Introduction: Mass Capture

Fig. I.1 CI 9 No. 15811, Reel no. T-6038.

Here is the first identification photograph of a Chinese migrant in Canada. It was attached to a form known as a CI 9 (Chinese Immigration 9), issued by the Chinese Immigration Branch of the Department of Trade and Commerce. It is called CI 9 no. 15811 (fig. I.2).

Please, imagine over 41,000 more. When I first encountered the CI 9s, the scale of this archive took my breath away. Each certificate is bursting with so much information, and so many stories that are still untold. The CI 9s are the most complete collection of Chinese head tax certificates in Canada.

Fig. I.2 CI 9 No. 15811, Reel no. T-6038.

CI 9 no. 15811 inaugurates an era of identification photography in Canada. From this point forward, the use of identification photographs for the purposes of tracking migration and immigration becomes the norm. Beginning with this document, Canada embarks on the first large-scale use of identification photographs. Between 1910 and 1953, tens of thousands of Chinese people residing in Canada would submit their photographs to be filed by the Chinese Immigration Branch. These records constitute the most comprehensive archive of early twentieth-century Chinese immigration in Canada.

Because CI 9s were systematically collected and filed by the state, they form an astonishingly comprehensive collection. With very few exceptions, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds every CI 9 issued from Vancouver and Victoria between 1910 and 1953. In 1910, efforts were made to tighten policies and practices governing Chinese migrants’ entry into Canada due to an immigration fraud scandal that led to the Report of Mr. Justice Murphy, Royal Commissioner Appointed to Investigate Alleged Chinese Frauds and Opium Smuggling on the Pacific Coast, 191011. The intensification of the surveillance of Chinese migrants, including the use of identification photographs, coincides with the work of this commission. Despite the loss of certificates issued before 1910, after 1910 there is a continuous sequence of every single certificate issued spanning forty-three years. The certificates are individually numbered, have been filed by port of entry, and kept in pristine numerical and chronological order.

Beginning late in 1910, there is an identification photograph attached to every certificate. These photographs constitute an astounding visual archive. Images of Chinese people in Canada from this period are rare enough, but images of those not among the elite are even rarer. The CI 9s include photographs of people at the margins – farm hands, lumber camp workers, fisherman, vegetable peddlers, cannery workers, railway workers, and general labourers. What is more, because of the nature of these records, we know exactly who they are, or who they claimed to be. The people in these photographs are not anonymous. Far from it.

As with all identification photographs, the CI 9 photographs offer an indication of the identity of their subjects. However, as I will discuss in chapter 2, the name on the certificate can be more of a promise or a suggestion of the identity of its bearer than an absolute proof of identity. Any regime of identification risks misidentification. Such risks are magnified when the record necessarily involves some level of translation. The vast majority of Chinese migrants did not speak English. No agent assigned to the offices responsible for these records spoke Chinese. And then, of course, there was the practice of “paper sons,” whereby Chinese-Canadians sold their immigration papers in order to allow other Chinese migrants to enter Canada using their names and identities. During the exclusion period (1923–47), this trade in paper identities offered the only route for Chinese migrants to enter Canada.

Until the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1947, and even for many years after the official end of this requirement, Chinese migrants who wished to temporarily leave Canada were required to “register out” with immigration authorities prior to departure. Under the auspices of the act, registers of all outward-bound Chinese migrants were kept at each port and every migrant was issued a “Certificate of Leave,” later called an out-registration or CI 9 certificate. Such was the power of this demand that until 1953, six years after the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act, many Chinese migrants continued to voluntarily register out before departing Canada. The name of the person travelling would be entered in an out-registration register located at the port of departure. At that point, they would also be issued a CI 9, valid for two years. Chinese migrants were additionally required to leave behind other identifying certificates (CI 5, 6, 28, 30, or 36 – see appendix A for the details of each type of certificate). Upon the migrant’s return to Canada, the identifying certificates would be returned, and the CI 9 would be annotated with the date and port of re-entry. If the Chinese migrant did not return before the two-year time limit, the CI 9 would be marked as expired, and the other documents would be sent to Ottawa for cancellation. A migrant with an expired CI 9 lost their right of re-entry even if they had been born in Canada.

Before this book took shape, I had thought of the CI 9 as a kind of “proto-passport.” Booklet-style passports were not used in Canada until 1921 (Wagner 2006, 163). It seemed to me that the CI 9s offered a unique view of a mobility infrastructure that was still in process. The state had not always needed to track the movements of its citizens. It did not always put so much faith in a positive correlation between a traveller’s identity and the identity on their documents. The demand for documents betrays the anxieties of the state. Without uncertainty, there would be no demand. The passport is, in the first instance, a document of suspicion. Originally I argued that the CI 9s illustrate precisely the anticipation and formation of this suspicion.[1]

My thinking shifted when I came to terms with the fact that the people in these certificates were not citizens. Further, they had no reasonable hope of becoming citizens. From 1885 to 1923, the Chinese Immigration Act limited the entry of Chinese people into Canada through the levying of a series of “head taxes,” which by 1903 cost $500 per person. Further, from 1923 to 1947, with very few exceptions for merchants, students, and diplomats, Chinese people were categorically barred from entering Canada. Families were separated. People were stranded. And throughout this time, Chinese people living in Canada were non-citizens.

