Canada's immigration policy is the most explicit part of what might be described as a population policy. In a liberal democratic state such as Canada, only the prevailing rates of immigration and not those of mortality, fertility and emigration can be effectively regulated. By regulating the means of selection and by controlling the number of entrants, the government seeks to fulfil a variety of national objectives.

According to the 1870-71 census, Canada's total population was 3.6 million. In addition to native peoples (about 136 000 in 1851) the 2 largest groups were the French (1 million) and the British (2.1 million). Excepting the Germans (203 000), other groups (Dutch, American blacks, Swiss, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese) were much smaller. During the next century, about 9.3 million people immigrated to Canada and, although many went on to the US or eventually returned to their native lands, by 1996 Canada's population had surpassed 29 million.

During the 19th century, the movement of individuals and groups to Canada was largely unrestricted, although in 1885, under pressure from BC, an Act was passed restricting Chinese immigration through the imposition of a head tax, the first of a series of such measures directed at the Chinese that continued until the late 1940s. Otherwise immigration policy was concerned mainly with quarantine stations, the responsibilities of transportation companies, and the exclusion of criminals, paupers, the diseased and the destitute.

But after the massive immigration between 1903 and 1913, WWI and subsequent political upheavals and economic problems, a much more restrictive immigration policy was implemented and remained unchanged until 1962, when Canada's present universal and nondiscriminatory policy was introduced in stages.

Policy Agencies

Three different departments or agencies have been responsible for immigration policy in Canada since WWII - the Department of Citizenship and Immigration (1950-65), the Department of Manpower and Immigration (1966-77) and the Canada Employment and Immigration Commission (est 1977).

Under the provision of section 95 of the Constitution Act of 1867, (formerly BNA Act), responsibility for immigration matters is a concurrent power divided between the provincial and federal governments. Ottawa, for most of Canada's history, has dominated this policy area, although Ontario since WWII, and Québec since the mid-1960s, have been particularly concerned with immigration. More than half the total number of immigrants in recent years have settled in Ontario.

Québec created its own Department for Immigration (now called the Department of Cultural Communities and Immigration) in 1968. Its major concerns have been, first, to recruit as many French-speaking immigrants as possible (or immigrants with a good knowledge of French), and second, to ensure that immigrants who settle in Québec form part of the francophone community. Québec was the first province to have a special immigration agreement with the federal government. (There are now agreements with several other provinces.) The federal government is also involved in the difficult task of increasing the numbers of French-speaking immigrants to Canada.

The Green Paper

During the 1970s, immigration and population policies were officially reviewed, and a Green Paper on Immigration Policy and a report to Parliament (1975) by a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons were prepared. Almost all the committee's recommendations were accepted by the Liberal government and absorbed into a new Immigration Act (1976, proclaimed in 1978) which established for the first time the fundamental objectives of Canada's immigration policy. They include the promotion of Canada's demographic, economic, social and cultural goals; family reunion; nondiscrimination; the fulfilment of Canada's international obligations in relation to refugees; and co-operation among all levels of government, as well as with the voluntary sector, in promoting the adaptation of newcomers to Canadian society.

The current Immigration Act, along with subsequent procedures adopted by the Canadian Employment and Immigration Commission, has significantly broadened the constituency that today has a role in shaping policy and establishing annual immigration levels. By means of an extensive, ongoing consultation process, provincial governments, potential employees, ethnic groups and humanitarian organizations all have the opportunity of having their views weighed by appropriate immigration officials.

Following such consultation, the government since 1980 has annually tabled in Parliament 1- to 3-year projections of the desired immigration levels. For several of the years since this practice has been adopted, the actual number of arrivals per year fell considerably below the figures appearing in projections. For example, in 1985, the immigration level was set at between 115 000 and 125 000 while, in fact, the number of newcomers reaching Canada numbered barely 100 000.

