Ottawa's 'final decision' on Chinese head-tax due in
June, PM says
VANCOUVER — Chinese immigrants who were
forced to pay a blatantly racist head tax will learn next month how the federal
government plans to address the issue.
Chinese Canadians have been calling on Ottawa for several years
to apologize for the tax and to provide some form of redress.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper indicated during the
recent election campaign that, unlike the previous Liberal government, he was
open to those requests. And he told reporters yesterday that the Chinese
community could expect a response in mid-June.
“We will be announcing our final decision on that
within the next month,” Mr. Harper said. “There have been extensive
consultations across the country. I will be continuing some of those today and
we're very close to a final decision.”
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Those who have been fighting for action on the head-tax issue said
they were encouraged by the goodwill extended by the Prime Minister when he met
with head-tax payers and their families in East Vancouver
later in the day.
“This meeting speaks to the sincerity and
personal commitment of the Prime Minister that head-tax redress remains a
priority of this government,” Susan Eng, the co-chair of the Ontario
Coalition of Chinese Head Tax Payers and Families, said in a statement.
“The hopes and expectations of these Chinese
Canadian pioneers and their families for fair and just redress are now placed
in his hands and we expect that he will not disappoint them.”
In all, about 81,000 Chinese immigrants paid
$23-million to enter Canada
under the head-tax scheme between 1885 and 1923. The Chinese Exclusion Act
followed, barring Chinese immigrants altogether until it was repealed in 1947.
Over the past 21 years, more than 4,000 head-tax
payers and families have registered with the Chinese Canadian National Council.
Many have died, and the council wants action while there are still a few
remaining to accept what the government is willing to offer.
But the government has had to determine how it can
properly apologize for the discriminatory tariff and its consequences. Canadian
Heritage Minister Bev Oda has been charged with
conducting national consultations on the issue, and her findings will heavily
influence the government's response.
hears first-hand of suffering caused by Chinese head tax
May 26, 2006.
VANCOUVER—Quon Chang Shee
Dere is 102. But old age couldn't stop the Vancouver resident from delivering a sharp
message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the issue of the Chinese head tax.
“I am going to
stay alive as long as it takes to get justice. How much longer would you expect
me to live?” she asked Harper in a meeting yesterday.
Dere's husband was one of some 81,000 Chinese immigrants who each paid a
$500 head tax to enter Canada
early in the century.
During a roundtable
meeting yesterday, Dere delivered a blunt appeal for justice in her own Chinese
dialect, said Mary Woo Sims, who sat in on the private meeting.
The Conservatives have
promised to deliver a formal apology for the head tax and redress to those who
paid it. Heritage Minister Bev Oda and Jason Kenney,
Harper's parliamentary secretary, have travelled the
country consulting with Chinese Canadians on the shape of the compensation
For the first time
yesterday, Harper sat in on one of those sessions, saying he wanted to hear
first-hand the tales of racism and hardship before deciding the government's
position on compensation.
Charlie Quan, 99, told Harper how he toiled without break in a Saskatchewan coffee shop
for four years to pay off the money he had borrowed to pay the tax.
“Very hard work to
get money … every day, even Christmas Day and New Year,” he said later.
The session at the Strathcona Community Centre in the city's Chinatown
stretched for 90 minutes, a half hour longer than scheduled.
In total, Chinese
immigrants paid $23 million to enter Canada under the head tax scheme
between 1885 and 1923, when the Chinese Exclusion Act came into effect and
barred Chinese altogether until 1947.
The previous Liberal
government rushed through an agreement before the election providing $2.5
million for an educational foundation but offered no apology or compensation.
That sparked widespread
outrage among community leaders, including Sid Tan, who protested during former
prime minister Paul Martin's visit to Vancouver late last year.
Yesterday, Tan was
among those who met with Harper. Later, he said the progress they've made with
the Conservatives on the issue has been “astounding.”
Prior to the meeting,
Harper said he expects to announce details of the compensation package in
Harper meets with Chinese head