The Status of Maltese Immigrants

Responsible Canadian politicians did understand that it was unrealistic to rely solely on immigrants from Great Britain when Canada was not attracting enough attention even in Europe. Speaking in Ottawa in November 192 1, Mr. M.T.A. Crear, leader of the National Progressive Party, said that he saw the need of a wider immigration policy to bring in people who would help expand old settlements and create new ones. Mr. Crear referred to the stagnation caused by a significant national debt. He added that more immigrants, even if they were not British, would increase the population, expand the national economy and provide more traffic and business for the railways.

Intending migrants knew that Canada's economy was not flourishing. In December 1920, in Toronto alone, there were 18,000 workers out of their jobs and half of these were war veterans. In that same month a delegation of returned servicemen went to Ottawa to urge the Government to grant an unemployment allowance. They claimed twelve dollars a week for single men and a grant of something between twenty-three and thirty dollars for married men, according to the number of children they had. The delegation insisted that the unemployment situation in Toronto and in other cities was disquietening.

The winter of 1920 was a harsh one and the weather was not the only tribulation people had to put up with. The Maltese community was feeling the pinch. Silvio Lanzon, a Maltese immigrant living in Toronto, wrote a letter on December 16, 1920:

"We are settling for an unlimited period of great industrial and financial depression. Over-production has caused the unloading of immense products for which there is no outlet. The Canadian consumer does not have the money to buy and the high rate of exchange is keeping all foreign buyers off these shores. Production has come to a standstill and the factories are closing down '.

Unemployment and an immigration policy largely based on racial prejudice were not conducive to a just attitude towards people who had a lot to contribute to Canada's development, even if they were not British. But Canadian legislation was slowly moving towards exclusion of those races considered as not desirable. In 19 1 0 a new immigration act excluded three classes of undesirable immigrants. These three classes of foreigners were supposed to pose a threat to Canada's civilisation:

  1. Those physically, mentally or morally unfit.
  2. Those belonging to nationalities unlikely to assimilate and who consequently prevent the building up of a united nation composed of people of similar customs and ideals.
  3. Those who from their mode of life and occupations are likely to crowd into urban centres and bring about a state of congestion which might result in unemployment and a lowering of the standard of Canadian life.

The aim of this act was to exclude those who were not British in race, language and appearance. The act meant to exclude all foreigners who not only looked different but also acted differently. Asian and Mediterranean peoples were considered as undesirables not only because of their race, language and appearance, but also because they normally preferred to settle in cities where they joined others who looked and behaved like themselves. The legislators of 1910 had admitted that clauses 2 and 3 were specifically designed to discourage the entry into Canada of immigrants from Asia and Southern Europe

Three years after the passing of the act, six Maltese men experienced the hostile application of the law. In July 1913 these men arrived at the port of Seattle, in Washington State, U.S.A. They belonged to the crew of the steamship "Dunblane". On July 15, they presented themselves at the Canadian border with the intention of going to Vancouver in British Columbia. The Maltese carried British passports with them but the Canadian immigration officials refused them entry for two reasons: first, the Maltese had not arrived in Canada directly from their country of origin. Second, the men looked distinctly like Italians and therefore could not be British. During such confrontations with the immigration officials it was often quoted to those seeking entry that Canada was to stay a white man's country at any cost and a British country if possible.

Although Dr. Bartolo had gone to Canada in 1920 and there declared to his hosts how British and loyal the Maltese were, his Canadian hosts were not impressed. On April 12, 1922, the Governor General acted on a recommendation of the Acting Minister of Immigration and Colonisation. As from that date no immigrant of any Asian race was permitted to land in Canada unless he had in his own right the sum of 250 dollars.

Such an exclusive attitude on the part of the Canadians had its effect on Maltese emigration to that part of the British Empire. By 1922 emigration from Malta to Canada was at a very low ebb. The requirement of 1922, expecting an Asian immigrant to carry with him the sum of 250 dollars, was extended to the Maltese. That was a prohibitive sum and the intention was to make it financially impossible for undesirable aliens to contemplate approaching the coasts of Canada. If the migrant had with him his wife and children then that sum had to be enlarged in order to provide extra money for them as well.