To be Chinese in Canada prior to 1947 was to be denied the rights and privileges of citizenship. For one thing, there was no such thing as Canadian citizenship until 1947 when the Canadian Citizenship Act passed. Prior to its passage, those with the fullest access to citizenship were British subjects living in Canada. During the period of the Chinese Immigration Act (1885 to 1947), a period that encompasses both the levying of the head tax upon Chinese migrants until 1923 and the outright exclusion thereafter, Chinese migrants living in Canada could theoretically apply for naturalization and become British subjects, but very few were ever successful. As Julia Lum recognizes, “‘citizenship,’” for Chinese Canadians before 1947, “is a term that has been used beyond its strict legal sense. Some historians, authors and community members refer to the exclusion period as a time when citizenship was denied to Chinese Canadians, even those born in Canada. The representations of Chinese bodies as foreign, alien bodies speak to their exclusion from participation in the body politic and an exclusion from images that constitute the official founding of the nation” (121). Most Chinese Canadians remained outsiders despite residing and working in Canada for decades. Catherine Clement outlines how, although the federal government was responsible for the Chinese Immigration Act, municipal and provincial governments across the country also implemented numerous anti-Chinese laws and policies:

Other levels of government did their part to restrict and harass the Chinese community. They allowed or promoted segregation; forbid the Chinese access to public facilities, like swimming pools; prohibited entry into critical professions and public employment; denied Chinese born in Canada the right to vote; and enacted punitive business levies and by-laws to keep them out of commercial life. The racism carried over into the streets and into local business. It also found its way onto newspaper pages. Harassment; name calling; denial of service; derogatory editorials and cartoons; beatings; and damage to property was a common experience for early Chinese. (18)

Chinese people faced harassment and discrimination that affected every aspect of their daily lives. On a hot day, they could not use the local swimming pool to cool off. When they were able to start a business, in most provinces they were prevented from hiring white female staff members. When their children did well in school, they were not given access to professional opportunities. Their homes in Chinatown were constantly at risk of being razed due to complaints about sanitation and health standards. For Chinese migrants in Canada, non-citizenship encompassed a range of exclusions that had to be endured. Chinese people were both terribly present throughout the country, and utterly absented from the rights and privileges of citizenship.

As the cumbersome apparatus of head tax certificates reveal, the state bent over backwards to regulate and police the terms of non-citizenship. It was an unwieldy system that generated a bewildering amount of paperwork. There were dozens of different kinds of forms and certificates relating to the head tax alone (see appendix A). This paperwork had to be drafted, printed, completed, filed, cross-referenced, verified, and filed again. While the exclusion of Chinese migrants from Canadian life is clear cut, the mechanisms for enforcing this exclusion were anything but. There was confusion, anxiety, and a great deal of general incompetence in the way these exclusion laws were actually enforced. The excluded were themselves constantly changing and shifting. The non-citizen is not a static figure. They must be constantly regulated and monitored. They demand vigilance.

Mass Capture follows the story of this vigilance. This book tells the story of citizenship’s entanglement with surveillance by studying one specific set of documents, the CI 9s. The non-citizen is generated again and again through state surveillance. The non-citizen persists through the documents that mark their exclusion. Every certificate filed, every form completed, constitutes another instance of their construction.

Non-citizenship is the verso of citizenship, and the existence of one depends on the other. Mass surveillance is also about the constant work of producing non-citizens. What is more, because citizenship emerges only in relation to non-citizenship, the latter functions as citizenship’s perpetual other. Non-citizenship haunts citizenship.

Mass Capture is not a pre-history of mass surveillance. It does, however, investigate one specific instance of surveillance on a mass scale, leveraged against non-citizens in the name of perpetuating their alienation from the rights and privileges of citizenship. Mass Capture makes two arguments that are intimately connected. First, I argue that the head tax functions as a form of surveillance, and second, I argue that this surveillance is a process of mass capture by which non-citizens are made.

The CI 9s constitute an early and elaborate system of surveillance. These certificates reveal so much. But they are also telling in their function as negation. The people captured in these certificates are not immigrants. Their presence in Canada was handled by the Department of Trade and Commerce. They were not treated as settlers. Their presence was meant to be temporary. But they endured.

Photography and Vernaculars of Non-citizenship

CI 9 no. 15811 was issued on 3 October 1910. Before this date, before this exact certificate, there were no identification photographs of Chinese migrants on file. And then, suddenly, it starts. Like watching the hand of the clock tick past midnight, we can see the exact moment when this era of mass capture begins. Immediately before no. 15811, on CI 9 no. 15810, issued on 28 September 1910, for Louie You, sometimes known as Louie Peters, a merchant from Ottawa formally listed as a “commercial traveller,” there is no photograph.

Fig. I.3 CI 9 No. 15810, Reel no. T-6038.

In the passage from CI 9 no. 15810 to 15811, we can see the beginning of a new era of identification practices. After CI 9 no. 15810, we enter an era of hyper-visibility for the non-citizen. Already singled out for discrimination and racist violence by the visuality of their difference, Chinese migrants would now enter the record caught in the persistent demand to show themselves, by producing photographs as proof of their identity.

Although the men, women, and children on these certificates were not given the chance to speak for themselves in any way beyond responding to the demand to fill in the blank spaces on the certificates, this archive is not mute. What is more, the photographic turn that begins with CI 9 no. 15811 initiates an intensified volubility for non-citizens. Non-citizens are not silent. Even when they are not invited to speak, even when they are denied the rights of citizenship, the very forms of their capture produce a vernacular of presence. In the case of the CI 9s, the identification photographs constitute a distinct, and distinctly notable, vernacular. Although identification photographs are both “quiet and quotidian,” as Tina Campt understands, they also transmit “suppressed forms of diasporic memory” (2017, 4, 6). Campt warns against conflating the quietness of identification photographs with silence because “quiet photography names a heuristic for attending to the lower range of intensities generated by images assumed to be mute” (6). Indeed, the identification photographs affixed to the CI 9s were presumed to be so mute, so silent, that the photographs were never meant to speak for themselves. Their function on this certificate of identification is that of silent corroboration to the textual demands of the form. Each response to the questions on the form (Who are you? What is your real name? What is your job? Where do you live? Who are your friends? Where did you come from and where are you going?) is an audible, and legible, response to a state demand.

The response to the question of “occupation” offers a small window into the social life of Chinese migrants throughout the duration of the head tax and exclusion period. Except for a handful of outliers such as the commercial traveller, Louie You, on CI 9 no. 15810 (fig. I.3), or the interpreter, Lee Mong Kow (fig. 4.5), that I discuss in chapter 4, the people captured on the CI 9s listed their occupation as “farmer,” “laundryman” or just “laundry,” “cook” or just “restaurant.” Most frequently, they listed their occupation as “labourer.” They gave their strength and resilience to the construction of the country in whatever capacity was necessary, be it the building of a railway or clearing land for agricultural use. These occupations are limited and also generic. There are only so many jobs that Chinese migrants were permitted to hold, and yet the lack of specificity of these occupational titles indicates the interchangeability of their labour. However, the existence of the accompanying identification photograph suggests the circulation of a different language of identity and presence.

