Head Tax on CBC TV with Oliva Chow vs Raymond Chan
CBC TV hosted Toronto Councillor & NDP candidate and Raymond
Chan Minister of State (Multiculturalism) on TV this morning.
This issues is becoming big and bigger as more and more Chinese
Canadian head tax descendants become more aware of the issue. I
just had a phone call from a stranger that saw the broadcast – and
asked me how to find her grandfather's documentation. Expect this
more and more…
Host(s): MIKE DUFFY
MIKE DUFFY: Well a murky chapter in Canadian history has resurfaced in this
federal election campaign. Just prior to the fall of the minority government,
the Liberals announced an agreement with the Chinese-Canadian community. They
would be given millions of dollars to build an educational facility to
acknowledge that Canada had put restrictions on Chinese immigrants called a
head tax which was in place from 19, I'm sorry 1885 to 1923. But many
people say the deal doesn't go far enough. Others say it will open up a
Pandora's box of litigations from other ethnic groups. Joining me tonight in
Vancouver, the Minister of Multiculturalism, the Honourable Raymond Chan, and in
Toronto the NDP candidate in that city Olivia Chow. So, Ms Chow, what's wrong
with the proposal the government's put forward to recognize that the head
tax was a wrong thing?
OLIVIA CHOW (NDP Candidate): I don't know, Mike, why it's so difficult for a
Canadian government, the Liberal party, to actually say “sorry”, apologize for
the wrong so that the 250 people that are still left, that are still alive that
have paid a head tax could at least get a sense of justice. Apologize and
then begin the reconciliation talk so that they can perhaps get a symbolic
compensation. Doesn't have to be too much. We did it for the Japanese-Canadians.
Why can't we do it for the Chinese-Canadians?
DUFFY: Let me just go back over the ground for people who may not be aware of
this issue. What the government is saying is that instead of giving money to
individual people who were harmed by this, as the Mulroney government did for
the Japanese who were interned during the Second World War, the Martin
government is saying let's give a general grant to the community and let the
community use it to build a kind of cultural centre, a memorial museum to remind
future generations of what happened. So there is a different approach between
CHOW: It's also, the way the money's being doled out is not at all
transparent. And one of the groups that are receiving the money is not formally
established yet. The Montreal Cultural Centre that was announced actually
doesn't quite formally exist. So it's murky in the way that where is the money
going, what's the formal application process, who is qualified? Are these people
are special connected friends of the Liberal party? Is that why they are getting
DUFFY: No, no, they would never do that.
CHOW: Well I don't know what the Gomery inquiry is all about.
DUFFY: The culture of entitlement. Well, we've lost Minister Chan somehow.
The satellite went down. We're working on that.
CHOW: Maybe it is the ghost of the people that have actually passed away.
It's actually quite sad.
DUFFY: It's not a very good omen. But while we try to get him back, how
serious is the division within the Chinese-Canadian community?
CHOW: If you consider the day that this was announced, this deal was
announced, it was all very secretive, but when it was announced, one of the
local Chinese stations did a poll. Eighty-eight percent of the Chinese-Canadians
that phoned in said, no, this is terrible. This is not good. Twelve percent said
ah, maybe this is a good thing. So you can tell that a lot of people said, look,
already a lot of these seniors have passed away and shouldn't we at bare minimum
apologize and then do the reconciliation so that a historical wrong can be
overcome. And just going, just throwing the money out there is a wasteful of
money and it doesn't do anything.
DUFFY: So the choice, and we're still trying to get Minister Chan, so the
choice is between giving several million dollars to a community centre to build
a kind of museum, and giving cheques to individual people. Would it be the same
amount of money? What if somebody who doesn't know this says, oh, they're just
looking for free money from the government.
