The Exclusion Act

The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 stipulated that every person of Chinese origin in Canada, irrespective of citizenship, was required to register with the government within twelve months after the act came into force, and to obtain a certificate of such registration. Those who failed to do so would be fine $500 or imprisonment for up to twelve months, or both.

The Act also specified that those Chinese who wanted to leave the country had to register before doing so. Those who failed to register would be treated as new immigrants seeking entry upon their return. Essentially the act stopped any future immigration of Chinese into Canada, and legalized the inferior status of those already in the country.

While the Chinese Canadians made strenuous efforts to stop the Act from passing, the speed at which the government passed the bill in the House took them by surprise. Ironically, Canada celebrated Dominion Day on July 1, while Chinese in Canada called it "Humiliation Day".

"It may be very right indeed to separate a man by law from his wife and family if he belongs to a race whose increase in the country would be disastrous to those already in occupation of it; especially if such intruding race be very prolific and very difficult to assimilate; and by reason of a more meagre standard of living capable of undoing the masses of those to whom such a country belongs. But aside from all that, the Chinese cannot rightly be said to be separated by any Canadian law from their wives and children in China. They are free to go back to their wives and children any time, and God speed them!" MacInnes, Oriental occupation of British Columbia, p.12,13

During the period of exclusion, only 12 Chinese were admitted to Canada as immigrants; ten of them belonged to privilege exempted classes. However, in the same period, 61,213 Chinese registered for departure, returning back to China. In fact, between 1921 and 1930, 59,000 Chinese registered for leave out of Canada. Many of them were middle-aged or older, and had no desire to reside in the country.