Georgia Straight: Head-tax redress incomplete
The federal Conservative government is only recognizing 0.6 percent of the 81,000 head tax certificates that were paid from 1895 to 1923. They are ignoring any head tax certificates, where the head tax payers or the spouses have died prior to the Conservative government came to power in February 2006. They will not recognize the head tax certificate that my great-grandfather Ernest Lee paid because he and his wife Kate Chan, have long since passed on. They won't recognize the head tax certificate that my grandfather Sonny Mar's uncle paid for, because he died without leaving any survivors.
$25 million more than paid for the $23 million cost of the Canadian Pacific Railway, for which Chinese labour built the most challenging and deadly stretches through the Fraser Canyon and the Rocky Mountains. And the federal government will only give a $20,000 ex-gratia payment to living head tax payers or their spouses – provided they were still alive by February 2006. If they died prior to that… too bad – so sad. That is just plain wrong. A head tax certificate is a valid certificate. The government has long since recognized it was a wrongful, immoral and shameful tax, only imposed on ethnic Chinese, in a racist attempt to keep them from coming to Canada. It was also used as a cash-cow to supplement government coffers, until the “Chinese Exclusion Act” was imposed from 1923 to 1947.
Charlie Smith writes a good article in this week's Georgia Straight:
Charlie Quan, 99, recently received a $20,000 head-tax payment from the
federal government, he decided to throw a feast. Quan is one of a
handful of people still alive who paid the $500 Chinese head tax to
come to Canada. From 1923 to 1947, the federal government banned
virtually all immigration from China, separating families for decades.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that
almost 300 head-tax-paying survivors and their spouses would each
receive symbolic payments of $20,000. Harper also issued a federal
apology but stopped short of providing direct compensation to families
of deceased head-tax payers. Ottawa will also spend $24 million for a
On December 3, Quan celebrated at the Quan Lung Sai Tong Association
headquarters at 164 East Hastings Street, surrounded by more than two
dozen family members and friends. Quan and others burned incense to
give thanks to the Chinese deity Kwan Kung and enjoyed a sumptuous
Chinese lunch, including a whole pig, which is a symbol of good fortune.
Quan told the Georgia Straight that Kwan Kung—the protector
of warriors, writers, and artists—gave him hope to continue pressuring
the government. “I am very satisfied, very satisfied, very satisfied,”
Quan said. “Kwan Kung helped me a lot.”
Sid Chow Tan, cochair of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada, told the Straight that the lo wah kiu (old
overseas Chinese) look upon Kwan Kung as their premier spiritual
helper, admired for his righteousness and compassion. “He is known as
the deity who will throw you a lifeline when you have nowhere else to
turn,” Tan said.
Tan noted that Quan also called upon Kwan Kung to bring justice and
honour to all head-tax families because Harper’s redress package is
incomplete. According to the ?Chinese Canadian National Council,
approximately 81,000 Chinese immigrants paid $23 million in head taxes,
which works out to about ?$1.2 billion in today’s dollars.
“The government needs to have good-faith negotiations with head-tax
families,” Tan said. “Every certificate should be treated equally.”
Grace Schenkeveld, also cochair of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada, told the Straight
that her grandfather Wong Hoy paid the $500 head tax when he came to
Canada in 1919. Schenkeveld said that her grandparents had three
children, born at six-year intervals because it took six years for her
grandfather to save enough money to return to China to visit his wife,
who was forbidden from immigrating because of the exclusion act.
“He told us when he came to Canada he worked as a houseboy,” she
said. “He was this guy who lived in the cellar of this mansion, being
paid $3 a month.”
Schenkeveld said her grandmother suffered a worse fate, dying in
China during the Second World War. At this time, her grandfather
couldn’t send money to the family, which was starving. Schenkeveld said
her father still talks about how he was once like those African
children with swollen bellies.
“My aunt talks about how she was starving so badly her hair fell out,” Schenkeveld said. “These were also victims.”
She added that she and her family weren’t able to move to Canada
until 1971. “My grandfather would say things like, ‘The last time I saw
your dad, he was a six-year-old boy,’” she said. “He said, ‘Are you
sure you’re the same man?’”
Her family won’t receive a head-tax payment because her grandfather
died more than 20 years ago. “We believe the Harper government should
treat all head-tax families fairly, with dignity and honour,”
Schenkeveld said. “And do something that’s right, and be brave enough
to do something that’s right. Because a lot of Canadians will feel the
same way. This is racism. We have to acknowledge racism, and it’s