NDP motion to seek redress for descendants of Chinese head-tax payers

A motion slated to come before Parliament next month will seek redress for children of Chinese head-tax payers.

NDP MPs Don Davies and Olivia Chow will be drafting the motion to introduce after Parliament resumes next week.

“The head tax policy and the effects of this racist policy were not just on the head-tax payers and their spouses,” Davies said at a news conference on January 23 in Vancouver.

“Children were greatly harmed. In many cases, children were separated from their fathers for decades. The effects emotionally, socially, culturally, economically, and personally are incalculable.”

The NDP will call for redress funding for surviving children of head-tax payers to be dedicated in the upcoming federal budget.

“For there to be real reconciliation, every single one of the seniors behind me needs to be compensated,” said Chow, who sat in front of elderly descendants of head-tax payers at the news conference. “It is important that the prime minister understand that the redress is not complete.”

“We cannot allow any descendants to pass away without finally getting this compensation and this reconciliation.”

Sid Chow Tan, the president of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada, is advocating for action from all political parties on ensuring redress for all elderly affected sons and daughters of deceased Chinese head-tax payers.

“It’s not compensation we’re after, we’re after the refund of an unjust tax,” Tan told the Straight by phone today (January 24).

“This has got to be the beginning of a healing and reconciliation process,” he added. “It’s got to begin with respect and consent, and it needs to end with healing and reconciliation.”

Tan said his society has a record of 4,000 families that are seeking redress for the tax.

In June 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the Chinese head tax, which was imposed on about 81,000 Chinese immigrants between 1885 and 1923. The tax started at $50 and increased to $500 in 1903.

The Chinese Immigration Act, which restricted the flow of Chinese immigrants, then came into effect from 1923 to 1947.

As part of the 2006 apology, $20,000 in compensation was provided to surviving head-tax payers and their spouses.

According to 88-year-old Vancouverite Gim Wong, who was present in Parliament for the apology, those compensated comprise less than one percent of those who were forced to pay the tax.

“They should still fund it one to one,” he said.

The senior made headlines when he rode his motorcycle from Victoria to Ottawa in 2005 to raise awareness about the need for redress.

Wong said he’s given thought to making the journey again.

“I don’t know whether I will do it or not, but I threatened to re-ride my motorcycle to Ottawa,” he told the Straight by phone. “I can’t promise because at my age I can’t promise a thing.”

Wong said his parents, both of whom paid the head tax, were treated as “no more than slaves”.

He recounts working in a cannery in B.C. for discriminatory wages.

“It’s the only job I can find,” Wong recalled. “After nine weeks of work, sometimes 24, 30 hours straight with the fishery, I made 12.5 cents an hour, and the white guys were getting paid 25 cents an hour.”

Tan, who came to Canada as a child, said his grandfather, who paid the head tax, was separated from his wife for about 30 years.

He said some Chinese Canadians were prohibited from practising their profession, or from buying land.

Tan added the need for a full redress is urgent, given that many descendants of head-tax payers are elderly.

“What I would really like to see is all political parties...say let’s put this to rest while there are still elderly affected sons and daughters of head-tax and exclusion families alive,” he said.



Ken Lawson

Jan 24, 2011 at 8:04pm

You know that is not going to fly any where and why should it!

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Jan 24, 2011 at 9:18pm

I want to point out that J.S. Woodsworth, the founder of the social democrat CCF—which the NDP was once called—- was “un-Canadian” for approving of the Chinese Head Tax. Woodsworth believed that the Head Tax was a good thing because it discouraged the importing of Chinese cheap labourers and thus prevented the displacement of Canadian workers.

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David Emerscam

Jan 25, 2011 at 6:52am

After the absent cretin that preceded him, Don Davies is like a breath of fresh air.

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Jan 25, 2011 at 12:20pm

“We cannot allow any descendants to pass away without finally getting this compensation and this reconciliation.”

Why not? The NDP will go through the same process in attempts for more votes over and over again for generations to come. I'm pretty sure I heard the same plea before the last municipal elections.. Sounds like he needs the votes.

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Jan 25, 2011 at 1:27pm

Vancouver City Councillor Ellen Woodsworth (a JS Woodsworth descendant) supports the call for Head Tax recognition for sons and daughters.

When the Harper Govt limited the recognition to only surviving head tax payers and spouses, they knew that only less than 1% would be recognized.

If my great-grandfather was alive today, he would be 140 years old, and in no condition to receive his recognition. So many of the head tax payers died early, trying to pay off the exorbitant head tax that was only applied to Chinese, and would take years and generations to pay off. $500 in 1903 was the price of 2 small houses in Vancouver

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Jan 25, 2011 at 3:40pm

You can't move forward if you're always looking at the past. My sympathies to the descendants of anyone who had to pay this tax. But I don't see how getting money from the government will solve anything or make you feel better - it's just money. Let it go - get on with your lives.

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John Dennison

Jan 25, 2011 at 5:04pm

This is only about three things .... money, money, money.
One simple question for the descendants that want reimbursement for the tax that their ancestors paid: Is there a single one of you that is not happy that your ancestors paid the tax and came to Canada ? And just for the record, the tax was racist but it was NOT compulsory ........... they didn't HAVE TO emigrate. Why can't you just be thankful that your ancestors had the foresight to come to a great land of opportunity and get on with your lives. Look at the turmoil in China over the last 100 years and imagine if they hadn't.

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Jan 25, 2011 at 8:53pm

Non - issue that's already been payed out

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Jan 25, 2011 at 8:57pm

The perception of push factors to emigrate may vary - perhaps picking up and leaving to Canada was the only viable option some had to ensure a better life for future generations. Although the Head Tax is indeed history it does not mean that it should be pushed out of public memory because it forces some to critique Canada's humanitarian "tradition". The tragic legacy and repercussions of the Head Tax and other discriminatory immigration policies have undoubtedly had detrimental effects on the current generations and if the government is willing to provide whatever compensation they can to acknowledge this I personally do not see a problem.

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