Canada’s Immigration Act of 1976 Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Immigration Act of 1976 delineated Canada’s national responsibility for immigration for the first time in that nation’s history.

Summary of Event

The Immigration Act of 1976 is a landmark in Canadian immigration policy and history. The act delineated national responsibility for immigration for the first time in Canada’s history, and it pledged government commitment to family reunification and to Canada’s international obligations to ease the plight of refugees, the displaced, and the persecuted. It also reflected Canada’s changing economic circumstances, ethnic composition, humanitarian considerations, and place in the international community. Immigration Act of 1976 (Canada, 1978) Immigration;legislation Canada;immigration [kw]Canada’s Immigration Act of 1976 (Apr. 10, 1978) [kw]Immigration Act of 1976, Canada’s (Apr. 10, 1978) [kw]Act of 1976, Canada’s Immigration (Apr. 10, 1978) Immigration Act of 1976 (Canada, 1978) Immigration;legislation Canada;immigration [g]North America;Apr. 10, 1978: Canada’s Immigration Act of 1976[03240] [g]Canada;Apr. 10, 1978: Canada’s Immigration Act of 1976[03240] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Apr. 10, 1978: Canada’s Immigration Act of 1976[03240] [c]Immigration, emigration, and relocation;Apr. 10, 1978: Canada’s Immigration Act of 1976[03240] Andras, Robert

Canada had traditionally restricted immigration to northern and western Europeans. After World War II, Canada’s economy boomed, and the business lobby began to exert pressure to open immigration channels. Starting in the 1950’s, Canada needed immigrants in order to have sufficient people to maintain the nation’s economy. At the same time, there was a desire to maintain the predominance of northern and western Europeans in the population.

The Immigration Act of 1952 Immigration Act (Canada, 1952) had contributed to European domination in the Canadian population by giving the minister of immigration and other immigration officials wide discretionary powers to open and close off immigration to any group. However, in the 1950’s, many Third World countries gained independence, and Canada had to consider these nations’ growing importance as trading partners and their influence in the United Nations. Canada thus started to change its immigration policy by assigning small quotas to Asian Commonwealth partners. When the expected inflow from northern and western Europe did not materialize, Canada set up offices in Italy, which started a large influx of Italian immigrants, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. By the mid-1960’s, Italians formed the dominant group among laborers in Canada’s construction industry.

The need for laborers and the refugee issue challenged Canadian immigration policy. The change started in 1956, when Hungarian refugees Refugees;Hungarian poured into Australia following the communist takeover in Hungary. By sending teams to refugee settlements and setting aside established procedures, Canada successfully resettled thirty-seven thousand Hungarians in Canada. In the early 1960’s, the Canadian market for laborers began to shrink, and active immigration work fell by 50 percent. De facto segregation existed during this period: Canada established immigration offices in Europe and North America, but only two in Asia.

In the 1960’s, high numbers of illegal entrants became a problem for Canada, and a government commission was created to review all aspects of immigration. The resulting white paper on immigration, released in 1966, called for a complete and final overhaul of Canadian immigration policy. The report noted that the policy should be free of discrimination based on race or ethnicity; it also advocated the right of Canadian citizens to sponsor immediate relatives for immigration as long as the relatives met the same educational and occupational standards as other allowed immigrants.

When the report came up for discussion in parliamentary committee, Canada’s ethnic communities exhibited surprising strength. By 1970, they represented one-third of the nation’s population and had become a “third force” in Canadian politics. They were confident and economically secure, and they demanded a new deal for themselves, which included a society that demanded less conformity to the Anglo culture and a more pluralistic focus. One response to these demands, in the later 1960’s, was the development and implementation of an equitable immigration system based on domestic economic requirements and on prospects for short-term and long-term integration. From 1967 to the mid-1970’s, the key immigration issues for Canada concerned refugees (Czechoslovakian, Ugandan, Asian, and Chilean) and illegal entrants.

In 1972, Robert Andras, a member of Canada’s Parliament who became the chief architect of the Immigration Act of 1976, assumed the post of minister of manpower and immigration. Andras not only revitalized his department but also worked energetically for immigration reform. In September, 1973, he initiated a major review of immigration and population policies, which resulted in the publication of a green paper on the subject. Because of the lack of scholarship available on the subject, the document was disappointing, overcautious, and inadequate.