I began with a photograph of a Chinese migrant that I cut out of the context of the head tax certificate because I wanted to see this person as a person (fig. I.1). I wanted to consider the possibility that this photograph might be a portrait, even though I first encountered it as an instance of what John Tagg (1988) and Allan Sekula (1986) identify as repressive photography. In the latter, the state uses photography instrumentally in order to identify and to enforce exclusion through photographic capture. It is, of course, crucial to read the photograph in the context of the certificate itself because the photograph alone cannot carry the burden of the work of identification. As Sekula understands, late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century proponents of identification photography were some of the very first to recognize the limitations and unreliability of photography: “Contrary to the commonplace understanding of the ‘mug shot’ as the very exemplar of a powerful, artless, and wholly denotative visual empiricism, these early instrumental uses of photographic realism were systematized on the basis of an acute recognition of the inadequacies and limitations of ordinary visual empiricism” (1986, 18). In response to the recognition of these limitations, Sekula notes, there arose a “merger of optics and statistics” such as that of Alphonse Bertillon, inventor of “the first modern system of criminal identification” (ibid., emphasis original). Bertillon “combined photographic portraiture, anthropometric description, and highly standardized and abbreviated written notes on a single fiche, or card. Second, he organized these cards within a comprehensive, statistically based filing system” (ibid.). In chapter 1, I argue that this combination of the statistical and the photographic functions as a form of documentary mass capture. In chapter 2, I examine the particularity of filing, and systems of filing, as central to the ways in which mass capture fails. For now, let me return to where I began: the identification photograph taken out of its context, or the identification photograph as a potential portrait.

I will be the first to admit that it is not much of a portrait. According to the aesthetics and conventions of good portraiture, this photograph fails. The image quality is very poor. You can barely make out the subject’s features. The lighting is so deficient that we cannot even see his eyes – they are dark hollows. Indeed, the contrast is so high and the lighting so bad that the man in the image is almost skeletal. There is a line across the photograph where the whole document, photograph included, had been folded. The photographic image has been bifurcated by this trace of bureaucratic indifference in the name of space-saving efficiency.

Filed, allowed to fade, and literally folded into the settler-colonial archive, this photograph might not be much of a portrait in any conventional sense. Yet, here is a man who was denied so much, who has, according to this form, spent at least eleven years in a country that did not permit him the right to be at home in it, whose very presence is questioned by the existence of this form itself, and who nonetheless makes a quiet demand to be seen, to be remembered, to be heard. We may not be able to look him in the eye, but he looks out at those who behold him. We may not be able to hear the story of his life, but, as I will argue in detail in chapter 4, there is in this image a refusal of silence.

Identification photographs are “conduits of an unlikely interplay between the vernacular and the state” (Campt 2017, 5). That is, they function as images of an ordinary life at the same time that they circulate as evidence produced for the state. Certainly, in the context of the CI 9 certificate, the identification photographs did serve the state. They are unquestionably repressive in precisely the terms that Tagg articulates in The Burden of Representation: “It is a portrait of the product of the disciplinary method: the body made object; divided and studied; enclosed in a cellular structure of space whose architecture is the file-index; made docile and forced to yield up its truth; separated and individuated; subjected and made subject” (1988, 76). The identification photographs at the heart of Mass Capture are undeniably the product of this system of representation. However, as I will show in the later chapters of this book, they also exceed and escape the repressive instrumentality to which they had been relegated. I track this excess, and this escape, by following Campt’s injunction to listen to these images, and to hear in them the possibilities of a vernacular.

The CI 9 identification photographs are vernacular in form and, at the same time, they put into place a vernacular. It is a vernacular of refusal. As Campt observes with regard to passport photographs of Black British men claiming citizenship in the wake of the 1948 British Nationality Act, even though these photographs are “documents of permission, surveillance, and accountability, the fugitivity of these images exceeds this regulatory function” (2017, 32). We must, as Campt insists, move beyond merely looking at images: “To look at these images is to see genre and form” (45). Looking at the CI 9 photographs renders visible the scale of state repression and suspicion levelled at the non-citizen. But to learn to listen to them “is to be attuned to their unsayable truths, to perceive their quiet frequencies of possibility” (ibid.). These possibilities reside in the many ways through which these non-citizens refused the terms of their exclusion. They did so, as chapter 2 shows, by subverting the CI 9 system so profoundly that it would fail in its most basic objective of identification. Further, as chapter 3 uncovers, looking at representations of family in the CI 9 photographs reveals ways of making and remaking ideas of kinship. At the same time, the extremely rare photographs of women and children that can be found in the CI 9 archive vividly illustrate how the law separated families. The non-citizens captured in these certificates demand forms of legibility, and audibility, that far exceed the limits of the certificates themselves. In this demand, and in the persistence of their refusal to be silent, these non-citizens practise a mode of agency anchored in anticipation, as I outline in chapter 5. In so doing, they shift the temporality of their presence away from histories of exclusion and towards the expectation of futures of “diasporic dwelling,” or, “the right to come and go, to stay, as well as to arrive and return over and over again” (Campt 2017, 31). In short, the right to citizenship. As I will show in the final chapter, although they would not be granted citizenship, these non-citizens establish anticipation as a mode of agency where the line between citizen and non-citizen is not one of division, but of relation.

