The establishment of the Constitution Act of 1867, originally the British North America Act, gave the Canadian government the power to pass immigration legislation that ultimately gave it the power to remove or deport foreign-born nationals found non-compliant with that legislation. The conditions and requirements for deportation have changed over the years and deportation has been used for various political as well as security purposes. The history of Canadian deportation policy provides a window into the concerns of the state over the course of its history. Deportation practices have been fraught with controversy throughout Canada's history.

Acadian Deportation

One of the earliest examples of deportation in Canadian history was the Deportation of the Acadians, the original French settlers of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI. The Acadians had a close relationship with the Mi'kmaq in the region. Despite the conflicts between the French and British during the 18th century, the Acadians sought to remain politically neutral. Following the War of the Austrian Succession in 1745, the British began to view the Acadians as a military threat because of their French and Mi'kmaq ties. The Acadians' initial refusal to swear an oath of allegiance to the British sealed their fate in the region. Under orders from Governor Charles Lawrence, they were forcibly and brutally deported from the region 1755-1762. Some historians have viewed the deportations as an unfortunate consequence of military strategy, while more recently others have considered it ethnic cleansing.

Immigration Acts

Following Confederation, the Dominion government constructed a more rigorous immigration policy that covered the requirements for deportation. Many of Canada's first Immigration Acts were influenced by colonial Quarantine Acts drafted to limit the entrance of sick immigrants during the typhus epidemic that struck the British North American colonies in 1847. The Immigration Acts of 1869 and 1872 expanded the requirements for entry and deportation to deal with morality as well as health matters. The 1869 Act allowed the barring of "paupers" and Section 10 of the 1872 Act expanded on it, enabling the Dominion to "prohibit the landing in Canada of any criminal, or other vicious class of immigrants." The Dominion also had the power to ensure "their re-transportation to the port in Europe from whence they came," should they enter the country.

The government acted on these powers through the late 19th and into the 20th century. Poor immigrants were often the target of these laws and the Immigration Department often sought the aid of other industries in deportation. The Canadian Pacific Railway was often called upon to remove the poor. In 1877 Deputy Minister of Agriculture J.C. Taché stated that "all countries which receive large numbers of immigrants naturally adopt a rule of this nature...even in prosperous years." Deportation became known as "repatriation" and was an informal and "extralegal" way of shipping out the poor, there being no formal system for deportation. By 1895, deporting the poor or infirm was considered a "long standing rule" and "the simplest and cheapest mode of dealing with them." The reasons for deportation also began to include what the state defined as moral deprivation. Immigrant women were often targeted by immigrant authorities and any who were believed to be engaged in prostitution or became pregnant outside of marriage could subject to deportation as "fallen girls."

The Immigration Acts of 1906 and 1911 expanded and formalized the deportation powers of the Canadian government to deal with immigrants deemed "undesirable" by the government. The 1906 Act barred anyone who was "feeble-minded," "idiotic," "epileptic," "insane," "deaf," "dumb," "blind," "destitute," "vagrant," or "criminal." Still following the model of the pre-Confederation Quarantine Acts, the 1906 Act barred anyone who had a contagious disease and, like the 1869 and 1872 Acts, anyone who became a "public charge" (in need of state support) within two years could be deported. The majority of deportees throughout the 19th and early 20th century were British subjects as the majority of immigrants during this time came from the British Isles. Domicile ("permanent resident" status) was also extended from three to five years and any immigrants deported within this time became the responsibility of the shipping company that brought them. This provided the government with a strong incentive to deport people quickly. When a person was ordered deported, a hearing was called and the immigrant could have a lawyer (most could not afford one). Immigration and deportation are not criminal matters but "administrative," which allowed many of these hearings to remain free from public scrutiny and the courts.

Deportation and Race

Throughout the First World War deportation was closely tied to race. It also still targeted immigrant women on the basis of morality and it would continue to do so well into the Cold War era. Deportation provided a method of enforcing what was at times a racist Canadian immigration policy. The Komagata Maru incident in May 1914 is illustrative of this. The Komagata Maru, carrying 376 Indian immigrants, landed in Vancouver. The ship was captained by Gurdit Singh, a political activist and member of the radical Ghadr party, which sought the end of British rule in India. The ship was held in dock for months as passengers ran out of food. Singh sought to prove that the "Continuous Journey" clause of Canada's immigration policy was racist, as he believed Canadian authorities would not allow the passengers to disembark despite them being British subjects. Singh fought for the rights of the passengers but lost his battle in the BC Supreme Court and the ship and the bulk of its starving passengers were deported.

Deportation during the Second World War greatly affected immigrants of Japanese origin in BC. During the war, Japanese immigrants and Canadians of Japanese descent were subject to forcible relocation and internment. Following the war, the Japanese Canadians affected by these policies were given a choice of resettlement outside of BC or deportation to Japan. Approximately four thousand were deported.

Deportation and Political Beliefs

During the First World War, and particularly after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, deportation included the removal of radical anarchists or communists who were not naturalized citizens and were considered a threat to security. Under the powers of the War Measures Act, deportation affected immigrants from Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire and immigrants who were part of radical left-wing political parties that opposed the war, such as the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Deportation of socialists, communists, and anarchists continued after the war during Canada's first "red scare," and culminated in the arrests that followed the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

In the 1930s, as the Great Depression intensified, the door to immigration was firmly shut but deportation accelerated. Any immigrant who required public assistance was deported as were the unemployed. Labour groups and government opposition parties opposed the tactics of R.B. Bennett's government, claiming that immigrants were welcomed into the country for their labour but then ejected from it when they fell on hard times through no fault of their own. Most of the deported were British subjects. The government also increased its deportation of radical political challengers during this period. After the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) was charged and convicted in 1931 with seditious conspiracy and being an "unlawful organization" under Section 98 of the Criminal Code, hundreds of members of the party were deported under Section 40 and 41 of the Immigration Act, often to countries where they could be tortured or executed for their political beliefs.

The Cold War continued the practice of deporting immigrants based on their political beliefs. Canadian deportation policy was tied to an immigration and refugee policy that favoured the immigration of anti-communists. Political scientist Reg Whitaker has noted that during the Cold War, Canada preferred to accept refugees from communist countries over refugees fleeing fascist or anti-communist dictatorships. Immigrants who were communists or were suspected of being communists were also deported in these years. Canadian citizenships and passports could also be revoked by the government because of one's political beliefs.

Deportation Controversy

Deportation is a mechanism of state power and a controversial subject. The current security certificate system that allows terrorism suspects to be held indefinitely and deported to countries where they could face torture is a debated issue. Canada's participation in deportations of Canadian citizens detained in other countries has also generated much debate around issues of immigration, racism, national security and the rights of individuals in democratic countries.