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The Hindu migration, which began in 1907, gave rise to a still more delicate situation. What did the British Empire mean, many a Hindu asked, if British subjects were to be barred from British lands? The only reply was that the British Government which still ruled India no longer ruled the Dominions, and that it was on the Dominions that the responsibility for the exclusion policy must rest. In 1909 Canada suggested that the Indian Government itself should limit emigration, but this policy did not meet with approval at the time. Failing in this measure, the Laurier Government fell back on a general clause in the Immigration Act prohibiting the entrance of immigrants except by direct passage from the country of origin and on a continuous ticket, a rule which effectually barred the Hindu because of the lack of any direct steamship line between India and Canada. An Order-in-Council further required that immigrants from all Asiatic countries must possess at least $200 on entering Canada. The Borden Government supplemented these restrictions by a special Order-in-Council in 1913 prohibiting the landing of artisans or unskilled laborers of any race at ports in British Columbia, ostensibly because of depression in the labor market. The leaders of the Hindu movement, with apparently some German assistance, determined to test these restrictions. In May, 1914, there arrived at Vancouver from Shanghai a Japanese ship carrying four hundred Sikhs from India. A few were admitted, as having been previously domiciled in Canada; the others, after careful inquiry, were refused admittance and ordered to be deported. Local police were driven away from the ship when attempting to enforce the order, and the Government ordered H.M.C.S. Rainbow to intervene. By a curious irony of history, the first occasion on which this first Canadian warship was called on to display force was in expelling from Canada the subjects of another part of the British Empire. Further trouble followed when the Sikhs reached Calcutta in September, 1914, for riots took place involving serious loss of life and later an abortive attempt at rebellion. Fortunately there were good prospects that the Indian Government would in future accept the proposal made by Canada in 1909. At the Imperial Conference of 1917, where representatives of India were present for the first time, it was agreed to recommend the principle of reciprocity in the treatment of immigrants, India thus being free to save her pride by imposing on men from the Dominions the same restrictions the Dominions imposed on immigrants from India.
But all these dealings with lands across the sea paled into insignificance beside the task imposed on Canada by the Great War. In the sudden crisis the Dominion attained a place among the nations which the slower changes of peace time could scarcely have made possible in decades.
When the war party in Germany and Austria-Hungary plunged Europe into the struggle the world had long been fearing, there was not a moment's hesitation on the part of the people of Canada. It was not merely the circumstance that technically Canada was at war when Britain was at war that led Canadians to instant action. The degree of participation, if not the fact of war, was wholly a matter for the separate Dominions. It was the deep and abiding sympathy with the mother country whose very existence was to be at stake. Later, with the unfolding of Germany's full designs of world dominance and the repeated display of her callous and ruthless policies, Canada comprehended the magnitude of the danger threatening all the world and grimly set herself to help end the menace of militarism once for all.
On August 1, 1914, two days before Belgium was invaded, and three days before war between Britain and Germany had been declared, the Dominion Government cabled to London their firm assurance that the people of Canada would make every sacrifice necessary to secure the integrity and honor of the Empire and asked for suggestions as to the form aid should take. The financial and administrative measures the emergency demanded were carried out by Orders-in-Council in accordance with the scheme of defense which only a few months before had been drawn up in a "War Book". Two weeks later, Parliament met in a special four day session and without a dissenting voice voted the war credits the Government asked and conferred upon it special war powers of the widest scope. The country then set about providing men, money, and munitions of war.
The day after war was declared, recruiting was begun for an expeditionary force of 21,000 men. Half as many more poured into the camp at Valcartier near Quebec; and by the middle of October this first Canadian contingent, over 30,000 strong, the largest body of troops which had ever crossed the Atlantic, was already in England, where its training was to be completed. As the war went on and all previous forecasts of its duration and its scale were far outrun, these numbers were multiplied many times. By the summer of 1917 over 400,000 men had been enrolled for service, and over 340,000 had already gone overseas, aside from over 25,000 Allied reservists.
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The Canadian Dominion -by- Oscar D. Skelton