Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




McKenzie, Francine


This dissertation is an international history of Canada and South African apartheid from 1958-1994. Based on multi-archival research and interviews with policymakers, diplomats, and pro- and anti-apartheid activists, it investigates how race informed the worldview of decision-makers and, in turn, shaped policy towards apartheid. By highlighting the formative role of racial perceptions in orienting Canada’s response to apartheid, this thesis addresses why Canada was so engaged on an issue seemingly peripheral to its national interests. In so doing, it shows how race and the liberal order are deeply intertwined and offers a fresh approach to the study of Canada’s international history.

Summary for Lay Audience

In popular memory, Canada was on the side of the angels in the fight against apartheid—a system of legalized and institutionalized racial segregation that existed in South Africa for nearly five decades. Perhaps more than any historical episode since the Suez Crisis, so the story goes, Canada lived up to its values, reaffirming the country’s identity and support for social justice and racial equality. This dissertation draws on multi-archival research and interviews with leading policymakers, diplomats, and activists to investigate Canada’s approach to apartheid—at the state and non-state levels—from 1958-1994.

This thesis is bookended by two events: Pretoria’s expulsion from the Commonwealth in March 1961 in which Canada played a decisive role, and the near-universal adoption of economic sanctions against South Africa twenty-five years later. It shows how Canada became a diplomatic battleground in the struggle for legitimacy between the global anti-apartheid movement, the white minority regime, and its Western partners. Canadian engagement on apartheid was a two-way street in which it was as influenced, if not more so, by others.

Available for download on Tuesday, December 31, 2024