Unit 4 Immigration

Overview Who Gets In? Who Does Not?

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Ask yourself:

  • What do stories of how we welcome newcomers tell us about ourselves?
  • Are we “saints” or “sinners” when it comes to helping those who flee their homelands?
  • How is Canada leading the way around the world in welcoming refugees into our country? Are we role models?

Immigration has been important throughout our history. The issues change and the ground shifts constantly when we look at Canadian society today. Immigration and its implications for Canada will be important for the foreseeable future. Canadian immigration policy has been and will be affected by world events: from the coming of the Loyalists, to Syrian refugees, to the aftermath of future crises yet to unfold.

Immigrant youth group discussion

Thank you to the Jewish Immigration Aid Services (JIAS) Toronto for their help in arranging the group discussion.

Did You Know?

Canada is the only country to have won the Nansen Refugee Award awarded annually by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to an individual, group, or organization in recognition of outstanding service to the cause of refugees, displaced or stateless peoples. Canadians are the first and only people to have been honoured collectively with this award. The 1986 award committee cited "the major and sustained contribution of the People of Canada to the cause of refugees".

In this unit, we shall examine Canada’s record and their treatment of new immigrants and refugees in need of safe haven such as the Voyage of the MS St. Louis, the Vietnamese Boat People, Catholics in the 19th Century and Chinese Immigration. An example of the unfair treatment of newcomers is outlined in the chapter on Chinese Head Tax. It looks at the injustices experienced by the Chinese who came to Canada to build our railways, only to be charged a heavy tax to remain here. The discrimination lies in the fact that no other group of new immigrants was charged such a tax, and that the Chinese had already moved, worked and been living in Canada when the tax was introduced. The unit culminates with a global perspective on current refugees and genocides occurring around the world and Canada’s response.

Key concepts › Classification

There are a number of ways to classify immigrants. Which of the following do you think we are examining in this unit? Why do you think so?

Most immigrants are in this category: planning to stay, gain citizenship, raise families and live permanently in Canada. Governments over our history have had criteria for “qualified” immigrants. These criteria have changed over time.

Temporary Workers
These immigrants are here on a contract basis and include a wide variety of people. Seasonal farm workers, students, professional athletes and others who get work permits to fill specific jobs are in this category.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers
These can include people fleeing war, natural disasters, or human oppression based on religion, ethnicity, or identity markers. Some in this category may be considered “economic” refugees: those just looking for better job opportunities. Governments today have a task to sort these out.

Unauthorized Workers /Illegals
We do not know how many immigrants fit this category but they can include: people smuggled in, students or tourists overstaying visa dates, those with false documents, and others. In the United States this has been a hot political issue for decades.

Genocide and Emil Fackenheim’s three stages of Antisemitism

One reason why people who are suffering unthinkable conditions, flee their countries is that their lives are being threatened. Throughout history, the threat of genocide has forced and continues to force marginalized groups of people to leave (emigrate) from their home countries to avoid the violence and murder if they stayed. Genocide seems to follow a pattern of stages. It’s important for us to recognize these patterns so that we can protect people from the fate of genocide such as those who fell victim to the Holocaust.

The hatred which led to the genocide of the Holocaust in Europe followed a three-stage pattern – or in this case, three stages of antisemitism as outlined by philosopher Emil Fackenheim. You can place a number of groups within Fackenheim’s stages – people who have been excluded and unfairly treated in Canada over time. While we cannot compare the extent of the systematic extermination carried out in the Holocaust with that of other genocides and oppression, we can use the stages when thinking about groups who were marginalized, and made to feel unwelcome and unsafe in their own countries.

“You cannot live among us as Jews,” leading to forced conversions;
“You cannot live among us,” leading to mass deportations, and
“You cannot live,” leading to genocide.

Emil Ludwig Fackenheim represents the odyssey of contemporary liberal Jewish theologians both in his thoughts and in his life. He was born in Halle, Germany, on June 22, 1916. Liberal Jews at this time looked to Germany's cultured, middle-class Jewish population as the beacon of enlightenment and progress. Fackenheim shared these views and studied for the Reform Jewish rabbinate in the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, where he was ordained in 1939. He maintained a keen interest in non-Jewish philosophy as well by studying at the University of Halle. Shortly after his ordination he was interned for three months in a concentration camp—a profoundly traumatic experience, but he was one of the few lucky ones to be released. After leaving Germany he studied briefly at the University of Aberdeen and was then called as rabbi to Congregation Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, where he served from 1943 to 1948.

Action 1  


At times Canada has welcomed or refused entry to immigrants. In small groups discuss the following questions:

  • What are the “push” factors? Why did Canada push people away? Do you think they were right?
  • What are the “pull” factors? What was Canada doing to bring newcomers to the country? Why were they choosing to welcome new citizens? Were they right to do so?
  • How “welcoming” was Canada to the newcomers once they arrived? Why did we react the way we did to those wishing to immigrate to Canada?

Your teacher can print the Reaction Wheel for you to use individually: https://www.voicesintoaction.ca/PDFs/VIA_Teaching_ToolsEN.pdf found in Teaching Tools on pages 6 and 7 to jot down your own opinions prior to discussing them.

Action 2  


What is your position on immigration?

Write a position paper or editorial on Canada’s immigration record, using the graph below as an organizer of the data you collect from a multitude of sources and political positions. There is much to consider when researching about people becoming citizens of a new country. Read and watch as much as possible to determine how you feel about immigration in general, and in Canada. With thorough research, you will be equipped to write this paper from a well-informed standpoint.

Some essay questions to help you form a strong opinion are:

  • Did we deserve the Nansen Award? Looking at the past, or the present, how well are we really welcoming or treating newcomers?
  • Research current groups fleeing persecution (choose one specific group: i.e., Rohingya, Yazidis), and apply Fackenheim’s three stages of antisemitism to your research. Can we save people from a genocide like the Holocaust?

Use the graphic organizer below to better understand your thoughts and reasoning in preparation for writing and/or participating in a class debate (Action 3) or go to Teaching Tools, on pages 10 and 11 of Critical Thinking pages, to find instructions for the Clipping Thesis to gather and organize material data.

Graphic Organizer

Action 3  


Class debate

As a class conduct a debate with reliable research through a variety of media outlets. You should be divided into two opposing sides:

Pro: Canada should open its doors to immigrants. Con: Canada should close its doors to immigrants.

Or, you can decide on ‘pro’ and ‘con’ statements of your own to use for your debate.

After you and your group have conducted the research, written and rehearsed your debate, you can invite a neighbouring class, staff or administration to be the judges. Ask guests to take notes to prepare for the last part of the debate with their own relevant questions.

Each debate will involve the following procedure:

  • Each team will have 15-20 minutes to present its perspective. All team members should present a portion of this "affirmative argument." The team should plan ahead and coordinate their presentations to present a logical case with facts from a variety of sources.
  • If desired, teams may then take a 5-minute break to organize questions and counter arguments to challenge opponents. The audience should also be preparing questions, challenges, untapped arguments, etc. to raise during open discussion.
  • Each team will have 5 minutes to present counter arguments.
  • The remaining time will entail questions and discussion involving the invited guests.

Each student presenting in a debate can earn up to 30 points. Evaluation of your team will be based on:

  • the clarity, collaboration, organization and cohesiveness of the presentation
  • the quantity and quality of supporting evidence clearly presented
  • the quality of the arguments presented and challenges (to opponents) raised.

