A Timeline of the Vote

 1907

“No Chinese, Japanese or The East Indian shall have the name on the register of voters for any electoral district or be entitled to vote at any election”

Prior to 1907 South Asian immigrants had the right to vote as British Subjects. In 1907 the British Columbia government passed a bill to disenfranchise all Indians not born of Anglo-Saxon parentage. The House unanimously approved the bill (government and opposition) which was inspired by South African legislation. [i]

1911

“Give us our Wives and give us our Votes”

Prof. Teja Singh, Sardar Rajah Singh, Dr. Sundar Singh, and Rev. L.W. Hall meet with Canadian officials on behalf of the Khalsa Diwan Society and the United League to submit a petition to abolish the Continuous Journey Regulation and to re-enfranchise South Asian immigrants. [ii]

 1912

“Alleged to have caste a vote in the polling”

Husain Rahim had an arrest warrant issued in his name for falsely swearing before the election officer in the Vancouver electoral district and allegedly voting in an election in 1912. Rahim would have faced up to 14 years in prison if found guilty. Bail was originally fixed at $10,000.00, later reduced to $5000.00 but the court would not accept a surety for the bail from a South Asian immigrant. The court did not accept the plea of Rahim’s lawyer that he was a qualified voter (due to owning property in Vancouver and India) but was acquitted when the court could not prove he had actually cast his vote. [iii]

1914

“Hindus Not to be Allowed to Land: Immigration Inspector, Reid, Points out Obstacles to Prevent them Getting Here”[iv]

The Komagata Maru arrives and challenges the Continuous Journey Regulation. The treatment of Indian immigrants in British Columbia exacerbates tensions in India and fuels the Indian Independence Movement. The First World War begins and the Gadar party organizes a mass return of South Asian immigrants to India from Canada and the United States to fight for Indian independence. Many are arrested upon their arrival in India.[v]

1920

“So far as I know, citizenship in no country carries with it the right to vote. The right to vote is a conferred right in every case … This Parliament says upon what terms men shall vote … No Oriental, whether he be Hindu, Japanese or Chinese, acquires the right to vote simply by the fact of citizenship”

~ Hon. Hugh Guthrie, Solicitor General
Debate on the Dominion Elections Act
House of Commons, April 29, 1920

The Dominion Elections Act is introduced by Prime Minister Robert Borden and passed in 1920. It included a clause stating that people disenfranchised “for reasons of race” would also be excluded from the federal franchise.  Guthrie claimed this was not an act of discrimination by the federal government but merely recognition of the right of the provinces to decide who was eligible to vote.[vi]

1921

“After the conclusion of the First World War, Arthur Meighen, Prime Minister of Canada, promised to restore the franchise to the East Indians at the Imperial Conference in London, but he did not honour his word.”

In spite of his promises P.M Arthur Meighen does not move to restore the franchise to South Asian immigrants during the Imperial Conference.[vii]

1922

“At the earliest favourable moment the government will be pleased to invite the consideration of Parliament to your request that natives of India, resident in Canada, be granted a dominion Parliament franchise on terms and conditions identical with those which govern the exercise of the right by Canadian citizens generally.”

~ Mackenzie King

This promise was made by Mackenzie King and broken during the election amendments of 1923, 1939, and 1940. The federal government had the power to grant the federal franchise to South Asian immigrants but chose not to include such an amendment to the Dominion Elections Act of 1920. During parliamentary debate on the franchise M.P’s from B.C. insisted Ottawa not interfere in a “B.C.” problem.[viii]

1923

There is parliamentary debate on granting South Asian’s the federal franchise. While a minority (including Mr. Jacobs and J.S. Woodsworth) advocate in favour the majority oppose.[ix]

1923-1939

The South Asian community largely focussed their efforts on the immigration laws that prevented their wives and families from immigrating. The Great Depression of the 1930s also subdued further agitation for the franchise.

