[The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy]

By Trebilcock, Michael J.; Kelley, Ninette et al. | Journal of Canadian Studies, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

[The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy]


Trebilcock, Michael J., Kelley, Ninette, Anderson, Christopher G., Journal of Canadian Studies


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. …

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