Action 4  


Studies on Canadians’ views about immigrants and refugees.

Read this article about a study on Canadians views about immigration and refugees with five surveys in red: Study on immigration and refugee views - National Post

“There are some good things going on in Canada and there are some potential problems,” Donnelly said. “There’s room there for growth of serious intolerance if people aren’t careful.”
Michael J. Donnelly is an assistant professor of political science and public policy at the University of Toronto. Peter Loewen is the Director of the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto.

Everyone in your class should answer the five surveys in the article anonymously. Then hand in your answers to be presented. Do your class findings correspond to the numbers in the studies? Discuss.

Did you know?

A. Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen is Canada’s first Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship who was himself a refugee.

B. Former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney created a new reform Bill C-31 called the “protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act” which allows Canada to detain and incarcerate refugees who don’t arrive legally, including children.
(This blog explains it: Trudeau's new immigration minister must tackle Harper's nasty refugee reforms)

Action 5  


Looking at numbers then and now

Numbers of immigrants and refugees allowed in Canada and actual number per year:

In November 2017, Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen provided these numbers of immigrants and refugees to be admitted in future years:

  • 2018 – 310,000
  • 2019 – 330,000
  • 2020 - 340,000

Compare with numbers of immigrants and refugees per year admitted by PM Harper’s government:

  • 2004-2014 –total in 10 years of about 250,000
  • 2013 – 23,968 refugees

Compare and contrast reasons given for immigration policies by PM Harper and his Conservative government with those of the current government.

Source: Planned Immigration 2018-2020

Unit 4 Immigration

Chapter 1 Voyage of the MS St. Louis

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Ask yourself:

  • For several months in the summer of 1939, the voyage of the MS St. Louis, carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, caught the attention of the world. Did Canada have a reputation as a welcoming place for those fleeing oppression?
  • What hardships did they face and how were they treated when they arrived on our shores?
  • Why did our government react the way it did?
St. Louis - Sol Messinger

Here are the facts

The St. Louis Voyage

During the 1930s leaving Germany was still an option for the Jewish population but who would take them in? The St. Louis was a German ship carrying 930 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to Cuba. When the ship set sail from Hamburg on May 13, 1939, all of its refugee passengers had legitimate landing certificates for Cuba.

An old black and white photo of a large ship, the MS <em>St. Louis</em>, surrounded by other, small boats in a harbour. enlarge image
"The MS St. Louis ship carrying 930 Jewish refugees waits in the harbour of Havana, Cuba."

Credit: Canadian Jewish Congress

Here is a photo of the MS St. Louis in the harbour of Havana, Cuba. Are the boats surrounding the St. Louis there to welcome the refugees? Read on to find out.

During the two-week voyage to Havana, the landing certificates were invalidated by the pro-fascist Cuban government. When the St. Louis arrived in Havana on May 27 only 22 Jewish refugees were allowed entry. The refugees were also refused entry into the United States. The St. Louis was within two days of Halifax Harbour when Ottawa, under pressure from high-ranking politicians within, refused to grant the Jewish families a home. On June 6 the ship was forced to return to Europe before its supply of food and water ran out. While en route to Antwerp, several European countries agreed to take in the refugees (287 to Great Britain; 214 to Belgium; 224 to France; 181 to the Netherlands). Those that went to Belgium, France and the Netherlands were soon trapped as Hitler's armies invaded Western Europe and they perished as victims of the Nazi Final Solution.


Where was Canada during this event?


Artifact 1 › Here is a description from a noted book about the history of the 1930s.

None of the city's [Winnipeg, 1920s and 1930s] chartered banks, trust companies, or insurance companies would knowingly hire a Jew, and anyone with a Ukrainian or Polish name had almost no chance of employment except rough manual labour. The oil companies, banks, mortgage companies, financial and stockbrokers, and most retail and mercantile companies except the Hudson's Bay Company, discriminated against all non-Anglo-Saxons...

Ours was a society with a well-defined pecking order of prejudice. On the top were the race-proud Anglo-Saxons, who were prejudiced against everybody else. On the bottom were the Jews, against whom everybody discriminated. In between were the Slavs and Germans. By the mid-thirties the Germans had become deeply infected with Hitler's position and discriminated against Ukrainians, Poles and Jews.

~James H. Gray, The Winter Years. [memoirs] Toronto, Macmillan, 1966, pp. 127, 133.

Action 1  

Think >

Prejudice in Canada

Was this prejudice limited to Winnipeg? Examine the above and draw your conclusions.


Here are two quotes from F.C. Blair, Director, Immigration Branch of the Department of Mines and Resources, 1938, who advised the government on policy.

Artifact 1 ›

Ever since the war, efforts have been made by groups and individuals to get refugees into Canada but we have fought all along to protect ourselves against the admission of such stateless persons without passports, for the reason that coming out of the maelstrom of war, some of them are liable to go on the rocks and when they become public charges, we have to keep them for the balance of their lives.

~Canadian Council for Refugees website http://ccrweb.ca/en/hundred-years-immigration-canada-1900-1999
Artifact 2 ›

Pressure on the part of the Jewish people to get into Canada has never been greater than it is now and I am glad to be able to add, after thirty-five years experience here, that it was never so well controlled.

~Frederick Blair, Canada’s top immigration bureaucrat, A People’s History of Canada, Volume Two, p. 175

Blair raised the amount of money immigrants had to possess to come to Canada from $5,000 to $15,000. As well, immigrants had to prove they were farmers, which Blair hoped would further sift out the Jewish applicants, as most were coming from cities. Blair followed the immigration regulations—he wrote many of these—to the letter and then boasted about his success in keeping Jews out of the country.

Action 2  


Jewish refugees

What does the following table say about Blair’s boast?

Countries admitting Jewish Refugees 1933-1945Approximate number of Jewish Refugees
Countries admitting Jewish Refugees 1933-1945 Approximate number of Jewish Refugees
United States 240,000
Great Britain 85,000
China 25,000
Argentina 25,000
Brazil 25,000
Columbia and Mexico (combined) 40,000
Canada Fewer than 5,000

A. There were groups and organizations in Canada who protested, but their voices were not heard. Why were they unsuccessful in changing government policy?

B. Did you know that the captain of the St. Louis Gustav Schroeder insisted that the passengers be treated with respect though he was loyal to the German state?

  He also negotiated with other countries in Western Europe to take some of the passengers. He never commanded another vessel. Why do you think that is so?

In an old black and white photo, Gustav Shroeder, Captain of the MS <em>St. Louis</em>, poses for a picture in his Captain’s uniform. enlarge image
Captain Gustav Schroeder of the MS St. Louis 1939

Credit: Canadian Jewish Congress

C. During and after the war he struggled to make a living. Grateful families of the survivors of the St. Louis helped him and his family after the war. In 1957, the West German government honoured Schroeder for having saved Jewish lives. After his death in 1959, the State of Israel honoured him as a “Righteous Among the Nations in March 1993.”

Should we honour those who in the past did things for the betterment of humanity? What can you do for our betterment?

Apology for past historical wrongs

In 2006, the new Conservative government changed a long-standing policy related to apologizing for past historical wrongs.

Like any country, our country is not perfect. We haven’t always lived up to our high ideals.
Stephen Harper, Canadian Prime Minister, August 2006.

