A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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Sidebar: The Ordeal of the 1500

THE ORDEAL OF THE 1500

On October 1, 1967, in the blush of Canada's Centennial year, Canada's Minister of Immigration, Mr. Jean Marchand, announced changes in the immigration law that would allow foreign visitors to apply for landed immigrant status while in Canada. According to the newspapers of the day, 223,000 visitors applied for landed immigrant status within that year.(1)

On November 3, 1972 this lenient criteria for immigrant status was repealed in an attempt to rid the country of an excess of clandestine arrivals and illegal aliens. What resulted was a tragedy of more than a thousand Haitians who found themselves caught between the two policies and threatened with deportation.(2)

The following is an excerpt of a letter by Paul Dejean, head of the Bureau of the Communauté Chretienne des Haitiens de Montréal, from his book, The Haitians in Quebec. The letter was written on behalf of the Haitians who were appealing an order for their deportation.

My present request concerns the situation of the Haitians currently appealing an order of deportation before the Canadian Immigration Appeal Board. You have no doubt been made aware of the anguish and panic affecting the Haitian community in Québec in view of the predicament facing these Haitians, most of whom are workers.

...I would like to draw your attention to the following points:

  1. Most of the Haitians come under the rubric of economic refugees or exiles and would be exposed to a tragic situation and to very grave dangers, in some cases, if they were deported to Haiti.
  2. Most of the Haitians threatened with deportation work in fields where the demand for manpower is very high; they are very useful to the development of Canada; and they are not a burden for the country.
  3. The Haitian workers presently appealing automatically assimilate, as does the greater majority of other Haitians, with the French community in Québec.
  4. special measure used on behalf of these Haitians does not run the risk of creating a dangerous precedent.

...I am requesting the following:

  1. That the Department of Immigration recognize the exceptional character of the situation of the Haitians presently appealing, and that theirs be declared a special case.
  2. That the Department of Immigration support the appellants' request for special redress to the Appeal Board, or that it refrain from making representations against these appellants.
  3. That a Ministerial Decree establish the measures appropriate for the granting of admission to Canada of the Haitians in question.(3)

Despite Marchand's letter and widespread pleas from the Haitian and Québec community, the deportation hearings went ahead in 1973. By 1974 the number of negative verdicts far outnumbered positive ones. The Appeal Board had decided not to grand any special redress for economic reasons. The Board felt that the 1500 Haitians in question were economic not political refugees, and therefore no justification that they be given special humanitarian consideration.(4)

In widespread public support to influence the outcome of the appeals, thousands of petitions were sent to representatives of the federal and provincial government. An Anti-deportation Action Committee (CAAD) was formed in Montréal by various Haitian groups and agencies. The CAAD participated in many interventions and demonstrations in Montréal and Ottawa. The media in Quebec, and the rest of Canada, joined in the effort with statements and pleas broadcast on radio and television, in newspapers and at community meetings. Letters of support and sympathy, many with donations, strengthened the anti-deportation campaign.(5)

In spite of this widespread show of public opinion in favour of the 1500 Haitians remaining in Canada, the federal government refused to budge.(6)

In the end only about 200 Haitians won their appeals and achieved special redress on humanitarian grounds. The final number of Haitians deported was impossible to count. Some chose to leave before their hearing, moving either back home to Haiti or elsewhere. Others were deported to Haiti but were allowed to return as landed immigrants because they had married someone with resident status or Canadian citizenship. Those who were deported to Haiti often faced harassment, interrogation and imprisonment upon their return.(7)

The Ordeal of the 1500 was a sudden wake up call for those in the Haitian community who had grown complacent about the comforts of their new home. Many were roused out of silence or indifference in support of their fellow Haitians who faced deportation. The ordeal also served to bond the Haitians with the larger Québec community. Québeckers began to understand that the tragedy of the uprooted Haitians and the hardships they had endured, were shared by most Haitians over the last 20 years of searching for a new life. Empathy grew for Haitians, and an appreciation for their simple desire to live with respect, dignity and peace.(8)

Footnotes:
1-8
The Haitians in Quebec, A Sociological Profile, by Paul Dejean
(Tecumseh Press, Ottawa, 1980).


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