Gabriel Yiu: Why the B.C. government is apologizing to the Chinese
The following is the stated mandate of the B.C. government's process for giving an apology to the Chinese community:
“These consultation forums are intended to seek input from British Columbia’s Chinese community associations and individuals and family descendants of those impacted by past historical wrongs.”
No matter how spiritedly the minister responsible talked in the Chinese media, the black-and-white truth is this apology consultation only targets Chinese people. Its scope is merely to seek input on the wording of the apology.
The minister, Teresa Wat, may claim that the government is also looking for input on "education and legacy", but the fact is that this topic is not included in the original mandate. "Education and legacy" was only added in the middle of the consultation due to community pressure.
Unless the premier and her minister are willing to abandon their "quick-win" mindset, the B.C. apology could damage not only the image of the Chinese community but also the harmony of our multicultural society.
The B.C. Liberal government's proposed apology to the Chinese community originated from its multi-ethnic outreach strategy cooked up in the premier's office. The leaked strategy included the stated tactic of using apologies for historical wrongs as a "quick-win" trick.
When the B.C. Liberal "quick-win" strategy was exposed, the unethical tactic was widely and roundly condemned by the media pundits and the general public. It's because the government does not intend to undertake an apology out of genuine belief and remorse, but does so as a deceitful plot to exploit historical wounds and sentiments so as to con votes.
Thanks to the media’s widespread coverage, the B.C. Liberals' "quick-win" strategy was exposed and known to the general public. It has since cast a dark cloud over the B.C. government's current apology initiative.
Rather than believing the apology is just and necessary, many British Columbians perceive the B.C. apology as merely a political strategy to get ethnic support. This perception is not limited to the general public; a great many Chinese Canadians know only about the Chinese Head Tax but have no idea what other wrongs the province and its legislature have done to Chinese people in past centuries.
In addition, because of the failure of the province to publicize B.C.’s past discriminatory policies—which are the only legitimate reasons behind the government’s proposed apology—the public has no idea what the apology is about except that it’s the B.C. Liberals’ “quick-win” plot to seek Chinese support. News of Chinese head-tax families seeking compensation (or “tax refund” in their words) simply confuses the public more as the Chinese appear to be just greedy.
Since our government has been in the red and suffering from a lack of funding for even necessary services, some might feel uneasy or angry. That's because they think the government may apologize and compensate for the head tax a second time. These people may not only be dissatisfied with the provincial government but may also resent the Chinese community for their apparent never-ending demands and redress.
One only needs to read the comments posted below related news stories on the English-language media websites, or listen to the phone-in comments of the mainstream radio station to feel these dissatisfactions.
This also explains why the B.C. government wants to promote the apology for historical wrongs only in the Chinese community but not in the mainstream. It’s because it knows very well that a great many non-Chinese are ignorant of the true history in B.C. and would resent the apology and redress.
The B.C. Liberals fear they would lose rather than gain support by consulting the larger public. That is also the fundamental thinking behind their “quick-win” strategy. If the Liberals are genuinely working for reconciliation, they would handle this matter very differently.
In a free democratic society, everyone can appeal to the government. The families of head-tax payers have every right to state their demand.
The unfortunate thing is that due to a lack of understanding of B.C. government’s history of discrimination toward the Chinese people, the provincial government has conveniently turned the B.C. apology into another round of head-tax redress.
The B.C. Liberal government hopes to apologize to the Chinese community without consulting the mainstream society. It also wants the Chinese to write the wording of the apology for them. What a farce! This is not only a lack of integrity and competence, but also respect for the related community.
When the government apologizes, who does it represent? Why apologize? Apologize for what?
The provincial government is obviously representing British Columbians, but if 90 percent of the population were not consulted and do not know what wrong our B.C. governments had done in the past, what kind of apology is that? Should the Chinese community accept a B.C. apology without remorse from the majority of the population who were kept in the dark about B.C.’s past wrongs against the Chinese?
If the B.C. government follows the precedent it made in the apology to the Japanese community two years ago—with a Japanese-Canadian cabinet minister apologizing in the legislature (Premier Christy Clark did not participate in that event)—then we will see a Chinese-Canadian cabinet minister apologize to the Chinese community.
An upside is that unlike with the failed federal Liberals’ head-tax redress in 2005 that offered no apology or compensation, some major Chinese community organizations in Victoria and Vancouver have learned their lessons. Some no longer play the cheering squad and rally behind the government uncritically. Although they were invited and participated in the government consultation, they also issued public statements expressing their positions and demands to the government.
Apparently, they do not think merely telling the responsible minister at the consultation forum is adequate; they are also dissatisfied with the premier’s hollow apology that has little substance. These voices have forced the government to take remedial action by adding “educational legacy efforts” into the objective of the consultation.
Governments can only apologize once and Chinese-Canadians do not need to rush in to endorse the B.C. Liberals’ “quick-win” apology. In order to achieve genuine racial reconciliation, the B.C. government must spend time and effort to educate the general public about past discriminatory history of this province so that we could learn from it and will not repeat it. The Chinese community should unite and encourage the government to implement a meaningful and effective reconciliation and apology that British Columbians as a whole would accept.
As for the aspect of education, with the great advocacy work of Bill Chu, the B.C. School Trustees Association already passed a resolution in April 2012 requesting the education ministry to incorporate the history of B.C.’s indigenous people and Chinese into the learning objectives of the B.C. school curriculum. This includes their contributions and the adverse effects of B.C.’s policies on their communities.
Although the B.C. government later announced its plan to incorporate indigenous peoples’ history into our school curriculum, the B.C. Liberals ignored the BCSTA’s request concerning the history of Chinese Canadians.
Even if B.C. would eventually adopt the BCSTA and the Chinese community’s request, it is also necessary for adults to learn about our shared disgraceful past. Since B.C. Liberals are the experts in government advertising (which includes buying half-hour prime-time TV advertisements), they should advertise through full-page ads and TV commercials informing the public of B.C.’s discriminatory past and why the province is apologizing to the Chinese community.
Furthermore, with regard to Chu’s tireless advocacy to get the government to survey, study, protect, and restore some of the more important archaeological sites of the Chinese pioneers, I urge the community to support his meaningful and timely initiatives.
Lastly, I hope the Liberal government can surprise me by proving me wrong by acting admirably on a true and genuine reconciliation for the people of B.C.