“Head Tax Redress is coming,”Jason Kenney and Conservative Government tells Vancouver Chinese-Canadian Community at head tax issues consultation meeting.
Todd Wong, Joy Kogawa, Cynthia Lam
and Jason Kenney – Parliamentary Secretary on Multiculturalism.
Prior to the consultation, I introduced Kenney to Joy and Cynthia, both
Order of Canada recipients – photo Albert Tsui.
“Head Tax redress is coming,” promised Parliamentary Secretary on
Multiculturalism Jason Kenney. “We are not going to consult,
consult and consult. Expect an announcement in a few weeks.
And then another announcement about more details of a redress
package. The government wants to move quickly on this
matter. We will accept submissions for the next two weeks.”
The atmosphere was fairly jubilant as Jason Kenney wrapped up the
evening, by addressing the Chinese-Canadian community at the Gateway
Theatre in Richmond BC. Approximately 30 speakers had adressed
the Parliamentary Secretary sitting beside top ranked Canadian Heritage
staff including Linda Johnston, Director of BC/Yukon, Western Region.
“We are not going to make a redress package that everybody will be
happy with,” said Kenney in his closing remarks. “But we will
have something that includes an apology and is fair and just, and
recognizes that racism was instituitional.”
Sandra Chan moderates as Kenney sits
with Heritage Canada regional directors, anticipating the outpouring of
stories to come – photo Todd Wong
Charlie Quan and Joe Chow, both head-tax payers, were introduced to the
audience to loud applause. Joe's son spoke about the
urgency for redress, saying that his father is now 98 years old.
Charlie said that $500 in 1923 could be a small house or
two, and that the equivalent should be made in compensation, suggesting a figure of $350,000.
There was a decidedly split political view between speakers, as
the National Congress of Chinese Canadians, Vancouver School Board
trustee Don Lee, and the Chinese Canadian
veterans took the stance to honour the Agreement-in-Principal that they
had signed with the Liberal government. Don Lee, an NCCC member,
was loudly booed after he stated that he and his father did not
consider themselves “victims” because of the racist legislation, and
that his father had willingly paid the tax to have a better life in
One speaker said that the aborted ACE program which had initially stood
for Acknowledgement, Commemoration and Education, now stood for
Apology, Compensation and Exclusion – because of the government's
refusal so far to recognize descendants as directly affected, limiting
compensation to only head tax payers and spouses, many of whom have
died in the past 20 years.
Most of the audience favoured some form of individual compensation with
members of the BC Coalition of Head Tax
Payers, the Chinese Benevolent Association, and ACCESS, all touting a 2
stage view of apology and immediate compensation for surviving head tax
payers and spouses, with compensation for descendents to be negotiated
BC Coalition members Thekla Lit, Daniel Lee, Harvey Lee, Foon Yee,
Gabriel Yui, George Jung, Bill Chu, Karin Lee and myself all
spoke. Each added different dimensions of suffering and hardship
endured by the head tax payers, spouses and their descendants.
Thekla emphasized the human rights aspects, while Harvey,
Karin and Daniel emphasized the hardships on their familes.
George presented a list of known head tax payers and spouses in
BC. Bill Chu emphasized that true redress is a healing for the
community, for the history, for the emotions, and that it is spiritual.
Gabriel outlined the framework for reconciliation and asked for
everybody who supported it to please stand. About 80% to 90% of
the 500 strong audience then rose to their feet and started clapping.
Sid Tan, spoke in his role as president of ACCESS, Association of
Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity. He stated that he
has worked on redress for 20 years. He told how his grandmother
had been left in China by his grandfather, because he could not bring
her to Canada, and how she called him “useless,” because she did not
understand implications of the Exclusion Act. Tan also criticized
the NCCC for signing the AiP document which contained the preconditions
of “No apology” and “No Compensation,” and said that the NCCC should be
ashamed of themselves. This brought on audience calls of “Shame!”
directed at the NCCC.
When it came to my turn to speak, I chose to introduce some great
Asian Canadians in the
audience. I introduced Gim Wong, who rode his motorcycle across
Canada from Victoria to Ottawa to ask Prime Minister Martin for an
apology on head tax, but was denied a meeting, and was ignored when
Martin came to Vancouver to announce the AiP. I also introduced
Cynthia Ho Lam, Order of Canada
recipient, and who has worked long and hard in the Montreal community
and for head tax redress.
Cynthia Ho Lam (right) speaks with Larry Chow, son of head tax payer Joe Chow. Head Tax payer Charlie Quan is in the back ground (center) – photo Todd Wong
I gave recognition to the veterans who fought for our country, even
when they couldn't vote, and introduced my Grand-Uncle Daniel Lee, who
war veteran has recieved the highest awards for community service and
merit, and who has written letters to Parliament asking for an apology
each year . It was his grand father (my great-great-grandfather)
Chan Yu Tan, who had led the successful appeal for Wong Foon Sing, when
he was wrongfully accuses of the Janet Smith murder in Vancouver.
I explained that in those days, the courts were so prejudiced against
Chinese that the unlikely chance of being successful in court was
termed “Chinaman's Chance.” I pointed out that for the last 20
years, the federal government has consistenly rebuffed calls for head
tax redress, and stated we had a Chinaman's Chance for success.
I also introduced Joy Kogawa, author of Obasan, member of
the Japanese Canadian redress movement of the 1980's, and Order of Canada
recipient. I stated that in my role as a member of the Save Kogawa House
committee, I have learned so much about the Japanese Canadian redress
process from Joy. It is an opportunity for healing, as both the
Chinese and Japanese communities have suffered such negative
“When I spoke at Vancouver City Council, asking them to help save
Kogawa House, I told them that when the Japanese Canadians were
interned, the Chinese were afraid that if Canada went to war with
China, they could be rounded up and interned too,” I addressed the
panel. “They tried their best to be 'Good Canadians' and not get
“For our children's children, we must create the kind of world where
they will never be told that they are worthless and unwanted because
their grandparents had to pay a head tax, and that Canada did not want
them. For years Chinese did not have the vote or the
ability to determine our lives, we need self-determination. For
head tax redress, we need self determination.”
Ed Lee WW2 veteran is a good friend
of my Uncle Dan. Sitting behind us are Tekla Lit and Gabriel Yui,
my friends of the BC Coalition.
As I made my way back to my seat, I shook hands with some of the
veterans including my Uncle Dan and Howe Lee, as well as Raymond Leung,
president of the Chinese Benevolent Association, congratulating me on a
good talk. I took my seat beside Joy Kogawa, and
she also complimented me on my talk.
“This is amazing,” she told me. “There are so many people
here. We never had a community turnout like this,” as she
recalled the Japanese Canadian redress movement. “This is so
exciting that it is happening so quickly… there were opposing groups
back then, and they would have been booed too.”
Ellen Crowe-Swords, a third generation Japanese-Canadian also on our
Save Kogawa House Committee, spoke after me. I love Ellen, she
like Joy, is an amazing person that recognizes the hurts still deep in
the Japanese Community. Ellen says that many people are still in
denial, and refuse to believe that they were victimized in the process.
“I saw what the redress issue did to the Japanese community,” stated
Ellen, “It divided the community. It's important for you to work
together and promote healing.”
“But I have to tell you something,”Ellen shared with the audience, “When I recieved my $22,000… it sure felt good!”