Thursday, June 22, 2006

Canadian Governement's Official Apology for the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act

For Chinese Canadians that were affected by the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act, June 22, 2006 is a day many thought would never come.

Today, the Government of Canada is scheduled to make an official apology in Parliament for the over 63 years of legislated racism towards Chinese Canadians. To some, the connection to this story is obvious, as I am Chinese; however, there is also a personal connection for me to this, as my maternal grandfather was affected by the Chinese Head Tax when he came over to Canada in 1918, before he eventually returned to Hong Kong in the early 1930s.

The Chinese were the only ethnic group ever assessed a head tax for entering Canada. In contrast, during the same period, British and European immigrants were given money to help pay their way across the Atlantic. You can find more information about Chinese Immigrantion in Canada, the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act and its impact can be found here or here.

In the past, there have instances where Canada has mistreated certain portions of its population. This includes mistreatment the First Nations, the Chinese, and the Japanese among others. Canada has come a long way in changing its past behaviour, to a point where we have an international reputation as a truly humanitarian country that embraces diversity and multiculturalism. From discriminating against Chinese in the past, Canada, in recent times, is now far more inclusive, as seen by the appointment of a Governor General of Chinese heritage (Adrienne Clarkson in 1999).

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a formal apology for the fact that the tax was imposed, saying "the government of Canada recognizes the stigma and exclusion" the tax represented. He also promised "symbolic payments" to Chinese immigrants who paid a head tax to Canada between 1885 and 1923. The apology is an opportunity for Canadians to learn about a chapter of their country's history, "that we did actually target a particular group through laws and policies that were effectively racist."

Susan Eng, of the Ontario Coalition of Head Tax Payers and Families, called it a historic day.

For the government to step up to the plate and say we take responsibility for our wrongs, I think it sends a major message to all Canadians of the kind of values we hold dear.

Hopefully, by learning about our past, we won't repeat the same mistakes in the future. More information leading up to today's events can be found here and news about today's announcement can be found here.

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