REFORM VIA STRANGE CIRCUMSTANCES: From Anti-Immigration/Racism to Canada’s First Drug Law

“…it’s misleading to say the Left has usually been in favour of a strong State and the Right a weak State [what a joke, anyway]. The question is, really, what did they want the State to do? To smash poverty, or smash heads? To break up monopolies or break unions? To end poverty or exterminate native people? Much of the Left and the Right have called for State intervention; the real question is, for what purposes?
—Mark Leier

Why do reforms happen? Well, the reasons are infinite, of course, depending on time, place and circumstance, and who knows what else (follow the money). But I was just reading about how labour movements in Western Canada, around the turn of the century, and in a noble fight for dignity (safety, fair pay etc) were so against immigration from Europe (Italians, Slavs) and even more so China, Japan and India.

The policies were for some, I am sure, pragmatism gone awry—cheap labour killed whatever power a union could get—for others, thick racism.

I thought you might find this interesting, from the year 1900:

1900 – [Mega industrialist] James Dunsmuir is elected Premier of [British Columbia], after running on a platform that focused on Asian exclusion. He took this to a level that none of his competitors could match [or afford], by promising voters that he would replace all of the Asian workers at his Nanaimo mines with Europeans.

It gets even uglier seven years later:

1907 – 7 September – A rally organized by the racist Asiatic Exclusion League and the trade unions of Vancouver was held at city hall in Vancouver to protest increasing Asian immigration to Canada.

Many white workers perceived these immigrants as threats to their jobs in the resource industries, because existing white chauvinism was exacerbated by the employment of Asian immigrants at far lower wages.

The rally, which attracted 8000 people, quickly became violent, and an attack was launched on Vancouver’s Chinatown. Thousands of dollars of damage was done to buildings as marchers smashed windows and shouted racist slogans.

The Chinese community in Vancouver declared a three-day general strike in protest, and armed themselves with rocks, sticks and guns in preparation for a return attack. A second riot did occur, a few days later, when the local papers published accounts of Asians buying up guns. The police intervened in the second riot, but not before residents of Chinatown, perched on the roofs of their buildings, rained a hail of rocks and bottles down on the invading mob.

Despite the willingness of the attacked minorities to defend themselves when it came to physical danger, they were entirely without weapons in the legislatures, courts and popular press in Canada.

The full piece is here.

This, for me, is big pause for contemplation as to what is truly behind anti-immigration laws, and the opposite, in different countries. Racism? Labour protection? Labour crushing?

Anyway, just after reading the above, I read the following excerpt from a doctoral thesis by Catherine Carstairs called ‘Hop Heads’ and ‘Hypes’: Drug Use, Regulation and Resistance in Canada, 1920-1961 (my italics):

Canada’s first drug law was the indirect result of anti-Asian riots on the West Coast in 1907.’ [see above]

The government sent Deputy Minister of Labour, William Lyon Mackenzie King [who would later become Prime Minister of Canada], to investigate the riots and the claims for compensation.

One of the claims was by several opium manufacturers who up until that time had been operating openly and legally on the West Coast. When he was in British Columbia, members of a Chinese anti-opium league called upon King and asked for the government’s help in their efforts to discourage and prevent the manufacture and sale of opium.

King subsequently tabled a report that warned that opium smoking was not confined to the Chinese in British Columbia and that it was spreading to white women and girls. He quoted a newspaper clipping that told the story of a pretty young girl who had been found in a Chinese opium den.

His report reviewed the progress of the anti-opium movement in China [despite the British and the Opium Wars, their demanding free trade of the product!], the United States, England and Japan, leaving the impression that Canada was far behind in this international moral reform movement!

Some things really never do change.

A few weeks later the Minister of Labour introduced legislation prohibiting the manufacture, sale and importation of opium for other than medicinal purposes. The legislation passed without debate.

Three years later the government prohibited the use of opium and other drugs.

In 1911, the sale or possession of morphine, opium or cocaine became an offense carrying a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment and a $500 fine. There was no minimum penalty. Smoking opium was a separate offense and carried a maximum penalty of $50 and one month imprisonment. Again, there was no minimum penalty.

Racist unions, who by definition defend the little guy? The Democrats voting down the Civil Rights Act in 1965? The ‘fiscally responsible’ Reagan Republicans turning the USA from the richest creditor nation to the world’s biggest debtor nation? and so on, and on and on. The bail out in countries that claim to be free market (and have never been).

Funny how we humans yearn for words to make sense of things, when slowly, so many words have ceased to have real meaning—other than to obfuscate. Is that the right word? I don’t know—other than to confuse us.

Anyway, history I found tonight, that I thought you might find provocative.

Lots of love to you,

Pete

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2 Responses to “REFORM VIA STRANGE CIRCUMSTANCES: From Anti-Immigration/Racism to Canada’s First Drug Law”

  1. Karen says:

    Hi Pete,

    While this has nothing to do with immigration laws or the “War on Drugs,” it is further proof that for all that changes, little ever does.

    In “The Great Decision,” by Cliff Sloan and David McKean, the authors paraphrased from a US President’s first State of the Union speech: “He suggested that the federal government had grown too large and cumbersome, weighed down by unnecessary bureaucracy. It could be reduced, he went on, and federal taxes…could be cut or eliminated.” That would be Thomas Jefferson in 1801.

    Also from the book, on November 12, 1802, John Marshall, while Supreme Court Chief Justice, wrote to his friend Charles Pinckney, “There is so much in the political world to wound honest men who have honorable feelings that I am disgusted with it & [sic] begin to see things & [sic] indeed human nature through a much more gloomy medium than I once thought possible.”

    We are so fragile, unique, predictable.

    Love to you and those you love,
    Karen

  2. It’s fantastic what you wrote. I’m not sure of this, but I think there are writings from, like, the heyday of the Greeks where parents were asking what the hell to do with kids these days, they’re so badly behaved!

    Ah, yes, if we could only remember with joy, the transient yet often predictable nature of all of this. We so want to make this world permanent…

    Lots of eternal and temporary love to you, and relaxed laughter and discernment at the joy and madness of it all,

    Pete

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