A motion is set to go before Vancouver city council next week calling for the consideration of an apology for historical municipal policies that discriminated against people of Chinese descent.
The motion to be moved by Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie urges council to direct staff to conduct research into discriminatory laws, regulations, and policies in place in the city between 1886 and 1947, and to consult with historians, Vancouver Chinese community members, and organizations on the findings.
Louie also wants to see staff come back with recommendations for reconciliation efforts, including a public acknowledgement and formal apology.
“Given the apology in 2006 from the federal government, the province completing theirs most recently, the city of New West having done their apology back in 2010, it’s time for Vancouver to undertake this work,” Louie told the Straight by phone.
“I’ve been in discussions on and off for many years now, in fact I’d hoped to start this much earlier, but given the fact that the province had initiated theirs, I felt it was important that they have their clear space to talk about what they had done in the past and not have it confused with what might have happened here in the city of Vancouver,” he added.
A bipartisan motion was tabled in the B.C. legislature on May 15 apologizing for the B.C. government’s historical role in discriminating against people of Chinese descent. The apology was rejected by some community groups, including the Chinese Canadian National Council and the Head Tax Families Society of Canada.
“Most of these apologies, I take with a grain of salt,” Sid Chow Tan, the president of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada, said in a phone interview.
“I consider them starts. A start of a dialogue towards reconciliation, but in reality, how do you get reconciliation without redress?”
He noted that his group approached the city prior to the apology from the federal government in 2006, calling for city council to support the call for redress.
“All of a sudden now there’s this raft of apologies coming up, and I smell election,” said Tan.
Louie said there’s no timeline associated with the motion, but wants the process to extend “as long as it takes” for a complete review of the issue.
“I expect that it’ll take some time,” he stated. “For our staff to complete this, I want them to take the appropriate time to do it right.”
Louie said if the findings on historical discriminatory policies in New Westminster are any indication, he expects that Vancouver staff will also come across many in their research.
“The research by our staff will yield, I think, many surprises for many of our people today on just how egregious some of these initiatives were, and do its part, I think, on what I hope is to educate people on what had happened in the past and learn from the past,” he said.
Bill Chu, the founder of the Canadians for Reconciliation Society, suggested B.C. should have done more to educate the broader public about historical discriminatory policies. He said the potential Vancouver apology presents a similar challenge.
“If people don’t know what you’re apologizing for, they probably will reject it outright,” he said in a phone interview.
Chu noted racism was once “endemic”.
“There’s no city that really escaped it,” he stated, adding that many of the discriminatory laws implemented by the provincial government also had implications for cities.
“For example, the no-Chinese clause, meaning Chinese would not be employed by the cities,” he stated. “That was a provincial thing, but it trickles down to municipal levels.”
Chu noted he wants to see any consultation efforts include the broader public to encourage understanding of the history.
“We should seek reconciliation, but seeking reconciliation is far different than just making a quick apology,” he said.
The motion is scheduled to be introduced on May 27.