Canada’s legacy of ‘Red Scare’ tactics in immigration still impact us today

A black and white photo of a white man in his 30s wearing a black coat and vest, round button on his lapel and a scarf around his neck.


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“Discovering a document from 1932 containing the names and addresses of about 900 alleged Communists in north Winnipeg piqued my interest as a historical researcher. The list was prepared by the RCMP and found among papers related to former prime minister R.B. Bennett, whose term overlapped with the Great Depression. What shocked me was that many of the names on the list were of individuals living on the street where my family resided in the 1950s. These seemingly harmless individuals were declared ‘radicals’ and perceived as threats by the RCMP. Yet no surveillance was conducted on members of far-right organizations, such as the Nazi, fascist, and Ku Klux Klan, despite their prevalence.

The Origins of Surveillance

The RCMP gathered extensive information on the Communist Party of Canada and those sympathetic to left-wing ideologies after it was established in 1921. This early scrutiny can be traced back to the aftermath of the Russian Revolution in 1917, marking the beginning of the original Cold War in the West. The government was quick to target anyone who challenged the capitalist system through labor organizing and other means, sparking a suppression campaign that only briefly subsided during World War II.

Anti-Left Measures

The anti-socialist campaign intensified following the Bolshevik takeover, causing newspapers published in ‘enemy alien’ languages to be shut down, ethnic socialist organizations to be banned, and individuals possessing subversive reading material to be imprisoned in internment camps. A socialist and labor leader, Ginger Goodwin, was shot and killed by a police constable in British Columbia in 1918. Additionally, Canadian troops were part of a global mission to support the White Army and defeat the Russian Revolution.

Repression and Resistance

The year 1919 experienced widespread labor revolts in Canada, with several organizations and workers’ unions staging strikes. The aftermath of these events saw the federal government resorting to violent repression, including jailing the leaders of the Winnipeg General Strike and amending various laws to target political threats.

Postwar Immigration Policies

The postwar immigration policies in Canada were tainted by racism and anti-communist sentiments, rendering it easy for former Nazi soldiers to immigrate to the country after World War II. However, these discriminatory policies had already been in place for decades, particularly targeting Asians and individuals from non-English speaking countries.

Western Collaboration

Canada’s cordial relationship with Nazi Germany is a dark chapter in the country’s history. Notably, Prime Minister Mackenzie King expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, while British and American leaders were also complicit in collaborating with the Nazis. Their opposition to the Soviet Union led to an alleged understanding with Hitler, ultimately paving the way for the devastating Second World War.

In conclusion, the early 20th century in Canada was marred by state surveillance, political suppression, and sweeping immigration policies that discriminated against several communities. It is crucial to acknowledge and reflect on these historical events to prevent such injustices from recurring in the future.”


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