February 15, 1929


Louis Édouard Fernand Rinfret (Secretary of State of Canada)


Hon. FERNAND RINFRET (Secretary of State):

Mr. Speaker, I do not rise to offer any extended remarks on this resolution, for it has already been pretty well discussed. The debate has brought home to us two things: the lofty sentiment and principle involved in the resolution itself, and the confusion that would inevitably ensue if the resolution were adopted in its present form.

The preamble in my opinion points with pardonable pride to the position that Canada has attained as a member of the commonwealth of nations and also as a member of the League of Nations. I join with other members in the view that some day we should be able to describe the citizens of this country in all public documents in a manner consonant with the equality of status which Canada now enjoys. At the same time it has been made very clear that serious difficulties might follow the adoption of the resolution in its present form.

I am afraid the mover of the resolution has been confused on one point. He seems to be under the impression that every person bom in Canada is a Canadian national. This is not so according to the provisions of the act to define Canadian nationals, chapter 21 of the revised statutes of Canada, 1927. Clause 2 clearly defines the following persons as Canadian nationals:

(a) Any British subject who is a Canadian citizen within the meaning of the Immigration Act;

(b) the wife of any such citizen;

(c) any person born out of Canada whose father was a Canadian national at the time of that person's birth, or with regard to persons born before the third day of May, oue thousand nine hundred and twenty-one, any person whose father at the time of such birth possessed all the qualifications of a Canadian national as defined in this act.

It is obvious, Mr. Speaker, that to be a Canadian national it is essential that a person be a British subject.

I happened to be in the house when this legislation was being dealt with, and I remember the object of the then minister of justice, Mr. Doherty, was to distinguish between British subjects in Canada, in Australia, and in other parts of the empire. The house was in a humorous mood at -the time and I recall that an hon. .member during the course of the debate asked whether this was a railway bill or some other kind of bill. It illustrates tlhe practical difficulty at times of giving -a.nj'' reality to the most lofty sentiments. I am in agreement with those hon. members who have stated that we cannot create a race by statute.

I agree with the amendment that has been moved by the member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mir. Woodsworth), but I think there should be a change also in the first part of the resolution, and t-hat instead of reading:

That persons born in Canada (or otherwise defined as Canadian nationals) -

-we should use the term, British subjects.. The paragraph would then read:

That British subjects born in Canada (or otherwise defined as Canadian nationals) shall be described as being of Canadian nationality-

-and so on. This would clarify the clause. Undoubtedly, Mr. Speaker, the principle of' this resolution has much merit, but the apt expression of that principle presents considerable difficulty. Therefore inasmuch as the-member -for Springfield (Mr. Bissett) lhas achieved his purpose by bringing the question before the house, which has resulted in a very interesting discussion, perhaps he will now consent to withdraw the resolution. It, certainly cannot be accepted in its present form, and even if amended as proposed by~ the member for Winnipeg North Centre I would have to vote against it.


Richard Bedford Bennett (Leader of the Official Opposition)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Hon. R. B. BENNETT (Leader of tlhe-Opposition):

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. Secretary of State (Mr. Rinfret) has stated the case with great clearness. I ventured to rema-rk to tlhe Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) a moment ago that this is one of the most difficult of all matters that we could undertake to deal with, and tlhe Secretary of State has clearly explained the reason. So far as the second section of the resolution is concerned, I think upon reflection its sponsor will see that to adopt it would make us more or less ridiculous. T-he hon. member for Lisgar (Mr. Brown), as well as the Minister of Immigration (Mr. Forke) has made that abundantly clear.

Canadian Nationality

I think the hon. member for Springfield (Mr. Bissett) when he drafted his resolution overlooked two words in the definition of Canadian nationals-the words, " British subjects". That is the only difficulty as I see it at the moment, and as the Secretary of State has pointed out. There can be no such word as " national " applied to a Canadian citizen in the sense in which it is used in this resolution; it would be applicable only if Canada were an independent state. That is the reason why in the statute defining Canadian nationals the word " British " precedes the word " subject ", as brought to our attention by the minister. We are British subjects; we are Canadian citizens. And bo long as Canada continues within the empire we are British subjects, although we may be and are at the moment Canadian citizens. The problem of defining a Canadian national was one which the former minister of justice endeavoured to deal with in the statutes of 1921, and the reasons need not now be adverted to that compelled him, in the very nature of things, to define it, just as the minister has indicated, in section 2:

The following persons are Canadian nationals, viz;- .

(a) Any British subject who is a Canadian citizen-

Mark the word " citizen."

-within the meaning of the Immigration Act, chapter 27 of the Statutes of 1910, as heretofore amended.

