It’s been a long time coming, but Vancouver’s Chinese Canadians have finally received a formal apology from the City of Vancouver for its historical racial discrimination and prejudice against the community.
Mayor Gregor Robertson delivered the official apology in English to an audience of over 500 people at a special council meeting that took place in Chinatown’s Chinese Cultural Centre—coinciding with the Chinatown Culture Day event. The apology was also read in Cantonese and Sze Yup dialect by former city councillors Bill Yee and Maggie Ip.
The cultural centre reached maximum capacity before the event even began, and hundreds of people moved to Keefer Street to witness the historic apology broadcasted on large screens.
“For the first half of the City of Vancouver’s history, racial prejudice and discrimination against our Chinese-Canadian residents was commonplace,” said Robertson in a statement of apology. “I rise today to recognize and repudiate how such acts stigmatized and dehumanized the Chinese Canadian community of Vancouver.
“On this day, on behalf of City Council and the City of Vancouver, I sincerely apologize for these past injustices and their cruel effects on individuals and their families, and commit to ensuring the similar unjust practices are never again allowed to fall on any group or community.”
Several other notable members of the Chinese Canadian community also delivered speeches, including Councillor Raymond Louie, Councillor Kerry Jang, veteran George Ing, and Chinese Benevolent Association president Hilbert Yiu.
Mayor Robertson and Councillor Louie took questions from media shortly after the special council meeting. The Straight asked Councillor Louie if the apology would help Chinese Canadians and other minorities who still face racial discrimination in the city on a regular basis.
He responded by emphasizing that the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is an opportunity for Vancouverites to recognize and understand the fight against prejudice and racism in local communities. He also stressed that Vancouver is an inclusive city that puts on many multicultural events throughout the year to bring awareness to inclusiveness and to embrace different cultures.
When asked why the city of Vancouver’s apology took so long to come to light, Mayor Robertson and Councillor Louie stated that it took time for necessary research (by community advocates, the Advisory Group on Historical Discrimination Against Chinese People, and city staff)and to assemble the apology in the right way for the Chinese community.
“Many different activities had taken place and pushed through council in the past. We wanted to show these examples to the general public about how outrageous these acts were, and how important it was for us as a society today to recognize these actions today and to learn from them,” said Louie. “Today was an important step for the Chinese community and Vancouverites to have a closure on a piece of history that should not be forgotten, otherwise it may in fact be repeated.”
“It’s an important turning point for the city and residents of Chinese descent to feel like the apology was given and witnessed by the community, [and] the historic wrongs have been acknowledged by the city,” said Robertson. “I think this is long overdue. The city’s actions now are very focused on making sure we’re more inclusive and that we’re honouring the history of Chinese Canadians in Vancouver.”
Besides delivering a formal apology to Chinese-Canadians, the city will carry out further council-approved actions to work toward reconciliation. These include establishing a Legacy Working Group to oversee the implementation of these set of actions; providing education and outreach to all Vancouver residents to remember this part of the city’s history and to propagate cultural competency and anti-racism dialogues; conserving, commemorating, and enhancing the living heritage and cultural assets of the community by pursuing a UNESCO designation of World Heritage Site for Chinatown; and supporting a redesign of the Keefer Memorial Square.
Examples of past prejudice and discrimination carried out by the City of Vancouver toward Chinese Canadians include preventing Chinese residents from voting; forbidding citizens of Chinese descent to work in professional fields such as law, medicine, banking, and retail; barring Chinese people from owning properties in specific areas of the city; among many others.
The City also played a role in lobbying the federal government to prevent Chinese immigration to Canada, which included the Chinese Head Tax (1885) and the Chinese Exclusion Act (1923).
The City of New Westminster was the first B.C. municipality to deliver a formal apology to Chinese Canadians, which took place in 2010.
Scroll through the photos below for a look inside today's event.