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Manitoba History: Book Review: Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock, The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy (2nd edition)

by Hans Werner
University of Winnipeg

Number 67, Winter 2012

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock, The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy (2nd edition). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010, 672 pages. ISBN 978-0-8020-9536-7, $39.95 (paperback)

Who is and who is not permitted to come to Canada to stay has always been a question for Canadians. In the post-9/11 era and in the context of an aging population the question has again become pressing. Authors Ninette Kelley, a legal and policy analyst for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Michael Trebilcock, a University of Toronto law professor, give us distinctly legal and policy answers to this question in a large book of almost 700 pages. The Making of the Mosaic is a synthesis of Canadian immigration policy from the beginnings of the French Colony at Quebec in the 17th century to 2002. This edition follows a 1998 edition, adding revisions and a chapter updating the analysis to the immigration policy situation of a post-9/11 world.

The authors’ approach seeks to examine “how ideas, interests, and institutions interacted” in the creation and execution of Canada’s immigration policies over the span of some 400 years, although the emphasis is on the period after Confederation. In the introductory chapter the authors set out their project in a clear, easily read format. Each of the themes that inform the work is outlined, setting out a framework for the analysis that follows.

The book’s organization is essentially chronological. The introductory chapter is followed by an overview of the two centuries of migrants and migrations that culminated in the creation of the Canadian nation in 1867. The next chapters follow the accepted periodization of Canadian immigration history. A chapter on the period of relatively unsuccessful immigration up to 1896 is followed by the subsequent settlement of the Canadian West until the First World War. Here Kelley and Trebilcock suggest that the government responded primarily to entrepreneurial interests, and argue that during this time the principle was established that being admitted to Canada was a privilege. The next three chapters examine themes relating to the subsequent period of low immigration during the wars and the Great Depression. These years mark the height of immigrant deportations and restrictions on admission.

Following Chapter 8, which examines the postwar immigration boom, successive chapters deal with the relaxation of racist policies beginning in 1962, the challenge of refugee migration after the 1976 Immigration Act, and the return to executive discretion in immigration policy from 1995 to 2008. The conclusion revisits the themes of ideas, interests and institutions. Kelley and Trebilcock conclude that economic interests have dominated Canadian immigration history and that the interests of capital have eclipsed those of labour. Although not as consistently, the authors acknowledge that ideas have also contributed to the formation of immigration policy. Before the First World War, nativist and eugenic sentiments resulted in exclusionary admission policies and periods of harsh deportations. After the Second World War, liberal values produced more racially neutral policies. Kelley and Trebilcock suggest that in recent years the trend seems to have shifted to a less tolerant immigration climate, spurred on in large part by the threat of international terrorism. In the area of institutions, the authors conclude that immigration policies have emanated from the executive branch of government and, as required by the British North America Act, have been influenced by provincial sensibilities. The opposition to Asian immigrants in British Columbia is given as an example.

Although the title suggests more, the authors are careful to note that their study focuses on “immigration policy, not the social or cultural histories of various immigrant groups who have settled Canada.” Throughout the study the authors engage questions of citizenship, and the subjects of race, nativism, and ethnocentrism are never far from their analysis. The focus, however, is not specifically on race and ethnic relations, or the viability of a multicultural society. Their analysis also only touches on how immigrants integrated or on the challenges of minority rights in a diverse society. Moreover, the scope of the book is too broad for any region, or immigrant group to be featured. More controversial immigrants, such as the Chinese in British Columbia, overshadow the groups that came and settled without as great a struggle. In spite of this understandable imbalance, Mennonites, Ukrainians and Icelanders, central to the history of immigration to Manitoba, are not ignored. They figure prominently in the analysis of group settlement schemes, exclusionary policies after the First World War, and the aversion of Canadians to the “strangeness” of foreigners.

The Making of the Mosaic is a highly readable explanation of the complex subject of immigration policy. It is particularly rich in its analysis of the legal and policy framework that has shaped the Canadian population and our national character. For the reader seeking a comprehensive discussion of immigration policy and the legal history of that policy, the study will prove to be indispensable.

Page revised: 2 January 2017

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