Ethnic issues and the Canadian Federal Election: Why the federal politicians are now paying attention.
I drove into work this morning, CBC Radio's “The Current” was
interviewing a Muslim-Canadian in Quebec and a Chinese-Canadian in
Vancouver about the importance of ethnic issues for this upcoming
Chinese head tax issue was cited by one of the interviewees as being an
issue that caused problems for the Paul Martin and the Liberals.
Without a broad-based consultation of Chinese-Canadians directly
affected by the head tax issue, the Liberals went ahead with their ACE
program (Acknowledgement, Commemoration and Education) without an
apology or a payment settlement plan. This raised the ire of not only
Chinese Canadians head tax descendants but also many non-Chinese
Canadians who said this was unfair and unjust. In the ensuing
demonstrations and protest movement, I got to know Gabriel Yiu as one
of many community activists working to bring the issue to public
knowledge and government settlement.
Harper and his Vancouver colleagues saw the winds changing, and jumped
on the head tax band wagon. Even Liberals Ujjal Dosanjh, David Emerson
and Stephen Owen found a “second opinion” distancing themselves from
Paul Martin and Raymond Chan plan. Harper eventually made an official
apology in Parliament. This was important because the Head Tax and
Chinese Exclusion Act had been federal law. The Conservatives also
gave a settlement to surviving head tax payers and spouses, but not
anybody who died before they were elected. This was very unfair, as
99% of head tax payers and spouses were already dead.
Harper and the Conservatives are playing to the South Asian community
for votes. They are addressing the Komagat Maru incident but not
giving an apology.
Gabriel Yiu has written a wonderful commentary, that I am re-publishing here:
South Asian community shouldn’t
miss opportunity to redress Komagata Maru incident
Global Chinese Press
Also submitted to Indo-Canadian
In late 2005, the federal election was in full swing. In the
Chinese community, the Head Tax redress was the hottest issue. The
Liberals ran a close race against the Conservatives, so both parties made
extraordinary efforts to fetch votes.
Raymond Chan, the Liberal Multicultural Minister at the time, set up a
meeting in Vancouver Chinatown for his boss, Paul Martin, to make an
announcement to redress the Chinese Head Tax. This so-called
“historical” redress offered no apology and no compensation, only a
sum of money for community organizations.
The Liberals’ “historical” redress triggered Chinese
activists like myself to step forward to fight it because it was unjust.
My view on the Head Tax is like this. For all the historical unjust
matters and tragedies, the present-day government can decide not to take any
action. After all, we have enough more press modern issues for our
politicians to handle. However, if today’s government decided to
redress this historical matter, the redress should be examined with
today’s morals and values. The government offering an apology for an
unjust historical wrong is the basic requirement. A redress on the Head
Tax without an apology is an insult to the Chinese community.
The CBC Early Edition interviewed me and Raymond Chan on the
Liberals’ redress program. I expressed my view and stated that
community opinions expressed on Chinese open-line shows were one-sided —
overwhelmingly opposing the Liberal plan. After I hung up, it was Raymond
Chan’s turn. He said “Gabriel Yiu was lying” and
“Gabriel Yiu was misleading the community….” Wow, a federal
cabinet minister scolded me in public on an English-language radio. I
wondered whether I was being attacked or being elevated.
After the election, the Conservative government made an
apology for the Chinese Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act. So far, I
haven’t seen any community come up and sue the government on other past
historical wrong. Raymond Chan’s claim that a government apology
would open the floodgates to lawsuits that would cost taxpayers huge amounts of
money has never materialized. So who was lying and misleading the
community in the last election?
Due to the strong reaction in the Chinese community, Prime Minister
Martin was forced to change his position in the middle of his election
campaign. In an interview conducted on a Chinese radio channel, Martin
apologized for the Chinese Head Tax. A CBC reporter interviewed me and
said I must be happy about it and my reply surprised the journalist. I
said, what kind of apology was that? Paul Martin didn’t offer his apology
in a national press conference but merely uttered it in an ethnic language
radio interview. How sincere was it? More importantly, the Chinese
Head Tax and Chinese Exclusion Act were legislated in the Parliament. If
the government of Canada
truly felt remorse, an apology should be made in the Parliament. In the
following week, Paul Martin promised to apologize in the Parliament after the
South Asian readers must find this familiar, mustn’t they?
(That’s right, I’m submitting this commentary to both Chinese and
South Asian newspapers.) Looks like history is repeating itself.
Frankly, I am quite surprised to see Prime Minister Harper and Multicultural
Minister Jason Kenney, who scored almost full marks on the Chinese Head Tax
redress file, would screw up like this and repeat the mistake of Paul
Martin/Raymond Chan. It’s also incredible to see that Kenney, who
has been working hard to connect to ethnic communities, should rule out
immediately apology in the Parliament. Why should he draw such a hard line?
Was it a slip of the tongue? Or is it an attitude problem?
Since the Conservative government has already apologized to Chinese and
aboriginals in the Parliament, why would Harper insist in not apologizing to
South Asians on the Komagata Maru affair?
The 2006 federal election had helped resolve the humiliation of the
Chinese in the last century. The South Asian community should grab this
coming opportunity to put a fair and just full stop on the Komagata Maru