The landing money was one significant obstacle in the way of those Maltese who wished to emigrate to Canada. There were the other standard requirements which applied to all those who sought entry into the country. Shipping agents would not issue a ticket unless the intending emigrant already had in his possession a landing permit issued from Ottawa or London. As if such restrictions were not stringent enough, no one was presented with a landing permit unless he was classified as an experienced farm worker with sufficient capital and proceeding to an assured job on a farm.

In 1922 the Canadian representative in London for the ministry of immigration had told Mr. Henry Casolani that his superiors thought that the Maltese were physically unfit to face the cold of Canada and therefore their entry, like that of Southern Europeans and North Africans, was not encouraged. Mr. Casolani thought that the Maltese were as hardy as any other European race because they lived on an island which was exposed to all winds. Mr. Casolani also retorted that the Maltese were of pure European stock, born within the British Empire and proud of their Imperial connection. Mr. Casolani felt that his race was physically and morally equal to any people from the Northern parts of Europe.

Casolani's spirited plea for the acceptance of Maltese immigrants by Canadian authorities did not lack convinction nor eloquence. He wrote to the Canadian representative in London: "The Maltese are hardy and strong, they are clean and honest workers. Their English education is based on the usual high standards. Their historical and geographical books are English and their loyalty to England and to the idea of Empire has become a by-word. Thousands took part with the British or Canadian Armies in the Great War and hundreds fell atjutland and in other naval battles".

Casolani also enlisted the prestigious London newspaper "The Times" to help him impress important people in Great Britain, Canada and Australia, with the suitability and fitness of the Maltese migrant. On May 24,1922, "The Times" carried an interview with Mr. Casolani. In that interview Casolani said that emigration was a vital issue to the Maltese. He also said that the newly elected Prime Minister of Malta, Senator Joseph Howard, was himself completely convinced of the need to ease the pressure of over-population and high unemployment because Howard himself had been president of the Malta Emigration Committee.

"The Times" said that Malta was now a self-governing colony within the British Empire. The Maltese Government had appointed a minister for emigration in the person of Colonel William Savona. Savona had been a distinguished gunner who fought in France and in Turkey and knew how to handle and bring out the good qualities in men.

The interview carried by "The Times" concluded that the Maltese were natural emigrants. Moreover, under Minister Savona, only the fit and suitable were allowed to emigrate. Casolani assured his readers, British, Australian or Canadian, that the Maltese Government was preparing those who intended to settle abroad in order to be ready for life and work in foreign countries. Maltese prospective emigrants were healthy farmers, agriculturists or artisans who had never meddled with politics.

On March 5, 1920, the Governor of Malta, Lord Plumer, had complained to the Canadians about the treatment meted out to a number of Maltese emigrants who had been refused entry into Canada. Plumer's letter of protest read: "The refusal of the Canadian Government to allow emigration of Maltese to Canada, except in cases where there is already domicile, creates a serious situation as Canada and Australia have been the countries most favoured by emigrants in the past. If both are now to be closed to Maltese settlers, it will be necessary to devise means for settlements in other non-British countries".

The Governor had arrived in Malta soon after the anti-British riots of June 7, 1919. His approach to the Canadians was meant as an oblique hint that their unfriendly attitude to the Maltese not only created unnecessary human suffering and inconvenience but also bitter feelings. Such a situation was not helped by the refusal of Canada and Australia to accept immigrants from Malta. Lord Plumer knew that there was still a latent anti-British feeling in Malta and he feared that racial discrimination by British countries against the Maltese would help those who wished to see Malta separated from the British Crown.

The cases of discrimination Plumer had complained about concerned twelve men who had arrived in Canada via Italy. They had left Malta after having satisfied all the requirements imposed by Canadian immigration policy.

On January 11, 1920, the twelve emigrants from Malta were in Naples. just before they embarked on their ship which was to take them to Canada a telegram was received which stated that no Maltese were to be allowed to proceed to Canada. The twelve men were taken under escort. Some of these men had decided to go to Canada because they had made friends with Canadian soldiers in France during the war. Others had been on active service with the Royal Navy.

Another group of Maltese emigrants bound for Canada had left Malta in November of that same year. They arrived in Naples and embarked without any problem for their final destination. However, when the Maltese were on Ellis Island, New York, the Canadian representative blocked their way and the American authorities had to deport them back to Malta. Eight of these men had made their statements about their forced return home. Lord Plumer felt that those statements revealed an unusually harsh attitude of the Canadian officials towards those emigrants from Malta.

Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.

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