The Community Historical Recognition Program

Among their initiatives the Government of Canada established the Community Historical Recognition Program. Established for Canadian communities that were affected by immigration restrictions and wartime measures, this program acknowledges the unpleasant chapters of Canada’s history in ways that are meaningful to the communities concerned. These included the Chinese-Canadian community for the Head Tax policy. (See Voices into Action IV.4 Chinese Immigration) Another immigration event involved the Komagata Maru, a ship bringing 376 Indians to Canada in 1914 but was turned away by a discriminatory immigration policy that was in place at that time. Upon arrival back in India, at least twenty of the individuals on board were killed by British troops. The incident has long been a source of grievance for the Indo-Canadian community. (See Voices into Action III.2 The Komagata Maru Incident)

Funding was also made available to commemorate the St. Louis incident as well as other past events considered to have wronged groups of Canadian immigrants.

  • Should we apologize for the mistakes and “bad” things we as a country have done? Under what circumstances?
  • Is there a place for “moral judgments” in history? If so, what is its place? If not, why not?”
  • What lessons can history teach us, if any?

A Cruel Irony

Canada did in fact admit Jewish refugees during WWII —2,500 male "potentially dangerous enemy aliens" interned by Britain were brought to Canada. They were housed in high security camps in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick. In 1945 they were reclassified as "interned refugees (Friendly Aliens)". 972 accepted an offer to become Canadian citizens. Many went on to prominent careers in the professions, the universities, or the arts.

Going Further

Explore the holdings of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on The St. Louis. Information is provided on every passenger as well as other details.

When Canada Said No is a DVD that was part of the federal government’s Community Historical Recognition Program about the tragedy (noted above). Contact B’nai Brith, Canada for a free copy.

The Internment of Jewish Refugees in Canada 1940-43  is an online exhibit from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for examining the lives of those refugees who in a cruel irony actually were admitted to Canada—as enemies.

Further reading

Kacer, Kathy Shanghai Escape, 2013

While most countries were not willing to give refuge to Jews, Shanghai was one place that did. More than 200,000 European Jews made a life there. Lily Toufar who escaped from Vienna is one story. Also: To Hope and Back: The journey of the St. Louis.

Irving Abella and Harold Troper – None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948, Pub. 1983. About the Canadian government's policies toward Jewish refugees fleeing Germany before and during the Holocaust and the rejection of the MS St. Louis ship's 930 Jewish passengers in 1939.

Unit 4 Immigration

Chapter 2 Boat People, 1970s

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Key Questions:

  • How were the Boat People treated in Canada?
  • Did we learn from history or did we repeat it?

Four decades after the St. Louis event thousands of refugees, mostly Vietnamese, fleeing the horrors of war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, asked Canada for asylum.

Vietnamese Boat Person - James Nguyen

Here are the facts

Push Factor
Map of Vietnam.

Map of Vietnam.

enlarge image

Vietnam was one of many places in Asia and Africa fighting for independence after World War Two. Like Korea it was divided into a communist north and a non-communist south. After decades of first the French and then the Americans in a decades-long Vietnam War, the victorious north moved to take over the entire country.

Many in South Vietnam, as well as people from neighbouring Laos and Cambodia looked to flee fearing retribution from the North Vietnamese and their allies. Between 1975 and 1976, Canada admitted 5,608 Vietnamese immigrants. In the late 1970s the Communist government stepped up its campaign to punish the southerners through labour camps and other forms of imprisonment. At that point, the fleeing increased dramatically as thousands of refugees used boats to get away. These vessels were often old and crudely made. Many were ethnic Chinese who were also being forced out of the country.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, between 200,000 and 400,000 boat people died at sea. [6] Other estimates compiled are that ten to seventy percent of the 1-2 million Vietnamese boat people died in transit.

Half-naked Vietnamese refugees, mainly young boys and men, sit together on the ground after being rescued. enlarge image
Refugees on the ocean faced deadly storms, diseases, starvation, and ruthless pirates.

Credit: Public domain; unknown

Canada was one of many countries asked to help. Many Canadians, some of whom were immigrants and refugees from earlier decades wanted to sponsor refugee families: to help with food, clothing, and shelter until the newcomers could make a go of it on their own.

But many other Canadians opposed helping the refugees. Some feared that Canada could not handle the numbers and made claims that if we took them in we would get hundreds of thousands who would be dependent on public money for generations. Some opponents were concerned about a shifting “racial balance” should the refugees be admitted. At this time Canada was going through a bad time economically, and the Trudeau government had just lost the election to a Progressive Conservative government under Joe Clark.

So what was the government to do when any decision would be criticized?

At the time historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper were working on a history of Canada’s treatment of the Jews during the Nazi period from 1933-45. Feeling empathy with the Vietnamese refugees based on their research about Jewish refugees who had been denied access to Canada and the United States, they put together a manuscript of their work and mailed it to the office of Ron Atkey, Minister of Employment and Immigration in Ottawa. When the minister read what would eventually be turned into the best selling book None Is Too Many, he realized the parallels with the refugee crisis in the 1930s and convinced the government to make a decision.

The government decided that the number of boat people should be based on public support. In July 1979, it introduced a matching formula whereby the government sponsored one refugee for each one sponsored privately. The experiment succeeded so that, in addition to the government’s original quota of 8,000, another 42,000 refugees (21,000 privately-sponsored and 21,000 government-sponsored) came over two years. In a mere four months, the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto were just two religious groups that sponsored hundreds of families to reach the sponsorship goal.

More refugees from southeast Asia came during the 1980s in smaller numbers. They had to learn English or French and settled in Canada’s larger cities as well as communities where there had never been Vietnamese immigrants.

Considering that they came during a downturn in Canada’s economy, you may wonder how would they do?



Here is one story:

Kim Phuc and her family were residents of the village of Trang Bang, South Vietnam. In June 1972 their village was attacked and captured by the North Vietnamese. Kim Phuc, then 9 years old, joined a group of civilians and South Vietnamese soldiers who were fleeing. But from the air the soldiers were mistaken for North Vietnamese. A South Vietnamese Air Force pilot bombed the group. It killed two of Kim Phuc's cousins and two other villagers. She was badly burned and tore off her burning clothes.


A black and white photo of a young and naked Vietnamese girl, Kim Phuc, who’s skin is peeling off her back is confronted by American and South Vietnamese soldiers, as well as journalists, who are trying to help her. enlarge image
Kim Phuc, 9-year-old Vietnamese burn victim in 1972

Credit: Nick Ut. Associated Press

One of the photos (not this one) became world famous as a powerful image of the horrors of war.

Why was that photo not included here?

In an interview many years later, she recalled she was yelling, Nóng quá, nóng quá ("too hot, too hot") in the picture. New York Times editors were at first hesitant to consider the photo for publication because of the nudity, but eventually approved it.

Kim Phuc and the other injured children were taken to a hospital in Saigon. She was expected to die but more than a year later after more than a dozen operations she was able to return home. As she returned to her schooling and later came to study medicine Kim was used as a propaganda tool by the Vietnamese government. She was allowed to go to Cuba, also Communist, to continue her studies. She met and married another Vietnamese student and they married.

