Canadian Press (Apr 18):Federal ministers cross the country, consult head-tax victims about redress
Canadian Press' Amy Carmichael writes a story about the coming community conusutations between the Conservative government and the Chinese Canadian communities. Heritage Minister Bev Oda, and parliamentary Secretary for multiculturalism Jason Kenney are travelling to Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Sid Tan, Victor Wong and Yew Lee are interviewed.
Amy Carmichael once wrote a pretty good story about me and Gung Haggis Fat Choy Cultures collide: Chinese don kilts, Scots try haggis wonton
April 18, 2006
cross the country, consult head-tax victims about redress
By AMY CARMICHAEL
VANCOUVER (CP) – How does a
government apologize for the racism of charging one ethnic group a
discriminatory tariff to come to Canada?
How does a government compensate
men who had to leave school early to pay off debts incurred by paying the
tariff, or apologize to families thrown into years of debt because of it? The
heritage minister will be asking Chinese Canadians these questions in a series
of meetings across the country this week aimed at devising a fair redress
The exercise is stirring up
painful memories for many head-tax victims.
Yew Lee, a descendant of two generations
of head-tax payers, says it brings him back to a time when some white Canadians
thought it was OK to walk into a Chinese restaurant, order a steak dinner, savour it and then butt their cigarette out in the scraps.
“They'd say, there's a
cigarette in my food, I'm not paying,” says Lee who lives in Chelsea, Que.
“It was OK because this was
a society where the government sanctioned discrimination against Chinese
people. It allows people to treat parts of our society like sub human.”
Yew's 94-year-old mother lives in
immobile and won't be able to get to any consultation with government ministers
she's too cynical to have faith in anyway.
She sits with memories of being
kept out of Canada
by a law that barred Chinese people from immigrating at all.
Her husband paid the head tax and
wasn't allowed to bring Yew, his mother and three brothers over and the family
was separated for 14 years.
“How that affected me, I'm
still trying to figure that out,” says Yew.
The tax has been acknowledged as
a dark period in Canadian history for its blatant racism.
Chinese immigration to Canada began around 1858 in response to the Gold
Rush in British Columbia.
Immigrants also were brought in from China to help build the Canadian
But the federal government
subsequently tried to restrict Chinese immigration, passing legislation that
initially imposed a $50 tax on immigrants. That later rose to
About 81,000 Chinese immigrants
paid $23 million to enter Canada
under the head-tax scheme between 1885 and 1923. The Chinese Exclusion Act
followed, barring Chinese immigrants altogether until it was repealed in 1947.
Victor Wong, another descendent
who lives in Toronto,
said you just can't compensate people for what happened.
He wants the government to act by
July 1 and provide a redress package, money and an apology to victims and their
spouses while they are still alive.
Wong said descendants can be
Victims have suggested the
government could apologize to the wider Chinese Canadian community by creating
a day to remember that would be marked each year.
Others are still just amazed that
the government wants to talk about it at all.
“It's pretty unprecedented.
No government has really done that before,” says Sid Tan, a Vancouver resident and
volunteer with Association of Chinese Canadians for Equality and Solidarity.
“I wish my grandma was alive
to see this. Wow.”
A senior government official in
the heritage minister's office said Tuesday the government wants to listen.
Heritage Minister Bev Oda and Jason Kenney, parliamentary secretary for
multiculturalism, will be attending meetings this week in Halifax,
to consult with Chinese Canadians touched by the head tax.
The official, speaking on
background, said the government sees the tour as one for consultation, not
The government wants to know what
Chinese Canadians think is fair redress, so it first must hear how they were
affected, said the official.
Tan's story is similar to Yew's.
His grandfather paid the head
tax. His grandmother was kept out by the Exclusion Act created in 1923. The two
were apart for 25 years.
Tan remembers his grandmother was
fearful when her grandson took up the cause of getting redress for head-tax
payers 20 years ago.
“She told me not to. She
said 'What if the police come, what if the green coats (immigration officials
wore green then) in the middle of the night, what if they tie you up, throw you
in the river. No, no, where would we be, these things,
“I knew she was so
intimidated by the forces of government. She would be gratified to hear the
government talking about these things now.”
Tan said he's feeling really good
about how the stories are coming out. Communities are talking and the
government is listening.
“Our Chinese forbearers not
only had to overcome the geography and environment and the climate, we had to
overcome the people. And I think we have. Now, I think Chinese people are
accepted as part of the Canadian mosaic,” Tan says.
Few people who actually paid the
head tax in the early 1900s are still alive. Four elderly men live in Vancouver.
Tan is helping to organize
carpools for head-tax payers, their families and widows to get them out to the
meeting with the federal ministers in suburban Richmond, B.C.
He says some of them don't want
anything from the government other than acknowledgment of their story.
Tan will ask the government to
return the $23 million it collected in head-tax.