From the BC Coalition of Head Tax Payers, Spouses, and Descendants



Toronto, January 2, 2006: Prime Minister Paul Martin and several key cabinet ministers appear to be trying to give the impression that they are softening their stance on an apology and redress for the Chinese head tax and Exclusion Act, according to comments in the Chinese-language media.

            “We are asking the Prime Minister to clarify for all Canadians exactly what is his stance on a parliamentary apology and redress for 62 years of legislated racism against Chinese Canadians,” said Avvy Go, legal counsel for the Ontario Coalition of Head Tax Payers and Families.

            Martin, who is being directly challenged on the head tax issue in his own riding of Lasalle-Emard in Montreal by Bloc Quebecois candidate May Chiu, was quoted Thursday, Dec. 29, 2005, in Ming Pao Daily as saying “it was wrong to collect head-tax from Chinese immigrants.  It was morally wrong.”

            In what appears to be a capitulation to the Opposition and public demands for justice, Martin said he recognized the deep divisions in the Chinese Canadian community resulting from his government’s policy on how to deal with the head-tax issue.

            “The Prime Minister is beginning to feel uneasy about his government’s treatment of this issue, which resonates as much for voters who see it as a fundamental issue of social justice as it does for Chinese Canadians,” said Susan Eng, co-chair of the Ontario Coalition of Head Tax Payers and Families.

            “But be forewarned: Mr. Martin’s pronouncements to the Chinese press are little more than campaign promises made when his party is on the ropes.”

            Indeed, the Liberals appear to be back-peddling on a $2.5 million agreement in principle with the National Congress of Chinese Canadians, a group that has many Liberal supporters but no track record on human rights issues, including head tax redress.

            Earlier this month, Industry Minister David Emerson, currently contesting the riding of Vancouver-Kingsway where Chinese Canadians comprise 42% of the population, told Sing Tao Daily that if elected he would become an advocate “to take another look” at the head tax settlement. Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh, running in Vancouver South where Chinese Canadians account for 42% of the electorate, supported head tax redress when he was a B.C. cabinet minister.

            Given the Liberals’ policy under the ACE Program of “no apology, no compensation,” drafted by junior Minister of State (Multiculturalism) Raymond Chan, the Ontario Coalition, with the Chinese Canadian National Council and other groups representing head tax payers, demand that Mr. Martin clarify his party’s position.

            “We are sending an open letter to the Prime Minister to ask if his recent comments amount to a reversal of policy on redress – particularly overturning the conditions of ‘no apology, no compensation’ under the ACE Program,” Eng said.

            All major Opposition parties have declared their support for a full apology in Parliament and for broad-based negotiations on appropriate redress for the estimated 250 surviving head tax payers and their spouses, as well as for the whole Chinese Canadian community.



Ontario Coalition of Head Tax Payers and Families
(Toronto and Ottawa)
Susan Eng, co-chair, (416) 960-0312
Avvy Go, legal counsel, (647) 271-9357
Yew Lee, co-chair, (819) 827-3357

B.C. Coalition of Chinese Head Tax Payers, Their Spouses and Descendants
Bill Chu, spokesperson, (604) 261-6526

Sien Lok Society of Calgary
Raymond Lee, past president, (403) 288-3903

Chinese Canadian Redress Alliance
William Dere, (514) 488-0804




Open letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister:

We believe you are sincere when you say you want to do something about the 62 years of legislated racism under the Chinese head tax and Exclusion Act. And your budget announcement this year of funds to back up your intentions was welcomed by those of us who have been campaigning for head tax redress for over 20 years. Yet, your government’s actions since then have only undermined your purpose.

No doubt you are aware of the widespread opposition to the official stance of “no apology, no compensation” and to your rushed agreement with the National Congress of Chinese Canadians while refusing to deal with the people most directly affected, the head tax payers and their families. All the opposition parties have called for an apology and good-faith negotiations with groups that represent actual head tax families.

Your recent comments quoted in a Chinese-language newspaper, Ming Pao, suggest that you may be reconsidering your position and we need to ascertain exactly what you mean. A simple yes or no will suffice.

According to the article, you expressed “deep sorrow” for the head tax and state that it was morally wrong. Most Canadians would accept that as an apology. But to be a proper apology from the government for its own past injustice, your words must be spoken in Parliament, as was the apology given by the Prime Minister of New Zealand on the Chinese New Year in 2001.

Your Multiculturalism Minister Raymond Chan has repeatedly stated that a full apology would expose the government to lawsuits although he knows the courts have ruled clearly that there is no legal liability but a strong moral obligation to provide redress. You acknowledge that collecting the head tax was morally wrong. So wouldn't it be morally correct to simply apologize?

If you are re-elected Prime Minister, will you sponsor an all-party Parliamentary resolution to acknowledge the injustice and racial discrimination, and to recognize the suffering of individual Chinese Canadians, their families, and the entire Chinese Canadian community that resulted from this legislated racism, including the emotional and financial hardship, and the forced separation of families?

You state your love and respect for Chinese Canadians. Does that extend to the 250 or so surviving head tax payers or spouses, mostly in their 90s, who deserve justice while they are still with us? Your wish to educate Canadians about this historical injustice would be best fulfilled by making a return of a symbolic amount to them. If re-elected, will you do this?

Indeed, since you have already decided to spend $2.5 million to start the process of reconciliation, why not rescind the ill-conceived agreement with the National Congress and instead re-direct those funds towards redress for those elders of our community who lived through the injustice? Most are in frail health and deserve your love and respect now, not after they pass on.

Finally, you express your willingness to start more dialogue with Chinese Canadians and gave as an example your recent meeting in Montreal's Chinatown. We note that you were meeting with the same group of people who signed your agreement with the National Congress. What we meant when we called for broader representation from the community was good-faith, transparent negotiations with head tax payers, their families and groups representing them. For example, instead of meeting with your party faithful in Chinatown, you could have visited with James Wing, 94, a head tax payer living in your riding of LaSalle-Emard. The nearly 3,000 Chinese Canadian constituents in your riding would certainly take notice of even such a simple gesture.

The process of reconciliation cannot begin until the federal government deals directly with those most affected: the head tax families and negotiates in good faith with groups that the head tax families themselves chose to represent them, not those that the government chooses for them.

If re-elected, will you support good-faith negotiations with the representatives of head tax families as to the nature and extent of redress for the impact of 62 years of legislated racism on head tax families and the Chinese Canadian community as a whole, including a transparent and legitimate process of gathering input from the head tax families and the broader Chinese Canadian community?

This is an issue of justice and reconciliation – which has become an issue in this election and will continue beyond January 23rd. For the sake of the few remaining head tax payers and their spouses, Mr. Prime Minister, we hope you will offer them justice in time.


Ontario Coalition of Chinese Head Tax Payers and Families
Chinese Canadian National Council, and

B.C. Coalition of Chinese Head Tax Payers, Their Spouses and Descendants

Sien Lok Society of Calgary

Chinese Canadian Redress Alliance

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