Globe & Mail: Emerson backs head-tax compensation, Federal apology to Chinese would not lead to legal problems, minister now says

In
today's Globe & Mail…. an article by Petti Fong that shows MP
cabinet minister David Emerson breaking ranks with the Liberal Party….

Emerson backs head-tax compensation


Federal apology to Chinese would not lead to legal
problems, minister now says

VANCOUVER
— Senior B.C. Liberal David Emerson said he has changed his mind and now believes
the government should apologize to Chinese immigrants who paid $500 each to
enter the country.

Mr.
Emerson said he thought the head-tax issue had been resolved in the Chinese
community when the Liberal government, in its dying days in office, announced
it would give $2.5-million to fund education programs or postage stamps as
redress for the policy that singled out Chinese immigrants.

“I
was surprised it didn't get a more positive response. If we haven't got it
right, let's look at it and see if we can improve it,” Mr. Emerson said.
“I'm certainly hearing different opinions and getting different advice.
I'm getting new information and I'm willing to shift my ground.”

A
growing, angry chorus of Chinese-Canadian voters say the government should
apologize in addition to providing compensation to individuals. From the late
1880s into the 1920s, concerns that Chinese immigrants would take jobs away
from non-Chinese resulted in a government policy to charge a tax that was the
equivalent of two years of wages.

But
Multiculturalism Minister Raymond Chan and Liberal Leader Paul Martin
steadfastly refused to apologize, saying that would open the government up to
litigation.

That's an
argument Mr. Emerson no longer buys, he said yesterday. Like Mr. Chan, he is
running for re-election in a riding where he faces tough competition and where
more than 40 per cent of voters are of Chinese background.

Mr.
Emerson said he's heard from lawyers and the consensus is that an apology
doesn't imply liability. When he was in cabinet as Industry Minister, he said
that he believed a consensus had been reached with various Chinese community
groups and that the issue was resolved.

Mr.
Emerson said he plans to bring the matter up with Mr. Martin when the Liberal
Leader campaigns in the Lower Mainland this week. While he believes the
government should apologize, Mr. Emerson said, he is not convinced there should
be individual compensation.

Mr. Chan
dismissed his colleague's position yesterday, refusing to say any more about
the issue.

Ujjal Dosanjh,
the Health Minister, who is also running in a riding where 40 per cent of
voters are Chinese, said yesterday the government needs to talk to more people
in the Chinese community.

In 1992,
when he was an NDP member of the B.C. Legislature, Mr. Dosanjh
called for an apology and for the government to work with community groups to
reach a solution.

He said
yesterday that it now appears not enough consultation occurred before the
Liberals announced $50-million to redress historical grievances of seven ethnic
groups, including the Chinese.

“I
was given to understand there was significant consultation and broad consensus.
What I'm led to believe now is there is a need for broader consultation and
broader consensus,” Mr. Dosanjh said yesterday.
“I believe an apology has to be part of that.”

In an
interview with the daily Ming Pao, Mr. Martin indicated he's willing to speak
with the Chinese community, but did not directly answer the question about
whether the government should apologize and provide compensation.

“I strongly
believe that collecting head tax from Chinese immigration was wrong, morally
wrong,” Mr. Martin said in the interview last week. “I am in deep
sorrow over the head-tax history.”

Mr.
Martin also said his government is the first to address the issue and indicated
he will let both sides try to change his mind.

Sid Tan,
with the Chinese Canadian National Council, said yesterday that Mr. Emerson and
Mr. Dosanjh are recognizing a mistake was made in the
announcement.

“They're
piping up because they know this issue can hurt them politically,” he
said. “The private dignity of the Chinese community is exercising its
power as a voting block.”

 

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