The Gateway: Canada still has its skeletons

The Gateway: Canada still has its skeletons

Here's an interesting article about Canada's history from  

Canada still has its skeletons

may be a tolerant and diverse nation today, this wasn’t always the
case—and though some of it is well documented, you may not know about
these gems

to popular belief, studying history is more than just memorizing a
bunch of facts and dates. Nor is Canadian history boring by any means:
we’ve had our share of sex scandals, revolutions, labour unrest and
flashy celebrities. Sadly, Canada has also had its share of racism too.
Lots and lots of racism.

We’ve all heard of the residential
schools, the Chinese head tax, the Exclusion Act and the Japanese
internment camps during WWII. Despite the attention that these
historical events have received, there are still many others that are
more obscure—in other words, not the kind of stuff you’d see in the
CBC’s “Heritage Minutes.”

By 1938, Prime Minister Mackenzie “I
see dead people” King had put a severe restriction on the number of
Jewish refugees that Canada would accept, poo-pooing the idea that
Canada’s immigration policy should worry about this trifle called
“humanitarian concerns.” Between 1933–1939, 800 000 Jewish refugees
left lands occupied by the Nazis. How many did Canada accept? 4000. In
1938–39, Canada accepted only about 2500 Jews, one of the worst records
of the Western countries. The denial of sanctuary to Jewish refugees
from Europe remains one of the most shameful episodes in Canadian

Even when the existing Jewish community in Canada
offered to finance all of the refugees’ costs, King didn’t budge. In
1939, a ship called the SS St Louis (carrying 900 Jewish passengers
from Europe) was rejected first by Cuba, then the US and finally by
Canada. The ship was forced to return back to Europe, and you can
probably guess what happened to those people.

This wasn’t the
first time Canada denied passengers entry for racial reasons either.
Before the SS St Louis, there was the Komagata Maru. In 1914, this ship
brought nearly 400 Punjabis to Vancouver. These individuals (who,
coming from India, were actually British subjects) were refused entry
to Canada. They were turned away under the guise of the “continuous
journey” requirement that Canada’s Immigration Act had implemented six
years earlier under the direction of Frank “white is right” Oliver.

“continuous journey” requirement stipulated that any vessel travelling
from Asia had to come directly to Canada without making any stops;
since the Komagata Maru had been chartered in Hong Kong, the people
aboard this ship hadn’t made a direct trip from India, so they were
turned away. This requirement makes as much sense as telling someone to
drive across Canada without stopping to pee, and was equally impossible
to achieve.

Before Americans had Rosa Parks, Canadians had
Viola Desmond, whose story sadly remains more obscure than that of
Parks. In 1946, Desmond, a Black woman from Halifax, went to see a
movie in New Glasgow, NS. She was unaware of the theatre’s
segregationist seating policy: Blacks in the balcony, Whites on the
main floor.

Desmond tried to sit on the main floor; however,
she was told that she hadn’t paid the appropriate amount of tax for the
more expensive main-floor seat and that she would have to sit upstairs
instead. Despite her offers to pay the difference in tax (one cent),
the theatre refused to sell her the more expensive ticket. Desmond
didn’t budge, so she was arrested, tried (without a lawyer present) and
fined for “tax evasion.”

During this trial, nobody said
anything about the theatre’s segregationist seating policy, so her case
was handled like a simple incidence of tax evasion. Later, Desmond
tried to appeal to Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court, but she lost.
Segregation didn’t become illegal in Nova Scotia until 1954.

xenophobia, if not outright racism, still occurs in our country
today—Hérouxville, anyone? This tells me either Canadians don’t know
their history, or they simply refuse to learn from it.

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