Editor’s note: Harry Narine Singh and his wife Mearl were plaintiffs in a landmark 1955 Canadian civil rights case. The couple in 1954 emigrated as newlyweds from Trinidad to Toronto, and applied for residency permits. Question No. 8 on the application form asked, “Of what race are you?” The couple replied: “East Indian”. They were ordered deported.
Under a White Canada immigration policy, cabinet excluded foreigners on the basis of race. The Supreme Court in 1955 rejected Narine Singh’s challenge of the regulations. Only in 1961 did then-Prime Minister John Diefenbaker repeal race-based immigration quotas. 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 9. 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.