So prevalent is this story that it has worked itself into the lore of Canadian history. There are definite parallels. As former Justice Giesbrecht notes Both used status cards that classified people by race and both granted people of one race entitlements not given to others. And his insight has been amplified and diffused throughout Canadian journalism and academia.
The problem is that the evidence to support this actually occurring seems thin. I found a South African article that discusses, in part, this issue. It is entitled Terminologies of Control: Tracing the Canadian-South African Connection in a Word.
The article is more of a philological and deconstructive analysis of the term “apartheid” inspired by the work of Derrida and Michel Foucault. However, the author, Maria-Carolina Cambre does note that there is in the historical archive this specific mention. “At last, Bourgeault gives some indication of specific policy material being copied by writing: ‘The South African Land Settlements Act of 1912 and 1913 was patterned after Canada’s Dominion Lands Act (p. 8). He also adds that “the first of many pass laws were then implemented based on the Canadian experience (p. 8)”
Whether that is enough to construct clear historical evidence (and it would be interesting to see historians explore this question) of the relationship between Canada and South Africa with respect to Apartheid is a separate question from the fact that this kind of thinking was prevalent at the time. The author seems to find fault with not locating Britain as the main exporter of this kind of colonialism but I think that is a bit tendentious. Canada, at that time, was a British colony. The corollary between Britain and Canada, especially then, was remarkably strong. Besides, Canada had a much more analogous political context with the Indigenous of South Africa than Britain had in the UK and so, on a balance of probabilities, the evidence points to Canada primarily and not Britain.
I tend to think rather than looking for a smoking gun with respect to Canada and the practice of South African Apartheid, we should instead look at the broad historical practices of “separate but equal doctrines” that were part of the warp and woof of a wide array of colonial practices – then and now. The use of the term Apartheid is a signifier of a particularly odious form of governmentality and one that we rightly want to resist. Maria-Caroline Cambre makes that very point in the article linked above.
We can learn much from South African apartheid but to pretend that the mechanisms and underlying political philosophy that drove apartheid there was not present all over the Western world is naïve. And to position South Africa as a pariah nation is unfair scapegoating.
What we need to do is learn from our global, primarily Western European, collective mistakes in terms of public policy and craft much better inclusionary politics. In fact, our politics must avoid all forms of nativism that would target immigrants or racialized others in pursuit of national political objectives.