Continuous Journey Legislation

On January 8, 1908, an Order-in-Council was approved which required that any immigrant arriving at the Canadian port had to come on a continuous journey from his or her country of origin. Each immigrant also had to be in possession of two hundred dollars on arrival in Canada. The Order-in-Council was made substantive by amending the 1906 Immigration Act. The order was aimed at two types of immigrants only: Asian, and Japanese entering Canada via Hawaii. The meaning of continuous journey eventually got modified over the years to mean the ability of an individual to purchase a ticket for through-passage from his or her own port to a port in Canada. The Japanese government opposed the continuous journey legislation vigorously to eventually enter into a treaty with the Canadian government by which four hundred Japanese could enter Canada each year. Indians, however, being British subjects had no government to fight for them. As the ban was without exception, it operated even against wives and children of those who were already in Canada. The British Columbia government, still insecure that the continuous journey legislation could stop the inflow of Indians, passed its own law requiring every immigrant to be proficient in a European language. This was later struck down by the court after a challenge to it funded largely by local Indians. Ironically, the year of the ban was also the year of the establishment of the first Sikh temple in N. America on West 2nd in Vancouver.

The duplicity of continuous journey legislation is dramatically portrayed by Sharon Pollock in her play The Komagata Maru Incident. The Canadian authorities enacted the legislation knowing fully that there wasn’t a steamship in “existence with a direct India-to-Canada route.” T.S. gloats over it: “There you see how we speak, Hopkinson? Never a mention of race, colour, or creed—and yet—we allow British subjects to enter; they are British subjects, we don’t allow them to enter.”

As a result of this discriminatory law, about a thousand Punjabis returned to India and many more crossed into USA where till then there was no discriminatory legislation against them. The Indian population which was about five thousand in 1908, fell to less than half in 1911. the Canadian government tried to get rid of even those who remained by applying both the two hundred dollar and the continuous journey provision to wives trying to rejoin their husbands and to dependent children also. Indians protested strongly and sent a delegation of Teja Singh, Raja Singh and Rev. L.W. Hall, who had been a missionary in India, to meet Prime Minister Borden. They gave and undertaking that Indians would never ask for state assistance during unemployment or sickness. They were assured of sympathetic consideration but no action was taken by the Federal government. 

Efforts were also made to move the courts, for example in the case of Rahim who was politically affiliated with Das and Kumar. Rahim had commercial interest in Canada. He was arrested on the ground of having illegally entered Canada as he did not come by a continuous journey. Justice Murphy ruled that the issuing the Privy Council Order 920 of May 1910, the Governor General of Canada had exceeded the limits of his powers and, therefore, Rahim was ordered released. Similarly, when entry was refused to Hira Singh’s family, a case was filed in a lower court of Vancouver and a stay obtained.

—The author is Director at the India International Centre, and a former principal of the Hindu College, Delhi. The piece is excerpted from her book, Ongoing Journey—Indian Migration to Canada.

(To be continued)

July 2011

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