North Shore News: Trevor Lautens writes “Harper blunders with head-tax apology + response criticisms of Lautens
North Shore writer Trevor Lautens has waded into the head-tax apology
issue, and has decided to be the spokesperson for the “against”
side. Unfortunately he has also decided to be the spokesperson
for people who also write without exploring all the facts behind the
issue. Top it off, Lautens brings his decidedly
pre-multicultural viewpoints argue it was safe to “relocate” the
Japanese Canadians away from the Coast – for their own safety.
Then, Lauten tells 83 year old head tax descendant Gim Wong, the WW2
veteran who rode his motorcycle from
Victoria to Ottawa last year to ask then PM Paul Martin to make an
apology for head-tax, to “Get over it!”
Lautens admits the head tax was discriminatory racist, racially
motivated and cynical – but he also says it is unecessary, and
illogical, citing that it panders to every other apologist group
wanting an apology and compensation.
Hasn't Lautens read the book “Black like Me?” I challenge Lautens
to walk in the shoes of Chinese Canadian head tax descendants.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Parliamentary Secretary Jason Kenney
have met with head tax payers, spouse and descendants such as Gim Wong,
Charlie Quan, and many others.
Instead, Lautens drags up all the old arguements such as “They had a
choice.” Did Irish immigrants, fleeing the potatoe famine, have a
choice to pay a head-tax or not, when they came to Canada? Did
Eastern European immigrants invited to Canada have a choice to reject
free land in the prairies?
Canada has been asked by the United Nations in 2004, to make reparations for the Chinese head-tax as New Zealand did in 2004.
Maybe instead of an apology and compensation for head-tax payers,
spouses and descendants, we could instead charge all non-Chinese
immigrants a retroactive $500 with interest. Gee… a symbolic
apology and compensation now starts to sound less expensive than a head
tax refund with compound accumulated interest.
Please read Lautens article, and the responses below by my friends Donna Lee, Sid Tan and Daniel Lee
Trevor Lautens June 2nd
Harper blunders with Head Tax Apology
Grace Wong's letter to NS NEWS June 18th
Head Tax lessons not learned
Todd Wong's opinion piece June 25
Canada's future includes head tax descendants
e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for comments
Harper blunders with head-tax apology
by Trevor Lautens, North Shore News, June 2, 2006
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's abject apology to Chinese-Canadian
lobbyists for the head tax that ended 77 years ago is an outrage – a
triumph for Canada's ever-swelling victim industry.
It's been a sharply divisive issue among ethnic Chinese themselves, evidently for many an embarrassment, and no wonder.
The basis for it defies logic. The need for it approaches zero. The
politics of it are revolting. The Harper Conservatives are mimicking
the Liberals' long-standing wooing of this or that – every this or
that – ethnic “community,” a term and a concept that this writer finds
deeply offensive, and a practice that discourages street-level unity
and enshrines rubber-chicken-dinner speechifying of a most revolting
nature – “We cherish and applaud the contributions of the Volcanovian
community, its culture and its enterprise, toward the building of our
nation and expanding its prosperity. . . .”
I am a Canadian. I have worked all my life. I have not helped “build”
Canada for a split second. I have “built” my own prosperity, paid my
taxes, fed my family, stayed out of jail, and the hell with the phony,
self-congratulating, platitudinous Canada in whose flag I scorn to wrap
When it comes to professions of love of country, put me down as a
Cordelia man. And if you haven't read Shakespeare's Lear, give it a
try. (As for immigrants who commit major crimes and who trespass on
Canada's broad and vulnerable hospitality, no process of removing them
to their native soil would be too speedy for me – another flaw in my
character, you may believe. The other side of the bargain, though, is:
Warmly welcome the good immigrant and leave your prejudices in the
I insert this testament to indicate, in another sickening current
phrase, where I'm coming from. And where I'm coming from has no space
for the Canadian state's abject apologies – even less, financial
compensation – for perceived past wrongdoings.
Canada's head tax was levied from 1885 to 1923. It grew to a huge $500,
reportedly two years' salary at the time. It was flatly imposed to keep
as many Chinese as practicable from moving to Canada.
Was it discriminatory? Unquestionably. Was it racist, certainly
racially motivated? Undeniably. Was it cynical, considering Canada's
admission of Chinese to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway, which
was completed in 1885? Unarguable. So?
