"As Long as He Is an Immigrant from the United Kingdom": Deception, Ethnic Bias and Milestone Commemoration in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, 1953-1965

Article excerpt

This essay examines the Department of Citizenship and Immigration's attempt in 1953 to commemorate the millionth postwar immigrant to Canada. Federal policy-makers decided to pre-select the millionth immigrant in order to ensure that he was white, male, young, British and potentially successful. An examination of these plans provides insights into the attitudes of Immigration officials in the early 1950s, how they wished their department to be perceived by the Canadian public, and the extent to which they would resort to deception to attain their ends.

Cette etude examine la tentative de 1953 lancee par le Ministere de l' Immigration et de la Citoyennete pour commemorer le millioneme immigrant d'apres-guerre au Canada. Les technocrates federaux opterent pour une preselection du millioneme immigrant afin de s' assurer que celui-ci serait un homme blanc, jeune, britannique et susceptible d'etre requ. A partir de l'examen de ce projet, on gagne un aperqu de l'attitude du bureau de l'immigration au debut des annees 50 et de la faqon dont les agents voulaient se faire percevoir par le public canadien au point ou ils n'hesitaient pas a recourir a la supercherie pour atteindre leurs objectifs

In late 1953 it dawned on some officials in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration that, in the spring of 1954, Canada would receive its millionth postwar immigrant. To mark that event, they felt that a celebration was in order. Rather than carefully monitoring the number of immigrants arriving in Canada and selecting the person they believed to be the millionth, or randomly selecting an individual as he or she disembarked from plane or ship, these officials, not wishing to leave anything to chance, devised a plan rife with deception in order to ensure that the millionth immigrant would fulfil their criteria; that is, that the candidate be young, male, British and potentially successful.

The following paper focusses on this scheme and briefly describes subsequent attempts at milestone commemoration in the department. In so doing, it will be argued that, in committing this deception, the actions of these officials may have represented a misreading of public opinion regarding immigration, and even if it did not, the original goal of using milestone commemoration to show the public the benefits of immigration was lost. Valuable insights can be obtained in learning how an institution sees itself and wishes to be perceived. An analysis of selfperception may lead to a better understanding of how an institution actually functions; it has indeed, an impact on policy formulation. The work of Ian McKay, for example, on the state-directed cultivation of image in Nova Scotia points to the value of this sort of inquiry.' Finally, this paper hopes to stimulate further research into the public relations side of immigration policy - an aspect that has been all but ignored in scholarly writing.2

The period from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s was an ambiguous one, as far as immigration policy was concerned. According to Freda Hawkins, much of this ambiguity stemmed from the failure to resolve what purpose or purposes immigration performed. Did immigration serve international political ends? Did it lead to needed population growth? Did it stimulate the economy? Did it fill gaps in the labour force? According to Hawkins, no clear answer to these questions emerged. Those who formulated immigration policy believed that it served all of these objectives, to varying degrees, but appeared reluctant to state definitively the extent to which immigration met these goals.3

Hawkins also argues that many Canadians were not particularly keen on the idea of letting certain ethnic groups into Canada. She cites as evidence some rather damning testimony of the Trades and Labour Congress and the Canadian Congress of Labour before the Senate's Standing Committee on Immigration and Labour, which was struck in 1946 and continued its investigations until 1953. …