Applying Critical Race Theory to The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923.

The Chinese Immigration Act was passed on June 30th, 1923 by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (Canadian Museum of Immigration, 2013). This act is usually referred to as the Chinese Exclusion act, which effectively closed off all Chinese immigration to Canada. The pre-existing fine of a $500 head tax for entering Canada did not limit Chinese immigration to the extent that the Canadian government wanted it to, so they turned to a complete halt of Chinese immigration to Canada with this act (Canadian Museum of Immigration, 2013). Those that were banned were not strictly from China; ethnic Chinese with British nationality were excluded as well (UBC Library). The only exceptions to the Chinese ban were for diplomats, Canadian-born Chinese, merchants and students studying at certain institutions could travel to and from Canada (Road to Justice). This travel was not restriction-free; there was a two-year limit on travelling outside of Canada, and if they were to stay go passed the limit, they would be subject to another $500 head tax for re-entry (Road to Justice). Between the years of 1923 and 1946, only 15 Chinese immigrants were accepted into Canada (Canadian Museum of Immigration, 2013). It wasn’t until 1947 that Chinese immigrants were allowed into Canada, on the basis that the Chinese Immigration Act violated the UN Charter (UBC Library). An interview with a Chinese Canadian who came to Canada during this time can be seen here.

Pavlich explains that racism can be exhibited in many different ways: systematically, structurally, culturally and is deeply and psychologically ingrained in society (2011). The creation of this act perpetuated racism against the Chinese people in Canada, and further created a divide between the citizens of Canada. The racism towards them was very open and straightforward. After the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Canadian government did not need the Chinese. The head tax for entering the country continually increased to the point where it was nearly impossible for any Chinese individual to afford the long journey. Eventually, the exclusion act ceased all Chinese people from entering Canada. The government used systematic legal methods to keep the Chinese out. Critical Race Theory would also cover the cultural discrimination that they faced. They entered a country in which the culture and societies’ organization is much different from theirs. This further creates a hierarchy in that those from Canada who spoke English or French could adapt quickly to the new society. On the other hand, the Chinese would have to learn new languages, making it more difficult to adapt and eventually joining Canadian society. Furthermore, race is a category of thinking that is invented and manipulated (Pavlich, 2011). With the creation of the exclusion act, alongside the racism that the Chinese faced in Canada creates specific racist ideas and stereotypes. Not only does it create these ideas, it allows for the perpetuation of these stereotypes. Once these stereotypes are inherently accepted, such as in the case of the Chinese in Canada, the law will present the Chinese in the way that they are perceived, and in this case allowed the Canadian government to pass legislation that allowed for the removal of Chinese people legally without any repercussions.

The pressure to change the exclusion policy came from the United States when in 1943 they had officially ended abandoned the act (Collections Canada). The United Nations charter contained statements on human rights and the exclusion act had contradicted these statements (Collections Canada). As China became an ally of Canada, Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced in the House of Commons that the exclusion act was a mistake (Collections Canada). Regardless, there wasn’t much done until 1946 when Chinese communities began to protest the removal of the act. Finally, in 1947 the exclusion act was removed, but this was merely a symbolic victory for the Chinese people in Canada (Collections Canada). The exclusion act was in effect for 25 years, and had created an aging group of Chinese citizens. The “married bachelors” had been cut off from their families because of the systematic discrimination by the Canadian government (Collections Canada). It wasn’t until 1962 when the government relaxed it’s policy towards Chinese immigrations, and in 1967 under Pierre Trudeau that Canada saw a new wave of immigrants into Canada (Collections Canada). The Chinese faced a tumultuous road to obtain the right to enter Canada. Even though the exclusion act was eventually removed, the Chinese had already faced discrimination and a new hierarchy was created in which they were seen as lesser people. Critical Race Theory would suggest that the experiential knowledge that the Chinese had from their experiences with the exclusion act, which could have helped put an end to it much sooner than it eventually did (Pavlich, 2011).


Chinese Exclusion Act. Retrieved from:

Chinese Immigration Act, 1923. Retrieved from:

The Chinese Experience in British Columbia: 1850-1950. Retrieved from:

End of Exclusion. Retrieved from

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and society redefined. Don Mills, Canada: Oxford University Press.


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