Effecting change: civil servants and refugee policy in 1970s Canada.

Author:Molloy, Michael J.


Since the Second World War, refugee policy in Canada has evolved dramatically from an ad hoc, often disinterested approach to global displacement to an integral part of Canada's immigration programs. This article proposes that the key period of change occurred in the 1970s. Using the recollections of Michael Molloy, former director of Refugee Policy in the Department of Manpower and Immigration, this article suggests that the reforms that led to the development of the formal refugee programs (including the under-explored Oppressed Minority Policy), which facilitated the admission of refugees beyond the traditional focus on Europe, were highly influenced by those doing and managing resettlement.

In recent years, scholars have increasingly focused on the role that so-called brokers have played in the facilitation of global migration, historically and presently. (1) The focus of this scholarship has generally been on how legal and illegal migration relied, and continues to rest, on networks of informed friends, family, and entrepreneurs. Increasingly, however, scholars are considering the role that individuals within the system play in facilitating or discouraging cross-border migration. (2) Building on this approach, this article considers the role of civil servants in transforming Canada's refugee policy during the critical decade of the 1970s as Canadian politicians and the general public became increasingly attuned to refugee movements globally, responding to crises in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Michael Molloy's career provides a unique vantage point from which to consider how a single broker's experience is simultaneously informed by, while itself informing, the migration of people across borders. Molloy's career intersected with key chapters in the evolution of the Canadian government's response to refugees. His career with the immigration foreign service began in 1968, the year before Canada committed to the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol. He served as a visa officer in Tokyo, Beirut, and Minneapolis, and was director of refugee policy from 1976 to 1978. His time in the field, as well as a senior manager, coincided with major population upheavals in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, to which the Canadian government ultimately responded. When a major refugee movement occurred in Southeast Asia in 1979, Molloy coordinated the Indochinese Refugee Task Force, overseeing the selection, reception, and settlement of 60,000 Indochinese refugees.

Now that he is president of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society, Molloy's attention has turned to reflecting on and documenting Canada's past engagement with immigration and refugee issues. This has involved facilitating the preservation of historic documents such as those of the Ugandan Asian refugees of 1972 as well as the organization of workshops on the history of refugees in Canada. (3) This article emerges from Molloy's interest in documenting the events and initiatives that influenced the transition from a reactive, ad hoc approach to refugees to a formal, law-based refugee policy informed as much by experience as principle. Working in collaboration with Laura Madokoro, a historian interested in refugee policy and the politics of humanitarianism, the article evolved to consider how the experience of one individual might suggest a broader phenomenon in how migration and policy were mutually constituted in the post-war period. The collaboration involving a series of conversations, fact-checks, and revisions (between September and November 2016) and presented an interesting meeting of academia, professional expertise, and a shared interest in better contextualizing the significance of Canada's engagement with the global refugee regime.

Effecting Change

It was 1969, the year Canada signed the un Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, that heralded a decade of change in Canada's approach to the world's refugees that included a more sustained and innovative approach to refugee resettlement. To understand the significance of the bureaucratic interventions in these years, it is necessary to briefly consider the tenor and character of Canada's response to refugees in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

Responding to massive unemployment during the Great Depression and the demands of the Second World War, the federal government severely curtailed immigration for fifteen years. By the end of the war, Canada had only a tiny, enforcement-oriented immigration service situated in the Department of Mines and Resources. (4) Little remained of the robust immigration program of the early twentieth century, which saw a million people arrive between 1911 and 1913. The government's priority at the end of 1945 was to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Canadian servicemen and women and 50,000 "war brides" Aside from 4,500 Polish war veterans destined for Canadian farms after refusing to return to Communist Poland in 1946, few refugees were admitted.

Although the federal government was generally disinterested in the plight of refugees in the immediate postwar period, by 1947 resource-sector labour shortages were growing, and the government was pressured by employers and by religious and community leaders to reopen European immigration for refugees and war-separated families. (5) These pressures, and the government's desire to play a role in the post-war international community, led to a decision to admit refugees from Europe. The creation of the International Refugee Organization (IRO) to resolve the refugee problem provided the opportunity. (6) Working with the IRO in occupied Germany and Austria and with the Canadian Christian Committee for Refugees in other parts of Europe, the Canadian Government Immigration Mission facilitated the admission of 163,000 displaced persons. (7)

The federal government's interest in displaced persons to address labour shortages coincided with developments on the international stage. On 8 August 1949, the UN's Economic and Social Council adopted Resolution 248(ix) requesting the UN secretary-general to reconvene the Committee on Refugees and Stateless Persons. The committee, chaired by Canadian Leslie Chance, met from 16 January to 16 February 1950, and prepared the first draft of a refugee convention, which was revised and adopted within eighteen months. (8) Despite Canadian involvement, the government declined to ratify the convention. The RCMP and the Immigration Department believed the convention would compromise the government's ability to control admissions and interfere with deportations, even on national security grounds. (9) Officials in External Affairs sought to overcome this opposition without success until the 1960s. (10)

Ambivalence towards international refugee initiatives contributed to an approach that was far from cohesive. Refugees were not considered a permanent or pressing issue. In 1953, the Immigration Department optimistically announced that it would no longer report separate refugee statistics, assuming that refugees were a thing of the past. (11) That assumption was, of course, illusory. The 1956 Hungarian uprising attracted strong media attention, and the public demanded action on behalf of the "freedom fighters" (12) The Liberal government hesitated: security advisers warned about Soviet infiltrators; Immigration officials doubted Hungarians could successfully adapt. The director of immigration warned against "non bona fide refugees" whom he described as "members of the Hebrew race." (13) After dithering for a month, the government acted. Immigration Minister Jack Pickersgill flew to Vienna and personally directed an operation that set aside normal selection, security, and medical criteria and brought 37,000 Hungarian refugees to Canada. The Hungarian crisis set a precedent that was cited for decades: it established the notion in the minds of policymakers and the public that Canada could and would mount special, if ad hoc, resettlement operations when circumstances and public support dictated. (14)

By the early 1960s the federal government concluded that the country's race-based immigration policy no longer fit with how political leaders and elites saw Canada's place in the world. Moreover, an immigration program shaped by racial preferences contradicted Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker's Bill of Rights. Reform began when the minister of citizenship and immigration, Ellen Fairclough, brought in the 1962 immigration regulations that cancelled the most egregious regulations barring non-European migrants (though significant barriers remained for family class migrants), and created migration opportunities for those whose education, training, skills, or special qualifications made them likely to "successfully establish" in Canada. (15) This was a critical step, but it was left largely to individual immigration officers to apply the policy on a case-by-case basis. There was substantial variance in how individual officers proceeded.

Over the course of the post-war period, the sensibilities of Canada's immigration service were fluctuated. As Harry Cunliffe, one of the veterans who joined the Immigration Department in 1947, described his contemporaries' attitude, "We were among the first of our generation to appreciate the value of immigration to Canada. We developed a respect for our clientele ... and because we had served abroad in World War II, we understood the hardships of travel, separation from family and of an uncertain future." (16)

In 1957 the Department of Citizenship and Immigration began professionalizing its overseas service through university recruitment. This led to the selection of employees who often had a different sense of what constituted a desirable immigrant. As Molloy recalls, shortly after the 1962 regulations came into place, the department undertook a campaign to recruit tool and die...

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