The blunt fact is that nobody forced the head-tax payers to come to
Canada, nor the Chinese labourers before them who toiled mightily in
constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway in conditions beyond the evil
dreams of the most anti-union, anti-worker exploitative
capitalist. They didn't come here to help Canada, to build its economy,
and all that fine rhetorical cant. They came here out of self-interest.
Equally clearly, punishing though it was, they accepted the price of
admission – the going price at the time. Nobody twisted their
arms. Nobody pushed them into boats and shoved them into the sea
Canada-ward. They had a choice.
The above is hardly revelatory logic. In fact, many of today's one
million ethnic Chinese Canadians have ignored or opposed the lobbying
for apology or compensation.
The lobbying was led by the Chinese Canadian National Council, which
claims to represent the 4,000 who paid the head tax and their
survivors. One well-publicized and determined member, Gim Foon Wong,
who is 82, never paid the tax, but his father did – 100 years
ago. Reportedly, this still pains Wong.
My kind advice: Get over it. Wong hasn't. Most erroneously, he equates
the treatment of the Chinese head-tax payers with that of the ethnic
Japanese in Canada during the Second World War.
There's no comparison. The latter were forcibly removed from the West
Coast and kept in camps inland – which, the older I grow, and the
longer I live here, I think was warranted and perhaps even in the best
interests of those moved, considering the white-hot fury at Japan's
abominable treatment of Western civilians and Allied prisoners during
The arguable injustice was not the “relocation,” as a couple of fondly
remembered Nisei girlfriends of my youth called it, but the shameful
confiscation of their property. Decades later, Brian Mulroney's
Progressive Conservative government – insisting the matter was unique,
not a precedent – apologized and paid each survivor $19,000. Well
warranted, and little enough.
But that was very much a special case, warmly supported in print by
this citizen. Otherwise, I believe the general principle enunciated by
Pierre Elliott Trudeau holds true: That we, Canada, can only aim to be
just in our own time. Those are striking words. Trudeau steadfastly
wouldn't apologize for past claims of injustice. He rejected all
redress, as did his acolyte Jean Chretien.
How right they were, though I still think the Japanese-Canadian case
was the exception that proves the rule. Then along came something
injected into the redress debate called ACE: “acknowledgement,
commemoration and education” of Canadians, which sounds like political
correctness/brainwashing hatched at the highest level of bureaucracy.
But ACE apparently only made sympathetic noises. It fell short of apologies and compensation. The CCNC demanded both.
Of course Jack Layton of the New Democrats was an instant supporter of
such redress, and Liberal Paul Martin a not-eager-enough one. It
remained for the Conservative Harper to grovel in the 77-year-old dust
of this matter and offer an apology and compensation. Stupid, divisive
– and, emphatically, fresh discrimination, since it
“discriminates”against other groups that demand similar treatment.
Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, rare among journalists, has
counted 13 such groups, and rightly sees Ottawa's surrender to the CCNC
as flipping open Pandora's box. When ACE took shape, Simpson wrote, it
“quickly attracted lineups of groups claiming victimization and
demanding their share of the pot: Ukrainians” – already given some
compensation for their internment in the First World War – “Italians,
Germans, Croatians, Chinese, Sikhs, Jews, blacks. Others are sure to
Prophetic. Even before Prime Minister Harper had issued his promise
formal apology to the Chinese-Canadians, about 50 Sikhs recently held
an initial meeting in Richmond to co-ordinate strategy to wring an
apology and possible compensation by Ottawa – the pseudonym for
Canadian taxpayers – for the Komagata Maru incident, 92 years ago.
That incident – the refusal by Canadian authorities to allow the ship
to land and disembark about 375 East Indians (South Asians), mostly
Sikhs from the Punjab – led to violence and death, including the murder
of a Canadian immigration official.
The nascent lobbying promised by the Sikh group could hardly be more
ill-timed. Last year, 20 years after the event and following scores of
millions of dollars in investigation and legal costs, two Sikhs were
acquitted of the terrorist bombing of Air India Flight 182 that killed
329 passengers and crew.
The astonishment, bitterness and widespread skepticism regarding the verdict are still almost tangible.
The head-tax payers, the Japanese-Canadians of the 1940s, and the
Komagata Maru passengers had vastly different experiences and grounds
for complaint. But they have something in common – Canada's
ever-expanding guilt tent for its supposed past injustices (surely gay
and feminist groups must some day aggressively crowd in).
Stephen Harper has made a huge and costly mistake – an ironic
background to those stilted after-dinner speeches apotheosizing “the
Canadian mosaic,” Canada's “community of communities” (copyright Joe
Clark), and all that high-flown stuff. Pierre Trudeau had it right.
published on 06/02/2006
BC Coalition with head tax survivors, spouses and descendants, Gim Wong in Ottawa with his motorcycle and Jack Layton.
