Sorry's not enough
Compensation only way to truly right Chinese head-tax wrong,
By Lindsay Jones
The Daily News
HALIFAX – Mary Mohammed wants more than just an apology for a historic
wrong. Her parents were forced to pay an expensive and racist head tax when
they immigrated to Canada.
The 75-year-old will share her feelings with a federal government official
tonight at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
“Apology is a start, but I feel it goes hand in hand (with
compensation),” said the grandmother of two. “When we finally hear
and see a cheque in hand, I will say we are equal
race with any other race. Not until then.”
Jason Kenney, parliamentary secretary for Multiculturalism, will be in Halifax today to listen
to Canadian Chinese people's views on how the government should apologize for
the head tax.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the government would
offer an apology for the head tax, which was imposed on Chinese immigrants to Canada between
1885 and 1923.
The head tax was $50, but later increased to $100 and then $500 – equivalent to
two years' wages.
Immigrants continued to come despite the tax, with the government collecting
Mohammed's parents each paid $100 to start a life in Nova Scotia 106 years ago. They had seven
children, three of whom remain in the Atlantic
Mohammed's parents passed away about 40 years ago.
She's written letters to the government on behalf of her family for more than
two decades. She says an apology – “for all the discrimination we went
through” – is long overdue.
Mohammed isn't suggesting a set amount of financial compensation.
“There are not that many head-tax payers (and their widows) left,”
she says. “You can count them on your fingers. So really, that's not real
“If they're going to do it, it has to be (for) the descendants.”
While the self-described Bluenoser was born here, she
says she never felt equal.
“We were always targeted with prejudice. Because the government didn't
want us, the general public view of us was we were outsiders.”
While there's less prejudice now, Mohammed said it's time to set the record
“It's never too late. It's never too late to right the wrong.”
Other meetings are scheduled throughout the country this month. They follow
earlier discussions with Chinese-Canadian organizations last month.
Robert Paterson, communications director for Canadian Heritage and Status of
Women, said what's said at the meetings will impact how the government awards
“this is a real chance to open it up and hear
what people think.”