Our School Textbooks Have Distorted Our Immigration History

Our School Textbooks Have Distorted Our Immigration History

In this bulletin, we ask how young people acquire their views on immigration. To get an answer, we examined a number of immigration-related statements made in the British Columbia Social Studies 11 textbook, “Counterpoints : Exploring Canadian Issues”.  In doing this, we discovered that this textbook presents quite a narrow view of Canada’s immigration history. In fact, this view is very similar to that of Canada’s immigration lobby and contains a number of factual mistakes. In the article below, we list the statements the textbook makes and we explain the factual errors in those statements. This article looks at the first third of the textbook.

We assume that similar mistakes occur in other provincial textbooks.

(1) THE STATEMENT : “In 1907, an angry mob of 9000 people smashed windows and destroyed signs on stores owned by Chinese and Japanese immigrants in Vancouver. This race riot resulted in severe restrictions on Japanese immigration. A year later, there was a virtual ban on East Indian immigration.”  (P.9)

THE MISTAKES : The 1907 Vancouver Riot happened after a peaceful Vancouver parade on Labour Day 1907 in which half (about 30,000) of the population of Vancouver participated. The purpose of the parade was to protest a joint Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)—­Japanese Labour Contractor  scheme to import a few thousand low-wage Japanese labourers. Rumours of this scheme had circulated prior to Labour Day and had angered many people. They had concluded that the CPR probably intended to use the Japanese to displace Canadian employees.

To grasp how incorrect it is to characterize the 1907 parade and riot as a race riot , Canadians just have to see the reaction of many British Columbians today to the importing of Mainland Chinese miners by a Mainland Chinese labour contractor. If today or even 60 to 70 years from now, some historian were to describe the current uproar over this incident as race-based, most Canadians would laugh the historian to scorn. The reason is clear : As news reports have revealed, the Mainland Chinese miners have been brought here primarily because the Chinese mining company wanted to pay them a lower wage than it would have to pay Canadian miners. In fact, over 200 Canadian miners applied for the jobs, but did not get them. The uproar today is aimed at stopping this employer fraud. The uproar in 1907 had a similar purpose.

Re the statement that the riot resulted in severe restrictions on Japanese immigration :  It is true that  subsequent “Continuous Passage” laws in 1908 did have that result, but the result was justified. The law  tried primarily to restrict the inflow of cheap Japanese labour, but it also tried to nip in the bud the inflow of cheap East Indian labour. The reason for the action against the Japanese is clear : In addition to the Japanese workers who arrived to work for the railway, over 6000 Japanese Farm Labourers who were working in Hawaii traveled to B.C. in 1907. It was against Japanese law for Japanese citizens to migrate from Hawaii or other places which Japan had permitted them to travel to. To make such a trip, Japanese were required to get the permission of the Japanese gov’t. When the Japanese gov’t was told about Japanese farm labourers arriving in B.C., it was extremely embarrassed and immediately agreed to a Continuous Passage Law which gave Canada the right to refuse entry to Japanese who traveled without starting their trip in Japan and making a non-stop trip to Canada. The textbook mentions nothing about the CPR scheme or the arrival of the Japanese farm labourers. This is a very serious omission in a book that purports to be teaching accurate Canadian history.

Re the East Indians : Like the Japanese and Chinese, the East Indians had traveled to Canada to make more money than they ever could in their home countries. But, in doing so, they caused problems for Canadian labourers.  Contrary to claims at that time, the East Indians came because the CPR was engaged in more questionable activity : it was selling  tickets in India on its steamships to compensate for the sudden drop in ticket sales to Chinese whose numbers had sharply declined when the $500 Chinese Head Tax was imposed in 1904. The textbook omits any mention of this.

(2) THE STATEMENT : “…the federal government tried to discourage Chinese people from coming to Canada by imposing a head tax in 1885. On July 1, 1923, the federal government introduced the Chinese Exclusion Act, ­an Act to halt Chinese immigration altogether. Chinese Canadians refer to this day as Humiliation Day.” (P.10)

THE MISTAKES : The book makes several errors. The term “Chinese Head Tax” is incorrect. The term should be “Chinese Labourer Head Tax”. Only Chinese labourers were required to pay the tax.  Chinese businessmen, Chinese students and a small number of Chinese diplomats not only did not have to pay the Head Tax from 1885 to 1923 and beyond. They also continued to be allowed entry to Canada even though a Royal commission report in 1910-11 revealed that the Chinese had committed much fraud by pretending to be businessmen. In other words, the term “Chinese Exclusion Act” is also incorrect.

Ironic as it may sound, the major villains in the early story  of the Chinese in Canada are the Chinese Labour Contractors who parasitized their fellow Chinese and displaced many Canadians in the process. The Chinese Head Tax was Canada’s method of negating the wage advantage that Chinese labourers had over Canadian labourers.  Furthermore, Chinese labourers were singled out because they outnumbered the Japanese and East Indian labourers at that time. To go further, like many countries today, China, Japan and India had all bred themselves into poverty and had to use emigration and remittances as a way to solve their poverty.  

To use a simple modern comparison and to be blunt, Mainland China has become the world’s largest cheap Labour Contractor. With the collaboration of many businesses in the West, it has de-industrialized much of the West and displaced millions of the West’s workers. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire world needs to target China with a new  “Chinese Labourer Head Tax” to negate the advantage that Mainland China now has because of its massive amount of cheap labour. The textbook mentions none of these issues.