On their way to Moscow for their honeymoon, the plane refueled in Gander, Newfoundland. They saw their chance, left the plane and asked for political asylum in Canada, which was granted. The couple now live in Ajax, Ontario near Toronto, and have two children. In 1996, Phúc met the surgeons who had saved her life. The following year, she passed the Canadian Citizenship Test with a perfect score and became a Canadian citizen.

Also in 1997 she established the first Kim Phuc Foundation in the US, with the aim of providing medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war. Later, other foundations were set up, with the same name, under an umbrella organization, Kim Phuc Foundation International.

Action 1



1. Can you find other examples of Vietnamese refugees who both benefitted from coming to Canada as well as contributing to our country?

2. There is more about Kim Phuc, including a documentary film, a book, and music. Google “the girl in the picture” and explore.

3. There are three stories of other Vietnamese refugees in the Passages series of stories about immigrants to Canada from Passages Canada, created by Historica Canada and co-sponsored by government and industry. Go to Passages Canada to the story archive and use “boat people” as the keywords for your search.

Unit 4 Immigration

Chapter 3 The Irish Catholics, 19th Century

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Ask yourself:

  • What hardships did they face and how were they treated when they arrived on our shores?
  • How did the 19th century exodus of Irish compare to the current scene in which thousands of young Irish, following the global economic troubles of 2008 to 2013, came to Canada for a better future?

Fleeing poverty and disease, thousands of Irish refugees, mostly Catholic, fled their homeland for Canada. You will explore the conditions they encountered in Canada, and examine the new Irish immigrants of today.

Although the term “boat people” first became a popular label for the thousands of refugees fleeing Vietnam in the late 1970s there have been many similar group of immigrants. Perhaps the earliest were the Irish who came in the 19th century. In recent years Canada has another influx of immigrants from Ireland. While Canada has been a destination for Irish emigrants (note the use of “emigrant” not “immigrant”) for centuries we shall look at two peak periods. The first section looks at a period of Irish immigration in the 19th century.


This really happened

The Great Hunger (often called The Irish Famine)

Ireland was a largely Catholic country and controlled by Britain since 1801 as part of the United Kingdom. Except for six counties (now making up Northern Ireland) most Irish were Catholic living on small farms renting land from (largely English) landlords. It seemed that the Industrial Revolution in Britain had passed them by. While Catholics had been systematically discriminated against there was slow progress. In 1829 the Act of Emancipation allowed Catholics to run for Parliament. The population had grown significantly in this period due to the abundance of potatoes: a vegetable originally brought from the Americas. It became a staple of the poor, especially in winter. But it was unreliable and many times in the 18th and early 19th centuries there were crop failures of varying degrees of severity.

A blight that had originated in North America and spread to Europe resulted in a series of failed potato crops in Ireland from 1845-1852. The mass starvation weakened thousands of survivors who then died of cholera. The deaths, plus the emigration that occurred, resulted in Ireland’s population going from about 8 million in 1841 to about 2 million by 1860.

Ironically during the years of the famine Ireland still exported large quantities of food to Britain while Irish tenant farmers were going bankrupt and being tossed off their small farms by the landlords. The situation was summarized by a poem written by Miss Jane Francesca Elgee, a well-known and popular author and mother of the famous playwright, Oscar Wilde. The poem was published in 1846 in The Nation Newspaper.

Weary men, what reap ye? Golden corn for the stranger.
What sow ye? Human corpses that wait for the avenger.
Fainting forms, hunger-stricken, what see you in the offing
Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger's scoffing.
There's a proud array of soldiers—what do they round your door?
They guard our master's granaries from the thin hands of the poor.
Pale mothers, wherefore weeping? 'Would to God that we were dead—
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.

Source: Duffy, Sir Charles Gavan (1888), Four Years of Irish History 1845–1849, Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co

An old painting depicting a scene of Irish people waiving goodbye, some crying, as Irish emigrants set sail from the country. enlarge image
Emigrants Leave Ireland, engraving by Henry Doyle (1827–1893), from Mary Frances Cusack's Illustrated History of Ireland, 1868.

Many of the “starving Irish” emigrated to North America but their troubles did not end with the decision to leave Ireland. Of the hundreds of thousands that immigrated to North America many died en route. Weakened by hunger they fell prey to disease. Cholera was one of the most serious of these. It struck repeatedly around the world many times in the 19th century. People suspected of having this and other diseases were quarantined at Grosse Ile, Quebec, an island in the St. Lawrence River. The following table gives you a sense of the suffering based on the arrivals to Grosse Ile from 1825 to 1847:

Source: http://www.irishfamine.ca/

ImmigrantsAdmitted to HospitalNumber of DeathsCholeraFever and DysenterySmallpoxOther
Immigrants Admitted to Hospital Number of Deaths Cholera Fever and Dysentery Smallpox Other
425,490 14,533 3,934 290 4,648 722 726

More would die in future years and many died en route. Perhaps 20,000 died of typhus in the “coffin ships” crossing the Atlantic.

Action 1  

Think >

Rank the Evidence

Which of the following pieces of evidence hits you hardest emotionally? Use the following scale to help you rank the evidence.

Scale for rank


Artifact 1 ›

The Irish peasants came to North America in overcrowded and unsanitary ships known as "coffin ships." Cabin passenger Robert Whyte recorded the horrifying conditions in the steerage section of a ship. "Passing the main hatch, I got a glimpse of one of the most awful sights I ever beheld. A poor female patient was lying in one of the upper berths—dying...She had been nearly three weeks ill and suffered exceedingly until the swelling set in, commencing in her feet and creeping up her body to her head. Her afflicted husband stood by her holding a "blessed candle" in his hand awaiting the departure of her spirit."

Artifact 2 ›

Ships flying the flag of disease were forced to dock at the quarantine station on Grosse Isle, an island located in the St. Lawrence, downriver from Quebec City. For many Irish immigrants it would be their only glimpse of the new land. In 1847, 50 people a day died of typhus at Grosse Isle. Dr. George Douglas, the medical officer in charge erected a plaque to mark a mass burial site “In this secluded spot lie the mortal remains of 5,425 persons who, fleeing from pestilence and famine in 1847, found in North America but a grave.”

Artifact 3 ›

“The year 1847 shall be remembered in our history as the year of emigration. Close to 100,000 unhappy souls left Ireland to seek their break on the banks of the St. Lawrence. To compound their misery, fever decimated them at sea, in quarantine stations, in the villages, towns and country of the colonies of British North America.” La Minerve, January 3, 1848 (quoted in Canada: A Peoples’ History, vol. 1 D. Gillmore and P. Turgeon (CBC 2000 p. 249)

““We lay at some distance from the island the distant view of which was exceedingly beautiful. However, this scene of natural beauty was deformed by the dismal display of human suffering that it presented – helpless creatures being carried by sailors over the rocks on their way to the hospital, boats arriving with patients - some of whom died in their transmission from their ships. Another, and still more awful sight, was a continuous line of boats, each carrying its freight of dead to the burial ground and forming an endless funeral procession.” Ibid p. 248

Artifact 4 ›

About 30% of the starving Irish fleeing the famine were Protestant. Among these were John and Mary Willis and their five children. From Limerick in the west of Ireland they sailed on the Jesse, but one son was sick and had to be left behind. In the 56-day journey across the Atlantic, 26 passengers died in horrible conditions, including their 18-year-old son and their 10-year-old daughter, Martha. They were quarantined in Grosse Ile for thirteen days where Mary Ann Willis, the 17-year-old daughter died. The three remaining members were released to sail to Québec before travelling inland to Toronto. But the tragedy is not over. Both Mary’s husband and her remaining son would die of fever in Brantford, Ontario. Mary was alone and we know she stayed with a local family. There the historical record ends.

