City of New Westminster to apologize to Chinese Canadians for past injustices

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      Two advocates of historical reconciliation for Chinese Canadians have applauded the City of New Westminster for being the first municipality in the country to address this issue.

      On June 28, New Westminster city council voted to take 10 actions, including publicly acknowledging that the city contributed to past injustices against the Chinese community. In addition, council voted in favour of issuing a public apology in English and Chinese, and to explore ways of developing a museum exhibit highlighting the city’s research into and consultation on its past treatment of Chinese residents.

      In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Chinese Canadian National Council chair Sid Tan described the council’s actions as “historic” and “a good start”.

      “Kudos to the people who were putting it together,” Tan said. “We were quite gratified.”

      However, Tan questioned why the city only examined English-language archives as part of its research, rather than also seeking out Chinese-language sources, including old newspaper records. “They’ve got the European side of the story—the white side of the story—but they don’t have the Chinese side of the story,” Tan said, noting that there were Chinese civic champions of the era who criticized what took place. He added that he thinks New Westminster should join the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination, which has a “forward-thinking” municipal charter that commits members to opposing discrimination in the future.

      In 2008, Bill Chu, chair of the Canadians for Reconciliation Society, became interested in the city’s history after learning that New Westminster secondary school was built on top of a cemetery that included the graves of many Chinese pioneers. After conducting further research, he concluded that New Westminster was an “epicentre” of racism against the Chinese in the late 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.

      In a speech last summer at a South Vancouver church, Chu pointed out that New Westminster demolished all traces of its once-thriving Chinatown. He also noted that a New Westminster–born premier, Richard McBride, stated in 1912 that B.C. must be kept “white”. Chu told the audience that, in 1923, New Westminster MP W.G. McQuarrie introduced a law in Parliament banning Chinese immigration.

      More than a year ago, Chu asked New Westminster council to acknowledge the city’s history of discrimination against its Chinese residents. Following Chu’s presentation, New Westminster embarked on a two-phase process, beginning with research into the history of racism directed at Chinese people in the Royal City. This was followed by consultations with Chinese Canadians.

      In March, staff presented a report to council that was based on a review of council minutes from 1860 to 1926. The report cited evidence of how the city discriminated against its Chinese residents during this period in terms of granting employment and in its requests to senior levels of government.

      Tan said that the decision to cut off research in 1926 prevented an analysis of discrimination in the period of official Chinese exclusion, which lasted until 1947.

      Council will work with the province and the school district to consider creating a memorial at the former site of the Chinese cemetery. The city will also consider installing plaques and signs recognizing the location of a former Chinatown, and it will work with the school district to highlight the contributions of the Chinese community in New Westminster.

      The report to council said several organizations had stated that the process has drawn favourable a response within the Chinese community in Canada and in China. “One organization stated that this ”˜strengthened relationship could assist the City in securing contracts with Chinese companies and appealing to Chinese tourists’,” the report said.

      Chu told the Straight by phone that council’s response will help “so-called minorities” find their place within Canadian history. “In this process, we managed to broaden the meaning of multiculturalism,” he said.

      Comments

      8 Comments

      Anonymous

      Jun 30, 2010 at 9:15am

      Politically incorrect to the point where we're going to end up destroying our own history.

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      Sid Tan

      Jun 30, 2010 at 12:06pm

      Don't know about "destroying" as it is commonly accepted mainstream history is written by the privileged and powerful. Chinese in Canada did not have rights of citizenship until 1947, even if they were born in Canada. The history of such Canadian and their descendants is still being written.

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      Robert Wong

      Jun 30, 2010 at 3:46pm

      "A good start"?! Yeesh. It already seems like New West's very own version of The Neverending Story. Can't we just accept the apology and get on with more pressing concerns? Yes, some people were racist a hundred years ago. Get over it.

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      Sid Tan

      Jul 1, 2010 at 11:56pm

      The Chinese exclusion legislation ended in 1947 with the granting of citizenship. Chinese born in Canada prior to then had the status of "domestic aliens." Many of the sons and daughters of head tax payers were in China excluded from uniting with their fathers of mothers in Canada. Many of those affected by the racist legislation are still alive.

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      Robert Wong

      Jul 2, 2010 at 10:39pm

      "Many of those affected by the racist legislation are still alive." That's good to hear; at least SOMEbody might get some personal satisfaction from this ridiculous waste of taxpayers' money in a time of recession. Although I very much doubt they would also want to sign on for the resentment you are stirring up towards those of us who consider ourselves Canadians – not Chinese-Canadians – over this all this reconciliation nonsense. We put the Japanese in internment camps, for crying out loud! You don't see them boo-fucking-hooing all over the place...

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      Raymond Burr

      Jul 3, 2010 at 9:21am

      What a waste of time and money. Oh the mighty New Westminster where they can't even build a new high school. Yes the school that was supposed to be ready for my son's gard in 2008, instead he brings a notice home, "Your son or daughter may have been exposed to asbestos". The Royal City is a joke, the ditch in front of my house in Queensborough has been filled with oil for years. You can't rewrite history people, time to move on. Bill Chu please go away. Thank You.

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      So Sad

      Jul 3, 2010 at 11:30am

      So equality just isn't good enough?

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      Charles Martel

      Sep 23, 2010 at 4:56pm

      Seing as we are on 100+ year guilt trips, I guess now Bejing and China will apologize to us Whites for the westerners they massacred during the Boxer Rebellion. Still, better not hold your breath on it...

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