3 Tories break with party on Chinese-Canadian issue The three want Ottawa to apologize and compensate for the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants

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3 Tories break with party on
Chinese-Canadian issue The three want
Ottawa
to apologize and compensate for the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants

Peter O'Neil

Vancouver
Sun

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

OTTAWA
— Three of Conservative leader Stephen Harper's candidates have split with their party's senior
critics on an issue that has divided Canada's Chinese-
Canadian community. 

B.C. candidates Darrel Reid
and Kanman Wong, and veteran MP John Cummins, say the federal government
should renegotiate a $2.5 million agreement that seeks to recognize the racist
anti-Chinese immigrant policies of Canada's past while not apologizing or offering
individual compensation.

All three Tories say the
next government should reopen talks to try to bring all factions of the
community together on the issue, which, according to Reid, could be politically
damaging for Multiculturalism Minister Raymond Chan in his riding.

“Certainly if the talk
radio and the Chinese press are any indication, I would say there's been a very
strong negative reaction,” said Reid, Chan's Tory challenger in the riding,
where close to half the population is ethnic Chinese.

“I think there's a lot
of concern, there's a lot of upset, there's a lot of recriminations being thrown
around.”

While the federal Tory
caucus hasn't taken a formal position, Tory multiculturalism critic Bev
Oda and immigration critic Inky Mark both endorsed the Liberal position.

They both said Tuesday the
Liberal position, based on private bills by Oda and Mark, had the endorsement of
Harper.

Both Reid and Cummins, the
MP for Delta-South Richmond, say they would like to see a government apology and
individual compensation for the surviving victims of the head tax that was
imposed on Chinese immigrants between 1885 and 1923.

Wong, while supportive of an
apology, wouldn't say if he supports financial redress.

There are about one million
Chinese Canadians, representing a little over three per cent of the population.
But in Richmond
and Vancouver Kingsway, represented by Industry Minister David
Emerson, they represent 44 and 42 per cent, respectively. In Cummins'
riding, 18 per cent are ethnic Chinese, according to Statistics Canada.

Chan announced just days
before the election campaign began that a “historic” agreement had been struck
with the National Congress of Chinese Canadians and several other groups.

The initiative is intended
to acknowledge the historic wrongs and fund projects to educate Canadians on the
contribution of Chinese-Canadians.

But a rival group, the
Chinese Canadian National Council, has waged a media campaign to discredit the
agreement and argue that it doesn't satisfy demands.

The federal New Democratic
Party has joined the CCNC in calling on the government to come up with a
package similar to the 1988 agreement that provided more than $300
million as compensation to the Japanese-Canadian community, which was
interned in camps during the Second World War.

Chan said Tuesday the
Chinese-Canadian community has always been divided on the issue.

While some want money and an
apology, others don't see themselves as “victims,” according to Chan, who once
publicly favoured individual  compensation.

“They say, 'We're not
victims of Canada.
Yes, we were discriminated against, and paid the head tax, but
we benefitted as well.'”

Chan said both Harper and
Mark, the Manitoba Conservative MP who initiated the

legislation and helped
negotiate the agreement, support the government's position that an apology
could open the government to legal claims.

“Both Inky and Harper
recognize we cannot open the Canadian taxpayers to unlimited liabilities.”

Mark's father and
grandfather paid the head tax. Oda is a Japanese-Canadian who opposed the 1988
compensation agreement.

Last month, Mark sent out
e-mails to MPs from all parties saying that the CCNC is “basically an arm of
the NDP across Canada.”

Mark said Tuesday he wished
that Tory candidates in B.C. promising a better redress package had spoken
to him, as he doesn't believe an apology and compensation are realistic.

He said he accepts the
argument of government lawyers that an apology and redress package would be a
“slippery slope” opening the door to countless other legal claims.

“Today's government
can't apologize for things that happened in past governments. That's just the
way it is,” Mark said of the head tax and the subsequent exclusion
legislation that banned Chinese immigration from 1923 to
1947. 

“What they did was
legal. That didn't make it morally right or ethical, but the fact was it was legal.”

But Reid said the Chinese
experience stands out as unique because Chinese-Canadians were the only
ethnic group specifically targeted in racist immigration laws.

“If the intent of the
recent agreement . . . was to heal historic wounds, it hasn't worked,” Reid
said.

“Instead, the
controversy and ethical issues surrounding it continue to grow.  It has reopened wounds in
the Chinese community.” 

poneil@hotmail.com
© The Vancouver
Sun 2005

 

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