Head Tax apology: Here is the transcript of speeches made in Parliament yesterday.

Here is the transcript of speeches made in
Parliament yesterday.

 
http://www.parl.gc.ca/39/1/parlbus/chambus/house/debates/046_2006-06-22/HAN046-E.htm#SOB-1619176

 

ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

[Routine Proceedings]

*   *   *

[English]

-Chinese
Immigrants

+-

    Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr.
Speaker, I rise today to formally turn the page on an unfortunate period in Canada's past,
a period during which a group of people, people who only sought to build a
better life, were repeatedly and deliberately singled out for unjust treatment.
I speak of course of the head tax that was imposed on Chinese immigrants to
this country, as well as the other restrictive measures that followed.

[Translation]

    The
Canada
we know today would not exist were it not for the efforts of the Chinese labourers who began to arrive in the mid-19th century.

[English]

    Almost
exclusively young men, these Chinese immigrants made the difficult decision to
leave their families behind in order to pursue opportunities in a country
halfway around the world they called Gold
Mountain. Beginning in
1881, over 15,000 of these Chinese pioneers became involved in the most
important nation building enterprise in Canadian history, the construction of
the Canadian Pacific Railway.

    From
the shores of the St. Lawrence across the seemingly endless expanses of shield
and prairie, climbing the majestic Rockies and cutting through the rugged
terrain of British Columbia,
this transcontinental link was the ribbon of steel that bound our fledgling
country together. It was an engineering feat that was instrumental to the
settlement of the west and the subsequent development of the Canadian economy,
and one for which the back-breaking toil of Chinese labourers
was largely responsible.

    The
conditions under which these men worked were, at best, harsh and at times
impossible. Tragically, some 1,000 Chinese labourers
died during the building of the CPR, but in spite of it all, these Chinese
immigrants persevered, and in doing so, helped to ensure the future of this
country. But from the moment the railway was completed, Canada turned
its back on these men.

    Beginning
with the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, a head tax of $50 was imposed on
Chinese newcomers in an attempt to deter immigration. Not content with the
tax's effect, the government subsequently raised the amount to $100 in 1900 and
then to $500 in 1903, the equivalent of two years' wages. This tax remained in
place until 1923 when the government amended the Chinese Immigration Act and
effectively banned most Chinese immigrants until 1947.

    Similar
legislation existed in the dominion of Newfoundland,
which also imposed a head tax between 1906 and 1949, when Newfoundland joined Confederation.

    The
Government of Canada recognizes the stigma and exclusion experienced by the
Chinese as a result. We acknowledge the high cost of the head tax meant that
many family members were left behind in China, never to be reunited, or
that families lived apart and in some cases in extreme poverty for years. We
also recognize that our failure to truly acknowledge these historical
injustices has prevented many in the community from seeing themselves as fully
Canadian.

¹  +-(1515)  

[Translation]

    Therefore,
on behalf of all Canadians and the Government of Canada, we offer a full
apology to Chinese Canadians for the head tax and express our deepest sorrow
for the subsequent exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

[English]

    Therefore,
once again, on behalf of the people and Government of Canada, we offer a full
apology to Chinese Canadians for the head tax and express our deepest sorrow
for the subsequent exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

    [Member spoke in Chinese]

    [English]

    This
apology is not about liability today. It is about reconciliation with those who
endured such hardship and the broader Chinese Canadian community, one that
continues to make such an invaluable contribution to this great country.

    While
Canadian courts have ruled that the head tax and immigration prohibition were
legally authorized at the time, we fully accept the moral responsibility to
acknowledge these shameful policies of our past. For over six decades, these
race based financial measures aimed solely at the Chinese were implemented with
deliberation by the Canadian state. This was a grave injustice and one we are
morally obligated to acknowledge.

    To
give substantive meaning to today's apology, the Government of Canada will
offer symbolic payments to living head tax payers and living spouses of
deceased payers. In addition, we will establish funds to help finance community
projects aimed at acknowledging the impact of past wartime measures and
immigration restrictions on the Chinese Canadian community and other ethnocultural communities.

[Translation]

    No
country is perfect. Like all countries, Canada has made mistakes in its
past, and we realize that. Canadians, however, are a good and just people,
acting when we have committed wrong.

[English]

    Even
though the head tax, a product of a profoundly different time lies far in our
past, we feel compelled to right this historic wrong for the simple reason that
it is the decent thing to do, a characteristic to be found at the core of the
Canadian soul.

    In
closing, let me assure the House that the government will continually strive to
ensure that similar unjust practices are never allowed to happen again. We have
the collective responsibility to build a country based firmly on the notion of
equality of opportunity, regardless of one's race or ethnic origin.

    Our
deep sorrow over the racist actions of our past will nurture an unwavering
commitment to build a better life for all Canadians.

