Guest Commentary

Harry Narine Singh

My Country

(Editor’s note: In 1954 Harry Narine Singh and his wife Mearl emigrated as newlyweds from Trinidad to Toronto. On arrival they were deemed unfit because they were East Indian, and became plaintiffs in a landmark 1955 Canadian civil rights case. Immigration regulations at the time excluded foreigners based on race, a policy finally repealed in 1961 by then-Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. Mr. Narine Singh died in 2017 in Trinidad. Following is a transcription of his one and only interview, with Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan, on November 9, 2005)

I was a draftsman. I wanted to join the army. I wanted to further my education, get a decent place to live, earn money at the end of the week to buy groceries. That’s all I asked.

The whites in Trinidad came up to Toronto and got their papers fixed in a very short period of time. We were on Cloud Nine. We thought, well, if we go up there, it might take a year, six months, but they will allow us to stay.

I had the shock of my life. I went in and met the immigration officer. He said, “Do you want to stay in Canada?” Yes. “Could you wait a minute?” He came back with a deportation notice. They gave us seven days to leave Canada. That’s how it was.

Here we were, British subjects. My people had fought in the last World War. Lots of my friends died in that war. And here we’re denied. How would you feel? You feel worse than dirt. That’s how I felt.

People of my ethnic background, people of African descent, Chinese – they didn’t want you. You didn’t fit. You did not belong in this society at all at that time.

We went to the Supreme Court. I knew what was going to take place. They’d put us behind bars, lock us up, and we’d wait for passage to send us back to Trinidad, never to come back to Canada as long as I lived.

The whole ordeal was very painful. It was very, very, very painful. At one time my wife suffered a nervous breakdown. That was the reason why. I felt very bitter. I felt like even the dirt on the ground out there was more superior than I was.

You know I once met Mr. Diefenbaker. He shook my hand. He said, “My name is John Diefenbaker.” I said, “Yes, sir, I know your name.” He said, “Do you know I have argued your case in Parliament? Trust me,” he said. “When I become Prime Minister I’ll open the doors from the Caribbean to Canada,” which he did.

I have forgiven the whole bunch of them. They will have to answer to someone else, I suppose. When they die, they will have to answer for what they did.

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