1939

“And in the summer of 1939, they found a new spokesperson in Dr. Durai Pal Pandia, an impressively articulate and educated thirty-three-year-old from Tamil.”[x]

Dr. D.P. Pandia arrives in Canada for the first time and renders invaluable assistance to the South Asian community when he succeeds in obtaining amnesty for over 200 immigrants who had entered Canada illegally and were in danger of being deported. The Second World War begins. [xi]

1940

Naginder Singh Gill, the general secretary of the Khalsa Diwan Society and a prominent Sikh social activist generates support in the Sikh Community to agitate for the Vote. The B.C. government attempts to stall any discussion of changing the franchise laws until after the Second World War.

Acclaimed social activist and film actress Kamaladevi Chattopdhyay t travels to Ottawa with Dr. Pandia during a six-month stay in the United States.[xii]

1942

“Under the National War Service Regulations the British subjects who were single men and childless widowers between the ages of 20 and 40 and who had been in Canada for at least one year, were called for compulsory military service in 1942.”

“We are British subjects. We are ready to fight for Canada, but we can’t understand why we are not entitled to vote.”[xiii]

~Naginder Singh Gill

A Letter Protesting Compulsory Military Service for Sikhs

Letter

The office of the law firm, Bird and Bird, Barristers and Solicitors, Vancouver, on behalf of the Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver, issued the letter transcribed to the right, from Bhagat Singh’s “Canadian Sikhs Through a Century (1897-1997), pg. 122-123. The letter was also forwarded to a number of newspapers in Canada.

Sikhs who met these requirements were requested to report for military service. Darshan Singh Sangha, a twenty-three year old communist and union activist, was the first to be drafted.[xiv] Solicitors for the Khalsa Diwan Society (Bird and Bird, Vancouver) protested this requirement and argued that the Sikhs would not go to war unless they were granted the right to vote. Subsequently the B.C. government, rather than engage with the issue of the franchise, exempted Sikhs from compulsory military service.[xv]

1943

“We ought to hang our heads in shame when we force a man to fight for Canada and refuse him the right to vote.”

~Elmore Philpott

A mass meeting is held at the Orpheum Theatre to rally support for the Vote with over two thousand attendees from all over British Columbia, many of whom were Sikhs visiting Vancouver for the celebration of the birthday of the Tenth Guru, an important event on the Sikh calendar, marked by a day of religious music and prayer at the Gurdwara. Many of the attendees came from the Gurdwara to the Orpheum Theatre. The platform party included Darshan Sangha, Nagindar Gill, Hazara Garcha, Elmore Philpott, Harold Winch, Harold Pritchett, and Dorothy Steeves.[xvi]

Three weeks after B.C. Premier John Hart r and his cabinet receive a delegation from the South Asian community to petition for the vote and the abolition of “racial barriers” against them. The delegation included: Baboo Singh, a veteran of the First World War; Two Sikh Canadian soldiers, in uniform, from the Second World War; Sir Robert Holland, a long-time civil servant in India who had immigrated to Canada and an ally of the South Asian community; Naginder Singh Gill, General Secretary of the Khalsa Diwan Society; Harold Winch, the CCF leader of the opposition; Harold Pritchett, president of the lumber workers’ union; and several other unidentified Sikhs.[xvii]

1944

A private members bill is introduced in the B.C. parliament to enfranchise South Asian immigrants but intense opposition from legislative assembly member George Pearson, provincial secretary and minister of labour, the bill was ruled out of order by the speaker. Pearson made headlines in B.C., and drew considerable public criticism for a racist tirade calling South Asian employers and workers “unreliable, dishonest, deceitful, and non-cooperative.”[xviii]

1945

A legislative assembly bill to enfranchise South Asians is defeated by only two votes. [xix] Noted Indian nationalist and parliamentarian Pandit Harday Nath Kunzru visits British Columbia after a conference in Virginia City.[xx]

1946

“How could they laugh at a Disney cartoon lampooning Hitler and the master race yet treat their own tiny Sikh minority so atrociously?”