A photo of a metal plaque in a rock commemorating the Irish famine. The words “Famine” by Rowan Gillespie, dated 29th May 1997 are inscribed along with a quotation not completely shown in the photo. enlarge image
Memorial plaque to victims of the potato famine in Ireland

Credit: Bryan Wright

Metal statues of emaciated sufferers from the Irish famine are affixed to the boardwalk beside a river. enlarge image
Memorial sculpture to victims of the Irish Potato Famine - Dublin, Ireland

Credit: Bryan Wright

Between May and October of 1847, over 38,000 Irish Famine emigrants arrived from Ireland at a time when the city's population was just 20,000 people. The Toronto Waterfront witnessed one of the greatest human tragedies in the history of the city. Yet unlike later decades there was little anti-Catholic resistance as this largely Protestant city, led by its Catholic community, did what it could for the refugees.

Action 2  

iSearch >

Was it a genocide?

Some have called the Irish Potato Famine a form of genocide. Conduct a research project to determine the extent that is true. Be sure to look at Unit 2 on genocide in Voices into Action.

Action 3  

iSearch >

Take a look

White Pine Pictures produced in its Scattering of Seeds series, The Force of Hope: The Legacy of Father McGauran. This looks at Grosse Isle.

In the Historica Canada Heritage Minutes, series one features the plight of Catholic orphans from the Irish Famine, adopted by families in Québec.

Recent Immigration in the 21st Century

In the early years of this century much of the world experienced an economic boom. Some countries such as Greece, Italy, Iceland, Ireland, and the United States overestimated their economic health. From 2008 to 2013 they suffered from perhaps the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Unemployment, especially among young people, soared. Ireland was one of the more damaged economies. As a result many young Irish men and women have looked elsewhere for work opportunities.

Source: The first article is excerpted from the Toronto Star, Saturday, April 7, 2012.

Ian Matthews has spent recent weeks waving goodbye to his friends. Over the past month or so, he’s been to seventeen going-away gatherings.

“It’s such sad news for our country,” he said. “In Ireland, you can just meet someone and tell them your life story and they’ll actually remember it. It’s a special thing. We Irish are like no one else in the world that way and it’s sad we have to move abroad for work.”

A 29-year-old trained chef, Matthews is poised to join the exodus and say goodbye to his family in Swords, a small bedroom community on the outskirts of Dublin. He’s moving to New Zealand to work for a restaurant that has promised to pay him $40,000 a year. “I can’t even make enough in Ireland to help out my mother who raised me, and that’s a shame,” he said on a recent evening, pacing a local soccer field where he spent much of his youth.

Matthews and his friends are part of the biggest wave of emigration Ireland has seen in decades.

During the twelve months ending April 2011, 76,400 Irish left the country, according to Ireland’s Central Statistics office. For comparison’s sake, that would almost be as if 1 million Canadians picked up and left Canada. The mass departure, which some now estimate has reached 2,000 per week, may eventually rival Ireland’s historic and scarring 19th-century migration, when a potato famine forced more than 1 million to forge across the Atlantic. “We are losing our young, our best and brightest,” said David Monahan, 48, a Dublin artist whose latest project features dozens of portraits of Irish, days before they leave the country. “It’s affecting our future economy, but also our sense of community.”

The current shortage of skilled tradespeople in Western Canada is so dire that the B.C. Construction Association is returning to Ireland this month to hire 600 people, said the group’s vice-president.

Current photo of a young Irish man stands peering beyond the camera, with Vancouver in the background. enlarge image
Carpenter Daniel O’Sullivan who immigrated to Vancouver, Canada from Galway Ireland in 2009

Credit: The Canadian Press
Photo: Darryl Dyck


Carpenter Daniel O’Sullivan, of Galway, Ireland, came to Canada in 2009 and now works in Vancouver.

In fact, even if one-in-five students graduating from high school in B.C. during 2013-2016 were to pursue a trade, there still wouldn’t be enough workers to fill shortages in the province’s construction industry, said Abigail Fulton.

Not everybody agrees with the recruitment drive, especially the province’s labour leaders who argue employers can find skilled, unionized Canadian workers to fill immediate, vacant positions.

Yet, a consensus is developing that there will be a shortage of skilled workers in the coming decade, as proponents of the liquefied natural gas industry, hydroelectric projects and oil and gas pipelines push their proposals forward.

“There’s lots of evidence to suggest we’re not doing enough to train construction workers in skilled trades in British Columbia, and if even half these projects come through we’re going to have a crisis unless we start now to deal with the problem,” said Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labour.

The provincial government’s own statistics indicate there will be more than one million job openings over the next decade, and more than 153,000 of those will be among trades, transport, equipment operators and related occupations. Retirements will be responsible for two thirds of the vacancies, and new economic growth will be behind the remaining third, states the British Columbia Labour Market Outlook 2010-2020.

In the B.C. construction industry, about 30,500 jobs were expected to go unfilled by 2012, according to the association’s own statistics.

To address some of the problem, the association is organizing and hosting the Western Canada Construction Job Expo October 31, 2012, in Belfast and November 2 in Dublin, where it will represent about 30 employers, half of them from B.C., said Fulton.

Wanted will be workers in more than 50 construction trades, from bricklayers to framing carpenters, power-line technicians to welders. Even architects and structural engineers are in demand.

The trip won’t be the first for the association, which made its first visit in March 2012. Fulton said the association learned the Irish apprenticeship system was one of the best, and skilled tradespeople would be able to transition to Canada and earn their Red Seal, an interprovincial standard of excellence in the trades. She said the association also learned there was an abundance of tradespeople.

The Irish economy crashed in 2008 and still hasn’t recovered, and last year’s job expo drew 20,000 people, she said, adding unemployed tradespeople lined up outside the job fair, down the street and around the corner for as long as two days. “Listen, these folks are over there, we know their apprenticeship system is excellent, they’re looking for work and we need workers,” she said. But the province’s labour leaders aren’t as excited as Fulton about the expo. “There are British Columbians and Canadians that probably could do those jobs,” said Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council. He said skilled, unionized workers are available, but some companies don’t want to hire union workers, so they turn to other sources. Sinclair also questioned why businesses are turning to the Irish who he alleged are ending up as indentured workers, especially if they are coming to Canada on temporary visas. “A guy . . . who owns a business, a construction business, said to me, ‘I like Irish workers because they have to work for me for two years and can’t quit.’ Daniel O’Sullivan, twenty-seven, who came to Canada from Galway about four years ago and now lives and works in Vancouver as a carpenter, agrees, saying he began his apprenticeship at the age of sixteen or seventeen and was fully qualified and was earning good money by the age of 20, but then the economy collapsed. When he left, out of his group of 20 friends who worked in the trades, only two had jobs, so some came to Canada and others left for Australia. “Back home a trade, when I was younger, was a first option, and here it seems it’s the last option, for young guys, in my trade. I can only speak for my trade,” he said. He said he likes the Canadians he works with and said they’re good at what they do but construction in B.C. is seen as being at the “bottom of the barrel in line of careers,” noting there’s more emphasis on going to university or college.