CHOW: Well, actually there are certificates that they have to pay. It doesn't
have to be a big amount. It could also just be a symbolic amount. And maybe some
of these head taxpayers don't even want the money. I think the key thing is
respect them, ask them what they want to do with the money. Some of them may not
want the money. They may want to use it for education purposes. Fine. But at
least ask them, respect them. One of the group that…
DUFFY: Ms. Chow, I'm sorry, the Minister is back on the line. Minister, our
sincere apology, I don't know what happened. You've been able to hear our
discussion? RAYMOND CHAN (Minister of Multiculturalism): Yes I have been
DUFFY: We just didn't have your picture and sound. So now you've heard Ms
Chow's point of view. Tell us why the government did what it's doing and what
you hope the reaction from the community will be.
CHAN: First of all, the head tax thing is a very terrible thing that
the past government have done in the 100 years ago. And…
DUFFY: Maybe some Canadians don't understand that. Any Chinese coming to
Canada during that period from 1885 to 1920, whatever, had to pay how much for
every single person? They had to pay the Canadian government to come here.
CHAN: Close to about $500. And it is something that is terribly wrong.
DUFFY: And in those days it was a heck of a lot of money.
CHOW: You could buy a house.
CHAN: The issue is, Mike, is that the government's position is that we have
to acknowledge that this kind of thing was terribly wrong, and then we have to
commemorate and educate our children and the children of our children to the
dark pages of our history and make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again.
But the issue is that an apology would open up the Canadian taxpayers for
unlimited liability, financial liability, and that's why you can't do it.
CHOW: Oh, excuse me. You know, this whole case has gone to the Supreme Court,
and the courts have said that this is a political issue, that apology is fine,
and they have the court case.
CHOW: They have a court case, and legally there is no other route to go, so
don't hide behind the legal pressure. Japanese-Canadians had no problem. They
had a compensation.
CHAN: The court has said that the government is not liable, but even if they
are not liable and yet we still apologize and pay out compensation that would
open up all the cases for everybody else.
DUFFY: It becomes an admission of guilt. You are afraid it becomes… CHAN:
And also legally liability.
CHAN: For limited financial cases.
CHOW: Minister, it has gone to the, Minister, it has gone to the court.
CHAN: That's right.
CHOW: The court said that there is no case for it. So the whole liability,
the legal issue is a red herring. Why wouldn't you apologize? Brian Mulroney,
even though I'm not a Tory, apologized. There was no legal case. Nothing
happened. He apologized.
DUFFY: But Ms Chow.
CHOW: So why is that a problem?
UFFY: Sorry, we're almost out of time.
Interesting, Pierre Trudeau said no way to any group, not to the Japanese, the
Chinese, no one because he said we are not responsible for the sins of our
fathers. Brian Mulroney opened to the Japanese, and now minister, you've got all
of this on your plate, not just the Chinese but many other groups, right?
CHAN: Everybody else, because the issue is that even though the courts have
said that we're not liable. but at the same time if he decided to come and
apologize then that will lead the government to be liable for everything that
the courts said we're not liable for. And that would expose the Canadian
taxpayer for unlimited financial liability.
CHOW: So let me ask you then, if you don't want to apologize, you don't want
to compensate, why are you putting aside that money, and why isn't that money
open for different groups to apply. What is it the criteria? You know that $2.5
million there is no criteria.
CHAN: This is a problem of you that you keep on… CHOW: Canadian household.
CHAN: You keep on saying that we hand out money, and now you are saying that
we have not handed out money.
CHOW: You did.
CHAN: We have not. We're just coming together with the Chinese community to
form a foundation with people from the success, from the Chinese cultural
association across Canada, with the Chinese Free Masons. We never seen that kind
of historical support from across the country of the Chinese community on one
single government project. They come together to form a foundation and then they
would judge which project they should finance and which ones they shouldn't.
DUFFY: Mr. Minister, Olivia Chow, thank you both for joining us. Terribly
sorry for the technical problems earlier. That's what happens sometimes with
live TV. We appreciate you both for coming in tonight.