Dr. Pandia returns to Canada after a group of community leaders, including Kapoor, Mayo, and Kartar Singh, requested he return from the West Indies, where he had been working on behalf of South Asians, to lead the fight for the vote. Within days of his arrival a community delegation, including bitter rivals from different factions within the community, arrived united to support the fight for the vote. Dr. Pandia was able to negotiate a peace between the factions and created a committee with representatives from the various factions who had agreed to shelve their differences and unite.[xxi] Dr. Pandia speaks to service clubs, church groups, on the radio, to the press, and directly addresses Premier John Hart and the provincial cabinet.

In the fall Dr. Pandia addresses a committee struck to review the election act when they meet for two days to hear petitions. The delegation led by Dr. Pandia includes lumbermen Kapoor and Mayo, Kartar, Ishar Singh, Naginder Singh, and Gurdit Singh Bilga. By this time public opinion, particularly in the wake of the Second World War, is shifting in favour of the South Asian community.[xxii]

The Canadian Citizenship Act is passed in 1946 (effective January 1st, 1947) which creates a Canadian citizenship independent of Britain and grants citizenship, previously denied, to landed immigrants with domicile status. Prior to this Act South Asian immigrants, along with other minorities, were not eligible for citizenship no matter how many years they resided in Canada.[xxiii]

1947

“There could have been not greater joy.”

~ Sarjit Kapoor

On April 2, 1947, “An Amendment to the Provincial Elections Act” is passed, returning the franchise to South Asian immigrants in B.C. 40 years after taking it away.[xxiv]  Without even pausing for breath Dr. Pandia and a delegation present at the annual convention of the Union of BC Municipalities and a Vancouver City Council meeting to press for similar amendments that will enfranchise the South Asian community municipally. They carry their point and by 1948 South Asians are enfranchised municipally as well.[xxv]

 



[i] Singh, B. (2001). Canadian Sikhs through a century (1897-1997). Dehli : Gyan Sagar Publications, p. 116.

[ii] Singh, B. (2001). Canadian Sikhs through a century (1897-1997). Dehli : Gyan Sagar Publications, p.118.

[iii] Singh, B. (2001). Canadian Sikhs through a century (1897-1997). Dehli : Gyan Sagar Publications, p. 119

[iv] Hindus not to be allowed to land. (1914, April 18). Province (Vancouver, B.C.), p. 1. Retrieved from http://refworks.scholarsportal.info/refshare2/default.aspx?r=file::get_attachment&name=April 18, 1914 T.pdf&id=179&session=FOTdYBffUC5wJoG6_sAFWc6AWK1BJF6APbPyLwvtQFXeIbXoMbPqPcACQRxCPFSuJFDuLbL6P8Jo

[v] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p. 54.

[vi] Elections Canada. (2012). A history of the vote in Canada. Retrieved from http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=his&document=chap3&lang=e

[vii] Singh, B. (2001). Canadian Sikhs through a century (1897-1997). Dehli : Gyan Sagar Publications, p. 120

[viii] Singh, B. (2001). Canadian Sikhs through a century (1897-1997). Dehli : Gyan Sagar Publications, p. 120

[ix] Singh, B. (2001). Canadian Sikhs through a century (1897-1997). Dehli : Gyan Sagar Publications, p. 120

[x] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.141.

[xi] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.141, 144.

[xii] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.164

[xiii] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.151

[xiv] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p. 150.

[xv] Singh, B. (2001). Canadian Sikhs through a century (1897-1997). Dehli : Gyan Sagar Publications, p. 122

 

[xvi] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.151

[xvii] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.151.

[xviii] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.162-163

[xix] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.163

[xx] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.165

[xxi] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.163-164

[xxii] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.165-166

[xxiii] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.166

[xxiv] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.166

[xxv] Johnston, H. (2011). Jewels of the Qila: The remarkable story of an Indo-Canadian family. UBC press, p.167

Download a Desktop size timeline of the Vote from 1907-1947
Download a Desktop size timeline of the Vote from 1907-1947

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Forty Years Without the Vote