Vancouver city council voted unanimously today (May 27) to take steps toward an official apology for historical discrimination against people of Chinese descent.
The motion approved today will launch a research process into Vancouver laws, regulations and policies that discriminated against the Chinese community between 1886 and 1947.
"There is a need for us to have people understand what has happened in our past," said Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie, who introduced the motion.
"We should all learn from what has happened in the past so that we do not repeat it...We can in fact help educate our young people of what has transpired, because that is a very important piece of growing as a human being within our city."
Vision councillor Kerry Jang, who noted his family came to Vancouver in the late 1890s, said the discrimination his parents faced included not being allowed to work certain jobs.
“You weren’t allowed to live in certain areas, you weren’t allowed to go to school or do anything,” he said.
“In fact, you weren’t allowed to do very much, and if you were allowed to do something, they had to ask to make sure, as my mother found out when she got her first job in the provincial government. The boss had to go into the room and say 'Is it ok if a Chinese works here with you ladies?' That’s how far we’ve come.”
The motion directs staff to conduct research into policies of previous Vancouver city councils that discriminated against people of Chinese descent, and to consult historians and Chinese community members and organizations on the research findings. It also calls for staff to report back to council with recommended actions, including a formal apology.
“We do know that many things have happened in the history of our city, and that a formal apology will absolutely be necessary,” said Louie.
Jang said he also wants to see the research highlight how many non-Chinese people fought for the Chinese community to have rights. For example, he noted, members of his father's union.
“Those days, you couldn’t become a plumber,” he stated. “You couldn’t hold a trade if you were Chinese and get your ticket. But who fought for him? Members of his union. In fact, the union fought for him to allow him to go to school so he could get his ticket as a plumber, join the union and work at equal pay, with everybody else.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson called the step “a long overdue motion” for council.
“It is astounding to think that city council sat for over 60 years with incredibly toxic actions towards citizens of this city, people who helped build this city from scratch,” he said.
The City of New Westminster issued a formal apology in 2010 for past discrimination against the Chinese community.