Post-War Canadian-Philippine relations
by Jon Malek
Following the end of World War II, Canada became increasingly involved in the Asia Pacific region. As a Pacific nation with interests in Asia, Canada became particularly interested in the Philippines. For some time already, Canadian insurance companies and Christian missionaries operated in the islands, but in post-War reconstruction Philippines the Canadian government saw renewed opportunities for investment and better political relations.
In a policy statement of August 1944, the Canadian government said in a statement “after the defeat of our common enemies [in World War II] Canadians and Filipinos will look forward to a new era of peace and reconstruction in the pacific area.” In 1946, after the war’s end, Canada was invited to the Proclamation of Philippine Independence on 4 July 1946. An internal memorandum on the matter stated, “If, as is sometimes stated, Canada is a Pacific nation, it would be appropriate to take official cognizance of the birth of the Republic,” which it did swiftly. In 1949, relations between Canada and the Philippines were formalized with the opening of a Consulate in Manila. In a letter of instruction to the Consul General, External Affairs stated “You will, at all times, bear in mind that the principal function of the Consulate General of which you are in charge is the promotion and cementing of the friendly relations which exist between the people and Government of Canada and those of the Philippines.”
After 1949, relations between Canada and the Philippines remained amicable, as there was a relatively stable exchange of business. The Philippines was particularly interested in economic investment from countries like Canada, as they were less worried of “economic imperialism,” referring to the favourable economic rights maintained by the U.S. following the 1946 independence. By the 1960s, though, discussion circulated within External Affairs regarding the Philippine policy of reciprocity regarding foreign nationals seeking permanent residence, or visas on a non-immigrant basis. This became an issue because in November 1960, this policy became increasingly enforced and a local sales manager for Singer Sewing Machine Company had been denied an application to extend his employment visa. When prompted by the Canadian government, the Philippine Immigration Commissioner stated that because Canada did not permit Filipinos to enter Canada as pre-arranged employees, the Philippines would apply their policy of reciprocity.
All of this must be understood under Canada’s exclusionary immigrant policy prior to the 1967 Points Immigration System, of which I have written previously. The fact of the matter was that the Philippines recognized that Canada was denying Filipino immigrants based purely on their geographic origin, thus nearly denying all Philippine immigration. In a memo from 1957 titled Canadian-Philippine Relations: Consular and Immigration Problems with the Philippines, the matter was stated bluntly:
“Citizens of the Philippines are regarded as Asians under the Canadian Immigration Act and Regulations and as such their admissibility as immigrants is governed by Section 20 (d) of the Regulations which restricts their admission to first degree relatives of Canadian citizens. As a non-Commonwealth Asian country, the Philippines do not enjoy the benefit of a special immigration agreement with the Canadian Government similar to the ones concluded with India, Pakistan and Ceylon providing for a small annual intake of persons who would not otherwise be admissible. The net result is the virtual exclusion of Philippine citizens as immigrants since compared to other groups, for instance the Chinese and Japanese, there is practically no one in this country eligible to sponsor their entry for permanent residence.”
Pressure such as that from the Philippines played a significant role in liberalizing Canada’s immigration scheme that shifted to a merit based evaluation. This was imperative because, if Canada wanted to be a Pacific country and maintain favourable business relations, it would have to treat Asian nations like the Philippines on more equal footing. The push by the Philippines through enforcing the policy of reciprocal immigration was particularly forceful because Canada at the time was becoming more reliant on Philippine labour migration. In the late 1950s and through the 1960s, Filipina domestic workers came to replace those from Caribbean nations. Cities like Winnipeg relied to a degree on the immigration of professionals from the Philippines, ranging from medical professionals, university professors, and teachers; later, garment workers would also make a significant stream of Filipino immigration. For Canada to be able to benefit from this Philippine talent, there was significant pressure to liberalize Canada’s immigration policies, which eventually led to the new 1967 points system. The Philippines had a significant role in this, and as a result the growing numbers of Filipino immigrants to Canada has been significant to the country’s development.
Jon Malek is a PhD candidate in History at Western University, and is a member of the Migration and Ethnic Relations program.