The White Women's Labor Laws: Anti-Chinese Racism in Early Twentieth-Century Canada

Law and History Review 14:2 (Fall 1996) 315-68

54 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2013

See all articles by Constance Backhouse

Constance Backhouse

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section

Date Written: 1996

Abstract

This article chronicles the prosecution of two Chinese men under a 1912 Saskatchewan statute forbidding “Chinese” men from employing “white” women. The “Act to Prevent the Employment of female labour in Certain Capacities” was motivated largely by anti-immigration and racist attitudes, and white workers' concerns about the competitive pricing of Chinese goods and services. Its effect was to bar Chinese business owners from hiring the cheapest labour available in the province.

At trial, the defence attacked the Crown's ability to pinpoint the accused's racial identity, given the police and prosecution's ignorance of Quong Wing's and Quong Sing's countries of origin and heritage. The author connects this to other historical examples that demonstrate that race is socially and politically constructed, and fluid.

The trial highlighted the social discourse that white women were vulnerable and needed to be protected from non-white men. Protection was advocated by middle- and upper-class women, but resented by working-class women who risked losing good jobs. Quong Sing and Quong Wing were convicted, and fined five dollars. The Supreme Court of Saskatchewan and the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the statute as valid provincial legislation.

Keywords: law, legal, trial, historical, history, biography, biographical, Saskatchewan, Canada, Canadian, white, Chinese, racism, ethnicity, race, immigration, labour, labor, business, Crown, social, political, construct, classism, class, working-, discrimination, supreme court, legislation, act, employment

Suggested Citation

Backhouse, Constance, The White Women's Labor Laws: Anti-Chinese Racism in Early Twentieth-Century Canada (1996). Law and History Review 14:2 (Fall 1996) 315-68, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2277345

Constance Backhouse (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5
Canada

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