¹  +-(1520)  

+-

    Hon. Bill Graham (Leader of the Opposition, Lib.): Mr.
Speaker, I would like to join all members in recognizing the presence in the
galleries of our fellow Chinese-Canadians who have come here to join us today
on this solemn occasion. We welcome them.

    Last
fall the member for LaSalle—Émard, as
the prime minister of our country at that time, apologized to the Chinese
community for the head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was repealed
late, but repealed nonetheless, by the then Liberal government of Prime
Minister Mackenzie King in 1947.

[Translation]

    That
apology expressed, on behalf of Canadians, our regret for the hardship and difficulties
inflicted on those victims and their families directly affected by the Chinese
Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Liberals want to ensure that there is
an appropriate plan to educate Canadians on this chapter of our history, so we
can learn from our past.

    We
understand that apologizing is just part of the healing process for communities
that have been the victims of measures taken in the past and which today we can
recognize as injustices.

    Liberals
want to ensure that there is an appropriate plan to educate Canadians on this
chapter of our history, so we can learn from our past and ensure that similar
injustices are not repeated.

    That
is why we signed an agreement in principle with several communities to provide
funding for education and commemoration initiatives. We hope that the
government will honour these agreements, and deliver
in full the funds that were committed and permit those communities to tell
their stories in a way that will shed a new perspective on their past while
educating all Canadians so that we may be better citizens and work to ensure
that similar injustices are not committed in future times, as the Prime
Minister said.

[English]

    Our
Chinese community has already achieved that in its literature and in such
moving and modern expressions as the opera Iron
Road
, which some may have seen here in Ottawa, allowing us all to
share the anguish and pain, the courage and determination that was shown when
building the railway that was so essential to establish our country and to
which the Prime Minister has paid tribute in his remarks.

    It
is critical, when we address historical injustices, that we ensure we are equal
in our treatment of all communities that faced immigration restrictions or
wartime measures. While in government, we initiated an ambitious program to
commemorate those historical inequities. The Liberal Party is committed to
supporting the Charter of Rights and promoting equality for all Canadians. We belive that only through promoting healthy multiculturalism
and education programs can Canadians ensure the mistakes of our past are never
repeated.

    Today
we rejoice with other Canadians in the extraordinary success that Canadians of
Chinese origin have achieved. We recognize their talents and energy have
contributed to our success as a country, whether in business, the professions, the arts or, indeed, in politics, as is represented by
several members of the House on both sides of the aisle of this democratic
institution which we share so proudly.

    We
share thus with our Chinese colleagues and citizens their pride in their
individual and community successes, none better perhaps than that incarnated in
our former Governor General who is a woman and an immigrant of Chinese origin
who came to represent our Canadian face, both to ourselves and to the world.

    [Member spoke in Chinese as follows:]

    Wah Yan Bu Hui Choi Bai Ke
Si

    [Translation]

¹  +-(1525)  

[Translation]

+-

    Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ): Mr.
Speaker, I must first point out that nothing would have been possible without
the hard work done by the people who for many years doggedly pleaded this cause
on behalf of the victims.

    Many
of those people are with us today, and I salute them.

    I
would also like to applaud the tireless efforts of our immigration and
citizenship critic, the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges,
who is also of Chinese origin, and our candidate in the most recent election in
LaSalle—Émard, May Chiu, who was
actively involved in this struggle.

    Congratulations
and thank you to everyone for their dedication.

    As
you are no doubt aware, the Bloc Québécois has long criticized
the Government of Canada's refusal to acknowledge the past injustices to the
Chinese-Canadian community. The head tax and the discriminatory immigration
policy that followed were heinous acts.

    It
is not too strong to speak of racism, as the Prime Minister did.

    This
discrimination was institutionalized in Canada.

    I
commend the Prime Minister's decision to apologize officially on behalf of the
Government of Canada and the people of Canada.

    On
behalf of the Bloc Québécois and the people of Quebec, I join him and apologize sincerely
to all the Quebeckers of Chinese origin for past errors.

    The
Prime Minister says that the purpose of his statement is to turn the page on an
unfortunate period in Canada's
past.

    And
to give greater weight to the government's apology, he announced that he will
offer symbolic payments to head tax payers and the spouses of deceased head tax
payers. I hope with all my heart that he will extend this compensation to the
direct descendants of the victims of this policy.

    It
was high time the government acted. Once again, I congratulate the Prime
Minister for keeping his word, and I ask him to act accordingly and think about
the direct descendants of these victims.

[English]

+-

    Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth,
NDP):
Mr. Speaker,

    [Member spoke in Chinese]

    [English]

    On
this historic day, the New Democratic Party and its caucus join with all
members of the House in expressing Canada's apology to all of those who were
forced to pay the Chinese head tax and to all of those families who suffered
under the Chinese Exclusion Act. This is a momentous first step toward
achieving full justice, reconciliation and closure to right the historic wrong
of the head tax that has been a stain on our national conscience for a century.

