Chinese Canadian activists say B.C. government apology must be meaningful
Chinese Canadian activists are criticizing the language used in a leaked B.C. Liberal document that outlines a plan to “re-engage with ethnic voters”.
A day after deputy B.C. premier Rich Coleman read a statement of apology from Premier Christy Clark in the legislature for the document that was made public by the B.C. NDP, the Canadians for Reconciliation Society held a news conference to condemn the wording used throughout the draft Multicultural Strategic Outreach Plan.
“In the leaked document, you can see that the wording in it–how they want to manipulate not just our community but the entire multicultural community–is full of disrespect,” said Bill Chu, the chair of the society.
The government released the details of a review Friday that will probe whether government resources were inappropriately used on the memo. Later in the day, Clark issued a statement indicating that her chief of staff, Kim Haakstad, has resigned. The document leaked by the NDP this week showed the file was sent from Haakstad’s personal e-mail address.
Chu’s group slammed the plan’s description of the correction of historical wrongs as “quick wins”. They noted that some B.C. Liberal MLAs have indicated the provincial government is planning to make an apology for the Chinese head tax policy.
“If they really want to offer an apology, it should be done because it is right, and not because it could get votes,” Thekla Lit, the co-chair of the Canada Association for Learning and Preserving & History of WWII in Asia, said at a press conference in Richmond on Friday (March 1). “An apology without sincerity is not just empty, but also is an insult to the victims.”
The Chinese Canadian National Council said Friday it is also disappointed with the contents of the leaked memo.
“Acknowledging a historic wrong should never be viewed as a partisan ‘quick win’,” Victor Wong, the executive director of the group, said in a news release. “We appreciate the Premier’s apology for the memo and urge the BC government to negotiate in good faith with the head tax families to achieve a just and honourable resolution.”
Wong noted his organization has been advocating for the B.C. government to issue an apology backed by “some form of symbolic and meaningful redress” to the families that were affected by the Chinese head tax policy.
“The government should not be seen to profit from racism,” Wong told the Straight by phone. “You cannot just say I’m sorry and then that’s it. Most of the head tax families will not accept the apology and then there will be a very negative reaction.”
While an estimated 785 living head tax payers or their spouses received redress of $20,000 following the federal government’s apology for the policy in 2006, Wong said around 3,000 families affected by the tax were left out of that. Out of the $23 million collected by the federal government through the tax, about $8.5 million of the levies were shared with the B.C. government, he noted.
Wong added the apology should also be done in “an inclusive, non-partisan way”.
“You want an apology to be sincere, to be restorative, to the communities that were directly affected,” he said. “And you have to do these apologies carefully.”
Meanwhile, Chu’s group wants to see the B.C. government formally acknowledge provincial laws they say discriminated against Chinese Canadians, and incorporate the history of these policies into the education curriculum, before issuing an apology.
“An apology is just one of the many redemptive actions to really show the depth of understanding of our true history in this province, which has been a fairly traumatic experience for a lot of people,” he stated.
Chu has also been advocating for the protection of Chinese heritage sites in B.C. He noted that mining activity has been approved at a site near Lytton that reflects the history of Chinese miners in the region. He said the location shows a typical landscape for the type of mining that occurred, including what he referred to as the “endless labour” of moving large rocks, and includes dwellings where Chinese workers were housed.
“They are of heritage value to us, and there’s artifacts down below,” Chu said in an interview. “Those things substantiate our history, and this is why it’s so important—and it’s part of B.C.’s history.”
In the statement read by Coleman in the B.C. Legislature Thursday, Clark apologized for the memo leaked this week and said “the language in this draft document and some of the recommendations are absolutely inappropriate”.
The government announced Friday that a review of the matter will be conducted “immediately” and a written report issued.