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Many Canadians in the 19th century feared and resented racial and ethnic groups they considered inferior. For instance, politicians such as Noah SHAKESPEARE of British Columbia called for limits on Asian – particularly Chinese – immigration. Similar demands would be voiced by others: those who feared Chinese competition in the labour market, those who wanted to preserve the British character of Canada, and those who were overtly racist. Among them was Sir Wilfrid LAURIER’s minister of the interior and superintendent general of Indian affairs, Frank OLIVER, whose prejudice was directed against a variety of targets:

“On no subject did Oliver speak more often or with greater passion – and intolerance – than on immigration. The purpose of bringing settlers to the west, he asserted, was to establish ‘a higher, and a better civilization in that country.’ This goal required a community of ‘like-minded’ neighbours. Introducing those who were not of ‘a progressive instinct’ or ‘a civilized tendency’ seriously handicapped development of the desired community. In particular, the Galicians (Ukrainians) and Doukhobors [see Peter Vasil’evich Verigin*] could not be ‘citizens of this country, as we would wish them to be citizens.’ The ‘Slav population’ constituted a ‘millstone … hung around our necks.’ For similar reasons Oliver fully supported British Columbia’s efforts to restrict Chinese and Japanese immigration: ‘You do not want your sons to go to British Columbia and compete with men who live … like pigs.’ The Japanese, while possibly to be preferred to the Chinese, ‘are not our people, they do not belong to our civilization, they do not strengthen our country, and we are here for ourselves and not for them.’ The government, he insisted, needed to implement far more selective immigration policies.”

For more information on prejudice against Chinese migrants during the life of Sir John A. MACDONALD, and discrimination faced by other immigrants, please consult the biographies listed below. 

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