Chinese-Canadians Win Reparations for Past Racism
- Surviving Chinese immigrants to receive compensation
PM offers 'full apology' for head tax
The Vancouver Sun
Friday, June 23, 2006
Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized unreservedly yesterday for
the country's treatment of Chinese immigrants and offered them a
redress package that included millions for anti-racism education.
In a short, but emotional, speech in the House of Commons, in which he
moved between English, French and Chinese, Mr. Harper told Parliament
the government acted shamefully in imposing a head tax on immigrants
and then banning the Chinese from coming to the country, separating
many families for decades.
"On behalf of the people and government of Canada, we offer a full
apology to Chinese-Canadians for the head tax and express our deepest
sorrow for the subsequent exclusion of Chinese immigrants," he said.
It is estimated 82,000 Chinese paid the fee, first set at $50 when it
was imposed in 1885 and rose to $500, about two years' wages at the time.
It was imposed on no other ethnic group and Newfoundland maintained
the head tax until 1949 when it joined Canada. All MPs gave Harper a
standing ovation and many of the hundreds watching in the public
galleries also stood and applauded the statement of atonement.
Aside from the formal written apology, the government said the 20 or
so Chinese-Canadians who paid the tax or their surviving spouses will
get a symbolic $20,000 ex gratia payment.
It will also establish two funds worth $34 million for community
projects and education programs that acknowledge the impact of past
discriminatory policies on minority communities, especially during wars.
"We have the collective responsibility to build a country based firmly
on the notion of equality of opportunity, regardless of one's race or
ethnic origin," Mr. Harper said.
The specifics of the two initiatives -- one a $24-million community
historical recognition program linked to wartime measures and
immigration restrictions and the other a $10-million national version
to fund federal projects -- will be announced in the fall.
"My department will work hard in the coming months and years to
strengthen the sense of inclusion of Chinese-Canadians and, indeed,
all communities in Canada," said federal Heritage Minister Bev Oda.
"I will never forget the stories told by survivors, their children and
But while those who paid the tax, their spouses and their descendants,
celebrated the apology, for some it is not enough.
"The fight for redress for the first generation who lost their parents
and who suffered from these racist policies begins tomorrow," said
Joseph Wong, founding president of the Chinese-Canadian National
Council, one of the groups behind the 24-year struggle for redress.
Hundreds travelled from across the country to attend the Ottawa
ceremony , while others gathered at simultaneous events in Vancouver
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