Racism in the 1930s in Canada

Canada's flag was not a symbol of racial tolerance during the 1930s.
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During the 1930s, animosity began to build towards minorities in Canada. Largely due to the nation's financial distress and fear of radical political views, such as communism, an immense amount of tension between minorities and Anglo-Canadians developed. However, the effects of World War II compelled the nation to reassess the community's attitude toward race.

1 Racism During The Great Depression

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, mass financial suffering manifested as resentment towards minorities and immigrants in Canada. Because of the shortage of jobs, competition for employment fueled many conflicts within the society. In a white-dominant workforce, Anglo-Canadian management was known to make attempts to break up camaraderie in the workplace by emphasizing the foreign origins of immigrant employees. Blaming Chinese immigrants for the state of the poor economy turned into a way of increasing support for the "white supremacy" movement. Even well-educated Japanese Canadians could only find employment in closed Japanese societies or were forced to start businesses chiefly serving Japanese Canadians.

2 Christie v. York

Blacks were widely thought of as substandard and unable to be integrated with Canadian society. Even the courts were known for habitually working in opposition to Canadian blacks. During the 1930s, many court rulings – such as the Supreme Court of Canada's case Christie v. York (1939) – solidified that restaurants were legally allowed to refuse service to black people. In the case of Christie v. York, an establishment called York Tavern in Montreal denied service to a black man named Fred Christie. Christie and his legal defense argued that the innkeeper was not allowed to refuse service to any person, unless under exceptional conditions. The Supreme Court ruled that the corporation had the “right of a merchant to arbitrarily refuse service.”

3 Chinese Immigration Act

In 1923, the Canadian Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act. The act banned most forms of Chinese immigration, allowing only people of significant importance – such as diplomats and foreign exchange students – to immigrate from China to Canada. This only added to the stringent restrictions already in effect from the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, which enforced a "head tax" for all who immigrated to Canada from China. This disenfranchisement of Chinese immigrants would continue through the 1930s, well into the 1960s.

4 Anti-Semitism

Over 900 German-Jewish refugees arrive in Antwerp after being denied entry to Canada.
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Since the first world war, many minorities were regarded with suspicion of being “aliens,” largely because of fear of communism. Though many immigrants faced the danger of returning to a fascist region, this was not a deterrent to deportation. During the late 1930s, with the rise of Nazi Germany, distressed European Jews sought refuge from the devastation of Hitler’s military. Anti-Semitism was dominant within the immigration department. Fredrick Blair, the director of Canada's Immigration Branch from 1936 to 1943, raised the immigration cost to come to Canada from $5,000 to $15,000 in the late 1930s. Immigrants were also required to show proof that they were farmers to enter the country. This considerably lowered the number of European-Jewish immigrants, as most were traveling from cities. Of the 800,000 European Jews who sought immigration to Canada from Nazi Germany, only 4,000 were allowed to enter the country. Unfortunately, prejudice against the Jewish community was also quite common among the Canadian public. Many people were often disqualified from jobs in most industries, such as law firms and hospitals, simply because of their race or heritage.

5 Effects of World War II

During Canada's involvement in World War II, many Chinese-Canadians joined Canada's military and raised money for the war effort. Suddenly because of the actions of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis toward the Jewish community, a mirror had been cast in front of Canada -- forcing white Canadians to contemplate how they treated minorities in their country. As the years progressed, the injustices against immigrants and minorities began to be rectified through legislation and commemoration. In November 2000, Reverend Doug Blair (great-nephew of Frederick Blair) gave a sincere apology to Holocaust survivors at a reunion in Sarnia, Ontario. "I understand that my name is not one dear to your heart," said Blair. "That which was done to you was so wrong. To the extent that my family was party of that, I am sorry." As in most regions, racism is still an issue in Canada, but it is a far cry from the discriminatory conditions of the 1930s.

Alex LaFosta Urquhart attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he had several plays produced at the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center. While attending UAB, he earned two awards for his writing and wrote and directed a children's play for the Birmingham Zoo. He works as a contributing writer for "Highbrow Magazine."