National Post: 1885 tax becomes an issue in 2006

National Post: 1885 tax becomes an issue in 2006

Not a day goes by now without a story on Chinese Head Tax in one paper or another….

There are lots of issues within this seemingly innocuous and
historically forgotten and ignored moment in Canadian history.  At
its core, it appears to be a Liberal grab for votes by appealing to
Chinese language voters and ethnic voters.  But many things have
gone awry. 

The problems of this “One size fits All” redress for recognizing
“the historical experiences of [all] ethnocultural communities impacted
by wartime measures and immigration experiences,” would NOT be
tolerated if it were treaty negotiations with First Nations
peoples.  Each ethno cultural group must be addressed separately
and on an individual basis.  While it is true that no group
suffered the material loss that the Japanese Canadians did during WW2
Internment, it is also true that no other ethnocultural group was
targeted with a racially discriminatory head tax followed by an
outright exlusionary ban on immigrantion.

The Liberals are now in damage control and the Conservatives, NDP and
Bloc Quebecois smell blood.  It is ironic that after decades of
continued discrimination and having calls for Chinese head tax redress
dismissed by the government, that the closest the few remaining head
tax survivors see to a settlement is not because of fairness, honour
and justice – but because of its exact opposite in yet another Liberal
manipulation of public funds for votes.

Below is today's head tax article in the National Post

National Post: 1885 tax becomes an issue in 2006

Brian Hutchinson, National Post
Published: Thursday, December 15, 2005

RICHMOND, B.C. – Raymond Chan is an emotional fellow. Canada's minister
of state for multiculturalism has been known to cry in front of
constituents in his suburban Vancouver riding. Sometimes he cries out
of gratitude, and sometimes in anger. His eyes teared up when our
discussion this week touched on human rights.

He likens himself to a crusader, a defender of democracy; he is quick
to mention he was once jailed in China, for leading a protest against
that country's authoritarian regime.

It might seem odd, then, that Mr. Chan is so firmly opposed to a
measure of reconciliation here at home, especially one that appeals to
many residents of his Richmond riding. Half of the riding's eligible
voters are, like him, of Chinese origin.
The issue is the long-discarded head tax, a racist duty imposed on
Chinese immigrants to Canada between 1885 and 1923. It's estimated
Ottawa collected $23-million from Chinese newcomers in those years;
those who are still alive, and many of their descendants, want the
money back.

They would also like a formal apology.
Mr. Chan once heartily supported their requests for compensation and redress.

But no longer. And he's not alone; indeed, half a dozen large
Chinese-Canadian organizations that represent hundreds more Chinese
groups have sided with Mr. Chan and his new, cautious approach to the
head tax question.

The issue has suddenly become an election hot button for
Chinese-Canadians across the country.  It could cost Mr. Chan his
job, and the Liberals some important seats in Parliament.

The Chinese Canadian National Council says there are only four head tax
survivors in Canada. But there are an estimated 80,000 descendants and
thousands more Chinese-Canadians who feel compensation and an apology
are due.

Mr. Chan took up their cause and ran with the issue in Richmond during
the 1993 federal election campaign, his first. He was elected and made
a junior minister in Jean Chretien's Cabinet. A year later, he
recommended to Cabinet some form of redress and an apology to survivors
of the head tax. “I was shot down,” he recalled.

He says an apology and compensation are never going to happen, at least as long as the Liberals are in power.
The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois have already called for a formal
apology, and last week Conservative leader Stephen Harper unexpectedly
jumped on the bandwagon.

The Tories, Mr. Harper noted in a statement, have “long recognized the
terrible historical wrong of the Chinese head tax. It is time for
Parliament and the Government of Canada to recognize this grave
injustice and to apologize for it.”
The statement– and the timing of its release, in an election campaign
— smacked of political opportunism. But it pleased those Conservative
candidates locked in close battles with Liberals in B.C.'s crucial
Lower Mainland.

Darrel Reid is facing off against Raymond Chan in Richmond. “The head
tax issue is huge,” said Mr. Reid, sitting in his Conservative war
room, a few blocks from Mr. Chan's own election headquarters. “It was
the only tax ever collected from a specific ethnic group in Canada. It
was wrong, and that has to be recognized.”

Mr. Chan counters that making an official apology to head tax survivors
and their families will “open the floodgates” to “countless lawsuits
and financial responsibilities for other historical wrongs.”

Besides, he says, the federal government has already figured a way to
address the issue without assuming unrestricted financial liabilities.
In February, Ottawa announced the $25-million Acknowledgement,
Commemoration and Education Program, aimed at recognizing “the
historical experiences of [all] ethnocultural communities impacted by
wartime measures and immigration experiences.”

The money is to be shared among various Chinese-Canadian groups, along
with organizations representing other ethnic and cultural minorities.

“The ACE program is for the Italians, the Ukrainians, the Germans, the
Jews, the Sikhs,” Mr. Chan explained. “Now the Croatians have asked to
participate. The blacks have come to participate. Everybody wants to be
part of it now.”

The National Congress of Chinese Canadians is among the largest groups
in support of the ACE program. “The Chinese community stands united in
the cause of educating all Canadians about this tragic period in our
history,” noted Ping Tan, the NCCC's executive co-chair.

But the program's one-size-fits-all approach doesn't sit well with thousands of Chinese-Canadians affected by the head tax.
“Mr. Chan used to support us, and now he has turned his back on us,”
said Sid Tan, a Vancouver resident and spokesman for the Chinese
Canadian National Council, which says it represents half of all head
tax survivors and their relatives. “It really sickens me. The money is
just going to go to Liberal friends. It's like a Chinese-Canadian
sponsorship scandal.”

He says Chinese groups that supported the ACE program have already
submitted proposals for things such as commemorative rock gardens and
museums. His members, meanwhile, have asked for grant information but
have been ignored.

“There is a lot of anger over this,” he said. “The Liberals bungled the
whole issue of redress and they have basically divided the Chinese

It's an opening opposition parties are keen to exploit, and it has Liberals in B.C. on the defensive.

“I don't buy their little apology [demands] at all,” Hedy Fry, the
Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre, told a local newspaper this week.

As for Mr. Chan, he'd rather discuss other issues, such as same-sex
marriage. His opponent, Darrel Reid, opposes it. A Mennonite, Mr. Chan
used to oppose gay marriage, too. Not anymore.

Before election was called, government and 11 Chinese-Canadian groups
agreed to $2.5-million deal to set up educational and commemorative
projects related to the tax.

Ottawa imposed a $50 tax on all Chinese immigrants in 1885, after
completion of the Canadian Pacific railway. Tax was raised to $100,
then $500 in 1903 — the equivalent of two years' pay. In 1923 a new
law effectively banned Chinese immigration. It was repealed in 1947.

Chinese community says agreement bypassed some community groups and does not include an apology or compensation.

© National Post 2005

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