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Order-in- Council PC 1931-695, 1931

Order-in-Council PC 1923-183 (31 January 1923)
Order-in-Council PC 1930-1957 (14 August 1930)

With the passage of order-in-council PC 695 on 21 March 1931, the government of Prime Minister R.B. Bennett implemented the tightest immigration admissions policy in Canadian history.[1] Further restrictions were deemed necessary after the onset of the Great Depression in order to combat soaring unemployment and further economic decline.

The legislation limited admissible immigrants to: American and British subjects with sufficient means to maintain themselves until securing employment; agriculturalists with sufficient means to farm in Canada; and the wives and minor children of Canadian residents. Immigrants of all other classes and occupations were explicitly prohibited from landing in Canada.

This order-in-council was the culmination of progressively restrictive policies introduced by the governor-in-council (i.e. federal cabinet) following the First World War. The expansive powers granted to the governor-in-council in the Immigration Act allowed them to impose additional restrictions whenever it was considered necessary or expedient. For example, order-in-council PC 183 passed on 31 January 1923 prohibited the entry of industrial labourers, limiting eligible immigrants to bona fide agriculturalists, farm workers, female domestic servants and close relatives of Canadian residents.[2] Additional restrictions were put in place by means of order-in-council PC 1957 on 14 August 1930, requiring agriculturalists to have enough capital to farm in Canada. By 1931, female domestics, farm labourers and close relatives of Canadian residents were no longer permitted entry.

With the measures introduced in 1931, Canada effectively closed its doors to the rest of the world. Throughout the economic turmoil of the Great Depression and the racial oppression of the Second World War, Canada remained committed to this policy of exclusion, denying entrance to both immigrants and refugees.[3] In 1939, this policy was used to justify the government’s refusal to offer sanctuary to Jewish refugees from Germany on board the St. Louis. After the ship was denied entry in Latin America and the United States, a group of prominent Canadians urged the government to provide refuge to the stranded passengers. Government authorities staunchly opposed the admission of the St. Louis passengers and claimed the refugees did not qualify as admissible immigrants under immigration law.[4] The St. Louis returned to Europe where it is estimated that 254 of the 907 returning passengers perished in the Holocaust.[5]

Order-in-Council PC 1923-183

Library and Archives Canada. “Orders in Council – Décrets-du-Conseil.” RG2-A-1-a, volume 1322, PC 1923-183, 31 January 1923

Order-in-Council PC 1930-1957

Library and Archives Canada. “Orders in Council – Décrets-du-Conseil.” RG2-A-1-a, volume 1465, PC 1930-1957, 14 August 1930

Order-in-Council PC 1931-695

Library and Archives Canada. “Orders in Council – Décrets-du-Conseil.” RG2-A-1-a, volume 1479, PC 1931-695 21 March 1931

  1. Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock, The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 216.
  2. Gerald E. Dirks, Canada’s Refugee Policy: Indifference or Opportunism? Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 42.
  3. Irving Abella and Harold Troper, “’The line must be drawn somewhere’: Canada and Jewish Refugees, 1933-9,” Canadian Historical Review 60, no. 2 (1979): 183.
  4. Abella and Troper, 179-180.
  5. Sarah A. Ogilvie and Scott Miller, Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), 174-175.