(b) The wife of any such person.

That is merely an expression of the common law of England that the domicile of the wife is that of the husband, as decided by the Privy Council.

(c) Any person born out of Canada whose father was a Canadian national at the time of that person's birth-

A Canadian national being, of course, a British subject, defining that term as in the preceding portion of the section.

-or. with regard to persons born before the passing of this act. any person whose father at the time of such birth possessed all the qualifications of a Canadian national as defined in this act.

The essential word in all that definition is the word " British," which precedes the word "subject;" and so long as we remain a dominion within an empire-that is to say, the British Empire-our position is that of British subjects and Canadian citizens. I do not think there is any method by which that question can be dealt with by this parliament except that to which the minister has just referred and which, as he has pointed out, was so fully explained by the Right Hon. C. J.

Doherty when as Minister of Justice he introduced this measure shortly after the war. There is, however, this to be said. At the imperial conference of 1926 a committee of legal experts was to be set up, and among the many matters with which they would necessarily have to deal would be the question as to the position, for purposes of definition if no other, of citizens of Australia, of South Africa, of Canada, of New Zealand; and the question of citizenship relates, of course, to the territorial area in which one makes one's home, the question of one's allegiance being determined by the crown, or the head, or the authority to which allegiance is owed. In this instance, as I have said, we are British subjects because of our allegiance to the British crown.

I think that my hon. friend who has moved the motion has very properly directed attention to this matter, because it is one of great difficulty, and I do not think this parliament could adopt the resolution without doing violence to the legal principles that govern and surround us at the present moment, having regard to our position as the minister has indicated it.

I agree with the suggestion made by the minister, which is one, I think, that might well be acted upon by the hon. member; and inasmuch as he has directed the attention of the house to the difficulty-a difficulty well known to the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King) and to those who attended the imperial conference of 1926-the whole question will then be later dealt with.

The hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Woodsworth) drew attention to the reasons that have governed heretofore in the various census columns in dealing with a matter of this kind. The desire for scientific knowledge as to the effect of the fusion of races and the characteristics that have marked people, by reason of their origin and the intermingling of races, is something which to the historian is of tremendous importance in the light of the scientific information which we are now gathering. The knowledge that has been stored away in the census reports of bygone years is now coming to be regarded as more and more valuable as the history of various races is being prepared and written.

I have been recently reading a book called The Stream of History, which perhaps some hon. gentlemen have seen, and one begins to realize how valuable indeed it is to us to have a record of the past and to have a clear understanding of the causes that have brought


Canadian Nationality

about the results which are now apparent. In the tracing of facts back to primal causes scientific knowledge is, of course, attaining to great accuracy; because, after all, science does not create new facta but merely discovers what facts are, and in the light of the knowledge we possess in our census returns we are able to make more accurate generalizations, if I might use that term-although, possibly, "generalizations" is too wide a term to employ with respect to scientific knowledge touching these matters. I suggested to the Prime Minister that in our census returns we might- and I fancy we shall-make provision whereby it will be abundantly clear that the persons who are .being enumerated are Canadians or were born in Canada, and that their ancestors have resided here for a considerable number of years. The racial origin of Canadians is still important, and that, I understand, is why the census returns are given as they appear.

So far as the second branch of the resolution is concerned, I am sure that upon reflection the hon. member will realize the impossibility, by act of parliament, of accomplishing what he has in mind. There is no doubt that there is a growing sentiment in the country, a sentiment which manifested itself, as the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre said, when he was a 'boy-and I may remark that it was equally manifest in my youth-for one born in this country to describe oneself with pride as a Canadian. I had no hesitation when .recently in Central Europe in describing myself as a Canadian. I did so with much pride, and I am bound to say that I received from those with whom I came in contact a courtesy and consideration which would not have been accorded me had I described myself as a resident of another part of the American continent. I leave it at that, remembering, as I. trust we shall all of us remember, that the passports we carry, while Canadian in their origin, are in the ultimate analysis valuable because we are British subjects and Canadian citizens. That fact should never be overlooked.

The acceptance of the second part of the resolution would leave the children of some Canadians rather nondescript, inasmuch as they could not properly be described as Irish, or Scotch, or English, and not being of the third generation they could not be described as Canadians. In other words, they would be in no man's land, impossible of designation within the census. For these reasons, without elaborating them, and without at greater length discussing the legal difficulties, I heartily agree with the suggestion made by

the Secretary of State, that the purpose which the hon. member has in mind has been served and that the resolution be for the moment dropped. This might well' be done, having regard to the .character of the resolution and the legal difficulties that surround the enactment of the measures contemplated, and in view of the fact that the minister charged with responsibility with respect to the census will, as was stated in a public journal not long since, take steps to see that in some column will be made adequate provision to record the information so much desired by the hon. member.


