Academic journal article Refuge

Effecting Change: Civil Servants and Refugee Policy in 1970s Canada

Academic journal article Refuge

Effecting Change: Civil Servants and Refugee Policy in 1970s Canada

Article excerpt


Since the Second World War, refugee policy in Canada has evolved dramatically from an ad hoc, often disinterested approach to global displacement to an integral part of Canada's immigration programs. This article proposes that the key period of change occurred in the 1970s. Using the recollections of Michael Molloy, former director of Refugee Policy in the Department of Manpower and Immigration, this article suggests that the reforms that led to the development of the formal refugee programs (including the under-explored Oppressed Minority Policy), which facilitated the admission of refugees beyond the traditional focus on Europe, were highly influenced by those doing and managing resettlement.

In recent years, scholars have increasingly focused on the role that so-called brokers have played in the facilitation of global migration, historically and presently. (1) The focus of this scholarship has generally been on how legal and illegal migration relied, and continues to rest, on networks of informed friends, family, and entrepreneurs. Increasingly, however, scholars are considering the role that individuals within the system play in facilitating or discouraging cross-border migration. (2) Building on this approach, this article considers the role of civil servants in transforming Canada's refugee policy during the critical decade of the 1970s as Canadian politicians and the general public became increasingly attuned to refugee movements globally, responding to crises in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Michael Molloy's career provides a unique vantage point from which to consider how a single broker's experience is simultaneously informed by, while itself informing, the migration of people across borders. Molloy's career intersected with key chapters in the evolution of the Canadian government's response to refugees. His career with the immigration foreign service began in 1968, the year before Canada committed to the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol. He served as a visa officer in Tokyo, Beirut, and Minneapolis, and was director of refugee policy from 1976 to 1978. His time in the field, as well as a senior manager, coincided with major population upheavals in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, to which the Canadian government ultimately responded. When a major refugee movement occurred in Southeast Asia in 1979, Molloy coordinated the Indochinese Refugee Task Force, overseeing the selection, reception, and settlement of 60,000 Indochinese refugees.

Now that he is president of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society, Molloy's attention has turned to reflecting on and documenting Canada's past engagement with immigration and refugee issues. This has involved facilitating the preservation of historic documents such as those of the Ugandan Asian refugees of 1972 as well as the organization of workshops on the history of refugees in Canada. (3) This article emerges from Molloy's interest in documenting the events and initiatives that influenced the transition from a reactive, ad hoc approach to refugees to a formal, law-based refugee policy informed as much by experience as principle. Working in collaboration with Laura Madokoro, a historian interested in refugee policy and the politics of humanitarianism, the article evolved to consider how the experience of one individual might suggest a broader phenomenon in how migration and policy were mutually constituted in the post-war period. The collaboration involving a series of conversations, fact-checks, and revisions (between September and November 2016) and presented an interesting meeting of academia, professional expertise, and a shared interest in better contextualizing the significance of Canada's engagement with the global refugee regime.

Effecting Change

It was 1969, the year Canada signed the un Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, that heralded a decade of change in Canada's approach to the world's refugees that included a more sustained and innovative approach to refugee resettlement. …

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