Chinese-Canadian Head tax descendants are not greedy. They just want a just settlement.
“If the government unjustly takes a dollar from you or me, then offers an apology, but no money back – is that fair?” asked Sid Tan, long time advocate for redress of the notorious and racist head tax that was only levied against Chinese immigrants from 1885 to 1923 in an effort to keep Chinese from coming to Canada. Co-president of the Chinese Canadian Head Tax Families Society, Tan called for continued action for a full redress that would include the sons, daughters and families of deceased head tax payers.
Even more racist and devastating to the Chinese community was the Chinese “Exclusion” Act which completely banned Chinese immigration from 1923 to 1947, which forcibly restricted the unification of families.
I attended the AGM of the Chinese Head Tax Families Society last Sunday, and also witnessed the ceremony that honoured Margaret Mitchell with a life-time membership in the society and for her work in first bringing the Head Tax redress issue to Canadian Parliament in 1984.
Margaret Mitchell stand between 99 year old head tax payer Charlie Quan and head tax spouse Mrs. Wong Shee Lee – photo Todd Wong
The Conservative government is only recognizing surviving head tax payers and and their spouses, still alive at the time of Harper's election. Many have died since 1984. My father's father died in 1964 and my mother's father died in 1953.
Many families have hung onto ancient pieces of paper in hope of a redress payment or refund. Head tax certificates have been passed on through generations. Wendy Yuan told me on Sunday that her husband's grandfather's certificate is now in her safe-keeping. My 97 year old grandmother still has the head tax certificate of her father and his brother – and while my grandmother was born in Canada in 1910, her father died around 1933.
The head tax payers and their families faced economic hardships and racial discrimination that lasted generations. $500 in 1907 could buy 2 small houses in Vancouver. It is estimated that with compound interest, full repayment with compound interest would be $300,000. That's what Charlie Quan told the media it was worth in 2006. The Conservative government has offered a symbolic $20,000 ex-gratia payment – but only to surviving head tax payers and spouses.
One certificate – one redress payment is only fair.
Head tax descendant Gim Wong (centre) is the WW2 veteran who rode his motorcycle to Ottawa in 2005 to ask Prime Minister Martin to refund the Head Tax – but was refused a meeting. He poses here with Judy Hanazawa and Grace Thompson – advocates of the Japanese-Canadian redress settlement. Grace is also the current president of the Japanese Canadian National Council, whom we consulted with during the Chinese head tax redress campaign – photo Todd Wong
Check out the recent
Georgia Straight story about the failure of the Conservative government to fully comprehend and follow through on the Chinese head tax redress issue:
News Features By
November 29, 2007
Charlie Quan hosted a feast of wild boar after he
was compensated by the Harper government for paying the head tax, but many
families are still waiting for justice.
More than 23 years ago, a
Member of Parliament stood in the House of Commons to demand redress for Chinese
head-tax payers. was the first to bring this issue forward,
and it took more than two decades and several governments before an apology was
made, in 2006. East NDP
Now 82 and long since retired, Mitchell
remains passionate about making amends to Canadians of Chinese origin who
suffered under discriminatory immigration policies. The former MP believes that
the redress laid out by Prime Minister 's Conservative government
doesn't fully resolve the issue.
“There are so many aspects that are not
settled,” Mitchell told the Georgia Straight after she
was awarded an honorary membership in the Head Tax Families Society of ,
in 's Chinatown
on November 25.
Only head-tax payers or their spouses who were
alive as of February 6, 2006, are entitled to $20,000 in symbolic compensation. Mitchell said
that this leaves out thousands of descendants of families who went through economic hardship and endured long separations.
The deadline for filing applications for
payments is March 31, 2008.
“I fully support the fact that the battle
must continue, and you must get coverage for inclusive redress for all the
families,” Mitchell said in her address.
Her audience included Charlie Quan, a
99-year-old head-tax payer, and Gim Wong, an elderly son of a head-tax payer
who rode his Harley-Davidson motorcycle across
in the summer of 2005 to
raise awareness about the need for redress.
In an interview, Mitchell recalled that her advocacy started when two of her
East constituents–Mak Dak Lee and Shack Lee–asked for her
The 14-year MP recounts her experience in the head-tax redress campaign in her
memoir, No Laughing
Matter: Adventure, Activism and Politics (Granville
Island Publishing), which will have its launch at the Mount Pleasant
Neighbourhood House on Monday (December 3).
In 1885, the Canadian government imposed a $50 entry fee on Chinese immigrants. This was raised to $100 in 1900, and to
$500 in 1903. The head tax was ended in 1923 by a law that banned most Chinese immigration.
According to the Chinese Canadian National Council, approximately 81,000
Chinese paid $23 million in head taxes–about $1.2 billion in current
Sid Chow Tan, cochair of the Head Tax Families
Society of , said the redress covers less than one percent of head-tax
families because the vast majority of payers and their spouses have already
died. “Head-tax families have endured, overcome, and outlived generations
of arrogant and dismissive governments,” he said on November 25. “We
have built a movement to outlast the Conservative government
should they continue to close the door on us.”
Victor Wong's grandfather paid the tax in
1912, but because his grandfather and grandmother are dead, Wong's family is
not entitled to the symbolic compensation. More than 500 head-tax payers and
surviving spouses have received payments, according to Wong, who is the Chinese Canadian National Council's executive director.
Wendy Yuan, the federal Liberal candidate for
Kingsway, told the Straight
that her husband's grandfather was a head-tax payer. The
Yuan family has preserved the late patriarch's certificate of payment, she
said. “I've been telling my son about how it was not easy for our
ancestors,” Yuan said. “For sure, the head-tax descendants need