Volume #13 - 796.|
INDIA AND PAKISTAN
Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs|
to High Commissioner in United Kingdom
February 4, 1947|
Dear Norman [Robertson]:
In your letter of January 16th† you asked about the legal disabilities to which British Indians resident in Canada are subject.
As you know there has been recently quite a bit of pressure from various quarters for us to do something about their status. I am summarizing below the present position of this group and outlining briefly the more recent developments.
1.(a) To use the Canadian census terminology, there are 1 ,465 Hindus in Canada and all, except possibly 122, can he deemed to be British subjects and Canadian citizens. Hindus in Canada are eligible for appointment to the Senate and they may be candidates for election to the House of Commons. They may he members of the Cabinet and are eligible for any office or appointment in the public service of Canada. They may, however, vote at a federal election only if they are entitled to vote at a provincial election or if they served in the armed forces of Canada; thus, in practice, all Hindus in British Columbia (91.6% of the Hindus in Canada) are deprived of their franchise at federal, provincial and municipal elections. This disfranchisement does not exist in other provinces.
(b) In British Columbia, Hindus (as well as all Asiatics) may not he candidates at a provincial election. Though they may not vote at municipal or school elections, it is thought that they could legally be candidates in such elections. In British Columbia, they may not serve as jurors, nor can they be admitted to the professions of law and pharmacy; they are excluded (in practice) from the provincial civil service;
they may not participate in Public Works contracts, obtain a license for hand logging nor can they be employed in the sale of Crown timber.
(c) During the war, East Indians were subject to national registration, to Selective Service Civilian Regulations and to Selective Mobilization just as any other resident of Canada. In practice, they were not called up for the Army.
2. During the last 25 years and especially after the outbreak of war in 1939, there have been a number of representations to the Canadian Government from Indian Societies in Canada and prominent Indians officially connected with the Government of India for the removal of these political discriminations. There are a number of recent developments concerning this question which may be of interest to you.
(a) In October 1946 the Prime Minister wrote again about this matter to the Premier of British Columbia and in concluding his letter said he would be glad to learn if any steps were being proposed by the Government of British Columbia to enfranchise East Indians domiciled in that province. In reply the Premier informed the Prime Minister that a committee had been appointed at the last session of the British Columbia Legislature to enquire into the operations of the British Columbia Elections Act and he understood that some recommendations would be made affecting the status of East Indians.
(b) In December 1946 an official communication was received from the Government of India drawing our attention to the discrimination against Indians in British Columbia and urging upon the Canadian Government "the desirability of persuading the British Columbian Government to avail of the present opportunity and take steps to confer franchise on the small Indian community in that Province and thus rectify the present anomalous position which is a source of humiliation to Indians". The Prime Minister again wrote to Premier Hart enclosing a copy of this letter and mentioning that he was very glad to learn that Premier Hart understood the special committee would make some recommendations affecting the status of East Indians. In reply the Premier said that the special committee was preparing its report which would be submitted to the Government, and on the basis of the report, a bill would be introduced in the House. The Premier went on to say that he thought the majority of the Legislature would approve the vote for East Indians and he said that personally he was prepared to recommend this action.
(6) There have been newspaper reports recently on the recommendations which the special committee of the British Columbia Legislature is drawing up. Two of particular interest are from the Vancouver Province of January 22nd and 23rd, and I am enclosing a copy of these two articles.' According to these reports, existing disqualifications are not to he completely removed, but only Canadian-born East Indians and Chinese (not Japanese) will obtain the franchise.
The next session of the British Columbia Legislature opens on February 1Ith and I shall keep you informed of further developments on this subject.