Chinese senior says apology long overdue
By Mike Howell-Staff writer
At 84, Daniel Lee knows he doesn't have a lot of time left.
But while he's still alive, the Second
World War veteran would like to receive one thing from the federal
government-an apology for imposing a head tax on his father and
grandfather when they arrived from China.
“I'm not asking for money, or any
compensation, just an apology,” said Lee, a longtime East Side
resident, who was born in an apartment at Main and Pender. “How hard
can that be?”
Since the 1980s, Lee has sent letters
to various federal government ministers in Ottawa asking for an
apology. So far, he's received no indication an apology will be
On Monday, he showed the Courier
another 11 letters he was sending to the government's new crop of
ministers, including Minister of State for Multiculturalism Raymond
Chan and Minister of Veteran Affairs Albina Guarnieri.
This year, more than any year, would
be the time to make an apology, said Lee, noting the government has
proclaimed 2005 “Year of the Veteran.” In his letter, he noted he and
more than 600 Canadians from Chinese backgrounds served as Canadian
soldiers in the Second World War.
At the time, the 600 were not
recognized as citizens, but were prepared to make “the ultimate
sacrifice” for the country. That fact alone should be reason enough for
an apology for the financial harm done to Chinese families, he said.
When Lee's grandfather and father
immigrated to Canada at the beginning of the 20th century, they each
had to pay a $500 head tax. Lee's father was a poor watchmaker who had
to support Lee and his 13 siblings.
In Vancouver at the time, Chinese were
forced to attend segregated schools, sit in Chinese-only sections in
movie theatres and were barred from city-owned swimming pools.
A 1902 Royal Commission described
Chinese and Japanese immigrants as “unfit for full citizenship…
obnoxious to a free community and dangerous to the state.”
Lee's father died in 1927, and his
mother died in the late 1980s, Lee recalled. As the years pass, he said
many of his fellow veterans have died, including Wing Wong, a sergeant
in the Canadian army.
Lee pointed out a quote from Wong in
an old newspaper article, which captures what many Chinese were feeling
in the early part of the 20th century in Vancouver: “You can't imagine
the struggle of an 11-year-old Chinese boy in that do-or-die situation
in Canada… trying to grow up in a society that valued their horses
and dogs far above any Chinese.”
During the war, Lee was an aircraft
mechanic with the 168th Heavy Transport Squadron of the Royal Canadian
Air Force. Lee said his fellow non-Chinese soldiers treated him with
respect, unlike today's government.
Janice Summerby, a spokesperson for
Veteran Affairs Canada, said she couldn't comment on the head tax
issue, saying it was “completely outside our mandate.”
“It would be very hard to comment on
something we wouldn't have been involved in or have much background
about,” Summerby told the Courier.
A spokesperson for Guarnieri's office,
who wouldn't give her name, echoed Summerby's comments and added that
she didn't know which government ministry would be able to comment.
In May, Lee plans to be in Holland for
the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Holland. He'll be there with
other Canadian veterans, and expects to receive a warm welcome.
“Over there, we get a lot more respect.”
posted on 02/09/2005