The CI 9 archive reveals the way in which citizenship and non-citizenship pivot on the photographic turn. There is a profound relationship between citizenship (and thus non-citizenship) and photography. For Ariella Azoulay, “Photography has directly interpellated the citizen – he or she can become the bearer of history, both as photographer and as photographed” (2008, 114). Azoulay’s concept of “the civil contract of photography” outlines the complex array of relationships that come into play in the construction of citizens and non-citizens. In the civil space of photography, she asserts, the operator of the camera is not the only agent. We must contend also with the subject, the spectators, and presumably also darkroom technicians, photographic distributors, and all of the other people who affect, and are affected by, the photographic situation. The civil contract of photography “binds all individuals who take part in photography … The modern citizen has thus renounced the exclusive right to his or her image in favor of an economy of images that, in principle, includes the individual and all others” (116). In the case of the CI 9s, the civil contract of photography helps to illuminate the peculiar ways in which the migrant is bound to the customs agent, who is also bound to the photographer, who is also bound to the second customs agent co-signing the certificate upon the migrant’s return, who is also bound to the persons identified on the certificate as those to whom the migrant is “personally known” (fig. I.2). Azoulay’s concept goes a long way towards expanding the idea of the social relations mediated by photography in the service of the construction of contemporary citizenship. Still, despite the enormous productivity this concept, I share Thy Phu’s departure from Azoulay with regard to the rehabilitation of citizenship encoded in the civil contract of photography. As Phu notes, the work of “suturing the seemingly irrevocable split between man and citizen” enshrined in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen is work that is still, in many ways, before us (2011, 19). Instead, as Phu suggests, “Before citizenship can be rehabilitated, its significance must be reconsidered” (19). For Mass Capture, the work of reconsidering the significance of citizenship lies in a rigorous examination of the practices and materiality of the construction of non-citizenship.

Non-citizenship and Its Others

Who or what is the non-citizen? The answer is at once obvious and strangely murky. A non-citizen is not a citizen. This statement verges on the tautological. Well, of course. However, it is the very circularity, the way in which this definition turns in on itself and falls apart upon that turning, where things get interesting. Can a non-citizen only be defined in terms of its opposite? Does that mean that non-citizens exist only in relation to citizens? Is it possible, then, to have citizenship without non-citizenship? Is the non-citizen human?

On this last point, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), in the opening paragraph of The Rights of Non-citizens, attempts to obviate any ambiguity: “All persons should by virtue of their essential humanity, enjoy all human rights. Exceptional distinctions, for example between citizens and non-citizens, can be made only if they serve a legitimate State objective and are proportional to the achievement of that objective” (UNHCHR 2006, 5). The UNHCHR proceeds in the next paragraph to offer a definition of citizenship as that which can be acquired through jus soli (law of place), or jus sanguinis (birth to a parent who is a citizen of a country), or naturalization. Finally, in the third paragraph, there is a definition of the non-citizen: “A non-citizen is a person who has not been recognized as having these effective links to the country where he or she is located. There are different groups of non-citizens, including permanent residents, migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, victims of trafficking, foreign students, temporary visitors, other kinds of non-immigrants and stateless people” (ibid.). The non-citizen is thus many things, but, first and foremost, they are indeed human and definitely not a citizen. Both these limits – the humanity of the non-citizen and their exclusion from citizenship – signal a seemingly limitless aporia at the heart of non-citizenship. The multiple ways of being, or becoming, a non-citizen contrast sharply with the clarity of citizenship acquisition. Non-citizenship remains curiously under-theorized.

Even more than the citizen, the non-citizen is a densely complex figure occupying a dynamic and problematically transient state of being. Non-citizens are not meant to remain non-citizens. Their status is defined by impermanence. Permanent residents are only permanent insofar as they are on their way to becoming citizens. Migrants are not meant to be perpetually migrant. Refugees, asylum-seekers, and victims of trafficking are looking for safe haven. Foreign students are expected to graduate, and temporary visitors are meant to return home. Theorizing non-citizenship demands an engagement with a figure that is, by definition, in flux and on the move. In addition, it calls for an approach to non-citizenship that understands how it is routed through citizenship and the subject of human rights.

No small task.

There is still more. While there is universal agreement on the process by which one becomes a citizen (it bears repeating not least because of its simplicity: jus soli, jus sanguinis, or naturalization), there is a striking lack of clarity about the process, or processes, by which one becomes a non-citizen. And even though it may not be a desirable state, it is certainly not one arrived at by accident.

As the case of the thousands of Chinese people tracked by the CI 9 system reveals, the construction of non-citizens is a deliberate process of exclusion and discrimination exercised by the state in the name of safeguarding citizenship. In order to define who or what a citizen is or ought to be, the state must also identify its other, the non-citizen.

Scholarship on citizenship recognizes that citizenship is defined through the identification of non-citizens. For example, as Engin Isin recognizes in his study of the genealogies of citizenship, “citizenship and its alterity always emerged simultaneously in a dialogical manner and constituted each other. Women were not simply excluded from ancient Greek citizenship, but were constituted as its other as an immanent group by citizens. Similarly, slaves were not simply excluded from citizenship, but made citizenship possible by their very formation” (2002, 2). Isin identifies categories of people (women, slaves) whose status as non-citizens at different points in history and geography secures the existence of citizens. Similarly, Leti Volpp’s (2007, 2014, 2015) work in legal scholarship examines the ways in which citizenship is imbricated with dominant culture as it is defined through and against minority cultures. In terms of Canadian citizenship specifically, Ayelet Shachar’s (2009) research on citizenship focuses on the way in which the acquisition of citizenship in Canada is bound by policies that privilege birthright (being born on Canadian soil, or to Canadian parents, or naturalized – etymologically derived from Latin to connote being born again), instead of connection to a particular country of residence. That is, Canadian citizens emerge out of a process of differentiation that depends not only on identifying who and what a citizen is, but also who and what they are not.