Consequently, a special joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons was appointed in March, 1975. The committee held fifty public hearings, heard four hundred witnesses, and received fourteen hundred briefs. The report it presented to Parliament in November, 1975, was warmly received, and sixty of the committee’s sixty-five recommendations were accepted. Its principal recommendation was that Canada continue to be a country of immigration, for demographic, economic, family, and humanitarian reasons. The report argued that a new immigration act should contain a clear and formal statement of principal objectives concerning admission, nondiscrimination, sponsorship of relatives, refugees, and classes of persons prohibited. Operational details should be specified in the regulations.

The report communicated that immigration should be a central variable in Canada’s population policy to forestall the decline of Canada’s population, especially of francophones. In relation to population policy, immigration should be linked to population growth and economic conditions. However, the policy and target figures should be determined and presented for parliamentary scrutiny after consultation with the provinces. Other recommendations were that the point system be retained but modified to encourage settlement in underdeveloped areas, and that more staff be hired and better enforcement procedures be instituted. These recommendations were incorporated into the immigration bill, which had its first reading on November 22, 1976 (hence that year has become linked with the name of the act), received royal assent on August 5, 1977, and became law on April 10, 1978.


The Immigration Act of 1976 contained constructive provisions and was politically sensitive and forward-looking. It made a positive contribution to the Canadian public image in the area of immigration management. Its most significant provisions were included in a clear statement of the basic principles of Canadian immigration policy, as recommended by the special joint committee—the first time that had been attempted in Canadian immigration law.

The act created a new system for planning and managing Canadian immigration. It sought to involve the provinces in immigration planning and decision making as well as to open the process to parliamentary and public discussion. The act established three classes of immigrants: family, refugee, and others selected on the basis of the point system. Ministerial discretion was reduced in areas of exclusion, control, and enforcement. Other provisions dealt with refugees, revising the point system, and ensuring that actual immigrant landings were consistent with announced immigration levels.

In some respects, the Immigration Act of 1976 has proved worthy of the praise it received as a responsible and forward-looking piece of legislation. In 1979, Canada’s commitment to easing the distress of refugees, displaced persons, and the persecuted was seriously challenged by the situation of the “boat people” of Southeast Asia. Boat people (Indo-Chinese) Their plight caused a great outpouring of public concern, and the government dispatched immigration officials to the refugee camps. By the end of 1980, Canada had admitted more than sixty thousand ethnic Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, and Chinese from Southeast Asia—the highest per-capita “boat people” resettlement program of any nation.

All has not always gone as expected, however. Sympathy for those entering Canada and then claiming refugee status has waned, because undocumented immigration has continued to be a major problem. The immigration act has resulted in a mounting backlog of more than twenty thousand cases in which refugee status awaits determination. The provinces, except for Quebec and Ontario, did not cooperate in setting up population guidelines. In addition, the potentially valuable Demographic Policy Steering Group and Demographic Policy Secretariat disappeared, and federal government efforts to develop a population policy were initially stalled.

Given the long-term trend of fertility falling in the industrialized world, especially in Canada, and rising in nonindustrialized countries, by the mid-1980’s Canada had to develop a population policy. With falling birthrates and emigration to the United States; immigration became a vital part of Canadian population policy. Because western and northern European countries were no longer significant sources of immigrants, Canada turned to Asia as a means of maintaining sufficient population level. The Immigration Act of 1976 provided Canada with the framework it needed to adapt to changing circumstances and exhibit humanitarian behavior by providing refuge to the dispossessed. Immigration Act of 1976 (Canada, 1978) Immigration;legislation Canada;immigration

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Halli, Shiva S., and Leo Driedger, eds. Immigrant Canada: Demographic, Economic, and Social Challenges. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Collection of essays examines the various impacts of immigration on Canadian society in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Includes discussion of immigration policy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hawkins, Freda. Canada and Immigration: Public Policy and Public Concern. 2d ed. Kingston, Ont.: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988. Provides one of the most complete accounts of Canadian immigration policy available.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McMenemy, John. The Language of Canadian Politics: A Guide to Important Terms and Concepts. 3d ed. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2001. Collection of more than five hundred brief essays on a wide range of topics related to the Canadian system of government, Canadian political history, Canadian laws and legal history, and more.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Palmer, Howard, ed. Immigration and the Rise of Multiculturalism. Vancouver, B.C.: Copp Clark, 1975. Analyzes the relationship of immigrant communities and the development of multiculturalism in Canada.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Watkins, Mel, ed. Canada. New York: Facts On File, 1993. Handbook provides information on various facets of Canadian life. Chapter titled “Immigration and Multiculturalism,” by Harold Trouper, covers the 1976 immigration legislation. Includes maps, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Whitaker, Reginald. Double Standard: The Secret History of Canadian Immigration. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1987. Good discussion of the unequal application of immigration policies to different ethnic groups.

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Categories: History