Donna Lee Response to:
“Harper blunders with Head-Tax Apology”
To the Editor,
Well it's unfortunate that Trevor Lautens has decided to fill the
void left by Doug Collins for the North Shore News. What
Mr. Lautens fails to understand, even with his veiled attempts to do
so, is that Canada's foundation is built on targeting communities of
colour in order to try to construct a “white Canada”. Popular
parlour songs at this time included “White Canada Forever” and John A.
Macdonald's admission that he wanted to make Canada a “white man's
country”. First Nations communities were also devastated by these
policies and attitudes.
The logical response to a crime committed is to have a
consequence. The rightful consequence is to attend to what is
just. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is
a threat to justice everywhere.”
Mr. Lautens suggests that 82 year old Gim Foon Wong should just, “Get
over it.” It is incomprehensible how someone who has not lived
the traumatic experience of familes separated, unabashed racism and
institutionalized discrimination such as that of the Chinese Head Tax
and Exclusion Act thinks he is even entitled to speak on this issue
never mind tell a survivor such nonsense.
I think Mr. Lautens should really get over his own guilt. Canada
profited from this racist immigration policy. As such, each head
tax certificate should be rightfully compensated.
I'll spell it out for you, Mr. Lautens. While you believe that no
one was forced to come to Canada, you fail (again) to understand that
economics often force people to take huge and dangerous journeys across
an ocean in order to feed their families. You may have heard of
the Irish Potato Famine as an example of economics which drive people
out of their homeland and invariably force them to find other means to
survive. Such is the situation for people from India, Japan,
China and many other places who took a huge chance on Canada.
There are too many knee-jerk reaction-from-the-establishment-types
comments that he has made to even try to wrap my head around. He
suggests Japanese-Canadian internment was “warranted” and possibly “in
the best interests” of the people who suffered. I guess with his
logic it would be best to lock away all children so that pedophiles
won't get to them, right Mr. Lautens? Incomprehensible. The
criminals are the ones who need to be brought to justice, not the
The Chinese Head Tax Redress movement has been an amazing experience to
be part of and I feel honoured to participate in history in the
making. As a descendant of a head tax payer, and one who never
met my grandmother because she was separated from my grandfather due to
the Exclusion Act, I hope that the government follows through on its
desire to bring about justice.
Centrepoint PO 19639
BC Coalition with head tax redress community – photo Gabriel Yiu, Elwin Xie with sign – photo Todd Wong
Daniel Lee response
Re: Harper blunders with head-tax apology
I grew up Canadian and work just like you do. I pay my taxes, am
law-abiding and patriotic too. Yes, I love this country but recently I
came to understand more and more about my roots and this has lead to
shaking my whole take on moral rights and being a Canadian. I see that
were on the same page when it comes to the realization that the Chinese
Head Tax was ultimately racist and discriminatory, but unfortunately
your anger has taken you off on another tangent on some aspects. It
seems that your head is still hard-wired to the idyllic lifestyle you
As my wife reminds me, there are always two sides to a story. Since you
didn't take the time to think about putting yourself into a Head Tax
payers shoes I will do it for you.
First of all, yes, they had a choice of coming here or staying home but
I would seriously doubt that you, sir, would rather stay in a country
where the economy was practically non-existent, and face a good chance
of starving to death. Mr. Lautens, how many times have you changed jobs
in your lifetime? No doubt you've changed jobs because of better
opportunity. Isn’t it great to have that option and to enjoy that
The head tax was charged only against the Chinese and no other race.
Certainly not fair at all. Its a fact that the tax was worth 2
Vancouver city lots in those days. Fast-forward to todays real estate
market and a typical city lot is roughly around half a million dollars.
So, Mr. Lautens, here is a scenario: you have a wife and child and your
youngest child is not yet in your teens. Your family is in dire straits
financially. You're too old to do anything about it and women even less
opportunity. As head of the family you've decided that you must send
your son overseas for better prospects in order for the family to
You notice too that other families in your village are making the same
choices as well and a few of them took more drastic measures by selling
their sons. At this point you have no choice and you go along
with your fathers wishes.
Oh yes, don't forget the half a million-dollar entry fee! Your finances
are already low and so you go around asking your relatives if you could
borrow money. Finally, after a long while you're able to come up with
the half a million dollar entry fee and you send your son off. Your son
starts to dutifully send back money to help the family and saves just
barely enough for his own survival. This scenario typical of what the
head taxpayers families had to go through.