Throughout this book, I refer to Chinese migrants captured in the CI 9s as non-citizens because, quite simply, they were not citizens. Nor did they have any hope of becoming citizens. Prior to 1947, Chinese migrants could petition to become naturalized as British subjects residing in Canada, and a handful of people did make successful petitions. However, overwhelmingly, Chinese migrants were not meant to access the rights and privileges of citizenship in a settler-colonial state “that relies on the settlement of select individuals for the express purpose of securing control over people and territory” (Madokoro 2016, 12). As the 1902 Report of the Royal Commission on Chinese and Japanese Immigration declared, “there was entire unanimity” on the idea that Chinese migrants in Canada are “unfit for full citizenship” and that the Chinese migrants “are so nearly allied to a servile class that they are obnoxious to a free community and dangerous to the state” (278). A few lines down, the commissioners lay the groundwork for what would become the outright exclusion of Chinese immigrants: “This class of immigration falls short of the standard so essential to the well-being of the country. From a Canadian standpoint it is injurious, and in the interest of the nation any further immigration ought to be prohibited” (278). In the first half of the twentieth century, emigrants were wanted, immigrants were not desirable, and Chinese immigrants were the least desirable of all.

The language of emigration marked those who were desired for Canadian settlement. Under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, beginning in 1869, “Emigration Agents” were stationed “in various ports and central towns in Great Britain (with a few strategic European locations) to inspect immigrants embarking for Canada and to publicize Canada as a place of settlement” (LAC 2020). In contrast, according to the minister of the interior at that time, Frank Oliver, the 1906 Immigration Act had only one purpose: “to enable the Department of Immigration to deal with undesirable immigrants” (Kelley and Trebilcock 2010, 138). In short, in Canada prior to 1947, emigrants were desirable and immigrants were not. The Chinese Immigration Act (1885) precedes the Immigration Act (1906), and both pieces of legislation were geared towards regulating and limiting the entry and settlement of those who were deemed undesirable. Chinese migrants were not intended to be settlers. They were not considered to be emigrants. They were certainly not meant to be immigrants in the contemporary sense: “Neither the Chinese migrants recruited through the indentured labour schemes in the mid-1800s nor the later generations who moved to gam saan were desired as citizens by governing officials. Their labour was valued but their permanent membership in white settler societies was not” (Madokoro 2016, 11). For this reason, this book understands the people governed by the Chinese Immigration Act as Chinese migrants who were never intended to be given the rights and privileges of citizens and who were meant to live as perpetual non-citizens throughout their time in Canada.

[1] Mass Capture as a Technology of Non-citizenship

Just as citizens emerge out of a series of social, cultural, and political movements, non-citizens also emerge out of a complex process. It is not the case that non-citizens just happen to be there as women, slaves, refugees, immigrants, and Indigenous peoples. In this book I argue that non-citizens are made. Further, they are not simply made; they are captured.

Specifically, non-citizens are constructed out of a specific process that I call mass capture. Legal writing on the large-scale collection of personal data conducted by private corporations and the state uses “mass capture” to refer to this practice (Lynch 2012a; 2012b). In chapter 1, I extend this usage and theorize mass capture as a technology for the production of non-citizenship. Mass capture is a practice that is both corporeal and documentary. That is, it depends upon the capture of bodies and information about those bodies. Mass capture is not solely about data collection. And it is not only about the bodies of migrants amassed in the hold of a ship or the barracks of an immigration detention centre. It is about how these two processes work together to produce the non-citizen.

Mass capture occurs through the process of data collection related to the members of a large group. The record for each member of the group will include such information as identification photographs and the assemblage of personal data, such as name, place of residence, occupation, migration history, and biometric data such as the recording of facial scars and fingerprints. Throughout the years of the Chinese Immigration Act (1885–1947), and for many years after, Chinese people entering and exiting Canada were systematically tracked in ways that were entirely novel. The head tax certificate that has received the most public and academic attention is the certificate formally titled Chinese Immigration 5 (CI 5). As the language of the CI 5 suggests, these certificates were essentially receipts, or proof of payment, showing that the bearers had paid the initial tax permitting their entry into Canada.

Fig. I.4 CI 5 No. 87231, MG55/30-No116, R12115-0-5-E.

The CI 5s were kept by individual migrants. Because the state did not keep them, relatively few survive. Still, they have been particularly important for activism and scholarship on Chinese head tax redress (Mawani 2010; 2011; 2014; Moran and Dyzenhaus 2005). These certificates also become part of the way in which Chinese families document their lives in Canada: “For many families whose roots in Canada go back to the days of the head tax and the exclusion period, the discriminatory identification documents also become a part of family lore, as a point of contrast to measure family progress and the decline of racism. It is also a strange outcome that many of these documents have earned prominent places in the family album as both evidence of state-sponsored discrimination and a family’s Canadian origin story” (Lum 2017, 121).

Even though many documents were kept by Chinese families and passed down as part of a family history, the vast majority of the documents pertaining to the head tax, including photographs of individual migrants and the accompanying identification documents, were kept by the government. The tracking of these immigrants under the terms of the Chinese Immigration Act generated substantial documentation and a significant archive of materials. This legislation “created Canada’s first policy to closely screen individual immigrants, and it set precedents that would have a lasting impact on national policy” (Mar 2010, 16). Much of the documentation generated by this legislation is now known collectively as “head tax certificates.”

However, there were actually a number of different types of documents grouped under that name. In fact, as appendix A shows, there were fifty different types of head tax certificates. Although the purpose of many of these certificates is no longer known, each certificate was distinct and played a part in the immense bureaucracy that emerged out of the implementation and enforcement of the Chinese Immigration Act. In addition to all of these different types of head tax certificates, there was also the General Register of Chinese Immigration, which the University of British Columbia digitized in 2011. This register recorded detailed information in a series of columns (fig. I.5). Taken together, the vast array of certificates, combined with the information collated in the General Register, reveals a complex system put into the ostensible service of limiting and regulating the movements of Chinese people in Canada.

Fig. I.5 General Register of the Chinese Immigration, T-3484.

The CI 9s stand out not only because of their sheer numbers (in contrast, there are only a few dozen CI 5s held at various archives and in private collections), but also because of the depth of information on each certificate. Each one is the story of a life. It may not, as my discussion in chapter 2 will show, be the life of the person named and pictured on that document, but it is nonetheless a detailed glimpse into the life of a migrant. Although the number of CI 9s that we have today vastly outnumber the surviving CI 5s, very few scholars have seen or worked with CI 9s. While the CI 5s proved that the bearer had paid the head tax, the CI 9s were essential for surveilling the mobility of Chinese migrants and were explicitly instated as an exit-entry system for this particular group of non-citizens. In order to do so, the CI 9s, unlike the CI 5s, collected a range of biographical and biometric data in addition to identification photographs.

