this in-between status and the fact that some people eventually returned to Canada suggest that a Canadian identity cannot be ruled out as a factor influencing the evolution of their migration.
Throughout With Scarcely a Ripple, Widdis is respectfully cautious in drawing his conclusions. This is nowhere more evident than when he addresses questions as to the relationship between the border and identity. Here, the author draws on the “borderlands” literature, which distinguishes between borders as lines on a map and borderlands as the areas of economic and social interaction that link communities on both sides of a national boundary. If national identity is formulated “within the context of place – the household, the community, the region, the nation” (8), then it contains both homogenizing (national) and diversifying (local) dimensions. For example, although the 49th parallel has long served as a powerful metaphor shaping Canada’s national identity, Widdis’s investigations reveal how family and community were experienced on a regional basis across and along the border, where “transplanted British ideals and developing Canadian culture were juxtaposed against the growing presence of American culture and ideals” (342-43). By detailing the complexity and variety of movements from southern Ontario to the United States and by calling attention to the particular experiences of Anglo-Canadians as immigrants, Widdis accepts that he has not uncovered the mechanics of the effects of this cross-border dynamic on Canadian national identity. Rather, he concludes by offering an opening for further reflection on the issue, a process that he feels to be necessary at the end of the twentieth century, as trends towards greater global integration reforge the link between national borders and identity.
The theme of national identity, of what it means to be Canadian, also guides Franca Iacovetta, Paula Draper and Robert Ventresca in their edited volume, A Nation of Immigrants, where they seek to provide material for courses that explore Canada’s immigration history or, more generally, its social history. One of their main objectives is to capture the multiplicity of the literature, “to introduce students and non-specialists to a variety of approaches and methodologies in the field, the diversity of male and female experiences, the richness and complexity of immigrant working-class life, and the gendered and racialized character of immigration politics and policy” (xi). Through their selections, Iacovetta et al. bring to the fore the immigrants themselves as agents, both responding to and acting on their environment, influencing “such important historical developments and categories as class formation, industrial growth, women’s work, reform movements, community and politics” (x). With two exceptions, the book’s 19 chapters are adapted or reproduced from previously published works. They are organized into eight thematic and largely chronological sections spanning the period from the middle of the nineteenth century until the 1960s.
At the outset of each section, the editors both establish a context for discussing and summarize the readings that follow. For example, in opening section two, “American Blacks in Nineteenth-Century Ontario: Challenging the Stereotypes,” a recent Heritage Minute depicting the arrival of an escaped slave through the Underground Railway is recalled to introduce some of the problems that can arise as the past becomes part of a national mythology. The television segment promotes an “image of the white abolitionist guiding fugitive slaves from the clutches of American slave-owners to the freedom of British soil…” (55). In the process, however, important facets of Canadian history are lost, such as the roles that African-Americans themselves played, the intolerance they often experienced and the diversity of the black community, which consisted of escaped slaves as well as freed men and women. The selections included in section two provide a space for readers to assess this image for themselves. Howard Law’s work explores the relationship between ex-slaves and the receiving community in Canada West, focussing particularly on the often conflicting differences between the preferences of the former and the expectations of the latter. Jason Silverman’s contribution reviews the life of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the black abolitionist, situating her work among the various viewpoints present in the abolitionist movement. Finally, Michael Wayne’s essay suggests that the number of former slaves who came to Canada has been overestimated, resulting in the mistaken belief that thousands returned to the United States following the Civil War.
The other seven sections repeat this process of opening up discussion on such subjects as the roots and dimensions of Irish sectarian conflict in Canada, the ethnic diversity of western settlement, the influence of immigrant women in the workforce and in the community, the effects of isolation from women on the identity of “bachelor” workers, the role of immigrant workers in labour activism, the response of the state to ethnoracial minorities and efforts to “regulate” minorities during and after the Second World War. The breadth of selection provides the reader with a concrete sense of both the commonality and the diversity of immigrant experiences in Canada. Whether A Nation of Immigrants ultimately succeeds as an introductory text will depend, in the end, on the nature of the course being taught and the dimensions of immigration that are to be explored. The book is, by design, episodic rather than systematic in its treatment of its major themes of class, gender, race and power in the interaction among and between immigrants and the native-born in Canada. As a result, some areas receive little coverage, such as dimensions of co-operation between immigrants and the state or the contributions made by refugees to Canada as agents and not just as subjects of state policy. Still, with its commitment to “underscore the point that Canadian immigrant history is Canadian history” (x), the collection offers plenty of opportunity for a far-ranging discussion of what it has meant, and what it continues to mean, to be a nation of immigrants.
