Another important strand in the problem of immigration and assimilation of Indians in Canada was
their disenfranchisement in 1907. Immediately after World War I, Rt. Hon. V. S. Srinwasa Sastri toured
Canada, Australia and New Zealand to plead for franchise for Indians in these Dominions. His argument
was that imperial solidarity demanded that all British subjects be treated equally. Also, he felt that
this would help settle the political unrest in India. The question of franchise for Indians. Who were
predominantly Sikhs in Canada, was raised in the House of Commons. The issue, however, was largely
an academic one for most Indian immigrants at this time because there were only nine hundred and
fifty one ‘Hindus’ in British Columbia according to the 1921 census figures. They, themselves, had not
demanded franchise and would probably not have used it if it was given to them. It is interesting that
the majority of the Chinese, Japanese or East Indians did not protest over their disenfranchisement.
Since they did not perceive Canada as a place of permanent residence, the question of vote was of no
significance to them.

The debate in the Commons shows that members were split on the issue. Those in favour of granting
the franchise argued on grounds of Empire solidarity and the obligations undertaken by Canada at the
Imperial Conference of 1921. The opposite point of view was that it was not a Dominion matter but the
problem of British Columbia. Their fear was that white people would be marginalized by the immigrants
who seemed to be taking over all available jobs and businesses.

—To be continued. 

October 2011

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