Families and supporters to call on federal government for Chinese head tax redress

A rally is planned this week in Vancouver to demand redress for thousands of families whose deceased relatives were subject to Canadian head tax laws and the Chinese Immigration Act.

The fifth-annual Chinatown Redress Rally takes place July 1 at the memorial to Chinese railway workers and war veterans near Keefer and Columbia.

A $50 head tax was imposed on Chinese immigrants starting in 1885. The levy rose as high as $500 and remained in effect until Parliament passed an act in 1923 that virtually banned immigrants from China.

The federal government has since acknowledged the financial burden from the head tax caused hardship for Chinese immigrants, who in some cases were permanently separated from family members.

In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered an apology to Chinese Canadians for the head tax and the government offered payments to those still living who paid the tax or to spouses of those who were deceased.

“This apology is not about liability today: it is about reconciliation with those who endured such hardship, and the broader Chinese-Canadian community,” reads Harper’s speech.

Victor Wong, executive director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, said redress is still being denied to around 3,000 families in which both the head tax payer and spouse are deceased.

“The fact is that all of the head tax families experienced this legislation and they were directly affected,” Wong told the Straight today (June 29) by phone from Toronto.

“We will continue to press for a just and honourable resolution. It has to be meaningful for the families and we’re willing to of course enter into discussions with the government to achieve that.”