James Malcolm (Minister of Trade and Commerce)


Hon. JAMES MALCOLM (Minister of Trade and Commerce):

I have no desire to

detain the house at any length with regard to the resolution, but I think it might be of interest to note the methods that are now in use in the Dominion Bureau of Statistics in recording census figures. The Secretary of State (Mr. Rinfret) and the leader of the opposition (Mr. Bennett) have reviewed the definition df a "Canadian national" as given in the statutes. First, any British subject ia a Canadian citizen within the meaning of the Immigration Act but the hon. gentleman failed to quote the Immigration Act of 1910 defining Canadian citizenship. It is, first, any person born in Canada who has not become an alien; second, a British subject who has Canadian domicile; third, a person naturalized under the laws of Canada who has not subsequently become an alien or lost Canadian domicile. Under the present method of reporting statistics the country of birth of each person is recorded; in the case of Canadian-born, the province of birth is recorded. This differentiates the Canadian-born and the British-born from the foreign-born, and in the case of the Canadian-born it enables the movement of our native Canadian stock, within the limits of Canada, to be traced from time to time. The birthplaces of the father and mother of each person are also recorded for the purpose of distinguishing Canadian families resident in Canada for three or more generations thus instituting a further and special standard of Canadianism.

It is to be noted from these headings that the census describes everyone of Canadian nationality as Canadian, everyone bom in Canada as of Canadian birth and everyone whose family has been resident in Canada three generations or more as Canadians in a special sense. The last census gave figures which the leader of the opposition described as rather essential. The last census showed

St. Lawrence Waterway

that of a total population of 8,788,483 those of Canadian nationality numbered 8,412,383, of which number 514,182 were Canadians by naturalization. The number of Canadians by birt'h was 6,832,747, while the number of Canadians whose family residence in the country is of three or more generations was only 4,857,523. Therefore if the second part of this resolution were to carry it would be shown that the Canadian race numbered just about half the population of the Dominion, which would be a very unfair condition. Of the derivations of the Canadian people as recorded in the census the more important were English, 2,545,496, French 2,452.751, Scotch 1.173,637 and Irish 1,107,817. These figures are analysed and amplified in the census reports from literally hundreds of points of view, the object being to lay bare all the essential and crucial facts concerning the population.

In discussing with the Dominion statistician the last census and the methods followed the government have expressed the desire that as far as possible all Canadians should be treated as Canadian citizens within the meaning of the Immigration Act and the act with regard to Canadian nationality. Furthermore, I think there will be a slight simplification in the number of questions asked; I think perhaps the thirty-five questions asked during the last census caused a certain amount of annoyance. I can assure the house and my hon. friend who moved this resolution that if it were possible to carry out his wishes the government would have no objection, but for the very obvious reasons advanced by the leader of the opposition and the Secretary of State I feel that he would be well advised to withdraw his resolution. .


Edgar Douglas Richmond Bissett

Liberal Progressive

Mr. E. D. R. BISSETT (Springfield):

In my remarks I raised no objection to tracing the racial origin of the Canadian people; I said I thought that was of scientific importance, but I also said that on this form we should have a column under which those born in Canada whose family has been in this country for three or more generations could designate themselves as of the Canadian race, and certainly there should be a column for Canadian nationals. Those were the points I wished to bring out.

With regard to the division of Canadians into different races, I appreciate the legal aspect of the question as brought out by the leader of the opposition (Mr. Bennett), but while it is quite true that there are only a few main races, the reds, whites, blacks and yellows, nevertheless in taking the Canadian census and in the compilation of the population by the department at Ottawa we find on page 40 of the Manitoba census for 1926 that the British races are classed as English, Irish, Scotch, and Welsh. Then the list goes on to include French, Austrians, Belgians, Chinese, Finns, Germans, Dutch, Hebrews and so on. In other words, for the purposes of statistical information the division of the races by colour is disregarded, and the object of my resolution was to bring in under these subclasses of English, Irish, Scotch and so on a Canadian classification which would apply to Canadians of the third generation resident in this country.

I see there is some difficulty in the way through legal reasons, although since this is only a resolution I do not see how it would bind parliament so far as the legal aspect of the question is concerned. However, if I could have the assurance of the government thfit an effort will be made to have included in the birth and death certificates a column for Canadian nationals, I would agree to withdraw the resolution.

Motion withdrawn.

On motion of Mr. Mackenzie King the house adjourned at 9.50 p.m.

Monday, February 18, 1929


February 15, 1929