Ukranian Canadians get Redress Justice: Chinese Canadians next? Toronto Star article

For those who might not have access
to the Toronto Star this is an excellent article that Avvy wrote and appeared August 24, 2005 in the Star.
When will
Chinese Canadians get justice?

Surely it's
time Ottawa put to rest shame of head tax and compensated victims, says
Avvy Go
24, 2005 marked a significant day for the Ukrainian Canadian community.

On that day the government of Canada officially
acknowledged that Ukrainian Canadians were unjustly interned and were deprived
of their civil rights during World War I.
Calling it a “dark chapter” of our history, Prime Minister
Paul Martin announced a $2.5 million fund for commemorative plaques and
educational tools to remind Canadians of our not-so-pristine past. Ukrainian
Canadians are not alone when it comes to Canada's historical record of
mistreatment of minorities.

Most Canadians are familiar with the shameful manner in
which Japanese Canadians were treated as “enemy aliens” during World War II,
when thousands upon thousands of Japanese Canadians were sent into internment
camps and stripped of their properties, their rights and dignity. Perhaps less
well known, are the cases of internment of German and Italian Canadians, also
during wartime.
If these gross injustices could somehow be “excused” by
the war, the same does not apply to the case of Chinese Canadians.

Canada welcomed Chinese when the country needed their
labour to build the Canadian Pacific Railroad, and more than 10,000 Chinese
immigrants were brought in between 1881 and 1885 for that purpose. But as soon
as the last spike was driven in, the Canadian government imposed a $50 head tax
on all Chinese immigrants, which was increased to $500 in 1904.

The head tax was replaced in 1923 with the Chinese
Exclusion Act that barred all but a handful of Chinese immigrants to Canada. In
total, Canada collected more than $23 million from 81,000 or so Chinese

Shack Jang Mack was among those who had paid the head tax.
At the tender age of 13, Mack left China in 1922 to embark on his trip to
Canada. He spent his first six weeks here in a dark cell inside the Canada
Customs Detention Building, where Chinese detainees were given a slice of bread
every day.

Mack was released only after paying the $500 Head Tax. The
fact that Mack's father was among the pioneers who worked on the CPR did not
exempt him from the racist tax.
Mack returned to China to marry his wife in 1928. But he
could not bring her to Canada due to the Exclusion Act.

He would visit her in China after he had saved enough
money to pay for his journey but he had to return to Canada within two years or
pay another head tax. After 22 years of separation, Mack was finally reunited
with his wife in 1950, three years after the exclusion act was

Mack was among a group of surviving head-tax payers and
widows who, for the past 20 years, have been seeking redress for their
sufferings as a result of legislated racism.

In 2000, Mack sued the Canadian government. While finding
that Ottawa had a moral obligation to redress its “reprehensible” past, an
Ontario court nevertheless ruled there was no legal ground for the case to go

Mack died in March 2003, a month before the Supreme Court
of Canada turned down his appeal.

As the number of surviving head-tax payers continues to
shrink, Ottawa continues to ignore their plea for justice.
If we compensate the Chinese, says the government, it
would set an unwelcome precedent and lead to a “floodgate” of claims. But the
“floodgate” argument is becoming weaker every day as Canada continues to redress
almost every other single case of historical injustice.

After the Japanese Canadians, the Marine merchants, the
First Nations Veterans, and now the Ukrainian Canadians, Chinese Canadians are
quickly becoming the last group of victims who have yet to receive any
acknowledgement from their government for their role in building this country
and the “thanks” they got in return.

A symbolic return of $23 million will help redress one of
the last remaining unresolved “dark chapters” of our history. Is that really too
much to ask?

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