In addition to the provisions encouraging an open consultation process, the Immigration Act contains sections modernizing policy relating to security and the determination of refugee status, and streamlining provisions concerning overall control and enforcement. The basic statute also established the Immigration Board, created in 1967 as a fully independent body whose decisions cannot be overruled by government except in relation to security matters.

Immigration and Refugee Policies

Immigration and refugee policies are planned and must be considered together. In keeping with Canada's international responsibilities as a signatory to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, refugees normally constitute approximately 10% of the annual flow of newcomers. During major international emergencies, such as the unexpected outpouring of humanity from Southeast Asia 1978-81, the figure reached 25% of all new arrivals in Canada.

Although the majority of immigrants seeking refugee status in Canada make legitimate claims, since the late 1970s but especially during the mid-1980s an increasing number of persons reaching Canadian ports of entry, without first having been processed by Canadian immigration offices, have sought to gain admission to Canada by falsely claiming to be refugees. In this way, such persons seek to jump the queue of regular immigrant applicants and become established in Canada, although there is little if any evidence to indicate that such persons have been the objects of persecution in their last state of residence. During the last half of 1986 alone, in excess of 10 000 persons sought to shortcircuit normal immigration procedures by resorting to claims of refugee status.

The connection between economic and immigration policies usually arises out of the realization that a relationship exists between the size of the immigration flow and labour market requirements. From decade to decade, or even from year to year, the need for professional, skilled or unskilled persons fluctuates significantly. The pool of available labour in any country also alters over time because of the birthrate and the acceptance, for example, of women in the work force.

For most of Canada's history, the government's tools for matching the requirement of the labour market with the flow of immigrants have not been particularly refined or effective. In recent years, this process has begun to change. Today, with the help of computers, improved communications networks and the co-operation of employers, it is possible to tune more precisely the flow of incoming persons bound for the workplace.

During the 1980s, immigration policymakers instituted a program to encourage businessmen and entrepreneurs to immigrate to Canada, bringing their managerial skills and capital so as to create additional employment opportunities. Many immigrants have brought substantial capital and jobs to Canada in the past 15 years.

Immigration Regulations

Immigration regulations provide for the admission of 3 categories of immigrants: family class (closely related persons), independent immigrants (admitted on the basis of skill, capital and labour-market requirements) and refugees. When processing applicants, immigration officers are instructed to give priority to persons seeking family reunification and to refugees. Independent applicants without family but with required skills or capital are considered next.

Many new arrivals in the family or refugee categories have tended to be unskilled or else to possess talents inappropriate to the region or community where they have settled. These priorities, then, can disrupt the labour market; the resulting economic insecurity can create disappointment and hostility among the immigrants or among Canadians who feel threatened by the newcomers.

Canada's immigration policy also encourages the dispersal of immigrants across the country. In the decades following the resurgence of immigration after WWII, Montréal, Vancouver and especially Toronto received up to 66% of all immigrants entering Canada. Current policy has attempted to encourage immigrants to settle in smaller communities in the less-populated provinces.

Administrative arrangements and practices adopted by Employment and Immigration Canada and the Immigration Bureau of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (formerly External Affairs) significantly affect how policy is implemented and whether it achieves its purposes. Since 1967 the selection of applicants for admission has occurred without discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity or geographic region, but because immigration officers are not situated in many states of developing countries, persons in these countries are in effect excluded from Canada even if they are members of an admissible category, unless they are able and prepared to travel to a distant immigration office in another country.

The number of applicants being processed at an overseas immigration post can also be easily regulated merely by the size of the staff assigned to this task. The discretionary powers of immigration officials in Canada and abroad necessarily influence the daily administration of policy. Criticism of these discretionary powers can become especially intense because there are no grounds or mechanisms for appeal against negative decisions by officials in the field.

