Globe & Mail: Final Hopes realized at last – redress
Here is the Petti Fong article in the Globe & Mail. It was nice to meet Petti at the ceremony.
Victor Wong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, sends this correction for the article:
correction to the Globe article (the BC version has a more extensive
story than the national version online). We met Charlie when he showed
up at one of our community meetings when the lawsuit was launched (not
in mid 80s). First Sid, then Gim and I developed a friendship with him
as he was the only surviving HT payer attending and we promised him
that we would fight to get his money back for him. Some of you may
have read Sid's account of helping Charlie back in August with his
application, and there are clips of Gim and Charlie in Karen Cho's
documentary (Gim: “I made a promise to Charlie….”). The 'story within
a story' concluded yesterday when Minister Bev Oda called upon Charlie
Quan to receive the first ex-gratia payment of $20,000. Gim Wong,
resplendent in uniform, sat beside Charlie and the presentation
ceremony was held up for a few moments when harlie sat back down in his
seat as Charlie and Gim counted the zeroes on the cheque.
Final hopes realized at last — redress
Ottawa hands out cheques in Chinatown to three who had to pay infamous head tax
— Their combined ages round off to 200, and with all their years lived
and all their dreams fulfilled or forgotten, Charlie Quan and Thomas
Soon each had just one hope left.
The two men wanted to live long enough to see the government
apologize and repay them for the $500 head tax it cost each of them to
They arrived separately as teenagers and they lived very different
lives. But when Mr. Soon, 97, arrived inside the meeting hall yesterday
and saw Mr. Quan, 99, the two elderly men reached toward each other,
grasped the other's hands and held on as if they were old friends.
“It feels like we've been waiting for this day for a long time,” Mr.
Soon said after receiving his $20,000 cheque from the federal
government for redress. “For many years, I did not have hope it would
happen. I knew I had to live long enough to see it.”
Last week, while in Vancouver, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said
apologizing to the Chinese community for the head tax was the only
thing the government could do to right the decades-old wrong.
The 1923 Exclusion Act, which divided families after an onerous $500
entry fee was put into effect for people coming from China, was a
“moral blemish on our country's soul,” Mr. Harper said. It was finally
lifted in 1947 at the request of Chinese-Canadian soldiers who fought
in the Second World War. The government gave in to their demands for
full citizenship rights and lifted the fee.
Mr. Soon arrived in Canada as a 13-year-old, with the weight of his
family's village on his shoulders. Relatives paid his entry fee and he
was put to work to pay the tax back and send money home to his parents
He did it with pennies saved from the $25 he earned each month working at a vegetable and food stand.
“I didn't think about that too much,” Mr. Soon said when asked if
the debt he had to repay overwhelmed him. “I was too busy working and
When repeatedly asked yesterday about what he planned to do with the money from the government, his answers were simple.
“Take it to the bank. Spend it,” said Mr. Soon, handing the cheque over to his wife Siumui Soon.
Canadian Heritage and Status of Women Minister Bev Oda handed out
three cheques yesterday in Vancouver's Chinatown — to Mr. Soon, Mr.
Quan and Betty Jung, daughter-in-law of Ah Foo Chin, who was unable to
attend in person.
Unlike Mr. Quan, who plans to spend some of the money by taking his family to China, Mr. Soon said he's too old to travel now.
“The only plan I have is maybe dinner with the family,” he said yesterday.
When Sid Tan and Victor Wong, two community activists, first met
Charlie Quan in the mid-1980s and learned he was a head-tax payer, they
promised him they would fight for redress.
“We made him that promise and we never forgot,” said Mr. Wong, the executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council.
“We knew it was going to be a fight.”
When the association began trying to get redress for head-tax
payers, there were still 2,000 to 3,000 of them living in the 1980s.
But today, just 36 surviving payers have been identified.
The government will pay $20,000 to each living head-tax payer and to spouses of deceased head-tax payers.
Chan Suen, 75, wept as she remembered her father who paid the head tax as a young man and died in the 1960s.
“My heart is very black today,” Ms. Chan said in Cantonese as she wiped tears from her eyes at the ceremony.
While she was glad for Mr. Soon and Mr. Quan, she grieved for her family and the hardship her father suffered.
“The government took this first step and I can't understand why they
can't take the second step and help the family of the people who paid.”
Sid Tan's grandparents are dead and both paid the tax. He said there
are about 81,000 descendents the government won't compensate.
“The Harper government is saying the Chinese do not deserve
justice,” said Mr. Tan, who vowed to continue pressing the government
to provide redress for descendents. “We are building a movement that
will outlast the Harper government.”
For Mr. Quan, who came to Canada as a skinny 15-year-old in 1923 and
worked for 20 years in Leader, Sask., to pay off the $500 fee, he says
his satisfaction on the eve of turning 100 is that he outlasted the
“They kept saying for years they weren't going to pay, but I knew
that one day the government would do the right thing,” he said.