Source: The Toronto Star, Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Action 4  

iSearch >

Stop and think

How would you feel if unemployment was so high in your home country that you had to leave your family and friends to seek work in a foreign place?

How will you treat new immigrants to Canada who you meet at school, on a team or in the workplace? Will you welcome new foreign students and invite them to join you and your friends for lunch or coffee?

Unit 4 Immigration

Chapter 4 Chinese Immigration: A Story of Exclusion

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Ask yourself:

  • Why did the Federal government discriminate against a single ethnic group?
  • What debt, if any, do Canadians owe to those who were victims of injustice in the past?
  • What can the path to inclusion be for all minority groups in Canada?
  • Is exclusion ever fair? Why would one group exclude another?
Dr. Joseph Wong talks about the Chinese Head Tax

On this page you will have opportunity to consider the concept of exclusion and by examining a timeline, learn about and grow to understand the prejudice and discrimination against Chinese immigrants since the end of the 19th Century. You will share your views of how a government could respond to demands to redress to injustices such as the Head Tax.

This really happened

An image of a black and white immigration certificate for Chinese people in Canada, with an old photo of a Chinese man in the bottom right corner.

Chinese Immigration Certificate.
Source: Library and Archives Canada Mikan 161424

enlarge image

Between the years 1881 and 1885 almost 15,000 men were brought from China to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). As soon as the railroad was completed, the Chinese were considered an employment threat to the White workers, so the Federal Government moved to restrict the immigration of the Chinese to Canada. Chinese immigration to Canada started in 1885 in response to the gold rush in British Columbia. The first federal anti-Chinese bill was passed in 1885, imposing a $50 Head Tax upon every person of Chinese origin entering the country. No other ethnic group was targeted this way.

By 1903, the Head Tax was increased to $500 and the government was able to collect $23 million from the Chinese through the Head Tax. Meanwhile, Chinese immigrants continued to come to Canada. In 1923, Canadian Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act (aka Chinese Exclusion Act) excluding all but a few Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. When the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed in 1947, a number of activists campaigned against the federal government to seek redress for the Head Tax. Since 1993, the House of Commons have attempted to make offers to repay the Chinese. Finally, in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an apology and offered repayment to those Chinese citizens who were penalized with the Head Tax. An estimate of only 20 Chinese Canadian survivors who paid the Head Tax were still alive in 2006.

It is interesting to note that the Chinese population in the past few decades has increased favourably. In recent years, the Chinese head the top of the list of the number of immigrants moving to Canada.

Chinese Immigration: Timeline
Chinese Immigration: Timeline
Dates Events

The year that the first Chinese Immigrants were drawn to Canada by the gold rush in British Columbia.


15,000 Chinese immigrants recruited to work on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In spite of their contributions to the building of the CPR in British Columbia, the Chinese were paid only half the wages of white workers.


The Federal government passed a Chinese Head Tax bill in order to restrict the number of immigrants moving to Canada. The Chinese Immigration Act took the form of a Head tax of $50 imposed, with few exceptions, upon every person of Chinese origin entering Canada. Captains of ships bringing Chinese immigrants to Canada had to collect the tax before departure.


Head tax was increased to $100.


Head tax was increased to $500, an amount equivalent to two years wages of Chinese labour at that time.


In San Francisco, Labour leaders and workers formed the Anti-Asian Exclusion League calling or job protection for natural-born citizens. Branches of the league spread into British Columbia. An anti-Asian riot of 8,000 men looting and burning their way through Vancouver’s Chinatown damaged Chinese and Japanese businesses.


The school board in Victoria BC segregated Chinese students below grade 8, in one separate school. In response, parents refused to send their children to segregated schools.


The Chinese Immigration Act, better known as The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, excluding those of Chinese origin from entering Canada. The act was passed on July 1st, known as Dominion Day by Canadians but “Humiliation Day” by the Chinese.


The Chinese Immigration Act was repealed. Chinese Canadians were still not allowed to bring their children over 18 years of age to Canada.


Douglas Jung becomes the first Chinese Canadian member of Parliament.


The federal government finally issued one set of immigration rules for applicants from all countries.


The Chinese National Canadian Council (CCNC) began seeking redress on behalf of survivors and families for the suffering they had to endure from government discrimination.


Canadian Adrienne Clarkson is appointed Governor General of Canada.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses Parliament with a formal apology. The federal government offered symbolic payments of $20 000 to each survivor. There were only an estimated 20 Chinese Canadians who paid the tax still alive in 2006.


China was the number one source country for immigration to Canada. 32,900 permanent residents were admitted.

Action 1

Do >

Creating a Visual Timeline

Each of the events, highlighted in the timeline would have been reported by journalists throughout the country. Choose one of the events and create an illustration that might have appeared on the front page of the newspaper. What headline would accompany the illustration? You may choose to present your drawing in the form of a political cartoon.

Once completed, the class can arrange visual images in sequential order by creating a display or PowerPoint presentation.

Action 2

Do >

Reporting events

Imagine that you are a journalist reporting on the event. What information would you offer your readers about the Chinese immigration experience? How might your report include the 5 W’s of reporting? Who? What? Where? When and Why? How does this event tell part of the story of immigration? What point of view might you take to present your article?

Action 3

Do >

Responding to the story of Chinese immigration

Working best in groups of three, record your reactions about a topic or issue and consider the views of others. Share your responses with two others, to discover whether their opinions were similar or different from yours.

Questions to Consider

  • How did you react to the story of Chinese immigration? What surprised you?
  • What are your opinions about any form of ‘exclusion’?
  • Why do you think a federal government would discriminate in such a way? Was there any sound reasoning to imposing a Head Tax on the Chinese?
  • Do you think apologies and repayment are enough to compensate for the treatment of the Chinese?

Take a blank piece of paper and fold it twice, to make four rectangles. Number the spaces #1, #2, #3, #4.

#1 #2
#3 #4
  • In #1, write your response to one of the Questions to Consider connected to the issue of Chinese immigration. You might share your gut reaction, give an opinion, raise questions, or make a connection.
  • Exchange papers with another person in the group. Read the response that is written in #1. Then, write your response to it in space #2. What did the response in space #1 invite you to think about?
  • Repeat the activity one more time. Read both responses on the sheet you receive, and write a response to both in #3.
  • The sheet is returned to the person who wrote the first response. Read all three responses on your sheet, and then write a new response in #4.
  • As a follow up, the group can discuss the topic of Chinese immigration. Groups can share response in a whole class discussion.

Action 4

Do >

A personal response to “Exclusion”

A. Complete the following statements:

  • For me, the word exclusion means…
  • A story I know about exclusion is…
  • One way to make up for an exclusion is…

B. Work in groups to share your responses. The following questions can guide your discussion:

  • Is being excluded ever ‘fair’?
  • Why might someone (or a group) exclude others?
  • What does the story of exclusion of Chinese Immigrants remind you of – both personally and globally?

How Should Government Respond to a Past Injustice?

Key concepts › Redress

1a. A relief from a distress

1b. A means or possibility of seeking a remedy

2. Compensation for wrong or loss: reparation

Source: Merriam-Webster

Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act: Addressing the issue of Redressing

After the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed in 1947, a number of activists, including Wong Foon Sien, began campaigning the federal government to seek redress for the Head Tax. But it took almost sixty years until an apology was offered. Why did it take so long?

