PM offers $20,000, apology for head tax
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will close a controversial chapter in
Canadian history today by offering up to $20,000 to each of the people
forced to pay the Chinese head tax who are still living.
move will come as Mr. Harper offers a formal apology to the 81,000
Chinese immigrants who shelled out a total of $23-million to enter
Canada. A compensation package is also expected to be offered to
widowed spouses of those who paid the tax, while a source added there
will be a so-called national recognition program established for
educational and cultural activities. Estimates of the cost of the
overall program varied, although one source said it would top
said the government has identified only 29 surviving victims of the
tax. There are approximately another 250 or so widows.
no way to determine the total payout,” said the source. “There may be
20 people that nobody's ever heard of who eventually come forward.”
source said the government's package is based on one paid to Japanese
Canadians who had been interned during the Second World War. That
package saw payments of $21,000 to each of those affected still living.
Another $12-million was set aside for the educational, social and
cultural well-being of the community.
government officials had originally agreed to a compensation package of
$18,000 a person, but raised that figure recently to $20,000.
Conservative Party source said the government was paying as much as it
could afford without incurring the anger of its conservative base of
supporters, many of whom don't believe redress should be paid beyond
those who were directly affected.
coming to Canada in the late 1850s during the rush for gold in British
Columbia, but the real influx came between 1881 and 1885 to work on the
construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
the Canadian government imposed a head tax of $50 per person to limit
immigration. The tax was later increased to $500, a massive amount at
the time. The tax had the effect of splitting families and preventing
wives and children from joining their husbands and fathers in Canada,
many of whom had to take out loans to pay the tax.
Harper will make his speech in front of a group of Chinese Canadians
who have taken the train from as far away as British Columbia to be in
attendance. The vast majority are descendants of those who paid the
tax, although there will be a few surviving individuals as well.
Minister Bev Oda and Jason Kenney, the Prime Minister's parliamentary
secretary, crossed the country to meet with individuals of the Chinese
community to discuss the redress package.
apology will be made in the House and we will also be addressing
appropriate acknowledgment,” she said in the House of Commons.
for members of other cultural communities.
communities include Canadians of Italian and of Ukrainian origin,
although the money is not expected to be spent on individual
compensation, rather the cash will go toward community programs and
education. Sources said Mr. Harper is also expected to acknowledge
other events, including the turning back of a ship carrying hundreds of
Sikhs, the Komagata Maru, in Vancouver in 1914.
is part of a $25-million fund put aside by previous Liberal governments
to deal with redress in a number of cultural communities.
EDITORIAL: Head tax: Time to say we're sorry
Minister Stephen Harper will deliver a formal apology today to
thousands of Chinese Canadians for the head tax Canada imposed on them
between 1885 and 1923.
aimed at 81,000 members of one immigrant community, before they were
barred from Canada between 1923 and 1947.
government of today, or its citizens, are responsible for it — an important distinction.
for compensation, Ottawa has set aside $25 million to address
complaints by Chinese-Canadians and other ethnic groups for past
wrongs. If, as expected, Harper uses a portion of that fund today to
offer redress to the Chinese-Canadian community, we hope it will not be
by offering the few people still alive who paid the head tax (which
rose from $50 in 1885 to $500 in 1923) compensation. We hope the money
will go toward something of benefit not only to Chinese-Canadians but
to Canada as a whole — perhaps a public memorial to those forced to
pay the tax, an exhibit honouring Chinese-Canadian achievements, or
precedent set (beyond the $300 million the Canadian government paid to
Japanese-Canadians unjustly incarcerated during World War II) in which
apologizing for past wrongs becomes a way of giving public money to
ethnic groups the Conservatives want to make inroads with.
Harper's apology is accompanied by modest spending that is sensible and
in a broad sense beneficial to all Canadians, we will have no
the public purse to curry favour with ethnic groups seeking redress for
past wrongs, we will.