The view of Canada as a process of nation-building in which immigrants have played and continue to play a central role is also the organizing theme of Dirk Hoerder’s book, Creating Societies. Most general histories of immigration to Canada, like The Making of the Mosaic, focus on the state, on the laws that have been passed and the policies that have been pursued by governments to regulate the arrival of non-citizens and their acceptance as members of the body politic. In such works, immigrants are seen primarily as responding to the actions of the state. Hoerder’s approach is to reverse this relationship by telling the immigration story from the perspective of the immigrants themselves. To do so, he examined some 300 personal accounts by settlers of their new lives in Canada, extending from the 1840s to the 1940s, with the hope of formulating “a composite view of societies in the process of being created” (ix). In the course of some 250 pages of the book, Hoerder surveys various dimensions of the immigrant experience from the east coast to the west in a largely chronological fashion. He gives priority to about 100 personal accounts, supplemented by a generous secondary literature in order to set the context of the individuals and families whose stories he recounts. It is a project that in a very basic sense is doomed to fail because it is simply too ambitious, but one that none the less provides an interesting complement, and sometimes even a counterpoint, to traditional immigration histories.
The one obvious and unavoidable problem with Creating Societies is the representativeness of the 100 or so immigrant accounts that constitute its focus. This plays out in at least four ways. First, it should be kept in mind that during the period Hoerder is studying, more than seven million immigrants came to Canada. Second, the author has only a handful of testimonies to draw upon for his characterizations of the immigrant experience in the Maritimes and in Quebec. This is particularly noticeable in comparing the relative richness of the analysis in the chapters, for example, on the west with the one on the Maritimes, where the author draws mainly on only two sources from the mid-nineteenth century. Thus, when he writes that the two men “saw opportunities, never cast their life stories in terms of dislocation or ethnic culture [one was of German origin, the other was Scottish], and became part of local society” (45), it is not clear how the reader should interpret these findings in terms of the broader immigration story unfolding in the region.
Third, there is the issue of how to read the texts themselves. In chapter two, Hoerder discusses different forms of “life-writings” and how to assess them. “Life-writings,” he states, “by definition are positivist. The dead do not write, few of the illiterate commit their life stories to posterity, and the unsuccessful are reluctant to go public” (21). Moreover, the types of writings are varied, from private diaries and letters to public autobiographies and memoirs. Thus, the writer provides, and the reader receives, only a partial tale of a life and a fractured view of society. But for Hoerder, life-writings constitute a source of data to be interpreted much like any other. As personal accounts, “they reflect a perceived society and a specific social space within it, not an objective one” (15). In this they are, he contends, similar to works created by scholars, who themselves “are part of a discourse interpreting their society and shaping the collective national or regional identity” (Ibid.). Yet, having drawn attention to this commonality, he never attends to the other side of the story, to the ways in which life-writings differ from other types of information. In short, he does not discuss how to use these sources to arrive at the composite view of Canada in the process of being created that is his stated objective. Finally, Hoerder relies on the secondary literature in order to fill in many of the gaps that the life-writings contain. Although this improves the overall coherence of the tales being told, it also introduces the question of the extent to which this literature is being used to supplement insights gained from the personal accounts of immigrants or vice versa. It is an important issue, given the fact that the work is premised on the claim that additional depth can be gained uniquely from these immigrant accounts.
The strengths of the book, therefore, are not so much in its ability to stand alone as an introduction to the history of immigration to Canada. It is necessarily too anecdotal and incomplete with respect to the immigrant experience for that. Rather, it works best as a complementary text to a volume such as The Making of the Mosaic precisely because it takes the perspectives of immigrants seriously and therefore sheds a different light on the question of what it means to be a nation of immigrants. For example, in an era when anti-Asian sentiment was widespread in Canada, we learn from Robert Collins about W.K. (Slim) Yuen, a general store owner in Shamrock, Saskatchewan. While Mr. Yuen had little personal contact with the people in the town, “the community did take a stand when Slim was excluded from relief in the 1930s. Two men drove to the agency and saw to it that W.K. Yuen received a cheque too. When he finally decided to leave, the community organized a farewell party” (166-67). Indeed, throughout the book, such tales of co-operation across ethnoracial lines at a local level surface time and again, even as accompanying examples of racism are recounted, as well. This uncovering and relating of opposing experiences represents one of the more interesting features of the book.
