Books

Double Standard: The Secret History of Canadian Immigration

Reg Whitaker (Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1987)

Wednesday 9 July 2008, by Emrah Sahin

Revisiting York University Emeritus Professor Reginald Whitaker’s Double Standard, an authoritative study of Canadian Cold War immigration practices, is important to gain a historical perspective on post-9/11 Canadian immigration policies.

Based on government papers and memoirs, Whitaker argues that the defining characteristic of Canadian immigration policies was secrecy. Though Canadian immigration policy from the Second World War to the end of the Cold War was much less “messianic” than that of the United States, in their quiet, understated way, Canadian officials shared many of the same assumptions and set out to implement similar aims to those of the U.S.

Double Standard
explains the reasoning behind the government’s officials serving in the Immigration Department, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the Security Panel in shaping discriminatory immigration policies. Whitaker adds, that the public service employees were not alone in seeing “the Red” and were “merely reflecting the prejudice of Canadian society, as well as confirming them.” A handful of politicians such as Jack Pickersgill, the Minister of Immigration in the 1950s, would dare to advocate a more liberal immigration code only to be overruled by the Security Panel, who were spoon-fed by the recalcitrant RCMP.

Whitaker offers a nuanced understanding of the uncompromising double standard in Canada’s- and the United States’- security screening of immigrant, refugee and citizenship applicants. While Eastern European immigrants were seen as a security threat for their alleged association with Communism, those with right-wing backgrounds, including Nazi sympathizers, were welcomed as political refugees. His chapter “Terrorists, Scholars, and Refugees” provides a very interesting record of how many famous intellectuals who desperately needed to move to Canada—such as noted economists Andreas Papandreou and Kazimiercz Laski, a leading revisionist historian Gabriel Kolko, and a distinguished Marxist philosopher Istvan Meszaros—were denied entry.

Canada’s post-9/11 profiling of people born in so-called high-risk Muslim countries as part of its guarded, secretive anti-terrorist security measures resonates in Whitaker’s discussion of McCarthy-era policies. In this vein, revisiting Double Standard as a path-breaking monograph with comprehensive analyses on the history of Canadian immigration policies, becomes essential to understand the historical parallels in Canadian “governmentality” toward different ideologies, i.e. Communist, and religious groups, i.e. Muslims.

Emrah Sahin is a lecturer at Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University.

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