Head Tax Redress
CBC News Viewpoint | June 22, 2006
Mandy Luk is currently an Associate Producer for The National. Prior to
joining CBC, she was a freelance producer for various Chinese media in
Toronto, including OMNI TV and Fairchild TV. Over her 10-year career in
the Chinese media, she covered stories on immigration/diversity and
politics. Mandy has a degree in Journalism and Communication from the
Chinese University of Hong Kong and also a master degree in Economics
from the University of Toronto.
the “Redress Express” departed the train station in downtown Vancouver
last Friday, 85-year-old Mary Mah could not believe it. “This trip is
incredibly important,” said Mah, whose father paid a $500 head tax for
her to come to Canada in 1923. “Especially the apology.”
A long-awaited apology.
is fortunate to see the day. Many of the head-tax payers, their widows
or sons and daughters, did not live long enough to see the apology.
Indeed, the imposition of the head tax seems almost ancient history.
Many Canadians may not even notice this black spot in our history. Why
should they care? Why shouldn't the Chinese-Canadian community just let
bygones be bygones? The answer is simple: justice.
tax was introduced in 1885. It was the same year that the Canadian
Pacific Railway completed its first cross-country rail link, unifying
the nation. During its four-year construction from 1881-1885, it was
estimated that 15,000 Chinese came to Canada, and 6,500 of those were
employed by the railway to do the digging, drilling and dumping.
message of the head tax was clear: we needed your labour, but we didn't
need you to join our country. Pay it and you could come, but you were
not Canadians. At first, it was $50 per head. Then it increased to $100
and later to $500 by 1903. Yet the head tax, which targeted no other
ethnic group, was not enough to discourage Chinese immigrants who were
desperate to flee their homes in China. The prospect of a better life
in Canada still outweighed the cost of entry.
discrimination against Chinese immigrants became more blatant. The
Exclusion Act replaced the head tax. The introduction of the
legislation simply meant that if you were Chinese, sorry, you were not
welcome to Canada, even if you were willing to pay. Not until 1947 was
the Exclusion Act repealed.
Today in Canada we embrace
multiculturalism. Discriminatory legislation, like the head tax and the
Exclusion Act, would be political suicide. No political party will
commit the same mistake of a century ago. At a time when our federal
political landscape is changing, healing an old scar will be a shrewd
strategic move. Chinese have become the nation's largest visible
minority group, representing about 3.5 per cent of the population and
growing. Although it may take years before a relatively large portion
of the community is eligible to vote, it represents pivotal political
power in metropolitan cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal in
the long run.
redress for the head tax was a major issue for the Chinese-Canadian
community in the last federal election. Not everyone, particularly the
younger generation and the newcomers, shares the same anger for a past
injustice. Yet the lines to phone-in current affairs programs at two
Chinese-Canadian radio stations were jammed with callers who expressed
their support for redress during the campaign. To many in the
community, there is no grey area concerning the head tax. When asked
whether an apology is appropriate, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
parliamentary apology is just an important first step in redressing a
past injustice. Look at the First Nations communities. In 1998, the
federal government apologized to natives for the physical and sexual
abuse suffered by children in Canada's residential school system. Yet
it was November 2005 when the Liberal government offered a compensation
package of more than $2 billion for former students who survived abuse
at the schools, leading Grand Chief Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of
First Nations to say “justice has prevailed.”
The road toward
reconciliation is a long and arduous journey. The Japanese-Canadian
community was offered an apology and a $300 million compensation
package in 1988 for the internment of 22,000 Japanese-Canadians during
the Second World War — more than 40 years after the fact.
a wait more than twice that long, and after more than two decades of
lobbying and a new political climate, the Chinese-Canadian community
finally comes to the finishing line — a parliamentary apology from the
ruling minority Conservative government on June 22, 2006. The date is a
historical milestone for over one million Chinese-Canadians in Canada.
In Cantonese, the apology Zi dou ho guo mo dou translates as “It's late but it's better than not coming.”
