Racism and Prejudice

A group surveys the damage done to Asian shops in the aftermath of the 1906 race riots in Vancouver (courtesy University of British Columbia Library/Rare Books and Special Collections/36-17).

In the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, there was widespread intolerance to the Asian presence. Whites saw arriving workers as taking jobs from the working class. They feared that the Chinese, being poor men, were disease-ridden. The bachelor societies of Chinatown fed Whites' imaginations of immoral and lurid lifestyles. Such prejudices made it hard for Asians to belong to the larger society.


Prejudice against Asian immigrants and residents was striking not because it happened, but because of the deliberately racist responses of governments in Canada. Politicians gave in to public opinion to keep Asians out and to persuade those already here to leave. They imposed discriminatory taxes and enacted discriminatory by-laws, orders-in-council and legislation. They tried measures such as limits on incoming Chinese per boat, taxing the Chinese for schooling, policing, employment, even laundry and shoes.

Racist Policies

The federal government tried broader measures, requiring Indians seeking entry to come to Canada by direct passage, when no such steamship service was available between India and Canada. Particularly harsh was the passage of legislation to exclude Chinese immigration altogether as the United States had done decades earlier.

Few Japanese entered Canada, but this was by agreement with Japan. An already low annual quota set in 1907 was lowered again in 1928 to 150, but it was rarely filled. Canadians reacted nervously to the Japanese presence upon the outbreak of the Second World War. The irrational fear that those of Japanese racial origins living in Canada might have allegiances to the enemy led to an internment policy. The internment of 22,000 Japanese residents was a tragic injustice in the history of Canada's modern democracy.

Learn more: Acceptance and Opposition