During the 1980’s over 4000 Head Taxpayers and their family members approached the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) to register their Head Tax certificates. A redress campaign unfolded that included meetings, increased media profiles, research, publications and presentations in many communities Although Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made an offer of individual medallions, a museum wing and other measures, these offers were rejected outright by the Chinese Canadian Nations groups. In 1993, Jean Chretien’s Cabinet openly refused to provide an apology or redress. The CCNC persevered raising the issues wherever they could, including a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. In 2001, the Ontario court declared that the Canadian government had no obligation to redress the Head Tax levied on Chinese immigrants.

It wasn’t until 2003, when Paul Martin was appointed prime minister, that there was a sense of urgency, since there were only a few dozen surviving Chinese Head Tax payers. The issue continued to be a hot topic that was brought forth by politicians during federal elections. As part of his Conservative party platform, Stephen Harper promised to work with the Chinese community on redress, a promise that he kept when elected in 2006. He stated, “Chinese Canadians are making an extraordinary impact on the building of our country. They’ve also made a significant historical contribution despite many obstacles… The Chinese community deserves an apology for the Head Tax and appropriate acknowledgement and redress.”

June 22, 2006—House of Commons

Finally, in a speech to the House of Commons on June 22, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered an apology for the Head Tax. In his speech Harper said, “We feel compelled to right this historic wrong for the simple reason it is the decent thing to do… a characteristic to be found at the core of the Canadian soul.” 

Harper’s government offered symbolic payments to living Head Tax payers as well as living spouses of deceased payers. Survivors (or their spouses) were paid approximately $20,000 in compensation. Only an estimated 20 Chinese Canadians who paid the tax were still alive in 2006.

Funds were also established for community projects to educate Canadians about the impact of past wartime measures and restrictions.

For the complete speech see: Apology Chinese Head Tax

Statements from the Calgary Chinese Culture Centre tell us how Chinese reacted to the Harper apology.

Alex Louie, a Chinese veteran said, “All I ever wanted was an apology for the government to set the record straight.” Another early pioneer, Mary Mah stated, “The sorrow and the hardship cannot be erased. But we can now begin to feel, in truth, I did not expect to see this, I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling very Canadian.”

Knowing that the Harper government extended an apology and compensation to the Chinese, we still need to consider whether an apology is enough. (See Unit Three: Chapter Two Entry Denied: The Komagata Maru). In order to fight against all forms of racism today are we not obliged to keep alive the memory of race based on discrimination? History is something that cannot be changed and a past injustice is not a wound that can be healed—or is it?

Action 5

Do >

Writing a position paper
  • What do you think can be learned from the Chinese Canadian experience?
  • Do you think a group or the government owe a debt to someone for a past injustice?

For this activity you will have an opportunity to share your views on the concept of redressing an injustice. Write a position paper in which you support or oppose the responsibility of the Canadian government to apologize and respond in some manner to the wrongs committed by the governments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Consider one or more of the following points that could be included in your paper.

  • What would be considered a fair government response to victims and their offspring?
  • What suggestions can you offer about how Canadians should best respond to the Head Tax?
  • Does a government response to the Chinese set an unrealistic precedent for complaints for other injustices?
  • How does a redress serve a useful social purpose? What is the path to inclusion for all minority groups in Canada?
  • What differences exist between our ideas of right and wrong in today’s society compared to those that existed in the past 100 years on the topics of immigration, race and workers?

Unit 4 Immigration

Chapter 5 A Global Perspective

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Ask yourself:

  • What are the responsibilities of the world’s nations for helping those in need?
  • What are Canada’s responsibilities?

Today there are more refugees worldwide than at any time since World War II. After a look at the statistics, information, video links and lessons in this chapter, you will be better equipped to analyze the challenges facing global citizens today – many in desperate situations of conflict, genocide, and poverty. Your own research will give you additional information about global migration today.

Action 1  


Considering Migration
Do you know what Canada does to welcome and support refugees, newcomers and migrant workers?

The Canadian Council for Refugees and Newcomers works to help people resettle in Canada. They offer free services and resources to support the rights of refugees, which includes valuable information on human rights for families and migrant workers.
The site: http://ccrweb.ca/en/migrant-workers

Our Vision: Rights and dignity for all!

This means:

  • Giving all migrant workers access to permanent resident status, not only those coming for high-wage jobs
  • Effective protection of migrant workers' rights via legislation and enforcement
  • Empowering migrant workers to seek recourse for unjust treatment through access to information, access to services, and access to justice

These guides provide information for migrant workers to ensure their rights are being protected in Canada, as well as resources available to them: http://www.migrantworkerguide.ca

Match the items in List A with the items in List B (numbers from Dec. 2016)

525,000 approximate number of displaced people worldwide
65,600,000 approximate population of Canada
80,000,000 number of migrant workers in Canada
500,000 population of world’s largest refugee camp in Jordan
36,743,000 Approximate number of Rohingya refugees who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh

*Correct answers may be found at the end of the chapter.

We have always migrated, even in the era of settlements, towns, cities, and states. Some of us travel in search of land, gold, adventure, and the dream of a better life; others to save our own and our family’s lives.

In this unit we have explored issues around migration, especially with groups forced out of their home countries for various reasons.

Canada has been a destination for many groups in the past few hundred years. Sometimes we welcomed immigrants; sometimes we kept them out. In many case people came to Canada as a station on the way to the United States. For some groups, such as escaped slaves in the 1800s, the route was from the U.S. to Canada. (see U1 Ch4 Screening the Black Experience: https://www.voicesintoaction.ca/Learn/Unit1/Chapter4 )

Asylum seekers and migrants descend from a large fishing vessel used to transport them from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. October 11, 2015. enlarge image
Asylum seekers and migrants descend from a large fishing vessel used to transport them from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. October 11, 2015.

Source: © 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

Action 2  


Renowned artist and activist Ai Weiwei visiting refugee camp at Greece/Macedonia border in 2016 enlarge image
Renowned artist and activist Ai Weiwei visiting refugee camp at Greece/Macedonia border in 2016


To get a better idea of what groups are currently experiencing globally, watch this interview with world-renowned artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, as he talks about his current documentary Human Flow. Weiwei visited refugee camps in 23 countries and interviewed over 600 refugees in this illuminating film. The film follows a chain of urgent human stories that stretches across the globe in countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, France, Greece, Germany, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico and Turkey. The documentary is a witness to its subjects and their desperate search for safety, shelter and justice: from teeming refugee camps to perilous ocean crossings to barbed-wire borders; from dislocation and disillusionment to courage, endurance and adaptation; from the haunting lure of lives left behind to the unknown potential of the future.

Video interview with Ai Weiwei about Human Flow

Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 in Beijing. His father was Ai Qing, a famous poet, and his mother, Gao Ying, was a writer. When Ai Weiwei was a year old, his father was named an enemy of the people and he and his family were sent to a hard labour camp in the Gobi Desert in northwest China. Ai Weiwei spent the following 16 years growing up in hard labour camps with harsh conditions and almost no formal education. When he was 19, his family returned to Beijing where he enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy to study animation. At this school, he became part of an avant-garde group of artists who came together to protest government control of the arts. Their slogan was "We demand political democracy and artistic freedom". For further information, research his biography online.

Action 3  


There are many facts and circumstances to consider when learning about immigration, refugees, and the responsibility of each country to protect and support global citizens. Read, watch and discuss the information below and then decide what particular topic interests you most. Research that topic by accessing a wide range of media sources.