Indeed, in Hoerder’s account there are many stories of both success and failure. While his charge that the “underside of settlement and nation-building never entered the national lore” (153) may be overstated in the 1990s, his emphasis on the work of everyday life, away from elite actors and interests, does provide for a history with a different centre of gravity. “And old proverb about migration,” he writes, “known to the Russian-German immigrants, ‘death to the first generation, need to the second, bread to the third,’ reflects the immigrant experience better than all myths about opportunities… or of nation-building” (156). Hoerder argues that with this focus on survival, “the immigrants’ everyday world consisted of the global and the local” (13), of families back home and immediate needs in Canada. This is supported, he suggests, by the fact that he finds almost no references in the life-writings under review to national politics or the Anglo-Canadian nationalism that spread with the arrival of the twentieth century. But here, the limitations of the author’s approach appear. Hoerder wants to explore the process of acculturation, where the adaptation of “old world” habits and the attainment of economic security are followed by “self-directed acculturation,” the “Canadianization of the many-cultured, multi-ethnic newcomers [that] occurs through cooperation or conflict with multiple-origin neighbours and conformity with structures and patterns established by earlier arrivals and dominant powers” (xiii). Yet, by concentrating so much on the survival theme, little insight is obtained into some of the key relationships in question, particularly between immigrants and the state. Thus, while a text like The Making of the Mosaic may marginalize immigrants, Creating Societies essentially does the exact opposite by keeping the state on the edge of the narrative.
A much more contemporary view of the immigrant experience is presented in Immigrant Canada, edited by Shiva S. Halli and Leo Driedger. Where their previous work, Ethnic Demography (which they edited with Frank Trovato), surveyed the social demography of ethnic and immigrant groups in Canada, the present volume narrows its focus to the latter, largely drawing from the 1991 Canadian census to extend and update the analysis of the earlier book.(5) In fact, many of the original authors returned to take part in the 1996 conference from which the chapters of Immigrant Canada are drawn. The central purpose of the volume is “to research immigrants’ socio-economic and demographic differences” (7). By 1984, the editors note, seven of the top 10 countries of immigration to Canada were outside of Europe; the top two were in Asia. This shift has produced a more and more diverse Canadian society, which in turn has had effects on both the immigrant population and the native-born. As a result, “theories of integration must consider that these immigrants face obstacles or hurdles that have not been experienced by Europeans” (51). Of particular concern in this volume is the situation of visible minority immigrants. In short, new immigration patterns create the need for new theoretical and empirical research and, more likely than not, a reassessment of public policy. The 13 contributions are divided into four sections, the first of which offers some theoretical structure for the remaining three, which focus on various demographic, economic and social dimensions of immigration to Canada. Taken individually or collectively, the book’s chapters offer plenty of solid empirical and theoretical food for thought, a fact that can best be demonstrated here by focussing on two especially engaging chapters.
In pursuit of theoretical advancement, Alan Simmons offers “a revised and updated political economic framework” (23) to help explain immigration policy. The problem with classical and political economic theories, he suggests, is that they are too rooted in the assumption that immigration policy is primarily a tool to manipulate domestic labour costs and thus the economy (fostering growth and/or inequality). While a political economy approach at least integrates questions of economic, political and social power relations, neither theory, Simmons concludes, can adequately account for recent developments in Canadian policy such as the removal of formal discrimination in the 1960s or the shift towards seeking immigrants with capital in the 1980s. In Simmons’s framework, immigration policy is assumed to be part of the nation-building strategies pursued by governments. As such, it evolves in conjunction with two other major policy domains, trade and culture/identity. The options and preferences of successive governments in each of these areas are shaped by “the place of the nation in the international system” (34). The nation-building strategies that are pursued achieve coherence via “images of the future nation that are adopted by business and political leaders” (23). It is through such “imagined futures” that elites attempt to co-ordinate and to maximize their cultural, immigration and trade policy preferences.
Thus, according to Simmons, “Canadian immigration policy is strategically formulated to take advantage of opportunities for national building within the international system” (34). Having outlined this new framework and generated a table of outcomes that might be expected from different combinations of the domestic (cultural and trade) and global (immigrant availability) policy options, the author then briefly re-examines Canadian immigration policy history. Simmons’s work is to be welcomed for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it integrates the international dimensions of national policy-making and takes a novel approach in its use of the “imagined communities” literature. There remain, however, a number of questions. With its focus on a nation’s place in the international system (a term that is not clearly defined), Simmons identifies the first phase of Canadian immigration policy as spanning the years from 1850 to 1962, a period covering enormous policy variation. Does this variation simply reflect, as Simmons seems to suggest, instances of policy failure? If immigration policy goals in the second period (1962 to 1989) revolved around “expanding [the] labour force through immigration of skilled workers” (42), then how are the relatively high numbers of family immigrants arriving during this time to be explained? In the present period, beginning in 1989, how is the rise of policy issues related to security concerns (border control, counter-terrorism) to be understood in the framework? In short, Simmons’s framework is still too attached to economic factors, subsuming domestic labour costs within a broader international trade category. There is not enough political in this political economic approach.
