Less than 1% Chinese-Canadian head tax families have received a redress settlement

Chinese-Canadian Head tax descendants are not greedy.  They just want a just settlement. 

“If the government unjustly takes a dollar from you or me, then offers an apology, but no money back – is that fair?” asked Sid Tan, long time advocate for redress of the notorious and racist head tax that was only levied against Chinese immigrants from 1885 to 1923 in an effort to keep Chinese from coming to Canada.  Co-president of the Chinese Canadian Head Tax Families Society, Tan called for continued action for a full redress that would include the sons, daughters and families of deceased head tax payers.

Even more racist and devastating to the Chinese community was the Chinese “Exclusion” Act which completely banned Chinese immigration from 1923 to 1947, which forcibly restricted the unification of families. 

I attended the AGM of the Chinese Head Tax Families Society last Sunday, and also witnessed the ceremony that honoured Margaret Mitchell with a life-time membership in the society and for her work in first bringing the Head Tax redress issue to Canadian Parliament in 1984.

Margaret Mitchell stand between 99 year old head tax payer Charlie Quan and head tax spouse Mrs. Wong Shee Lee – photo Todd Wong

The Conservative government is only recognizing surviving head tax payers and and their spouses, still alive at the time of Harper's election.  Many have died since 1984.  My father's father died in 1964 and my mother's father died in 1953.

Many families have hung onto ancient pieces of paper in hope of a redress payment or refund.  Head tax certificates have been passed on through generations.  Wendy Yuan told me on Sunday that her husband's grandfather's certificate is now in her safe-keeping. My 97 year old grandmother still has the head tax certificate of her father and his brother – and while my grandmother was born in Canada in 1910, her father died around 1933.

The head tax payers and their families faced economic hardships and racial discrimination that lasted generations.  $500 in 1907 could buy 2 small houses in Vancouver.  It is estimated that with compound interest, full repayment with compound interest would be $300,000.  That's what Charlie Quan told the media it was worth in 2006.  The Conservative government has offered a symbolic $20,000 ex-gratia payment – but only to surviving head tax payers and spouses.

One certificate – one redress payment is only fair.

Head tax descendant Gim Wong (centre) is the WW2 veteran who rode his motorcycle to Ottawa in 2005 to ask Prime Minister Martin to refund the Head Tax – but was refused a meeting.  He poses here with Judy Hanazawa and Grace Thompson – advocates of the Japanese-Canadian redress settlement.  Grace is also the current president of the Japanese Canadian National Council, whom we consulted with during the Chinese head tax redress campaign – photo Todd Wong

Check out the recent
Georgia Straight story about the failure of the Conservative government to fully comprehend and follow through on the Chinese head tax redress issue:


Most head-tax families haven't gotten a penny

News Features By
Carlito Pablo

Publish Date:
November 29, 2007

or register
to post comments | imageemail
this page
| imageprinter
friendly version

Charlie Quan hosted a feast of wild boar after he was compensated by the Harper government for paying the head tax, but many families are still waiting for justice.

Charlie Quan hosted a feast of wild boar after he
was compensated by the Harper government for paying the head tax, but many
families are still waiting for justice.

More than 23 years ago, a Vancouver East NDP
Member of Parliament stood in the House of Commons to demand redress for Chinese
head-tax payers. Margaret Mitchell was the first to bring this issue forward,
and it took more than two decades and several governments before an apology was
made, in 2006.

Now 82 and long since retired, Mitchell
remains passionate about making amends to Canadians of Chinese origin who
suffered under
discriminatory immigration policies. The former MP believes that
the redress laid out by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government
doesn't fully resolve the issue.

“There are so many aspects that are not
settled,” Mitchell told the Georgia Straight after she
was awarded an honorary membership in the Head Tax Families Society of Canada,
in Vancouver 's Chinatown
on November 25.

Only head-tax payers or their spouses who were
alive as of February 6, 2006,
are entitled to $20,000 in symbolic compensation. Mitchell said
that this leaves out thousands of descendants of families
who went through economic hardship and endured long separations.

