The Immigration Act of 1976 represented a significant shift in Canadian immigration legislation. It was the first immigration act to clearly outline the fundamental objectives of Canadian immigration policy, define refugees as a distinct class of immigrants and impose a mandatory responsibility on the government to plan for the future of immigration.
In 1973, Minister of Manpower and Immigration Robert Andras commissioned a major review of existing immigration policy. Although the resulting green paper was poorly received for its largely negative view of immigration, it successfully stimulated public dialogue. A special committee was appointed to examine the green paper and hold hearings across the country. Based on the information obtained through public consultation, the committee made 65 recommendations on the structure of immigration policy.
Nearly all of the committee’s recommendations were accepted by the government and incorporated into the Immigration Act introduced in 1976. The preamble of the new measures clearly set out the objectives of Canadian immigration law, including family reunification, non-discrimination, concern for refugees and the promotion of Canada’s economic, social and cultural goals.
Under the act, three classes of admissible immigrants were recognized: independent immigrants selected on the basis of the points system; a family class which included the immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents; and refugees as defined by the United Nations (UN) Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. This was the first formal inclusion of refugees as a distinct class of immigrants and it established Canada’s commitment to fulfil its legal obligation as a signatory to the convention. Previously, the admission of refugees had been determined on an ad hoc basis. Persecuted and displaced persons that did not qualify as refugees under the convention definition could be admitted on humanitarian grounds.
The classes of inadmissible immigrants also underwent significant revision. The exhaustive list of prohibited individuals was replaced by broader categories of exclusion relating to health, public safety, criminality, propensity for violence and fraudulent immigration claims.
A key feature of the act was the requirement of the minister responsible for immigration to work in close cooperation with the provinces in immigration planning and management. After consulting with the provinces, the minister was required to make an announcement in Parliament regarding the number of immigrants it proposed to admit within a specific period of time. In an effort to reduce ministerial discretion, the minister also had to report the number of special permits issued each year allowing individuals to enter or remain in Canada.
The Immigration Act of 1976 came into effect on 1 April 1978. It was positively regarded as a progressive piece of legislation and received broad support from parliamentary parties, interest groups, academics and the media.
Library and Archives Canada. Statutes of Canada. An Act Respecting Immigration to Canada, 1976. Ottawa: SC 25-26 Elizabeth II, Chapter 52
- Valerie Knowles, Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration and Immigration Policy, 1540-1997 (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1997), 169.
- Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock, The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 372.
- Freda Hawkins, Critical Years in Immigration: Canada and Australia Compared, 2nd ed. (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991), 70.
- Knowles, 169-170.
- Hawkins, 73.
- Knowles, 169.
- Kelley and Trebilcock, 380.