Gee… I wonder what the First Nations people say about all the white people coming to their homeland, cutting down the trees, polluting the water, taking over the best fishing areas…. Todd
June 26, 2006
By LYN COCKBURN
hauls himself out from under my kitchen sink like William Shatner
in those Kellogg's commercials. But instead of offering me some All-Bran, he
nods his head towards the TV and asks: “What's he doing?”
“he” in question is Stephen Harper, and he's apologizing to the
Chinese-Canadian community for the racist head tax once imposed on immigrants
And for the 24-year outright ban on immigration from China.
is a fine speech indeed, one that makes me proud to be Canadian. Harper calls
the head tax “a great injustice.”
he terms the apology the “decent” thing to do. And so it is.
I say to the plumber, who has been labouring under
the sink in a valiant effort to discover why it refuses to drain.
“To who? And why?”
“To the Chinese community in Canada for the head tax.”
explain the main points, having just learned the precise dates myself. I tell
him that starting in 1885, the Canadian government charged Chinese people $50
to stay here and, in 1903, it raised that amount to $500. All of this in an
effort to make the very workers it had brought here to build the CPR go home.
like a great idea,” he says. “We should be doing that now.” He
leaves me open-mouthed.
fully accept the moral responsibility to acknowledge these shameful policies of
our past … ” Stephen says to the accompaniment of a snort of derision
from under the sink.
emerges again. “They should all be sent back,” he says.
“They, who?” I ask.
Asians,” he replies patiently, as though I am some dim child who refuses
to learn her ABCs.
“The Chinese, the ones from India, all of them.”
the first time he notices the look on my face. “I'm not a racist,” he
counters. “But there are too many of them. Canada
father came here from Scotland
when he was 20. Maybe he should have been sent home,” I offer.
plumber looks at me pityingly.
can't get control of my mouth: “But I guess that was OK,” I say. “Because he was white.”
salvo is greeted by a withering silence. I am once again the idiot child with a
lot to learn about life.
think immigrants make the country more interesting and more vibrant,” I
continue weakly, wondering where our pre-apology conversation went.
hah!” he says. “My old neighbourhood, I
don't feel comfortable there anymore. There's so many of them, I'm the
consider telling him that I hope to hell he is in the minority, that I don't
want a totally white Canada
where people can be arrested for Driving While Off Colour.
doesn't give me a chance, and begins a story about his cousin's son, who
evidently didn't get into university because so many of “them” had
money and bought their way in.
I can say anything, he takes a quick breath and tells me about all the single
aboriginal women who evidently have mobs of children and rip off welfare.
reminded of an aboriginal friend's favourite joke. A
white person screams at a First Nations person: “Go back where you came
says my friend with satisfaction. “He pitches a tent in the white dude's
the worst part is you can't say what you think anymore. You have to be careful
or someone will call you a racist or sue you,” says the plumber.
has discovered the problem. The sink is working again.
gathers up his tools, gets my signature on his worksheet, tells me, if somewhat
insincerely, that he hopes I have a good day and heads for the door.
has finished his speech and now an elderly Chinese man, whose name is cut off
by the sound of the door closing, is speaking.
am grateful,” he says into the reporter's microphone. “That I lived
to see this day after so many years of trying to get the Canadian government to
say 'Sorry.' ”