The deadline for filing applications for
payments is March 31, 2008.

“I fully support the fact that the battle
must continue, and you must get coverage for inclusive redress for all the
families,” Mitchell said in her address.

Her audience included Charlie Quan, a
99-year-old head-tax payer, and Gim Wong, an elderly son of a head-tax payer
who rode his Harley-Davidson motorcycle across
Canada in the summer of 2005 to
raise awareness about the need for redress.

In an interview, Mitchell recalled that her advocacy started when two of her
Vancouver East constituents–Mak Dak Lee and Shack Lee–asked for her

The 14-year MP recounts her experience in the head-tax redress campaign in her
memoir, No Laughing
Matter: Adventure, Activism and Politics
Island Publishing), which will have its launch at the Mount Pleasant
Neighbourhood House on Monday (December 3).

In 1885, the Canadian government imposed a $50 entry fee on Chinese immigrants. This was raised to $100 in 1900, and to
$500 in 1903. The head tax was ended in 1923 by a law that banned most Chinese immigration.
According to the Chinese Canadian National Council, approximately 81,000
Chinese paid $23 million in head taxes–about $1.2 billion in current

Sid Chow Tan, cochair of the Head Tax Families
Society of Canada, said the redress covers less than one percent of head-tax
families because the vast majority of payers and their spouses have already
died. “Head-tax families have endured, overcome, and outlived generations
of arrogant and dismissive governments,” he said on November 25. “We
have built a movement to outlast the Stephen Harper Conservative government
should they continue to close the door on us.”

Victor Wong's grandfather paid the tax in
1912, but because his grandfather and grandmother are dead, Wong's family is
not entitled to the symbolic compensation. More than 500 head-tax payers and
surviving spouses have received payments, according to Wong, who is the
Chinese Canadian National Council's executive director.

Wendy Yuan, the federal Liberal candidate for
Vancouver Kingsway,
told the Straight
that her husband's grandfather was a head-tax payer. The
Yuan family has preserved the late patriarch's certificate of payment, she
said. “I've been telling my son about how it was not easy for our
ancestors,” Yuan said. “For sure, the head-tax descendants need



2 thoughts on “Less than 1% Chinese-Canadian head tax families have received a redress settlement

  1. Anonymous

    The Chinese immigrants who paid the discriminatory head tax did so because they were determined to give their families a chance for a happy and prosperous life impossible to attain in China. The courage and tenacity with which they pursued, and realized, their dreams are awesome; if I were one their descendants, I would be thankful that their refusal to give up in the face of cruel racial discrimination allowed me to grow up as a citizen in a country which evolved into of one of the most multiculturally diverse and tolerant countries in the world. How sad that you have put a put a monetary price tag on the blood, sweat, and tears shed by the head tax payers. Their gift was priceless, and can be reciprocated only by working to make sure Canada continues to grow as a country that protects the rights of all individuals no matter what their ethnic origin.
    The more than 40,000 Canadian men and women– the vast majority of whom were white–who gave their lives so that Todd Wong , Judy Hamazawa, Grace Thomson, and the head-tax descendants clamoring for money, can enjoy the freedom and rights they seem to take so much for granted–more than made up for the mistakes of generations past.
    If you do not believe me, just consider what the world might be like if Japan and Germany had won WWII.
    I grew up on the West Coast during the 30s, Todd Wong, and I remember very well that Japanese language school students like myself sent goody bags to the Japanese soldiers fighting for the glory of Japan and the Emperor.
    My Nisei friends and I ruefully recall how when we played team games, the winning team would shout triumphantly,
    “Nippon katta, Shina maketa!” (Japan won, China lost.)
    If we are going to redress wrongs of the past, let's not be selective. But better still, let's acknowledge that just as my friends and I have evolved, so has Canada.
    And as I said, you and your friends owe the right and freedom you enjoy to give vent to your overblown sense of entitlement , not to the redress seeking activists, but to the men and women who selflessly gave their lives for you. When you ask the government to give “back”head tax descendants money you yourselves did not pay, you are asking families and descendants of men and women That's not only unjust, it's irrational.

