April 27, 1951 (21st Parliament, 4th Session)


Walter Edward Harris (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration)


Hon. W. E. Harris (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration):

Mr. Speaker, I promised the hon. member for Lake Centre (Mr. Diefenbaker) to make a statement concerning comments reported in the Toronto Telegram, and supposed to have been made by Mr. John Fisher. Those comments were contained in articles on April 18, 19 and 24. .
We have made investigations, and Mr. Fisher has furnished us with a statement which it is understood summarizes his remarks. It indicates that the immigration set-up as he observed it, first at Moncton and later at Montreal, is not geared to consider the tremendous human factor involved. He intimated' that there was some delay at Moncton while the medical officer was located; that physical conditions at Moncton were, to use his word, deplorable; that there was a further delay at Montreal, where they arrived after midnight, and that there was lack of personnel familiar with foreign languages to meet incoming immigrants. He ended up his statement with this remark:
May I report again that no immigrant was beaten, pushed or cowed, but that they were not given that extra welcome which should' go to any citizen coming to this land. The very human factors of excitement or emotion were apparently not considered.
The T.C.A. aircraft carrying Mr. Fisher, along with sixteen other returning residents, ten non-immigrants and fourteen immigrants, arrived at Moncton airfield at 8.40 p.m. on April 15. The fourteen immigrants consisted of nine British, three Germans, one Ukrainian, and one Lithuanian. Moncton is an emergency airfield that is used infrequently. There is only one immigration officer on duty, and he completed his immigration examination of the passengers in one hour and twenty-five minutes. This included the medical examination and the time taken to locate the doctor, who of course is not employed on a full-time basis. Hon. members will understand that this was a landing made at Moncton by an aircraft which was ordinarily intended to land in Newfoundland, but could not do so because of weather conditions.
As Mr. Fisher remarked, the building conditions at Moncton for the reception and examination of immigrants are not satisfactory. In this connection I should like to read from a letter which has come to us since from the resident manager of Allied Aviation Service Company at Moncton, in which he says:
I would like to say here that the Immigration officer in charge at Moncton has done all possible in his power to assist in every way the immigrants aboard these international aircraft, and all examinations are carried out in quick but quite efficient manner. It is true that the facilities here are not the best, but a new waiting room is at present being constructed, and when completed should be an asset to this station.
As a result of the report that the complaint was made with respect to the immigration officer at Moncton, Mr. Fisher wired the immigration inspector at the point in the following words:
Newspaper made bad mistake, because my blast at immigration red tape for immigrants concerned Montreal and not Moncton. Sorry your name erroneously involved. Your statement to paper perfectly correct. Regards.
John Fisher
There was no further examination of passengers on this plane by the immigration service at Dorval, because it had already taken place at Moncton.
With respect to the linguistic qualifications of immigration personnel at Montreal, in addition to English and French they are able to converse in Italian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Estonian, German, Polish, Greek, Arabic, Chinese, Yiddish, Ukrainian, Spanish, and1 have a working knowledge of Russian and Dutch.
Concerning Mr. Fisher's complaint that the reception of these immigrants lacked warmth, there is no question about the desirability of extending a welcoming hand to new Canadians, and this is being done as far as possible by departmental personnel and voluntary agencies; the Department of Citizenship and Immigration is operating a very useful settlement service for immigrants -not available to immigrants in years gone by. There is, however, a limit to the extent to which provision can be made for services of this kind. This service is available at seaports where time between arrival of vessel and departure of train permits such reception. Hon. members will appreciate why similar arrangements are not feasible at airports.

such as Dorval, or at border ports. The distance between Montreal and Dorval increases the difficulty to voluntary agencies in providing services at Dorval. Furthermore, air passengers are usually anxious to have their immigration and customs examinations completed rapidly so that they may proceed to their destination with as little delay as possible.
Respecting the handling of the particular flight on which Mr. Fisher was a passenger, in accordance with the policy of the department each immigrant was interviewed by an immigration officer to find out if he needed help, assistance or information. This took place while the baggage was being'unloaded from the aircraft, and the acting district superintendent of immigration at Montreal reports that the interviews were completed within five minutes.
Examination of prospective immigrants overseas and at Canadian ports of entry is necessary. The first is conducted to reduce the possibility of hardship on the immigrants themselves, which would result from rejection on arrival in Canada. The second is necessary because it is in Canada that landing or entry is granted.
Summed up: Mr. Fisher absolves the immigration officer in charge at Moncton, but says that facilities there are unsatisfactory. As I have said, better facilities are being constructed. Moncton is the point in Canada at which the only immigration examination of the passengers took place. At Dorval the examination of passengers related solely to customs-immigration officers participating only to the extent of offering advice and assistance. None of the customs or immigration officers at Dorval recalls any difficulty during the customs examinations and immigration interviews.
Like Mr. Fisher, I believe that we need more people in this country, and not only are we encouraging immigration but we are also helping and assisting the immigrants in becoming established.
We appreciate any criticism of this kind so that we may make our facilities better and larger.

Full View