'Mentally Defectives' Not Welcome: Mental Disability in Canadian Immigration Law, 1859-1927

Ena Chadha


This paper examines the history and language of Canadian immigration statues and House of Commons debates regarding immigrants with mental disabilities from the time of Confederation to the 1920s. This paper posits that a study of the historical language and legal frameworks regarding immigrants with mental "disorders" illuminates the myriad of social prejudices about mental disability that have persisted in Canada. The early 20th century laws and House of Commons debates indicate that the exclusion of immigrants with mental disabilities was a deliberate decision on the part of legislators to ensure the proper "character" of immigrants coming to Canada. This paper argues that the representation of mental disability in early immigration legislation, particularly in the context of the growing influence of the field of psychiatry, reveals the historical pervasiveness of social misunderstandings of mental disability.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v28i1.67

Copyright (c) 2008 Ena Chadha

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