Some head taxpayers were fortunate enough to travel back to their
homeland, get married and have children. Unfortunately the Chinese
Immigration Act came into effect on July 1, 1923 and men were not
allowed to bring their wives and children over to Canada at all until
after 1947. I've met people who never met their father at all until 20
years later. No doubt this means that there are a lot of dysfunctional
Chinese families out there including mine. After living many years of
separation, wives were finally reunited to live with their husband but
a total stranger to the children.
Data collected in 1992 by the Chinese Canadian National Council has
shown that the men who entered Canada to work ranged in age from 10
years of age up to their early 20s. By the way, if you look at
the Fort Steele museum website you'll see the head tax certificate of a
2 year old baby girl who was charged the $500 head tax.
As for the head tax money, the BC Coalition of Head Tax Payers, Spouses
and Descendants ask that the Canadian government give back the tax. The
BC Coalition also asks the government pay additional compensation for
loss of dignity, pain and suffering imposed by the law at that time.
Lets not forget that the rest of the Canadian population knew that the
Chinese weren't welcomed in Canada because of the Immigration Act. .
This gave all citizens the right to discriminate against them and many
So Mr. Lautens, there you have it. It is not a money grab as you think
it to be but a reimbursement. The opportunity to finally remove the
black cloud of head tax history hanging over the Chinese Canadian
community is not only at hand also the opportunity for the Chinese
Canadian community to finally feel welcomed in Canada. Are you going to
welcome us, Mr.
BC Coaltion with head tax payers, spouses and descendants, Sid Tan speaking at community meeting – photo Gabriel Yiu, Todd Wong
Sid Tan Response:
Re: Harper blunders with head-tax apology
by Trevor Lautens, North Shore News, June 2, 2006
I am a grandson of head-tax payer Chow Gim (Norman) Tan and wife Wong
Nooy, whowere impoverished and later separated for a quarter of a
century by Canadian laws. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is simply
trying to work towards a majority government. Chinese Canadians can
vote now, you see. Informed political participation and the exercise of
rights in this big beautiful land we call Canada is a worthy pursuit.
Oh, did I tell you these rights were denied to our community heroes and
heroines for 62-years by a colonialist white supremacist government?
It's good Trevor Lautens raised Chinese head-tax/exclusion for debate,
However, at the issue is justice and honour for surviving head-tax
payers and their spouses in their time. Mr. Lautens is ill-informed on
the details and self-serving to frame the issue as choice. The issue is
racism and injustice. It's about an unjust tax and family separation
brought on by a government unable to
fathom the Chinese would get votes and rights in Canada some day. As
for the details, I'd be prepared to debate Mr. Lautens at a time and
place convenient to both of us. We are, afterall, a species of ideas
What Does Redress Mean To ACCESS?
Redress is organic grassroots self-governed movement. Justice and
honour with respect and dignity for our Chinese adventurers and
pioneers. Redress takes to the streets when compliant groups do
backroom deals with the government, organises to protest a prime
ministerial visit and lets our seniors know we will never forget their
stories and struggles. Solidarity across the nation, one voice loud and
clear, one heart pounding never quit, never quit, never quit.
Redress is the privilege of meeting Quon Chang Shee Der, Charlie Quan,
Joe Chow, Gim Wong and Sui Chun Suen and be inspired by our Gold
Mountain heroes and heroines. Our story our way. No government,
organisation and person in Canada can profit from racism and keep the
ACCESS Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity
Society, a member of the Chinese Canadian National Council, initiated
the current B. C. Coalition of Head Tax Payers, Spouses and Descendants
in November, 2005. Our members, some involved in the movement for over
twenty years, have been active with both the head-tax files and
database project. The past year, ACCESS through the Saltwater City
Television Collective produced and broadcast four half hour community
television programs on our movement to 660,000 cable subscribers in
Greater Vancouver and Fraser Valley.
ACCESS is the successor group to the Vancouver Association of Chinese
Canadians which help organise the original B. C. Coalition of Head Tax
Payers, Spouses and Descendants. We continue to be the constituted
group with responsibility for over 2,000 head-tax claimant files
collected in Saltwater City (Vancouver, BC).
Sid Chow Tan, president
ACCESS Association of Chinese
Canadians for Equality and Solidarity Society
4040 Inverness Street
Vancouver, BC V5V 4W5