    We
have waited many years for this day, but not as long as the few remaining head
tax payers who honour the House with their presence
here today, not as long as those who died waiting in vain for justice to be
done, not as long as the many families that were ripped apart and kept apart,
not as long as those who were forced to stay behind in China, not as long as
the wives who died waiting to be reunited with their husbands, and not as long
as the children who never knew their fathers and their grandfathers.

[Translation]

    In
his apology, the Prime Minister spoke of the injustice that was done to Chinese
immigrants.

    He
spoke well of the contribution of Chinese Canadians to building our railway
and, in fact, building our country.

    He
used the words exclusion and suffering.

¹  +-(1530)  

[English]

    We
agree with these words. They needed to be said and now they have been said on
the record in the House for future generations to see and to better understand
this stain on our past. We agree with these words. The apology is an all
important first step.

    The
next step should be the action that would give full meaning to these words: full
justice, full reconciliation, and full closure to all of those who suffered
from this racist and unjust policy. That step would entail redress that is more
than symbolic, redress to the descendants of the head tax payers who died
waiting for this day.

    In
calling for full redress, I remind everyone present that the quest for justice
began in the House of Commons 20 years ago, after having been brought forward
by members of the community, some of whom are also with us today.

    In
1984, a New Democratic member of Parliament, Margaret
Mitchell of Vancouver stood in this very place
and spoke of the hurtful legacy of racial discrimination that divides Canada. On that
day over 20 years ago she asked the government to issue an apology and to offer
redress to those who suffered. She told the stories of loneliness, heartbreak
and isolation faced by so many Chinese immigrants.

    She
spoke of one constituent, one of the thousands of young Chinese men who Canada encouraged to come to Canada to help
us build our country. He came at the age of 15 and was forced to pay the $500
head tax. He did so to try to help his family to survive back in China. However, as with so many families torn apart by those policies, his
wife was later refused entry to Canada
because of the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act.

    Margaret
Mitchell dared to ask that the Prime Minister, on behalf of Canada,
formally acknowledge these injustices to Canadians of Chinese origin. She did
so in her own words, and I quote:

 

    In order to make amends for this shameful period in
our history, and to recognize our new Charter of Rights which should prevent
such future discrimination against ethnic minorities–

    Margaret
Mitchell was the first to bring this need for an apology and redress to the
House. She was joined by Dan Heap, an NDP member of Parliament for
Trinity—Spadina at the time, and together they
led the NDP effort in this regard. I am so pleased that all parties have come
together.

    Both
at the time worked with the leaders of the very large Chinese Canadian
populations, particularly in Vancouver's
Chinatown and Toronto's Chinatown.
Dan Heap at the time was assisted by a young Chinese woman immigrant who now
sits with pride with us as the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina. She helped collect the head tax certificates from
the family members and listened to their sad stories.

    Margaret
Mitchell's seat is now held by the hon. member for Vancouver East, who has been
resolute in pursuit of justice on behalf of her constituents.

    It
is those constituents who we must honour today, the
few living but the very many that are dead. We must also consider this as an
apology to the many thousands who never made it to Canada, who died before the Chinese
Head Tax and Exclusion Act was lifted or who were unable to raise the
exorbitant amount of funds required. Families were ripped apart and kept apart
for decades. Some wives left in China
were in despair and committed suicide. A generation of children never knew
their fathers or grandfathers.

    This
apology must be for them as well. I hope that it allows all Canadians to
reflect on the suffering, the injustice, and the absolute importance of this
apology. I thank the Prime Minister most profoundly for having risen in the
House and made the apology on behalf of all Canadians.

¹  -(1535)  

[Translation]

    Today
I commend this Prime Minister and Minister of Canadian Heritage for finally
taking the first step to right this historic wrong—but we also ask for
full justice— the next step.

    The
next step—to finally achieve reconciliation and closure—is surely
to recognize those thousands of head tax payers who died waiting for this day
and to provide redress to their descendants.

[English]

    Now
is the time to heal the wounds of exclusion and discrimination. Canadians have
at long last heard the overdue apology. In dealing with the failures of the
past, we can now move forward.

    It
is a great day for Canada.
We join in the apology and we applaud the first step. This redress is not about
liability; it is about justice. Let us show the world that Canada is indeed
a fair, generous and just nation.

    [Member spoke in Chinese as follows:]

    Kan nah dah gong doh jeh doh
jeh

    [English]

-

    The Speaker: Order, please. I believe that
concludes the business of the House for today.

    I
would like to pass on to all hon. members my very best wishes for a relaxing
summer break. There is of course the usual refreshment offer in Room 216 for
those who wish to drop by to wish others the same.

[Translation]

    It
being 3:37 p.m., pursuant to order made Wednesday, June 21, 2006, the
House stands adjourned until 11 a.m., September 18, 2006, pursuant to
Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

    (The
House adjourned at 3:37 p.m.)

 

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