Because these and other features of Canada's immigration practices can affect this country's relations with other governments (particularly if these governments perceive Canadian procedures or policies as inequitable), immigration policy is part of Canadian foreign policy. This fact was acknowledged by the government of Canada in 1981, when much of the responsibility for the administration of immigration programs was transferred from Employment and Immigration Canada to the Immigration Bureau in the Department of External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs and International Trade).

While considerable discussion both within and outside government regarding the development of a population policy for Canada has taken place since the early 1970s, explicit moves to formulate and implement such a policy or to carry out demographic research only commenced in the mid-1980s. In a report to Parliament in 1985 by the minister responsible for immigration, reference was made to the establishment of a small secretariat to review the social and economic implications of Canada's prevailing population patterns. The review is to be completed by 1989 and interim reports with recommendations may be tabled in Parliament.

The 1985 report to Parliament as well as subsequent reports on immigration indicate the existence of a consensus among relevant government departments, employers, ethnic groups and labour organizations supporting the gradual increase in the number of immigrants annually admitted to Canada. It is agreed that a moderate and controlled increase in arrivals is required if Canada's present population size is to be maintained or to grow marginally. Moreover, without additional immigration, the decline in fertility in Canada over the past generation will by the early years of the next century result in an inadequate number of working-age Canadians being burdened with the cost of health and social programs for the much increased number of elderly citizens. Today, estimates suggest that an annual intake of between 125 000 and 140 000 immigrants would be both acceptable and appropriate for Canada's needs.

Among the lengthy list of organizations within Canadian society that expect a role in the formulation of immigration policy and regulations are church groups, employers, organized labour and community-based and ethnic organizations. Many of these nongovernmental bodies seek to promote family reunification and to attain financial assistance for immigrant-adjustment schemes.

The government has had to acknowledge as well the existence of a not altogether latent sentiment among a portion of Canadian society favouring a reduction or even a halt in the selection of immigrants. The entry into Canada of a sizable number of nonwhite immigrants (about 33% of Canada's immigrants are from Europe; 33% from the Americas, (including the Caribbean); and 33% from Asia, Africa and elsewhere) has created what has been called a visible minority, one that has occasionally been the target of abuse and violence. While the government and interested voluntary associations have attempted to strengthen among the Canadian public a sense of tolerance and compassion for newcomers, the task is not easy. Immigration is an extremely emotional subject, especially when the fate of family members or personal economic security is involved.

Canada's immigration policy is nondiscriminatory regarding ethnicity; however, individuals suffering diseases likely to endanger public health, or those without any apparent means of financial support, or those known to be criminals or terrorists can be excluded. An undetermined number of persons in these undesired categories gain entry every year to Canada by practices and tactics contravening the spirit and letter of prevailing immigration legislation. Still others who may have been properly admitted to Canada, such as students and visitors on short-term visas, choose to remain beyond the time permitted by Canadian law.

The problem of illegal aliens, while not a new one, has in recent years become more awkward for the Canadian government to resolve, especially as the total number of persons entering Canada at border crossings and airports has grown. Once in Canada, illegal aliens may easily escape notice unless they try to acquire some public service which would bring them to the attention of government authorities.

The number of illegal aliens in Canada is obviously impossible to determine accurately. Estimates by police and immigration personnel range between 50 000 and 200 000. Where possible, without infringing upon traditional civil liberties, the government is endeavouring to close any remaining loopholes that have in the past facilitated the admission of persons not authorized under prevailing immigration legislation and regulations. Fraudulent claims for refugee status by aliens trying to avoid normal overseas screening and processing constitute one of the more serious problems confronting immigration officials.

The practice of admitting to Canada highly skilled persons from less-developed countries continues to provoke some controversy. The governments of the less-developed countries, from which a growing number of immigrants to Canada originate, regard with apprehension the exodus of people they can ill afford to lose. While the view has been expressed within and beyond Canada that Canada should not encourage the outflow of trained individuals from "have-not" regions of the world, Canada, like other liberal democracies, stoutly defends the concept of freedom of movement for all persons.