An Act to Prevent the Employment of Female Labour in Certain Capacities (Throwback Thursday)

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By Melanie Hodges Neufeld

Enacted in Saskatchewan in 1912, An Act to Prevent the Employment of Female Labour in Certain Capacities made it a criminal offence for Chinese men to employ white women. As noted by Beth Bilson in her article on The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan website:

In the early decades of the 20th century, many Saskatchewan citizens regarded Chinese immigrants to the province with suspicion and hostility. The labour movement supported legislation which would restrict the employment of Chinese workers, and community leaders expressed anxiety about the dangers of social contact.

In Quong Wing v The King, 1914 SCR 440, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the statute as valid. While the Act was amended in 1919 to disguise the racial focus by deleting all explicit reference to Chinese or other Asian employers, it did allow municipalities to   determine whether to licence restaurants or laundries in which white women were employed – businesses generally owned by Chinese men. The Act was finally repealed in 1969.

More information on the background of this legislation and the litigation that resulted can be found in the article “The White Women’s Labor Laws: Anti-Chinese Racism in Early Twentieth –Century Canada” by Constance Backhouse[1]. This article is available on HeinOnline in our Members’ Section.

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[1] Constance Backhouse, “The White Women’s Labor Laws: Anti-Chinese Racism in Early Twentieth-Century Canada” (1996) 14 Law & History Review 315.

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