Chinese Head Tax Redress – A Framework for Reconciliation – Update

This
is the framework for redress suggested by the combined efforts of the
Chinese Canadian National Council and the Coalitions for Redress from
across Canada.  It has been submitted to the Federal government to
aid the Redress process. 

It emphasizes a two stage process
with immediate apology, and compensation for surviving head tax payers
and spouses – because of their advanced age.




The second stage will address
compensation to the estate of deceased head tax payers and spouses, as
their children are also seen as “direct victims” of the tax and
exclusion act.

Chinese Head Tax Redress

A Framework for Reconciliation – Update

Reconciliation has Begun

A Framework for Reconciliation was proposed immediately on the
inauguration of the new government in February 2006, setting out a two stage
process to allow the government’s commitments to be implemented in an
orderly fashion with broad community input.

In a reflection of the priority the government assigns to redress and
reconciliation, a number of significant milestones have been attained in less
than two months, including immediate consultations with community and redress
groups from across Canada, apology and redress set as a government priority in
the Throne Speech and cross country consultations held directly with a broad
reach of Chinese Canadian individuals. Noteworthy is that the consultations
were personally conducted by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Jason Kenney, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime
Minister and both Ministers continue to give their personal attention to this
matter.

The Framework outlined the general principles for redress and
reconciliation and the progress to date has honoured those principles,
beginning with the promised apology and the acknowledgement already given by
the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary in their formal comments that the Head
Tax and Exclusion Acts were “racist legislation”. In the 20 year
history of the redress campaign, this is the first acknowledgement that an act
of Parliament was in fact racist, that it was wrong and that an apology was
due. This validates the sense of injustice felt by so many who brought their
wrenching stories to the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary at the public
consultations.

Another important achievement of the consultations was the direct
participation of individual members of the community, unmediated by community
organizations. These particular generations of Chinese Canadians have felt the
sting of racism directly sanctioned by the Parliament of the day, made worse by
the knowledge that there was then no avenue of recourse or appeal. The same
group of people were able to shed more than a little of that sense of
powerlessness by being invited, as it were, to “speak truth to
power”. That too, has resonance, for those particular people and for the
generations that follow.

Without doubt, the process of reconciliation has already begun.

The purpose of separating the process into two phases was to allow the
government to immediately move forward on securing the Parliamentary Resolution
for the apology and on providing direct redress to the surviving head tax
payers and spouses as soon as July 1st, 2006 without being delayed
by the complexities of addressing the concerns of descendents who have much
more diverse positions on appropriate redress beyond that for those survivors.
However, now that hundreds of Chinese Canadians across the country have borne
witness to the impact of the Head Tax and Exclusion Acts on entire families,
the principles that should guide the offering of appropriate redress must be
explored.

General principles – restated:

The principles previously articulated still hold but they must be
refined and extended to deal more specifically with the issues raised in recent
consultations.

1.      The
fundamental purpose of redress is to achieve reconciliation, restore justice and
rebuild trust. It speaks to the credibility of the government and is a test of
its genuine political commitment to eradicate the racism that gave rise to such
wrongs so that they will not be repeated. It is a statement of our values
– inclusion and racial equality.

2.      Consequently,
the government must deal directly with those most affected, the head tax payers
and their families; this underscores the urgency of acting quickly because the
surviving head tax payers and spouses are mostly in their 90s. The two phase
Framework was intended to allow these elders to see justice while they were
still alive but it did not mean to exclude any redress for the injustice they suffered
if they have predeceased.

3.      Apology
is the first step and a precondition in achieving reconciliation;Redress must be commensurate with and be tied
specifically to the injustice to serve justice. 

  1. While the Head Tax and
    Exclusion Acts are the manifest sources of the injustice, the underlying
    cause was the widespread racism of the day. To properly redress such
    wrongs, a broad interpretation of the extent of the injustice must be
    adopted.
  2. The focus must be
    on dignity, respect and vindication. The courts have ruled that redress is
    not an issue of legal rights but moral and equitable rights. A principled
    political decision should not be confined by legal restrictions and
    precedent but rather should serve the public good, in this case, by
    restoring dignity, according respect and vindication to the greatest reach
    of the injured community as realistically possible.


 
The Parameters of Restorative Justice 

A.     This
is a political and moral decision, not one of legal rights and precedents.

B.     The
impact of the injustice and legislated racism was felt by entire families.

C.     The
impact of restorative justice and repudiation of racist legislation will be
felt by generations to come.

D.     Ascertaining
who paid the Head Tax is a practical way of identifying the group of people to whom
redress should be rendered; it may be said that a moral debt is owed to these
people.

E.      There
is no reason, in the cause of moral justice and reconciliation, why such
redress may not be paid to the estate of the head tax payer who has predeceased
although it may be reasonable to limit such payment to the first generation
still living in Canada; but for the 20 years of resistance by successive
federal governments, the Head Tax payers and spouses themselves would have
received the payments directly. They should not be excluded simply because they
could not outlive government intransigence. The redress is due to the head tax
payer or spouse; payment to the estate is merely the method of implementation.

F.      Identifying
and including all those who were directly and unjustly affected must be
balanced against the interest in pressing ahead to achieve an already too long
delayed resolution. Consequently, some limits may be placed on the notion of
“one certificate, one payment”, including the date on which the
Head Tax payer or spouse must have been alive, and as above, limit payment to
the first generation.

G.     The
amount of redress must be substantive to have significance but it has always
been recognized as a symbolic amount, not an actuarial calculation of the debt
owed.

H.     Ceremony
and symbolism play a vital role hence the significance and gratitude accorded
to the steps already taken – the promises in the first Prime Ministerial news
conference, on Chinese New Year’s Eve, on the UN International Day for
the Elimination of Racism, inclusion in the Throne Speech, the target date of
July 1st. There are a number of other symbolic dates such as:

May 17th
the day the Exclusion Act was repealed in 1947; May is also Asian Heritage
Month

November 7th
– anniversary of the Last Spike Ceremony

Dec 10th
International Human Rights Day

I.       
The process of reconciliation cannot be
forced into a predetermined timetable. If the current consultations are
inadequate to ensure that all views have been represented, the first stage should
be allowed to proceed and meet the July 1st target while additional
work on stage two may continue.

While
there are different ideas as to what is the appropriate form and amount of
redress, we should be able to agree on the principles that underpin redress and
reconciliation.

These
suggestions are respectfully submitted.

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