Thursday » June 22 » 2006
Festive atmosphere as Redress Train pulls into Ottawa
Thursday, June 22, 2006
— Alex Louie, dressed in his veteran's uniform, disembarked from the
Redress Express proclaiming the prime minister's promised apology for
the discrimination of Chinese immigrants the best present ever.
his 81st birthday Wednesday, Louie said he was overjoyed Ottawa will
finally make amends for imposing a restrictive head tax from 1885 until
1923 and a prohibition on Chinese immigration until 1947.
I ever wanted was an apology and for the government to set the record
straight,” said the spry, still-energetic Louie, who was decorated for
his valour in the Second World War.
Louie was one of
roughly 100 Chinese immigrants or their descendants who rolled into
Ottawa on the special train to attend today's ceremony on Parliament
Hill in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper will apologize for the
The Conservative leader will also
unveil a restitution package worth perhaps as much as $20 million to
compensate those who paid the tax, as well as their descendants.
redress train, which started its journey in Vancouver, left Toronto in
morning rush hour Wednesday amid a four-generation cacophony of
excitement and various dialects Taishan, Mandarin, Hoisun and Cantonese.
Ottawa, the train was met by about 40 supporters and the government
point-man on the file, Calgary-Southeast Conservative MP Jason Kenney.
Lung Kee Lee clutched one of the souvenir last spikes distributed to
dignitaries at the 1885 ceremony to mark the completion of the Canadian
Late historian Pierre Berton, the most
popular chronicler of the railway projects that were built largely with
Chinese labour, donated the artifact to the redress campaign.
Lee, from Pickering, Ont., held the rusted peg as if it were the Holy Grail.
is the first time he has been out of the nursing home since 1995,” said
his granddaughter Landy Anderson. “He's so excited.”
came to Canada as a 12-year-old and worked as a dishwasher before
landing a maintenance job on the railway in 1917. It took him five
years to pay off the $500 head tax, the equivalent of two years' pay.
part of the national dream,” Anderson said. “My grandmother and he were
separated for 20 years because of the Exclusion Act (which prevented
Chinese men from bringing their families into Canada). There are a lot
of emotional scars because of that racial legislation. There are a lot
of stories of pain and suffering.”
She said that while the family was separated, her grandfather's brother starved to death in China.
An estimated 82,000 immigrants are believed to have paid the tax, contributing about $23 million to federal coffers.
The community began fighting for redress two
decades ago, demanding the government apologize.
Last week, Harper surprised many by announcing the government would finally say “sorry.”
spite of his bitter experiences, Louie enlisted during the Second World
War serving behind enemy lines as part of the legendary British Special
Operations Executive, Force 136 the unit glorified in the Hollywood
epic, The Bridge on the River Kwai.
“After the war, things changed,” Louie added. “I'm very, very thankful.”
Louie said he didn't think restitution was necessary just an apology and historical honesty.
“I have seven grand-kids two of them have graduated from university,” he explained. “That's my reward.”
© CanWest News Service 2006
106-year-old on board for redress
'Excited' head-tax payer takes train to today's apology
106-year-old Chinese head-tax payer took his first trip out of a
Pickering nursing home in 11 years to ride the head-tax “redress train”
from Toronto to the nation's capital.
to speak, Lee couldn't stop looking around and smiling at strangers. He
took the train with 100 other head-tax payers, spouses and their
families to hear the Canadian government apologize today for the racist
tax imposed from 1885 to 1923.
had to pay $500 when he came to Canada at the age of 12 in 1912. Unable
to afford the tax, he borrowed money from his great-uncles. Lee then
worked as a dishwasher to pay off the debt.
Lee carried the commemorative last spike used at the completion of
Canada's cross-country railroad. Instead of thanking the 15,000 Chinese
labourers who worked on the railroad, Canada imposed a head tax on all
Chinese immigrants. The Exclusion Act, banning Chinese immigrants,
replaced the head tax in 1923. The Act was repealed in 1947.
chatter in various Chinese dialects filled the VIA Rail train as people
expressed joy over today's redress. But members of the Ontario
Coalition of Chinese Head Tax Payers and Families were anxious about
the amount of compensation the government will offer.