reverses stand on Liberal redress for ‘racist’
head tax policy
Conservative leader joins NDP and Bloc in demanding an apology for
BY PETER O’NEIL
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.
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
is time for Parliament and the government of
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
1923, equal to more than $1.2 billion in today’s 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 Council’s
exclusion from final negotiations on Liberal Multiculturalism Minister Raymond
initiative. The CCNC insists on an apology and redress.
Conservative government would work with the entire Chinese-Canadian community
to establish a consensus for reconciliation and redress,”
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 Chan’s
$2.5-million initiative, said it was encouraged by Harper’s
three opposition parties are now criticizing the government’s
poor handling of the head tax redress issue during this important election
CCNC executive director Victor Wong said following Harper’s
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 Chan’s position that an
apology could open the door to costly legal claims by Chinese-Canadians and
other groups who believe they’ve been subjected to
But at least three of Harper’s 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 Harper’s announcement, said she and Mark won
support while working to advance their own private members’
bills seeking some form of redress from a reluctant federal government.
She said her leader’s
new position reflects a party platform stand for a future Tory government, and
takes into consideration the bitter divisions within
listened to the community, we understand that there’s division here, and
going to suggest is that we’re willing to sit down with the entire
community and try to find consensus,” Oda said in an
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.
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 he’s
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.
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.”