While Simmons’s chapter is thought-provoking for the questions that it raises, Monica Boyd’s contribution stands out for the answers it gives concerning the cumulative effects of a person’s nationality, gender, race and English/French language proficiency on the process of economic integration in Canada (using 1991 census data). The question is important because ever since the 1980s, the majority of immigrants arriving each year have been “visible minorities” (in accordance with Statistics Canada’s definition). This population, in turn, has been found to be less likely to be proficient in English or French than either the Canadian-born or non-visible minority immigrants. Moreover, within this group, “women are almost twice as likely as men to have low levels of proficiency” (285). How do these three factors – race, language proficiency and gender – affect the economic integration experiences of immigrants? Across a number of indicators of economic integration (for example labour force participation and wages), the major finding that Boyd reaches is that visible minority immigrant women with low levels of language proficiency “have the lowest levels of education, the lowest rates of labour force participation, the highest percentages of low-skill occupations, and earn the lowest wages of all the groups” (282). In short, they are the most likely to be marginalized within the Canadian economic system in comparison with all other female and male sections of the population.
As language proficiency seems to be a central factor in successful economic integration, there are two major policy options open to the government, one remedial and the other preventive. The latter consists of making it more difficult for people with less English or French experience to immigrate to Canada. Boyd argues that “recent policy changes indicate that the preventive stance [has] become more central at the federal level while the remedial approach is being expelled from the federal arena of responsibility,” leaving the future of language training for immigrants up in the air (306). Even if federal initiatives to make it harder for skilled worker immigrants to be accepted without higher levels of English or French language ability succeed, however, thousands of family-class immigrants and refugees, for whom the tougher criteria do not apply, will continue to arrive in Canada. Given the ways in which language proficiency, race and gender will interact to marginalize certain segments of this population, a key question is “whether or not provinces will fill the void, by establishing and funding immigrant settlement policies and language instruction programs” (Ibid).
Although the remaining chapters of Immigrant Canada are not all of the same quality, they none the less similarly help to develop a richer understanding of the contemporary period. The task of describing, understanding and evaluating the experiences of the 1980s and 1990s has, however, only just begun. All the volumes reviewed above contribute in their own ways to this process, by probing the past to determine its implications for the present and ensuring that the study of newcomers remains an important part of comprehending the actions of the state. Although key issues remain to be explored – such as the distinctive relationship between refugees and the state, or the international factors that have influenced policy decisions – the five books reflect the quality of research emerging to build a more comprehensive picture of the history of Canadian immigration and refugee policy. That it is an important undertaking is underscored by the fact that the basic framework for Canada’s continued evolution as a nation of immigrants is being reshaped in the summer of 2001 as the government develops new legislation and regulations to replace the 1976 Immigration Act. It is appropriate to wonder what kind of “imagined future” will ground the decisions taken with respect to the type of relations that are to exist between the state and the immigrants and refugees who seek entry. Will success in the twenty-first century for Canada as a country – and for immigrants and refugees as new inhabitants – come because of its immigration and refugee policies or, as has happened all too often, in spite of them?
Thanks are due to Jerome Black and Eugenia Xenos for their comments and suggestions.
(1) “Remarks by the Honourable Elinor Caplan, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration” (Ottawa: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 1 November 1999).
(2) The two most recent overviews of Canadian immigration policy – Valerie Knowles, Strangers at Our Gate: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-1997 (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1997) and Donald H. Avery, Reluctant Hosts: Canada’s Response to Immigrant Workers, 1896-1994 (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1995) – have particular shortcomings as introductory texts. Knowles’s book lacks depth, consisting more of vignettes than analysis, while Avery’s otherwise excellent work focusses on immigrant labour and is not very systematic in its coverage of the past few decades.
(3) This, for example, is the technique employed by Gerald E. Dirks in his worthy but outdated text, Canada’s Refugee Policy: Indifference or Opportunism? (Montreal and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1977), the only book-length treatment of this subject.
(4) Marcus Lee Hansen and John Bartlet Brebner, The Mingling of the Canadian and American Peoples (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940).
(5) Shiva S. Halli, Frank Trovato and Leo Driedger (eds.), Ethnic Demography: Canadian Immigrant, Racial and Cultural Variations (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1990); a companion volume to Immigrant Canada, titled Race and Racism, has been published by Carleton University Press.
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