Charlie Quan receives the first head tax redress cheque
Arms raised in triumph! Head
Tax redress campaigners Victor Wong, Gim Wong, Sid Tan stand behind the
second and first head tax ex-gratia payments to Thomas Soon and Charlie
Quan – photo Todd Wong
Ninety-nine year old Charlie Quan recieved the very first ex-gratia cheque
for Chinese head tax redress, presented by Bev Oda, Minister of
Canadian Heritage and Status of Women. Oda and David Emerson,
Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacifc Gateway and
the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics, were in town to present the cheques to
Quan, Thomas Soon (aged 95) and Ah Foon Chin (aged 96) who could not attend and was represented by his daughter-in-law.
In 1923, Quan had to
pay $500 to enter Canada, estimated to be the cost of a house or two
years wages back then. Only ethnic Chinese were charged the head
tax. It was a concerted effort to keep Canada white, and
discourage Chinese from coming to Canada.
Beginning in 1885, the Canadian government imposed a
$50 fee on Chinese immigrants, which was raised to $100 in 1900 and to
$500 in 1903. But by 1923,
Chinese were still coming, so the Canadian government passed the
“Chinese Exclusion Act” which effectively banned all Chinese
immigration, and was not rescinded untl 1947, after WW2,
During the head tax redress campaign,
Charlie Quan repeatedly stated that he wanted his money back.
Quan was interviewed for the NFB documentary ” In the Shadow of Gold Mountain,” written and directed by head tax descendant Karen Cho.
Earlier in 2006, Quan stated that he thought a head tax redress
settlement would be worth $35,000.
After Quan received his cheque and posed for pictures with Minister Bev Oda, he sat down beside his friend Gim Wong,
also a veteran of Chinese head tax who completed a “Ride for Redress” on his motorcycle across
Canada to Ottawa in 2005 to draw attention to the head tax/exclusion act redress
campaign. Wong was also featured in the movie “In the Shadow of Gold Mountain.”
Quan and Gim immediately looked at the cheque and
began to count to check the number of “zeroes”on it. After so
many years of seemingly hopeless campagining, they still found it hard
to believe that redress payments were actually happening.
Payments for surviving spouses will begin in November, 2006.
Hon. Bev Oda presents the cheque to
Thomas Soon in front of media cameras. Gim Wong (seated
center in uniform) smiles. Charlie Quan shows his cheque to
grandson Terry. – photo Todd Wong
Quan was accompanied by his favorite grandson Terry Quan and Terry's
wife and two children. Together they represented a legacy of four
generations of Chinese Canadians going back to 1923 when Charlie Quan
arrived with his father in 1923.
Also accompanying Quan and Wong, were Victor Wong, executive
of the Chinese Canadian National Council,
Colleen Hua (national CCNC
president), and Sid Tan national CCNC board representative. Both
Wong and Hua and travelled from Toronto to attend the event, and both
say they will continue the campaign to include descendants of
predeceased head tax payers and spouses.
Head Tax redress campaigners Ron Mah,
Colleen Hua (CCNC National president), Gim Wong and Victor Wong (CCNC
executive director) – photo Todd Wong
It was the CCNC that helped lead the campaign for a more comprehensive
redress package than the Agreement-in-Principle that was signed almost
a year ago by Prime Minister Paul Martin. That agreement gave no
apology nor individual compensation, and only promised an
“acknowledgement,” and community funding.
Also present were many of the members of the Head Tax Families Society,
including Ron Mah, Foon Chan, Cynthia Lee and myself. Other head
tax descendants attending were Col. Howe Lee and Vancouver city
councillor George Chow. Howe was a signatory on the Liberal
Agreement-in-principle document for which the veterans signed onto
because they hoped to see some form of “acknowledgement” in their
lifetime as they saw their numbers dwindling each year. Up
until the Liberal A.I.P., no previous Canadian government had been
willing to tackle the Chinese head tax or Exclusion Act
issue. While the NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Green Party each
agreed to the CCNC call for Head Tax apology – the Conservative Party
did not join the redress bandwagon until after Prime Minister Paul
Martin stumbled on his pseudo apology given on a Chinese language radio
Head Tax Descendants: Vancouver City
Councillor George Chow and Col. Howe Lee, president of the Chinese
Canadian Military Museum attended the event – photo Todd Wong.
After the initial and obligatory photographs of each cheque
recipient were taken with Ministers Oda and Emerson, I suggested a
photo with all
the head tax descendants in the room together. Both Sid Tan and
Howe Lee had to finish media interviews before they were able to join
us standing at the front. The three head tax redress cheque
recipients sat on chairs in front, beside Ministers Oda and
Emerson. Gim and Sid were both heard saying to Charlie Quan “We
kept our promise” – which was to continue campaigning for head tax
redress until he would a redress payment. They cut it pretty darn
close to Charlie turning 100 years old before the redress payment
I was asked today how I felt about the presentation of the cheques, and
my reply was that it is bittersweet. Only less than 1% of 81,000
head tax payers and spouses will recieve the ex-gratia cheque payments,
because the Conservative government is only giving them to surviving
head tax payers or their surviving spouses. This means that there
will be no recognition of the head tax certificate paid by my
great-grandfather Ernest Lee, because both he and my great-grandmother
passed away a long time ago. Only head tax payers and spouses who
were still alive in February 2006 when the Conservative government came
to power will be recognized.
Sid Tan, long time head tax activist since the 1980's says that the
campaign for honour and justice will continue. Sid's late
grandfather paid the head tax, but his grandmother is no longer alive
to collect a redress cheque.
But all is not bitter…. There is much to celebrate. One
year ago on Novmber 26th. Then Prime Minister Paul Martin came to
Vancouver for the A-I-P ceremony, and met with Charlie Quan, so that
Martin could have a “face to face”with an actual living breathing head
tax payer. Martin told Quan to his face, that there would be no
individual compensation. What a difference seven months made when
on June 22, Charlie Quan sat at the Hotel Vancouver listening to Prime
Minister Harper make an apology for the Chinese head tax, and promised
that there would be payments to living head tax payers and spouses.
After the ceremony, we walked up Pender St. and celebrated at the New
Town Bakery for lunch. Charlie was surrounded by his grandson and
grandsons. Gim Wong sat at the next table with Ron Chin, Foon
Chang, Victor Wong and myself. Sid joined us immediately after
going to the CBC studios for an interview. We took
pictures. Charlie held his cheque up for all to see. And…
Charlie Quan paid for our celebration.
The celebratory meal… Charlie
Quan holds his ex-gratia head tax payment cheque, accompanied by
redress campaigners Sid Tan, Gim Wong, Foon Chang, Ron Mah, Victor Wong
and Todd Wong
Click here for Susanna Ng's article + pictures: Canada-delivers-first-head-tax-redress
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