  2. Anonymous

    Dear Lois
    I have to completely disagree with you.
    There are two ways to look at Chinese head tax history, Japanese Canadian redress or any issue: 1) you are helpless 2) you can do something about it.
    There was a time in Canadian history, when Asian Canadians were helpless and powerless to change their fate against the systemic racism of White Canadian laws and society. This situation helped to create the term “Chinaman's Chance” – originally meaning if you were were wrongfully charged of a crime – you had absolutely zero chance of being found innocent. Just look at the Janet Smith murder case and the wrongful incarceration of the Chinese houseboy Wong Foon Sing – if you wish to dispute the extent of Anti-Asian racism in early 20th Century Vancouver.
    You mistakenly claim that “I would be thankful that their refusal to give up in the face of cruel racial discrimination allowed me to grow up as a citizen in a country which evolved into of one of the most multiculturally diverse and tolerant countries in the world.”
    But what if Canada stayed the racist colonial country that it was pre-WW2? or in 1942 when it imprisoned Canadians of Japanese descent, but ignored the many more Canadians of German and Italian ancestry?
    At any given moment, we cannot predict that Canada’s future will be racism free – we can only act in the present to ensure that wrongs are righted, and that mistakes are not perpetuated indefinitely – thus people speak out and become community activists.
    This country is only tolerant because the head tax descendants such as Roy Mah, Douglas Jung and other Canadian born WW2 veterans, went to Ottawa in 1947 to demand that the racist “Chinese Exclusion Act” be lifted. Roy Mah went on to create the Chinatown News, and the BC Ethnic Press Association. Douglas Jung went on to become Canada's first Member of Parliament of Chinese ancestry, and to help Parliament give amnesty to “paper sons” because of the racist “Chinese Exclusion Act.”
    We are a racially tolerant nation today, because certain individuals refused to lie down in “learned helplessness” or succumb to “Stockholm Syndrome” and believe that the Government put Japanese Canadians in prison camps for their best interests and safety.
    Chinese protested the head tax when it was first created in 1885, and when it was raised to $100 in 1900 and $500 in 1903. When the Canadian government passed the “Chinese Exclusion Act” on July 1st, 1923 – effectively banning any further Chinese immigration, the Chinese communities referred to Dominion Day as “Humiliation Day.”
    If community activists had NOT protested the Exclusion Act, Chinese would never have been allowed to immigrate to Canada. No Lt. Gov. David Lam in BC, No Gov. General Adrienne Clarkson in Ottawa.
    If community activists had not protested the interned Japanese-Canadians, you and many others like Dr. David Suzuki, author Joy Kogawa and hockey player Paul Kariya's father would likely still be in Internment camps because the BC government didn't want any Japanese on the BC Coast.
    Did the Chinese ever ask for for head tax refunds? Yes!
    Did they ever think that one day, there would be a tax refund? Yes!
    This is why head tax certificates have been passed on from generation to generation. Because, the original payers still felt that the certificate was worth something.
    Dear Lois Hashimoto, there have always been protesters to social injustice and abuses of human rights. Some chose to speak out, and some chose to stay quiet. The Chinese Canadian WW2 veterans fought for Canada so that they could also fight for voting rights in Canada. The 442nd Battalion of Japanese American Nissei soldiers in WW2 became the most highly decorated unit in US military history, also fought to help free their families that were imprisoned in internment camps, similar to Canada.
    I personally do not seek any head tax redress money – but I seek it for people like WW2 veteran Gim Wong, whose father paid it, and my 97 year old grandmother whose father paid it. I have heard the stories of suffering and racism, that many Chinese Canadians have put on brave faces for, because they felt there was nothing they could do about it.
    Of all the immigrant groups to come to Canada, only the Chinese were subjected to a head tax.
    Of the 50,000 estimated head tax certificates paid for, only less than 1% have been acknowledge with a ex-gratia payment.
    For Canada to ignore the other 99% can best be described in your own words “That's not only unjust, it's irrational.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

× 4 = eight