Harper reverses stand on Liberal redress for ‘racist’ head tax policy

Harper
reverses stand on Liberal redress for
racist
head tax policy


Conservative leader joins NDP and Bloc in demanding an apology for
Chinese-Canadians

BY PETER ONEIL
VANCOUVER SUN

OTTAWA
Conservative leader Stephen Harper has reversed his position and is now calling
on the federal Parliament to apologize for its blatantly racist anti-Chinese
immigration laws from 1885 to 1947.
The Tories join the New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois in condemning as
inadequate a recent $2.5-million Liberal plan to recognize the historic
injustice but to not apologize or offer individual financial redress to victims
and their families.
The
Conservative party has long recognized the terrible historical wrong of the
Chinese head tax,
Harper said in a written statement issued Thursday during an election campaign
stop in North Bay,
Ont.
It
is time for Parliament and the government of Canada to recognize this grave
injustice, and to apologize for it.
The federal government collected $23 million in so-called head taxes
essentially a fee paid for the right to immigrate to Canada between 1885 and
1923, equal to more than $1.2 billion in todays dollars, from
about 81,000 Chinese immigrants, many of them impoverished.
>From 1923 to 1947 there was an outright ban on Chinese immigration. It was
the only time an immigration law specifically singled out a racial group,
although federal policies at various times restricted or banned certain groups
most infamously when a none is too many
approach was taken to desperate Jews fleeing Nazi Germany before and during the
Second World War.
Harper indicated he would leave the door open to financial redress when he said
a Tory government would attempt to negotiate with all groups.
It was a veiled a reference to the Chinese Canadian National Councils
exclusion from final negotiations on Liberal Multiculturalism Minister Raymond
Chans
initiative. The CCNC insists on an apology and redress.
A
Conservative government would work with the entire Chinese-Canadian community
to establish a consensus for reconciliation and redress,
Harper said.
Harpers
surprise announcement comes as the party plans an election advertising campaign
as early as next week in the Chinese media.
The CCNC, which has waged an aggressive campaign to discredit Chans
$2.5-million initiative, said it was encouraged by Harpers
new stand.
All
three opposition parties are now criticizing the governments
poor handling of the head tax redress issue during this important election
campaign,
CCNC executive director Victor Wong said following Harpers
announcement. The
Liberals should commit to good-faith negotiations with the representatives of
head tax payers and families.
Harper had supported the position of party critics Bev Oda and Inky Mark, two
Tory MPs who pushed the Liberals to come up with the $2.5-million ACE
Acknowledgement, Commemoration, and Education initiative that was
announced days before the election campaign began, according to Oda, Mark, and
a party official in an e-mail earlier Thursday.
The two critics supported Chans position that an
apology could open the door to costly legal claims by Chinese-Canadians and
other groups who believe theyve been subjected to
discrimination.
But at least three of Harpers B.C. candidates,
Darrel Reid, John Cummins and Kanman Wong, have broken from that position and
publicly called earlier this week for a new deal that includes at least an
apology and possibly compensation.
Oda, speaking after Harpers announcement, said she and Mark won
Harpers
support while working to advance their own private members
bills seeking some form of redress from a reluctant federal government.
She said her leaders
new position reflects a party platform stand for a future Tory government, and
takes into consideration the bitter divisions within Canadas one million ethnic
Chinese.
Weve
listened to the community, we understand that theres division here, and
what were
going to suggest is that were willing to sit down with the entire
community and try to find consensus, Oda said in an
interview.
Harper, in his statement, evoked the work of his MPs and candidates as he cited
the 1988 decision by former prime minister Brian Mulroney to provide more than
$300 million in 1988 to Japanese-Canadians treated as enemy aliens during the
Second World War.
I
acknowledge the efforts of Conservative parliamentarians and candidates to
obtain a just redress of the head tax. These efforts are in keeping with the
historical achievement of a previous Conservative government in addressing the
unjust internment of Japanese-Canadians.
Mark, who said hes
been fighting for resolution of the issue since getting elected in 1997, voiced
some irritation earlier this week with the B.C. candidates who are calling for
an apology and redress.
I
wish theyd
talked to me first before they take a position, which none of them has done,
Mark said, adding: Just
be careful what you promise.
Chan said this week that the government would open itself to costly lawsuits if
it started apologizing and offering financial compensation to any group
claiming victimization by past legal acts of Parliament.
In a statement issued Thursday, he said: I am saddened that
Mr. Harper has chosen to play politics with such an important issue.
He added: The
Liberal government had an arrangement with the opposition critic Bev Oda and
Inky Mark, the lead for the Conservative party on this file for the better part
of 10 years, on how to acknowledge this tragic part of Canadian history. It is
clear that Mr. Harper is not consulting with his own critics and members of his
own caucus who have a personal stake in this issue.
poneil@hotmail.com

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