Re “Humiliation Day” for the Chinese : The textbook airs Chinese-Canadian immigration lobby efforts to make Canada feel guilty. It says nothing about the effects of cheap Chinese labour on Canadians in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. If anyone had been humiliated, a very strong case can be made for the point that it was Canadian labourers who, although already receiving low wages, had to compete with even cheaper labour. To bring this saga to modern times, the years from 1990 to the present have been  “Humiliation Years” for Canada for having to put up with large numbers of Chinese and other immigrants it did not need and who have caused a large number of problems.

(3) THE STATEMENT : “For over six decades, these malicious measures, aimed solely at the Chinese were implemented with deliberation by the Canadian state. This was a grave injustice, and one we are morally obligated to acknowledge.  (PM Stephen Harper made this statement in his “Apology to Chinese Canadians, June 22, 2006”) (P.11)

THE MISTAKES  : The textbook makes a serious error in merely repeating a quotation from Prime Minister Harper’s speech which may have been written by someone in his office who knew little about the Chinese Labourer Head Tax issue.  A real “counterpoint” such as the following is needed after this quote :

If enacting laws to help Canadians is ‘malicious”, then Canadian gov’ts of any time should be “malicious’. Canadians should expect their gov’ts to help them, not to abuse them as many of our gov’ts at all three levels are currently doing. Let’s get the matter straight. Canada acted against not just the Chinese, but against the Japanese, East Indians, get-rich American miners, physically and mentally unhealthy people from the UK and many other countries. It did so with justification. All presented a threat to Canada, particularly to the standard of living of Canadian workers. Strange as it may sound, Japan, the most advanced of the three Asian countries, agreed with Canada and willingly restricted emigration to Canada.

The point is that Canadian governments from 1885 to the late 1920’s have little to be ashamed of. If anyone should be feeling shame for “malicious measures”, it is the Canadian politicians who have bowed to immigration lobby pressure. Over the past 22 years, many in our gov’ts have either cheer-led or said nothing about Canada’s 250,000 per year immigrant intake. Through their silence and inaction, these people have “implemented with deliberation” immigration madness and allowed Canadian living standards to decline­-all so that they could get their share of the immigrant vote. These people come from every political party, not just Canada’s Conservatives. If a disgrace exists, it is that these people are tolerated to even walk our streets.

(4)  THE STATEMENT : “Due to rising unemployment, Canada was reluctant to accept immigrants other than those from Britain or the United States who could support themselves. The government restricted immigration in the 1930s. As a result, the number of immigrants to Canada fell from 166,783 in 1928 to 14,382 in 1933. The number of deportations also increased to nearly 30,000 by 1936.” (P.128)

THE MISTAKES : These statements in the textbook imply that Canada has an obligation to accept an unlimited inflow of immigrants. Once again, we state : Canada’s first obligation is to the economic, cultural, and environmental needs of its own citizens. Contrary to the beliefs of (a) the immigration lobby, and (b) its supporters in the public and in all three levels of government, Canada has no obligation to commit suicide. Non-citizens have no right to come here just as Canadians have no right to go to any other country. This is particularly so in times of high unemployment.

Furthermore, Canada has no obligation to provide unlimited support to immigrants. Moreover, reductions in immigration are often beneficial not just for mainstream Canadians, but also for many immigrants already here. Finally, there has been rampant fraud through much of Canada’s immigration system. Canada needs to investigate the fraud, and deport the very large number of people who have committed it.  Canada will be healthier for doing all these things.

(5) THE STATEMENT : “Racism and Japanese Canadians : When war broke out, more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians were living in British Columbia. No evidence indicated that they supported Japan in the war, nor did the government consider these enemy aliens a security risk. But anti-Japanese sentiment grew in Canada after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the invasion of Hong Kong in 1941.” (P.157)

THE MISTAKES : Many Canadians would agree with the textbook in saying that the seizure of Japanese houses, fishing boats and other property in WW2 was wrong. However, they would also say that Canadians were justified in becoming afraid after hearing that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor and that Japan had captured Canadian soldiers in Hong Kong in 1941. If one wants to play the race-card, as the authors of this textbook like to do, then they have to look at the Japanese military, many of whom did all they could to humiliate western prisoners (soldiers and civilians).  Stories of Japanese brutality towards Canadian soldiers captured in Hong Kong have become legendary here.

Another two things to remember are that many of the Japanese-Canadian male adults had served in the Japanese navy and were considered a security threat by some Canadian gov’t officials—-even though the RCMP thought otherwise. The other big thing to remember is this question : “How did Japan react to recently-arrived non-combatant foreigners who happened to be in territory that Japan controlled during World War 2 ?” The answer is not simple, but the Japanese certainly exercised strict controls over non-combatant foreigners —and in general were far less humane than Canada was to the Japanese-Canadians it interned. Finally, how many Japanese Canadians, who have devoted years of their lives to seeking an apology from Canada, have devoted even a few minutes of their time to asking Japan to apologize for the treatment of Canadian soldiers  in WW2 ?


For details on why the 1907 Vancouver Riot occurred, see the following :


For details on Justice Dennis Murphy’s investigation in 1911 of Chinese immigration fraud, see the following :


For details on Japan’s efforts to restrict or exclude its labourers from coming to Canada :


To get an answer to the question, “Why were the Chinese Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion laws enacted?”, see this link and several others which deal with this question :