CI 9s were also used to in attempts to thwart immigration fraud (Mar 2010, 27). These certificates contain a substantial amount of information about the immigrant, including their name and age; their year of arrival in Canada; the name of the arrival vessel; their profession in Canada; any identifying marks; their signature in Chinese, English, or, in some cases, a thumbprint; and their place of residence. These immigrants were not considered citizens, but they were given the right to return to Canada. Typically, the right to return to a “home” country, not that of entering a “host” one, is the defining function of a passport (Cho 2014a; Robertson 2010; Salter 2007). The CI 9s thus occupy a curious and richly ambiguous place: travel documents that offer non-citizens one of the rights of citizenship.

Notably, Chinese immigrants were not the only group whose mobility was placed under surveillance during this period. From 1885 until 1941, Indigenous people in Canada were subject to a pass system that attempted to track and restrict their movements (Barron 1988; Bennett 1974). As Danielle Taschereau Mamers argues in Settler Colonial Ways of Seeing, the pass system was one of the “seemingly more benign forms of disciplinary and biopolitical governance” (2017, 75) that replaced the militarized violence against Indigenous peoples with bureaucratic processes that were no less violent. This system caused enormous suffering within Indigenous communities. Initially implemented as a security measure to “prevent further resistance after the 1885 North West Rebellions, the pass system required that all reserve residents register and receive approval for any travel through Indian Agents” (Mamers 2017, 75), and was supposed to be enforced by the NWMP (North West Mounted Police, the predecessor of the RCMP). The pass system was never made into legislation and was thus enforced arbitrarily and inconsistently, leaving Indigenous peoples at the mercy of the whims of local agents and police entities and exacerbating the pain wrought by the system. As Keith Smith observes in Liberalism, Surveillance, and Resistance, the pass system was part of a coercive and flexible matrix meant to restrict Indigenous movement in the interests of White settlers and it must be seen in that light … Even though Canada never had the capacity to forcibly restrict all off-reserve movement, the will of both the police and the DIA [Department of Indian Affairs] to do what they could in this regard is evident, even if some in the upper echelons of the former were sometimes uncomfortable” (2009, 67).

The pass system could only be enforced through intimidation: “Indian Affairs simply assumed an air of authority” through means such as the illegal arrest of First Nations individuals who were found off the reserve without passes. “The whole system … rested on very shaky grounds” and was undermined both by the refusal of First Nations communities to recognize the system, and by the reluctance of the NWMP to enforce a system that was not based in legislation (Barron 1988, 35–6). Indeed, the DIA and the NWMP were at odds. DIA agents sought the enforcement of the system, but could only do so at the behest of the NWMP, which was often not eager to enforce a policy that even Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, himself a keen supporter of the pass system, knew “could not be legally enforced” (Smith 2009, 64). As Macdonald’s own handwritten notes in the margins of a memo admit: “The system should be introduced in the Loyal Bands as well & the advantage of the change pressed upon them. But no punishment for breaking bonds could be inflicted & in case of resistance on the grounds of Treaty rights should not be insisted on” (quoted in Smith 2009, 64, emphasis mine). Indeed, bureaucrats such as Hayter Reed, the assistant to the Indian commissioner in 1885, complained in his own memos that “unless one is at their heels Police duties here are done in a half hearted manner” (ibid.). Despite this lacklustre approach to enforcement, the devastation of the pass system was real and painful.

The pass system was used by local officials to intimidate and restrict the movements of Indigenous peoples, preventing them from accessing opportunities for commerce and family reunion. Perhaps most devastatingly, as Alex Williams illustrates in his meticulously researched 2015 documentary The Pass System, passes were used to prevent parents from visiting children who had been sent to residential schools. The pass system allowed the Canadian government to transform reserves into what James Daschuk calls “centres of incarceration” (2013, xxii). Until 1895, when changes to Section 14 of the Indian Act explicitly prohibited most Indigenous religious ceremonies, the pass system already “served to curtail broad participation” (171) in such ceremonies. These prohibitions on movement thus affected multiple aspects of social, spiritual, and economic life for Indigenous peoples.

The system ended in 1941 upon the circulation of a letter to all western reserves that “requested the return of all remaining books of pass documents to be returned to DIA headquarters for destruction” (Mamers 2017, 75). A handful of pass documents remained with individual people, but the attempt to systematically destroy the documents – though not the considerable trove official memoranda containing evidence of the system – results in the loss of what would have been a significant visual archive of identification photographs of Indigenous peoples. As with the CI 9s, this archive would have been problematic in that it emerges from a system of policing movement that contributed to the devastation resulting from the Indian Act. Still, given the paucity of images of Indigenous peoples from this era, the possibility for using these documents in ways that counter their original intent is now lost.

The pass system was different from the CI 9s in many ways. It was not passed into legislation, and its goals were to control movement in the name of preventing rebellion, to restrict participation in Indigenous religious ceremonies such as the Ghost Dance, and to severely limit the possibilities for trade for Indigenous communities. However, it still offers an important corollary. Unlike the pass books, CI 9s were filed and stored by the state. Even when the originals were destroyed, copies were kept in a virtually indestructible format: microfilm.

Another major difference lies in the enforceability of the CI 9 system. The Chinese head tax certificate system as a whole was definitively part of Canadian legislation under the auspices of the Chinese Immigration Act. During the periods of the head tax (1885–1923) and the ban on Chinese immigrants to Canada (1923–47), Chinese migrants were explicitly overseen by the Department of Trade and Commerce, and not by the Departments of Agriculture, Immigration, Citizenship and Immigration, and External Affairs. That is, prior to the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1947, the entry of Chinese migrants to Canada was the purview of a federal department that had no responsibility for settling people in an ostensibly under-populated nation. Governed by what historian Robert Bothwell identifies as “a marginal ministry,” Chinese labour was central to national industries such the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, but Chinese migrants were explicitly non-citizens (1994, 60). Securing the status of non-citizens demanded a painstaking and elaborate process of data collection and corporeal capture.

