Rally celebrates 60 years of rights
By Cheryl Rossi-Staff writer
When families who were
affected by the Chinese Head Tax celebrate 60 years of citizenship
Saturday, they'll be recognizing how far they've come in gaining rights
and respect for Chinese people in Canada.
But according to Sid Tan,
co-chair of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada, they'll also
highlight problems migrant workers face today as echoes of what their
“The issues of guest
workers, the issues of seasonal and temporary employment, live-in
caregivers and domestics, all these issues are not that different from
what the early Chinese suffered,” said Tan. “These are people that are
good enough to come to Canada and do the dirty and menial work or the
work that a lot of Canadians won't or aren't willing to do, and they
have no rights. There's something wrong with the picture, and a hundred
years ago this is what happened to the Chinese.”
The Head Tax Families
Society is organizing a rally Saturday at the Chinatown Memorial to
Chinese Canadian War Veterans and Railway Workers at the northeast
corner of Keefer and Columbia. The society became a registered
non-profit last August after Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized
to Chinese-Canadians. The apology included a symbolic payment of
$20,000 to those Chinese, or their surviving spouses, who had paid the
When the Canadian Pacific
Railway was constructed between 1881 and 1885, more than 15,000 Chinese
came to Canada to help build the railway. But when the track was
completed, the federal government moved to restrict Chinese
immigration. Starting in 1885, people of Chinese origin entering the
country had to pay a $50 head tax, which increased to $100 in 1900. In
1903, it reached $500, the equivalent of two years wages of a Chinese
labourer at the time. Chinese people were denied Canadian citizenship
while the government collected millions.
On July 1, 1923,
Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act excluding all but a few
Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. It was repealed in 1947, and
Chinese-Canadians were allowed to vote 60 years ago this May.
Tan said the society formed to tell the federal government its settlement is incomplete.
“They are redressing just a
little under 600 families, that's 0.6 per cent of all the
families-82,000 families paid the tax,” he said. “But what about the
elderly sons and daughters who were separated from their fathers for
25, 30 years? What about elderly seniors who were born in Canada [and
had no rights until 1947]?”
Gim Wong, a Canadian-born
Second World War veteran who was barred from voting until after the
war, says he knows all too well how the head tax hurt families.
His father was 14 when he arrived in Canada in 1906. His mother arrived in 1919. Both of his parents paid the $500 head tax.
In 1937, when his parents
had seven children, they couldn't afford to buy the house they were
renting, which in those days cost $700.
In January last year, the
Burnaby resident road a motorcycle to Ottawa to appeal to former prime
minister Paul Martin for redress, but the RCMP intervened and he never
got to meet Martin.
Wong wants villages in China that contributed money to send young men to Canada compensated for the head tax.
Saturday's event begins at 9 a.m.
published on 05/11/2007