The Asiatic Exclusion League was formed on 14 May 1905 in San Francisco, California, by 67 labor unions. Among those attending the first meeting were labor leaders (and European immigrants) Patrick Henry McCarthy and Olaf Tveitmoe of the Building Trades Council of San Francisco and Andrew Furuseth and Walter McCarthy of the Sailor's Union. Tveitmoe was named the first president of the organization. The group's stated aims were to spread anti-Asian propaganda and influence legislation restricting Asian immigration. Specifically targeted were Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans. The League was almost immediately successful in pressuring the San Francisco Board of Education to segregate Asian school children. By 1908, the Asiatic Exclusion League reported 231 organizations affiliated, 195 of them labor unions.
A sister organization with the same name was formed in Vancouver, British Columbia on 12 August 1907 under the auspices of the Trades and Labour Council. Its stated aim was "to keep Oriental immigrants out of British Columbia." On 7 September, riots erupted in Vancouver when League members besieged Chinatown after listening to inflammatory racist speeches at City Hall. Shouting racist slogans, as many as 9 000 people marched into Chinatown, vandalizing and causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. The mob then rampaged through Japantown, where they were confronted by residents armed with clubs and bottles with which they fought back. The organization flourished immediately following the riots, but began to dwindle by the following year. The AEL resurfaced in the early 1920s, this time claiming a membership of 40 000 in the province in the period leading up to the passage of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which ended virtually all Chinese immigration to Canada.
Another important, albeit indirect, consequence of AEL activity was that the 1907 Vancouver riots led to the first drug law in Canada. The Minister of Labour (and future Prime Minister), William Lyon Mackenzie King, was sent to investigate the riots as well as victim claims for compensation. One claim was submitted by opium manufacturers, which sparked an investigation into the local drug scene by King. Particularly alarming to the minister was that opium consumption was apparently spreading to young white women. A federal law was soon passed “prohibiting the manufacture, sale and importation of opium for other than medicinal purposes.”
Both Asiatic Exclusion Leagues were the product of an overall atmosphere of white racism against Asians that prevailed in Canada and the United States from the 1800s on, culminating in the imposition of a Head Tax and other immigration policies designed to exclude Asians from Canada, as well as Japanese American internment and Japanese Canadian internment during World War II.