The Naturalization Act of 1914 introduced more stringent requirements for naturalization in Canada. Prior to 1914, the process of naturalization was relatively straightforward. After three years of living in Canada, an immigrant could bring an application before a court official and receive a certificate of naturalization if they were determined to be of good character.
Under the new measures, immigrants were required to live in Canada for a period of five years before submitting an application for naturalization. Immigrants were still judged on their moral character but were additionally required to possess adequate knowledge of either French or English. Persons with disabilities, which the act identified as married women, minors, lunatics and idiots, were not eligible to receive certificates of naturalization. The status of married women and children depended upon the status of the male head of the family. Any person that was granted a certificate of naturalization was entitled to the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as a natural-born British subject, including the right to vote in federal elections and protection from deportation.
Decisions relating to the naturalization of immigrants were subject to the approval of the secretary of state. The Naturalization Act granted the secretary of state absolute discretionary powers to grant and withhold certificates of naturalization, as well as revoke certificates obtained by fraud. The secretary of state was not obliged to disclose the reasoning behind the decisions made, nor could the decisions be appealed. The arbitrary nature of the decision-making process functioned as a legislative tool to prevent undesirable immigrants from attaining the status and rights of British subjects. The Naturalization Act reinforced the executive branch of government’s power to determine membership and enforce the exclusion of those it determined to be undesirable permanent residents.
The legislation in 1914 was part of a broader effort to harmonize the process of naturalization across the British Empire. At an Imperial Conference in 1911, it was agreed that imperial nationality should be worldwide and uniform, with each Dominion free to grant local nationality as determined by its legislature. Canada was the first commonwealth nation to adopt the imperial nationalization policy as outlined in the Naturalization Act.
Library and Archives Canada. Statutes of Canada. An Act Respecting British Nationality, Naturalization and Aliens, 1914. Ottawa: SC 4-5 George V, Chapter 44