Biometrics, Social Networks, and Anticipation as a Mode of Agency

The process of capture turns on photographic technology and its imbrication with biometric and biographical information. Photographic identification was not the only means by which the state captured these non-citizens. Indeed, the process of mass capture depends upon an intricate interplay between text and image. A cursory glance at any CI 9 issued after 28 September 1910 reveals the lockstep nature of the relationship between the words on the page and the identification photograph itself. In this instrumentalization of photography, the image and text are supposed to offer a perfect correspondence. The photograph is useless as a mechanism of identification, without, at minimum, the name of the photographic subject. The introduction of a demand for identification photographs in 1910 ushers in an era of identification technology whereby textual and visual markers, together, would be used to track the mobility of persons. In addition to an identification photograph, these certificates contain a substantial amount of information about the immigrant, including:

  • Port of departure
  • Intended destination
  • Ship upon which they travelled
  • Name
  • Years and place of residence in Canada
  • Occupation
  • Place of birth
  • Age of the migrant
  • Facial marks or peculiarities
  • Other people who personally know the bearer
  • Signature of the migrant
  • Signature of the immigration agent
  • Date of and port of re-entry

Each field of information on the CI 9 works to build on the other. The point of departure is tied to port of re-entry. The name is connected to the signature. Occupation is bound to the years and place of residence. All of this information works to construct a detailed and complex dossier of information that is itself entwined with the photographic portrait. This information was assembled and put into place in order to entrench a system of identification and verification. In this sense, the CI 9 is very much a biometric system as defined by Joseph Pugliese, in that “biometrics does not only refer to contemporary, computer-automated technologies that authenticate or identify enrolled subjects. Rather, taking the term in its most literal sense, it refers to a cluster of technologies that have all been preoccupied with the measurement of the body in order to identify, classify, evaluate and regulate target subjects” (2010, 10). Of course, in the case of the CI 9s, the forms of measurement extend beyond the body and into the social life of the “target subjects” – where they live, what they do, where they have been, where they intend to go.

What is more, this form of biometric capture extended into a process of what we now know as social network analysis. Nearly a century before the rise of social media and its eventual use as a tool of state and corporate surveillance, the CI 9 system sought to identify migrants not only through documenting facts about them, but also who they knew. The part of the certificate where each migrant is asked to identify those to whom they are known foreshadows our present moment. We are now made known not only by documents that identify us as individuals (e.g., passports and driver’s licences), but also across a wide range of platforms where our identities are tied to our social networks.

As a systemic approach to identifying individuals through a combination of identification methods, the CI 9s presage the recent rise of the “smart” border, the intensifying securitization of national borders, and the increasing use of biometrics for the purpose of differentiating the non-citizen from the citizen (Bhandar 2004; Browne 2005; Btihaj 2012; Merolli 2016; Pugliese 2007 and 2010; Salter 2007). As Ajana Btihaj observes, “biometrics is not without a history” (2012, 864). This history is deeply racialized. Building on the work of Pugliese on biometrics, Btihaj suggests, “It is as though these non-white subjects are ghosts in the biometric machine whose presence is an absent presence and whose appearance is a non-appearing appearance” (865). For Btihaj and Pugliese, biometrics depends upon an occlusion of race whereby the white body functions as a norm, thus resulting in failures to “see” racialized bodies even though these very bodies suffer the consequences of misrecognition. As Simone Browne excavates in Dark Matters, surveillance practices have always been deeply racialized. Mass Capture builds on these discussions by examining how the CI 9s illuminate the intersection of biometrics and race depends upon the hyper-visibility of the racialized body.

In the case of the Chinese migrants tracked by the CI 9 system, it was not that there was a system premised on the normative white body which thereby jeopardized the identification of the racialized other, but rather that the racialized body anticipates the ways in which non-citizens, and then also citizens, would be identified and tracked. As I will show in chapter 5, this anticipation is itself a mode of agency. I am not attaching potentially anachronistic terms such as biometrics and social network analysis to a body of historical documents only for the sake of pointing to the compelling ways in which they connect the past and present. Certainly, that is part of the work of this book: to borrow Pugliese’s term, there is a sense in which the CI 9s function as a “proto-biometric system” (2010, 2). However, more than this, the CI 9s document the workings of anticipation on the part of its subjects. The people in these certificates were constantly reading the world around them, translating it, and trying to position themselves in advance of the demands that would be made of them. As anyone who has ever lived in precarity will know, anticipation is a key mode of survival and resistance. Those who occupy positions of uncertainty and powerlessness must be keenly attuned to the currents of repression and exclusion. They must try to see ahead. They cannot afford to be caught off-guard. All of this vigilance constellates into anticipation as a mode of agency.

For the mass captured of the CI 9 system, it was imperative to understand in advance that they would bear the burden of looking and acting like a citizen long before they would be granted the rights and privileges of citizenship. In chapter 5, I will take up the ways in which Chinese migrants modelled citizenship even though they were not themselves citizens. Giorgio Agamben notes of what he calls “biopolitical tattooing”: “History teaches us how many such practices, initially reserved for foreigners, are soon applied to every citizen alike” (2008, 202). It is not just that biometric systems of mobility control like the CI 9 predate the current use of technologies such as iris scans, gait analysis, facial recognition, and so on, but that they are also omens of the mutability of the differentiation of the citizen from the non-citizen.

