Reviews Mixed to Chinese Head Tax Compensation
Jun, 22 2006 - 3:00 PM
CALGARY/AM770CHQR - The Chinese-Canadian National Council is applauding
the Harper government for issuing an apology and compensation for the
Chinese head tax.
Spokesperson Cynthia Pay says however, the council is disappointed
won't be payouts to decendents of those who were forced to pay.
"It seems clear there will not be any compensation for the decendents.
Alot of the people who were decendents of the head tax were directly
affected by the impact. They were separated from their parents and
suffered alot of financial hardships."
The tax was imposed on immigrants between 1885 and 1923, and only about
are still alive.
Friday » June 23 » 2006
An apology for 'a grave injustice'
The prime minister apologizes and offers a redress package for
Friday, June 23, 2006
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OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper rose in the House of Commons
Thursday and apologized unreservedly for the country's treatment of
Chinese immigrants, offering them a redress package that includes
of dollars for anti-racist education.
In a short but emotional speech in which he moved between English,
and Cantonese, the Conservative leader told Parliament the government
acted shamefully in imposing a head tax on immigration of Chinese and
banning then from coming into the country, separating families for
"On behalf of the people and Government of Canada, we offer a full
to Chinese-Canadians for the head tax and express our deepest sorrow
the subsequent exclusion of Chinese immigrants," he said.
"This is a grave injustice, and one we are morally obligated to
It is estimated about 82,000 Chinese paid the exorbitant fee, first set
$50 and later raised to $500, about two years' wages at the time.
It was imposed on no other ethnic group and the colony of Newfoundland
maintained the head tax until 1949 when it joined Canada.
All parties gave Harper a standing ovation and many of the hundreds
watching in the public galleries and in overflow rooms where they
television feeds also stood and applauded the extraordinary statement
Aside from the formal written apology, the government said the 20 or so
surviving Chinese-Canadians who paid the tax, or their surviving
will receive a symbolic $20,000 payment.
It also will establish two funds worth a total of $34 million for
community projects and education programs that acknowledge the impact
past discriminatory policies on minority communities, especially during
"We have the collective responsibility to build a country based firmly
the notion of equality of opportunity, regardless of one's race or
origin," Harper said.
The specifics of the two initiatives -- one a $24-million community
historical recognition program linked to wartime measures and
restrictions, and the other a $10-million national version to fund
projects -- are being forged with minority groups and will be announced
"My department will work hard in the coming months and years to
the sense of inclusion of Chinese Canadians, and indeed all communities
in Canada," Heritage Minister Beverley Oda said.
"I will never forget the stories told by survivors, their children and
grandchildren. I will not forget the tears, the cherished family
photographs and the head tax certificates, all testament to the
But while those who paid the tax, their spouses, and their descendants
celebrated the heartfelt apology, for some it is not enough.
"The fight for redress for the first generation who lost their parents
who suffered from these racist policies begins tomorrow," declared
Wong, founding president of the Chinese Canadian National Council, one
the groups that spearheaded the 24-year struggle for redress.
Susan Eng, Ontario co-chair of the coalition of redress groups, said
did not want to discuss what might happen now.
She insisted Thursday was a time to focus on the decision of the prime
minister to do what his predecessors would not do -- the right thing.
"Let's not forget the enormity of today," Eng said. "We have a prime
minister specifically refer to the head tax as racist. It was blatantly
racist and that recognition is something extraordinarily new. And there
was a parliamentary apology. This marks an extremely historic day in
country's history and legacy. I believe today is a day for the head-tax
payers and their families to celebrate. I don't want to say anything
will diminish the pleasure of listening to the prime minister
Eng said she thought it was a "magnificent" gesture.
And most who attended the celebrations wanted to focus only on the
minister's healing gesture and to leave criticism for another day.
"His speech was so touching, so touching, it almost drove me to tears,"
said 81-year-old Alex Louie, of Vancouver. "Really touching. The money
was never important to me. But this makes me feel like a real Canadian."
Others expressed the same feelings.
"No amount of money was ever going to compensate for the hardship and
the tragedy," said Gim Wong, an 83-year-old, also from Vancouver, whose
father paid the tax when he arrived in 1906.
Mary Mah, an 84-year-old from Calgary who, as an infant, was one of the
last Chinese immigrants allowed into the country before the ban was
imposed in 1923, added: "The sorrow and hardship cannot be erased. But
we can now begin to feel. In truth, I did not expect to live to see this.
I don't know about you, but I am feeling very Canadian."
The apology is a monumental event for the community.
Hundreds travelled from across the country to attend the ceremony in
Ottawa. Others gathered at simultaneous events in Vancouver and Toronto
to hear the prime minister say he was sorry.
Dozens came on a special train dubbed the Redress Express as a way of
drawing attention to the sacrifice Chinese labourers made to help build
the Canadian Pacific Railway, the transcontinental line that became the
economic backbone of the nation and was essential to its development.
When the line was completed in 1885, the Chinese were neither invited
the final celebration nor even thanked for their efforts.
Instead, the government imposed the head tax, which would stay in place
until 1923, and then banned Chinese immigration from 1923 through 1947.
Alberta Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Gary Mar, whose maternal and
paternal grandparents paid the tax to get into Canada, journeyed to
for the event "just as an ordinary citizen."
He said in his opinion it was important to learn from the past but he
not think reparations were necessary and he disagreed with the monetary
side of the government redress package.
"I'm of the view that an apology was entirely appropriate," Mar
"I would say the head tax was discriminatory, the exclusion act was
racist, it caused great harm and great pain to my family and others.
But the relevant question today, as the prime minister put it, is did the
Chinese triumph over this great adversity? The answer is yes. Will
redress make any difference, I think the answer is no."
© The Vancouver Sun 2006
> PM offers apology