Georgia Straight: Head tax unites activists
Charlie Smith, news editor of the Georgia Straight, interviewed me last week for this week's story about how the head tax issue united multigenerational Canadian-born Chinese Canadians with first-generation Chinese Canadian immigrants, for a shared cause. This was a great learning experience for me, as my circle of friends really consists of mainly English speaking Canadians of many different ethnicities – but mostly caucasian and chinese ancestries.
The BC Coalition of Head Tax Payers, Spouses, and Descendants – really was developed by Sid Tan, a longtime stalward community activist on this issue, whom I have known since about 1994. Mary-Woo Sims is the former BC Human Rights Commisioner whose path I have been crossing for the past few years – she stepped off the committee as she became an NDP candidate for Port Moody – Westwood – Port Coquitlam during the election. Although, also not on the committee, I have called David Wong a friend since
1986 when we met while working on the Saltwater City museum project
celebrating 100 years of Chinese history in Vancouver, chaired by
author Paul Yee.
Thekla Lit and Bill Chu, are both dedicated community activists that I have only me this year. Both have a strong presence and burning desire to build harmony and to champion human rights issues. Gabriel Yiu is a Chinese language media commentator who has also written for Vancouver Sun and CBC Radio. It has been a real pleasure and honour to work with these people and develop respect and friendships with them, and the other people on our committee.
Publish Date: 26-Jan-2006
the eve of Chinese New Year, local Chinese Canadian human-rights
activists have another reason to celebrate: over the past year, an
alliance formed between some first-generation Chinese activists and
Canadian-born Chinese-head-tax descendants. According to several people
contacted by the Georgia Straight, this culminated in an impressive
demonstration of the community’s political influence during the recent
federal election campaign.
The Chinese Canadian National
Council has traditionally been the leading community organization
pressing for redress for Chinese head-tax payers and their descendants.
Last November, the federal Liberal government announced an “agreement
in principle” to set aside $2.5 million for education programs
concerning the discriminatory head tax. In 1904, the Canadian
government imposed a $500 tax on Chinese immigrants and nobody else. In
1923, Ottawa prohibited new Chinese settlement in Canada, only lifting
the ban in 1947.
The Minister of State for Multiculturalism,
Raymond Chan, refused to bring the CCNC into the negotiations, refused
to issue an apology, and refused to accede to the CCNC’s demand for
direct compensation. His decision flowed out of a Conservative private
member’s bill that included an apology but that also promised to set
aside all money for a rival group, the National Congress of Chinese
Canadians, which has not pressed for individual compensation.
Many long-time head-tax activists, such as Vancouver resident Sid
Tan, CCNC executive director Victor Wong, and local architect David
Wong, immediately denounced the federal Liberal initiative. Tan, a
community-media activist, told the Straight that the NCCC was created
in the early 1990s to counter the CCNC’s criticism of the Tiananmen
They were joined by Canadian-born head-tax
descendant Todd Wong, veteran human-rights activist Mary-Woo Sims, and
many others who had long been associated with this issue. For the first
time, the head-tax activists also attracted the support of several
first-generation Chinese human-rights activists who regularly comment
in the local Chinese-speaking media.
….Andrew Yan, a local demographic researcher, told the Straight that
the head tax has become a “bridging” issue between first-generation
Chinese immigrants and Canadian-born Chinese, many of whose ancestors
paid the $500 fee. Todd Wong, a fifth-generation Canadian, said he was
especially pleased to see some Chinese-speaking immigrants, such as Chu
and Lit, join the redress campaign.
“That’s going to be the start of a new Chinese Canadian identity,” Wong said.
Read the entire article at Head tax unites activists
Read the companion story:
B.C. elected only one MP of Chinese descent:
Raymond Chan. How concerned are you about this?