Georgia Straight: Harper Stickhandles Redress

Georgia Straight: Harper Stickhandles Redress

The Georgia Straight's Charlie Smith has written an article titled Harper Stickhandles Redress. Smith wrote:

On August 6, Prime Minister Stephen Harper came one step closer to
issuing a federal apology over the Komagata Maru incident. At a meeting
with Indo-Canadian community leaders in Surrey, Harper declared that
the federal government’s decision in 1914 to refuse entry to more than
350 South Asian passengers—all British subjects—“remains a source of

“I also want you to know that the government of Canada
acknowledges the Komagata Maru incident and we will soon undertake
consultations with the Indo-Canadian community on how best to recognize
this sad moment in our history,” Harper said.

If Harper is only stickhandling… he sure isn't scoring any goals yet.  He's just dipsy doodling, passing back and forth, waiting for the photo opportunities.  If he follows the same pattern as the redress for Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act, then Harper will make and apology, shake hands, have photos taken, and make a redress package that will give money only to surviving people of the Komagata Maru incident.

The Komagata Maru incident of 1914 is certainly another black spot on the racist attitudes of colonial age Canada.  The refusal to allow the passengers to disembark and apply for landing permits, was the result of racist immigration policies that directly targeted South Asian immigrants by only allowing direct travel from their country of origin.  This was impossible in 1914, as ships had to stop at ports along
the way.  There were no long distance steam ships or jet planes in that day.  Immigration from Japan was curtailed by a “gentleman's aggreement” that Japan would limit emmigration from Japan to Canada.

Smith also interviewed my friend Sid Tan, one of our main leaders of the Chinese Head Tax redress movement in Vancouver:

Sid Chow Tan, president of the Association of Chinese Canadians for
Equality and Solidarity Society, told the Straight that Harper’s
decision to compensate survivors has rewarded the federal government
for dragging its heels on this issue for so many years. Tan said that
in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were approximately 1,700
surviving head-tax payers. Because the former Liberal government never
addressed the issue, most of them died without receiving a penny.

led a group of about 200 demonstrators who gathered at a festival in
Chinatown on August 6. “I think they should take into account what the
descendants’ families said during the cross-country consultations,” he
said. “They were very clear—very, very clear by a 90-percent
margin—that they wanted to be redressed.”

There is still a redress movement to resolve the Chinese Head Tax issue
fully.  The BC Coaltion of Head Tax Payers, Spouses and Descendants have led protest marches in Chinatown on Canada Day, and Augus 5th, BC Day Weekend, since the June 22 Head Tax apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

A symbolic tax refund for each certificate is fair.  Only
Chinese were taxed because Canada did not want them in the country. 
The government admitted by their actions that this was racist and
wrong, and rescinded the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1947 – but only after
Chinese Canadians had proved their worth and loyalty to Canada by
serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, begrudgingly allowed after
pressure from Great Britain to find Chinese language speakers to serve
as espionage forces against the Japanese in the Pacific theatre.  

Many people argue that there should be no additional redress for the Chinese Canadians.  But there arguements do not justify for the massive and continued discrimation against the Chinese community that was systemic even up to 1967.  My grandmother was born in Victoria BC, born in Canada, and she could not vote until she was 37 years old.  Her father and her husband paid the head tax.  But there will be no refund for the head tax paid to her father or his brother because they are long since dead, and have no surviving spouses. 

The money they borrowed, paid, and paid back to their lenders all contributed to an impovershed Chinese community in Canada. Chinese had to band together in Chinatowns for safety against racism, and to help support each other because of low income, due to lower wages than White workers, and restricted jobs.  The $500 head tax paid from 1903 to 1923 was the equivalent of a good house, or two years salary.  $500 paid in 1903, with accumulated compound interest would be worth $200,000 to $400,000 today.  The government of Canada is getting off easy, by only paying a symbolic $20,000 to surviving head tax payers or spouses.

For more Chinese Head Tax information see:
Chinese Canadian National Council
Chinese Head Tax Redress and Stories on

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