Head tax a major hardship
Ottawa told about injustices imposed on Chinese immigrants
By KRISTEN LIPSCOMBE Staff Reporter
Cheung says because of the head tax and Exclusion Act once imposed on
Chinese immigrants, many families have suffered both financially from
the expensive fee for moving to Canada and emotionally from being
separated from their loved ones.
Not to mention the blatant racial discrimination.
that time it cost so much, eh? More than a year’s salary,” Mr. Cheung,
a Bedford resident, said Wednesday of the $500 head tax his sister’s
father-in-law had to dole out when he came here in 1918. “When you have
to work to pay the money back, you are heavily in debt. And then you
try to send some money back home and it’s really hard.”
Mr. Cheung was one of many Nova Scotian
Chinese who shared their stories and voiced their opinions Wednesday
night at a meeting hosted by Jason Kenney, parliamentary secretary to
the prime minister, at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. More
than 50 people attended the meeting, which was closed to media, while more phoned in from St. John’s, Charlottetown and Fredericton.
Federal officials are travelling
across the country to consult with Chinese Canadians on what sort of
compensation should be made to those affected by the racist laws. In
the throne speech this month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised an
official apology for the head tax, which was forced upon immigrants
from 1885 to 1923. The Exclusion Act was in effect from 1923 to 1947.
Cheung said his relatives wanted to sponsor family members still in
China, but the Exclusion Act prevented them from moving to Canada until
the 1950s. His sister’s father-in-law has since died, without having
received an apology or any sort of compensation, he said.
“You always feel so much injustice over the years,” Mr. Cheung said.
said financial compensation should go directly to the families
affected. “Hopefully the government will be able to do something soon.”
Kenney said Wednesday night’s meeting was “the first part of a national
grassroots consultation with Chinese Canadians to figure out the best
way to right the historical wrong of the racist head tax and Chinese
said the session was about 2½ hours of many “heart-wrenching stories,”
including some from children of people who paid the taxes, which
started at $50 but eventually grew to $500. “Their families were split
up, a lot of them couldn’t come here from China (or) their parents were
were a lot of very tragic, personal stories we heard about and some
constructive ideas about how we can create educational programs to
recognize this period in our history and make sure it never happens
“The big message was, move quickly, let’s not waste any more time,” he said.
apology likely will be made this spring while compensation will come as
soon as possible, Mr. Kenney said. He said the federal government also
plans a national reconciliation event in Ottawa on July 1, which is the
day the Exclusion Act came into effect and is known within the Chinese community as “humiliation day.”
“We want to put an end to that,” he said.
May Lui, chairwoman of the Halifax Chinese Redress Committee, said the government’s response to the concerns of Chinese Canadians has been “really positive.”
said the meeting allowed people to speak their minds. “What happened to
you as a child, what happened to your parents, you have a chance to air
it. That’s a good thing.”