Globe and Mail – BC
Monday, June 6, 2005 Page S1
memorial to Chinese Canadian war veterans and railway workers yesterday. He left
Victoria by motorcycle on June 3. (This is an 8″X10″)
Canada. Almost 100 years later, Gim Foon Wong wants an apology. PETER KENNEDY
By PETER KENNEDY
VANCOUVER — Eighty-two-year-old Gim Foon
Wong, sporting cuts and bruises from a recent motorcycle mishap, will resume
his cross-Canada bike trip today in a bid to prove that it is never too late
to put right an injustice.
Despite a delay caused by yesterday's pelting
rain in Vancouver, Mr. Wong hopes to be in Ottawa by July 1 to press the case
for a redress of an immigration tax that cost 81,000 Chinese immigrants
$23-million between 1885 and 1923.
Describing himself to reporters as
a “tough old bugger,” he is making the trip on a maroon-coloured Honda
touring bike, with his son, Jeffrey, riding behind in the family
“We demand an apology for this,” said Mr. Wong, who had a
chipped tooth and bruises to his nose after his motorcycle fell over at a gas
station in Victoria last Friday.
A veteran of the Second World
War with the Royal Canadian Air Force, he wants Ottawa to consider a partial
refund of the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants after the construction
of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885.
Thousands of Chinese workers
were brought to Canada to provide cheap and reliable labour when the railway
was being built. The government imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants; the
rate was initially $50, and later was raised to $500.
When the tax
failed to stop the flow of immigration, Ottawa passed the Chinese Immigration
Act in 1923. It banned all Chinese immigrants from entering Canada, with a
limited number of exceptions. It was repealed in 1947.
During those 24
years of exclusion, Chinese families were separated and generations of men
were condemned to a life of isolation and loneliness. The economic and
political development of Chinese communities in Canada was also
the Toronto-based Chinese-Canadian National Council, which is sponsoring Mr.
Aside from the racist overtones, the tax remains a sore point
with Chinese-Canadians, in part because $500 was such a lot of money
“It would have been enough to buy two houses in Vancouver's
Chinatown,” said Sid Tan, a Vancouver-based member of the CCNC. In today's
dollars, the $23-million paid out by Chinese immigrants would be worth
“I think the Canadian government did things that weren't
fair,” said Charlie Quan, who, at 98, is one of a handful of Vancouver-based
Chinese immigrants who paid the tax and is still alive to talk about
“Other nationalities came to Canada and didn't have to pay anything,”
he said. He worked as a waiter and dishwasher in Regina after coming to
Canada from Canton in 1923.
Mr. Wong, a native of Vancouver, didn't
have to pay the tax himself. But coming up with $500 in head-tax money meant
his father had to wait 13 years before he could afford to bring his mother
over from China after he had emigrated to Canada in 1906.
That is why
Mr. Wong has been involved in the campaign for restitution since it began in
1983 after the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was passed.
will carry a petition calling on Ottawa to return some of the $23-million in
head taxes collected from immigrants and their families by paying $21,000 to
each surviving head-tax payer or spouse.
The petition also asks Ottawa to
establish a process for negotiating individual financial compensation with
descendents of head-tax payers.
But as he prepared to set off from his
Burnaby, B.C., home, he was more preoccupied with the challenges he will face
on the trip.
“My biggest fear is getting in an accident,” said Mr. Wong,
who has been riding motorcycles since 1938.
He plans to spend between
one and three hours on his bike before stopping for a nap.
En route to
Ottawa, he will be protected from the elements by a black motorcycle helmet
and a jacket with built-in elbow pads.
Saying he is a “slow eater,” Mr.
Wong plans to sustain himself along the way on a diet of canned salmon, tuna
fish and rice.
“I like to cook my own veggies,” he