Although current discussions of the use of biometrics in relation to citizenship focus overwhelmingly on biometrics as a way to distinguish the citizen from the non-citizen (Bhandar 2004; Merolli 2016; Müller 2004; Salter 2007), the CI 9s show the necessity of understanding these categories as constitutive rather than oppositional. For example, both Davina Bhandar and Benjamin Müller identify 11 September 2001 as a key moment that marks this increasing securitization of citizenship and what Müller calls the turn from citizenship to identity management, or the shift from identification to authorization, where the primary question is no longer whether you are who you claim to be, but rather whether you are authorized to be where you are (Müller 2004, 287). However, such a process of distinction risks obscuring the constitutive role of the non-citizen in the construction of citizenship. The emphasis on distinction suggests an either/or, and yet, as Merolli’s (2016) discussion of naturalization reveals, the non-citizen remains integral to the citizen. In Merolli’s case, it is about the failure of naturalization processes to rid the newly re-born citizen of her residual non-citizenship identities and practices; but this failure can also be read as a trenchant reminder that the non-citizen is part of the citizen, and that one constitutes the other. Identifying the citizen is not so much about a binarizing process of distinction (Are you, or are you not?), but rather about stifling and managing the non-citizen whose very existence makes citizenship possible.

Practising Refusal

The legislation and regulation of Chinese migrants through processes of mass capture instigates a series of unintended effects. In the annals of colonial governance, there is a long history of this double movement of regulatory intention complicated by unintended consequences generated by recalcitrant subjects. This book follows the story of one instance of the gap between intention and consequence. Although the purpose of the CI 9 system was that of identifying Chinese migrants for the purposes of preventing immigration fraud, it is not at all clear that the system actually did so.

The first chapter of this book theorizes and outlines mass capture as a technology of exclusion. In attempting to follow Ann Laura Stoler’s injunction to read “along the grain” of the archive, to pay attention to the “archive’s granular rather than seamless texture” (2008, 43), this book begins with a careful look at how this system worked, and what about it actually did work. But the real story of mass capture does not end with the production of thousands of non-citizens through the CI 9 system. That is just a beginning. There is another much more interesting story of mass capture that lies in the refusals and resistances enacted by the mass captured. All the remaining chapters of this book are dedicated to unfolding this other story.

The system for tracking the comings and goings of Chinese migrants was both elaborate and curiously useless. As this book shows, CI 9s illuminate a larger history of the failure of the state to capture, contain, and limit Chinese migrants in Canada. Each certificate contains the potential of its own form of unknowing, and most of this book is devoted to the ways in which the CI 9s are evidence both of the un-making of knowledge, and of the leveraging of unspoken or quiet knowledge as forms of resistance and agency.

In the CI 9s, there are what Campt identifies as “practices of refusal – nimble and strategic practices that undermine the dominant” (2017, 32). These documents persistently complicate the forms of knowledge that they instantiate. At first glance, they seem to be identity documents that were generated to regulate the mobility and movements of a specific group of people. And yet, as chapters 2 and 3 will show, there is nothing straightforward about the knowledge that they purport to contain. The names of the vast majority of the migrants are unreliably recorded, translated, or transcribed. There is, as I discuss in chapter 1 and in more detail in chapter 4, a grammar embedded in the language of the CI 9 certificates themselves that demands to be read and which absolutely refuses an easy reading. Even though the certificates are supposed to use a formulaic template that would capture each migrant’s identity, the language of the certificate, and the tension between that language and the migrant’s responses, makes for a “tense grammar” (Campt 2017, 50). Between the system’s attempts at stasis, at pinning down and making constant the identity of a particular non-citizen, and the variances of that non-citizen’s positioning throughout the certificate, there is a practice of refusal anchored in what Agre calls a “grammar of action” (1994, 102). The concept of mass capture as having a grammar, and the connection between grammar and capture, owes a debt to Agre that chapters 1 and 4 will detail.

The CI 9s generated far more information than could be processed during the period of its existence. Even now, it is hard to do justice to the sheer amount of information that each certificate contains. There are the signatures or initials of the custom agents that were often, but not always, scrawled across the photographs. There is the question of how each migrant chose to portray themselves in their photographs, how they wore their hair, and what clothes they chose to wear. Some wore European clothes such as suits and neckties. Others kept their hair queues plainly in sight. And then there are the many layers of institutional handling that can be traced and read on each document. For example, there are the checkmarks that some, but not all, immigration agents made on each line of a certificate, presumably as part of a process of verifying the answers received from the migrant upon their return to Canada.

Fig. I.6 CI 9 No. 23373, Reel no. T-6049.

And there is still much more. These documents are so textured. I have been examining them for many years now and it is hard for me to stop looking, to feel as though I have seen fully all that there is to see, and to hear all that these documents have to say. In this sense, this book is not only about capture, but also about the possibilities of captivation. In the concluding chapter and the coda, I will turn to the relationship between these documents and art. In doing so, I am guided, in part, by Rey Chow’s thinking on captivation as a “deranged remainder” of competing social forces (2012, 52). In Chow’s investigation, those forces are economic (the contest between consumerist capitalism and socialist revolution). For Mass Capture, they are what remains between repression and resistance, and the imperative to keep looking at these images.

The CI 9s are not solely documents of a repression animated by racism. Nor are they only representations of the many forms of agency carved out of repressive conditions by people who had so little power but who nonetheless did so much with what little they had. As the book charts, the CI 9s are both of these things. Yet in between those two poles, there is something else. I hesitate to call it beauty, but there is much about these certificates that is, for me, beautiful. There is the quiet dignity of the people in these photographs, and the way in which their self-positioning within the very limited frame of the identification photograph offers so much that exceeds those limits. I have been captivated by this archive. You might be too.

In demanding to be looked at, and to be heard, the CI 9s also put into circulation the possibility of captivation as agency. They capture their beholders and demand an attentiveness, and a response, that is deeply felt. To study these certificates and these images is to think about the lives behind them. Look at the faces of one worker after another and think about how exhausting their labours would have been. Read the unending list of “peculiarities,” noting how many times a scar on the face or the head has been recorded, and think about the forms of violence to which these migrants were subjected. If we allow it, there is something there for us in these certificates that captivates and captures the aftermath and excess of repression and resistance.

  1. Please see “Anticipating Citizenship” (Cho 2014, 158–80).


Mass Capture Copyright © by McGill-Queen's University Press. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book