Globe & Mail: Ottawa urged to expand head-tax redress

Ottawa urged to expand head-tax redress

Globe and Mail update

— The Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) is calling for an
expansion of the current federal redress program for Chinese immigrants who
paid a discriminatory head tax upon entry into Canada.At a press conference
Monday in Toronto, members of the council and the Ontario Coalition of Head Tax
Payers and Families said the families of those who paid the head tax should be
eligible for compensation.

Currently, only surviving head-tax payers and their
spouses can claim the $20,000 settlement announced by the government in June

“We have formed a consensus right across
… that the redress is not complete,” said CCNC executive director
Victor Wong.

“The head tax impacted on the entire family
– this is the concept that the government fails to understand.”

The council says that as many as 3,000 families are
excluded from the federal payments, which began after Prime Minister Stephen
Harper made a formal apology to Chinese-Canadians last June for the head tax
that was imposed on Chinese immigrants entering
Canada from 1885 to 1923.

NDP MP Olivia Chow put forth a private members' motion
Feb. 14 in the House of Commons urging the government to recognize that the
redress agreement is incomplete and to commit to negotiations with families of
head-tax payers to offer them similar compensation to that of payers' spouses.

“What's happened is that only 5 per cent –
that is, the head tax payers and spouse – receive redress,” Ms.
Chow told the press conference via telephone from
Ottawa , speaking in English and Cantonese.
“Given that a year ago the Prime Minister promised to have complete
redress and an apology, and so far, only the apology and a partial redress [has
happened]…. We need to impress upon them that justice is not done as

Ms. Chow suggested that the matter could develop into
a hot-button issue during the next federal election.

Several direct descendents of head-tax payers spoke of
the hardship suffered by their families as a result of the discriminatory

Student Eric Yam, 14, a second-generation
Chinese-Canadian, never knew his grandparents. His grandfather arrived in
Canada in 1923 and was sent to a detention
centre in Victoria
when he couldn't pay all of the head tax. After marrying in
China in 1930, Yam's grandfather had to leave
his wife and daughter behind upon returning to
Canada due to the Chinese Exclusion
Act of 1923. Tam's father was born years later, but had to quit school at 17 to
support his aging parents.

“The only memory I have of them is the suffering
they faced,” Mr. Yam said. “Even after all these years, the effect
of the head tax is still being felt. My father never got to go to school.
First-generation sons and daughters should receive a refund from the federal
government – it is only fair.”

Educator Rebecca Tam broke down in tears explaining
how her mother never met her own father, who couldn't afford to bring his
family to Canada
thanks to the head tax. Ms. Tam expressed surprise at how
“speedily” Ottawa dealt with the
case of Maher Arar, the Canadian who was imprisoned and tortured in
for nearly a year.

“The government is paying lip service to the
descendents of head tax victims,” Ms. Tam said. “Chinese-Canadians
are once again being sidelined. Mr. Arar, one person, suffered for one year …
in the Chinese community, we had 80,000 head-tax payers and their families who

Binh Chow, co-vice-chair of the Ontario Coalition of
Head Tax Payers and Families (OCHTPF), noted that the $23-million in head taxes
paid by Chinese immigrants is worth billions today even without factoring in
accumulation of interest. As for government concerns that extending redress to
families of head-tax payers would open the floodgates for applications, Mr.
Chow said only those descendents born after 1947, when the exclusion act was repealed,
would be eligible.

Over 80,000 immigrants paid the head tax, which ranged
from $50 to $500 over the years. Newfoundland
also imposed a head tax from 1906 to 1949, the year it joined Confederation.

Chinese-Canadians have been lobbying the government for
the past two decades, with over 4000 families registering with the CCNC since

About 500 families are eligible for compensation under
the current government plan, but thousands more have turned in head-tax
certificates and other paperwork that could serve as documentation for any
claims, Mr. Wong said, adding that the coalition hasn't yet determined what
they think the exact criteria for eligibility should be, but is keen to enter
discussions with the government.

But Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney wouldn't
commit to negotiations, saying the government maintains an “open
dialogue” with the Chinese-Canadian community.

“The government's made its decision on redress,
and I don't see the cabinet reconsidering that,” he told Canadian Press.

While the government acknowledges the suffering of
Chinese families, Mr. Kenney said it had to “draw the line
somewhere” when deciding on a compensation package.

“Part of our concern, quite frankly, is that
many families in this country have suffered hardship or injustice or
discrimination, and we don't want to create social divisions where people start
comparing or compensating each other through their tax dollars for the
sufferings of their parents or grandparents,” he said.

But the Chinese experience is “unique,”
said Maria Chan, vice-president of the Chinese Community Centre of Ontario.

“It was the role that the Chinese played that
made Canada
possible,” said co-vice-chair Doug Hum of the OCHTPF, referring to how
Chinese workers helped build the national railroad. “The tax belongs to
the families and it should be returned. Whole families were affected. Many had
to beg, borrow from other family members to get here.”

With files from Canadian


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