Thursday, 31 July 2014

Adventures from the Archives Part V

Hello blog world,

Here is the latest segment of the adventure from the archives series. This week's article is a cabinet submission to Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau two days before Canada announced their decision to send an immigration team to Kampala. I encourage you to read through the actual memorandum but as always I have included some highlights below :)

What: Memorandum to the parliamentary cabinet
Who: Bryce Mackasey - Minister of Manpower and Immigration
When: August 22nd 1972
Where: Ottawa
So what: The document makes it clear that there were several motives behind Canada's involvement in the resettlement of Ugandan Asian refugees. It also highlights the complications as to whether this was just an excellent opportunity to accept a large number of highly skilled individuals, to appease Britain's pressure to get involved, or the Canadian government acting on pure humanitarian intentions. Was is truly opportunism or humanitarianism? As you'll see the answer to that question is quite complicated!

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Some highlights from the memorandum to cabinet:

1. The numbers game: It is fascinating to see how quickly the Canadian government was able to attain information on the potential numbers of Ugandan Asian refugees. As the memorandum notes, "It has been impossible to determine the exact number of persons affected because of exemptions that President Amin added (and later partially retracted) and because of the unknown number of Asians who may be Ugandan citizens but are having their citizenship revoked ... estimates based on information obtained from our diplomatic missions are that some 30,000 to 40,000 Assians ... will be forced to leave". Furthermore, they estimate that at least 3,000 people will seek refuge in Canada. As far as I can tell, this is the first time I have seen that specific number being mentioned. I'm sure as I continue researching I will be able to identify where this initial estimate came from.

2. According the memorandum the major objectives of the submission to cabinet are to:
  • approve plans for the immigration of a "substantial number of the Ugandan Asians that will demonstrate Canada's humanitarian concern for the expellees"
  • "provide orderly and timely processing and evacuation of those expelled"
  • "demonstrate to other countries, especially Britain, Canada's concern and sympathy for the very difficult position in which they have been placed by the Ugandan decision"
  • "to the degree possible within humanitarian requirements ensure that those expelled Asians who might best contribute positively to the Canadian economy and culture are admitted to Canada"
The last two objectives are particularly interesting. The fact that the memorandum directly mentions Britain outlines that there was significant pressure being placed on the Canadian government by the British to accept as many refugees as possible. The final objective uses very specific language to identify, at this stage in the resettlement initiative, that some form of a screening process would be used in selecting Ugandan Asian refugees. What this means is some people would be admitted to Canada and others would be rejected based on "who might contribute positively to the Canadian economy and culture". It is also quite telling that those are the two factors mentioned - economy and culture. At this moment within the initiative, the Canadian government was looking for those that would improve the Canadian economy and easily adapt to Canadian society.

3. There was considerable concern for the South Asian community who would not be able to leave the country within the 90 day expulsion period. As the memorandum states, "... the situation of the Asians left in Uganda may well deteriorate; he [President Idi Amin] has made it quite clear that after November 5 they will be 'sitting on fire' and the least that is likely to happen is their internment in camps. Given the undisciplined conditions of the Ugandan army and the general hatred toward the Asians in the country, bloodshed may well occur".

4. The oppressed minority clause: It was clear here that Ugandan Asians would not be considered as refugees according to the Canadian government's assessment of the UN convention on refugees. Their reasoning is that since these individuals could legally go to Britain or the Indian subcontinent they were not considered refugees. What is interesting to note is that at this point President Amin had not revoked the Ugandan citizenship of those who ONLY possessed a Ugandan passport (this change would clearly make those individuals refugees but the same argument could be made before this happened depending on how one interprets the UN convention on Refugees). The good news for Ugandan Asians is that the oppressed minority clause (since South Asians were clearly being subjected to oppression and were also a minority in Uganda) allowed immigration officials the flexibility to "admit such members (members of oppressed minorities) when the information available indicates that there is sufficient private and/or government assistance available to ensure the applicants' successful establishment in Canada". Now this may sound all well and dandy on the surface but the key part of that sentence is "sufficient private and/or government assistance" which ultimately means money. If the government or any other community, NGO, church group, etc., has enough money to sustain these individuals THEN an exception can be made.

5. Conversely, the memorandum does note that the minister will need flexibility to adapt to the situation. The report claims that by the end of September around 1,000 to 1,200 individuals would be accepted to Canada using standard immigration criteria (the points system application). However, the report cautions that if the situation worsens or once the initial evaluations are made it may be necessary to provide relaxed criteria as to who can be accepted to Canada. This is a crucial document because it outlines the initial uncertainty as well as the flexibility of the Canadian government as to who will be eligible for resettlement. Furthermore, it showcases how early on there was a significant humanitarian motive behind Canada's involvement since the memorandum specifically mentions ways to let more individuals come to Canada (via, oppressed minorities clause,the suggestions for flexibility, the speed of processing, and the allusion to accepting more expellees).

6. The conclusion states: "It is in Canada's interest to demonstrate to the world at large, to other Commonwealth members, and especially to its close and traditional friends like Britain, its continuing commitment to the ideals of human dignity, social justice, and the principle of multiracialism". Race is considered to be a motivating factor since some interpreted Idi Amin's expuslion decree to be a racist act. By including multiracialism within the list of reasons why Canada should get involved can be seen as an excellent political move considering that official multiculturalism policy was announced in 1971. It could be used to justify the largest resettlement of non-white and non-European refugees to Canada to have ever occurred up until the arrival of Vietnamese refugees in 1978.

That's it for this week's update. I'm back in Ottawa again until the end of the month researching so I will hopefully have another post sometime next week. As always feel free to comment, ask questions, or e-mail me :)          

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