The largest refugee camp in Jordan, Za’Atari refugee camp, home to more than 80,000 displaced Syrians enlarge image
The largest refugee camp in Jordan, Za’Atari refugee camp, home to more than 80,000 displaced Syrians

Image: REUTERS/Mandel Ngan/Pool

Source: World Economic Forum

Some good news: On November 17, 2017 Jordan inaugurated the first solar park to operate in a refugee camp at the Zaatari desert camp, home to over 80,000 displaced Syrians. Providing 14 hours of electricity per day means that women and girls can now move safely about the camp after dark! (Rape and assault have been a huge issue for many of them.) Germany financed the project for $17.5 million. Prior to this, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was providing electricity for 8 hours a day at the cost of $500,000 a month. Solar energy has no monthly cost and these extra hours of electricity means children can study at night and people can store food in refrigerators, as well as communicate with the outside world.

A boy looks on behind a net at the refugee camp of Schisto in Athens, Greece, on June 8, 2016. enlarge image
A boy looks on behind a net at the refugee camp of Schisto in Athens, Greece, on June 8, 2016.

Source: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

The Rohingyas from Myanmar

Over 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in Myanmar, mostly to Bangladesh living in makeshift camps. More than half of the displaced people are children. Myanmar, a country with a Buddhist majority, has never recognized as citizens the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority living in Rakhine state. Human rights groups consider them to be the among the most persecuted people in the world. Since the late 1970s Rohingya have been fleeing Myanmar but the violence and persecution has escalated.

Action 4  


Research articles online and in national papers about the plight of the Rohingyas. Choose one of the following questions and write a paper about it.

A. Why are they being persecuted and why aren’t they being recognized?

B. Is this a genocide? Support your answer.

C. The leader of Myanmar, State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize. Why did she receive it and does she deserve to keep it?

Get inspired to support refugees to Canada. Get Involved with the Canadian Council for Refugees Youth Network!

A. If you’d like to welcome and support refugees and newcomers to Canada, check out the CCR Youth Network (established 2006) to learn more about their empowering initiatives. You can participate in online discussions, teleconferences, youth-led workshops and strategy session. The Youth Network works within a gender justice and anti-oppression framework. Help give newcomer youth a voice by putting your own voice into action! http://ccrweb.ca/en/youth/welcome

B. Watch this video of the last Youth Action Gathering:

C. Take a look at some of the cartoons that teenagers from all over the world created about the topic of immigration and being a newcomer to Canada:

Action 5  


Media Clipping Thesis

Much of what we know or learn about immigration and the role governments and citizens can play in Canada and the world, comes from the media. So it’s important to learn how to analyze media treatment of any issue. A thesis is a statement about an issue supported by evidence and based on clear criteria. This can be a component of the culminating end-of-unit task to be displayed or handed in if there is a current event that has attracted the class’s interest.

A. Working either individually, in small groups, or as a whole class select a problem or current issue in Canada today you wish to explore.

B. Collect stories, pictures, or information, about the topic over a three or four-week period from the local newspaper or other media, including appropriate and online sources. Some of the websites linked to the federal government such as Parks Canada, Statistic Canada, and the National Archives may also serve as sources to investigate.

C. Prepare an analysis which might include such aspects as the following:

  • historical background to the issue (as reported in the newspaper and in the text);
  • the perspective(s) taken by the newspaper or other media examined;
  • a weighting of the different perspectives in order to arrive at a defensible conclusion on the issue in question.

The following are just some of the topics and questions that you may use for developing theses based on readings from your local paper and other media sources.

TopicCritical Question
Topic Critical Question
Refugees from Haiti Should we bring them to Canada? Under what conditions?
Emigration Why would people choose to leave their country or region of their birth to move to a new place?
Immigration Why would people choose to live in Canada?
Illegal Immigration How serious a problem is this for Canada?
Immigration Consultants Help or hindrance to newcomers?
Public opinion What does the public in your community / province / territory think of issues in immigration?
What does the Canadian public think as a whole on immigration issues?
Role of Government What is current government immigration policy?
What influence should the provinces and territories have on immigration policy?
Refugees What groups coming to Canada are claiming refugee status?
How strong are the arguments for and against admission of refugees?
Climate Refugees Do they exist or is this a made up idea with no merit?
Refugee camps Are these temporary or permanent solutions?
What makes a camp “adequate” for the refugees?
Global migration Where are the places where there is massive migration?
Why are these migrations occurring?
What can / should Canada do about the issues causing such migration?
Canada’s economy Should the health of Canada’s economy affect immigration and refugee policy?
Border security How secure are our borders? How secure should they be?
Challenges to newcomers What challenges do newcomers to Canada face?
Temporary Workers How important are they to the Canadian economy?
What are our obligations to this group?
Hopes and realities What has happened to immigrants who came to Canada in the past?
Multiculturalism Contributor or hindrance to Canadian identity?
Studying immigration Is it better to study immigrants as groups of people or concentrate on individual stories to learn more about the issues?
The brain “gain” By encouraging highly skilled and educated immigrants are we damaging the home countries by taking their “best and brightest”?

The clippings can be included as a portfolio or cited in an essay on the topic in question. Some school libraries have signed on to databases of various news media, including newspapers, magazines, television, and cable news sources. Some are free of charge such as:

You can compare daily front-page coverage from a dozen Canadian newspapers and hundreds from more than 50 countries by checking Washington’s Newseum.

The clipping thesis helps you go beyond the headline to trace the story. If the news story is the first draft of history it will not be the last.

Online selection can be part of a “media file” to develop the clipping thesis. Here you might begin by working with your classmates to develop:

  • search techniques, in addition to just “Googling”
  • questions for any online investigation or web quest
  • criteria for evaluating the usefulness of the website itself.

As you share your work, you can discuss or write position papers (see unit Overview Action 2) based on your examination of the issues shared in all of the theses.

PM Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees arriving at Pearson Airport, Toronto, Dec. 11, 2015 enlarge image
PM Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees arriving at Pearson Airport, Toronto, Dec. 11, 2015

Credit: www.citynews.ca

PM Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees arriving at Pearson Airport, Toronto, Dec. 11, 2015 enlarge image
PM Justin Trudeau greets Syrian refugees arriving at Pearson Airport, Toronto, Dec. 11, 2015

Credit: CP24

“Immigration is critical to job creation and long-term economic growth for the middle class. In so many ways, Canada is what it is today thanks to the entreprenurial spirit of those who chose to build their lives here.” – PM Trudeau

Further Resources:

Salam Neighbor - a documentary released in 2016 by the film production companies Living on One Dollar and 1001 MEDIA.[1][2] The title means "hello" neighbor.[3] The film takes place in the largest refugee camp in Jordan. Watch the trailer: https://youtu.be/W6SxPSZVD9o

A New York Times short film about Myanmar and the ethnic cleansing of the Muslims (Rohingya). https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000002939059/21st-century-concentration-camps.html?mcubz=3

Answers to Action 1 Chart – Considering Migration:

Approximate number of displaced people worldwide - 65.6 million
Approximate population of Canada - 36,742,853
Number of migrant workers in Canada - over 500,000
Population of world’s largest refugee camp in Jordan A. - 80,000
Approximate number of Rohingya refugees who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh - 525,000