B.C. apology to Chinese community off to rocky start

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      When Sid Chow Tan heard about the B.C. Liberal government’s plan for a formal apology to the Chinese community for historical wrongs, he described it as “quite concerning”.

      Tan, a founding director of the Head Tax Families Society of Canada, is critical of the government’s position that it won’t consider financial compensation to go with the apology.

      “When they offer no financial redress, what the government of British Columbia is saying is that they can profit from racism,” Tan told the Straight by phone from Vancouver.

      On October 29, the provincial government announced that Teresa Wat, the minister responsible for multiculturalism, will lead a consultation process to develop the wording of the apology. The government plans to introduce a motion of apology during the next sitting.

      From 1885 to 1923, the federal Chinese Immigration Act levied a head tax of $50 to $500 on all Chinese immigrants to Canada. The Chinese Exclusion Act almost entirely banned Chinese immigration between 1923 and 1947. The provincial government also brought in multiple pieces of anti-Asian legislation.

      According to Tan, $8.5 million of the $23 million in total head-tax revenue went to the B.C. government. As well, the exclusion act kept many families apart for years.

      Tan asserted that the $8.5-million “tax grab” (worth more than $800 million today) should be “symbolically returned” to families that suffered hardship. He noted that at least 2,500 families in B.C. are seeking “direct, individual redress”—which he likened to a “tax refund”.

      In 2006, Tan and his family rejected the federal government’s apology to Chinese Canadians because children of deceased head-tax payers were excluded from compensation. He said he doesn’t want to see the province take a similarly “arrogant and dismissive” approach to the issue.

      “We want justice and honour,” Tan said. “We want healing and reconciliation. That’s what this should do—not politics.”

      Wat didn’t grant the Straight an interview by deadline.



      Sid Tan

      Oct 30, 2013 at 10:39am

      This is disrespectful to surviving affected elderly seniors who suffered the brunt of exclusion which is much more insidious than head tax. Separated families for decades.

      The BC Government's message has rigged the framework of consultations so the treasury can remain unjustly enriched by racism. Is this the way to start a public consultation?

      This is not a historical injustice. There are still affected elderly seniors alive who suffered under exclusion. They should be the priority of the initiative and apology.

      An apology, to my understanding, is an acknowledgement of wrong doing, be redemptive to the giver, healing to the recipient and be about restorative justice.

      Victor Wong

      Oct 30, 2013 at 11:20am

      The Government should not be seen to be profiting from racism.

      The "no financial redress" terms of reference are disrespectful to our seniors.

      And it may be harmful to BC - China relations. When you are disrespectful to the Chinese seniors, you are by extension disrespectful to the Chinese people.

      We know the Premier wants to develop positive relations with China. But given their lack of respect, the Chinese government and Chinese investors should perhaps think twice before signing any major agreements with the BC Government.


      Oct 30, 2013 at 11:36am

      People are not stupid, we are know this is another of Christy's "quickwins". So disrespectful.

      Jack Jones

      Oct 30, 2013 at 11:41am

      "suffered the brunt of exclusion"? Why not go and sue your original government in China for creating living conditions so deplorable that the citizens were willing to pay high fees to move to another country? I don't recall any immigrants being brought to Canada by force. There was a price to immigrate here, and many obviously felt that the price was fair - or at least better than the alternative of remaining in their own country. What does the Chinese government charge Canadians today that want to emigrate there? It's not free whatever the cost.

      So tired of the endless whining and hands being held out for financial compensation for something that happened a hundred years ago.

      Victor Wong

      Oct 30, 2013 at 12:46pm


      People from all over the globe leave oppressive regimes behind. They shouldnt have to face racist policies in their new adopted lands. The irony was that Chinese labour was welcomed at first but politicians soon found that anti-Chinese sentiment and legislation to be an effective electoral tool.

      China does not have an immgration policy per se but Canadians are more than welcome to live and work there. About 200,000+ Canadians live and work in Hong Kong and China at present.

      Finally a complete redress allows us to move forward. Without redress, there remains barriers to reconciliation. As for the funds...well, basically they were transferred to the BC govt during the head tax era from the head tax families. It would be reasonable to expect a genuine Apology to include at least a symbolic return of the head tax monies to the affected families. The Govt should never be seen to be profiting from racism.

      Judy Green

      Oct 30, 2013 at 12:58pm

      I just want to warn the Chinese about our Aboriginal experience in BC: refusal to honour the relationship, the appology was hollow and contained no meaningful way forward, and the work we have done to heal ourselves, was what we needed anyways. Handouts? compare the Sandusky victims potential payout to the residential school survivors and you will be disgusted. Don't hold your breath for this type of lip sevice - it only supports the governments guilt, and brings little truth, healing and reconsiliation.

      Jack Jones

      Oct 30, 2013 at 1:08pm

      "They shouldnt have to face racist policies in their new adopted lands"

      Agreed, and if you spot any racist policies in our government today then I encourage you to bring them to the public's attention.

      But let's not forget that what was considered "racist" 100 years ago is very different from today. We can't and shouldn't be applying today's standards to policies of previous generations. Women weren't allowed to vote back then either. How much do we owe them? Japanese had their property taken and were held in camps during WW2 - how much do we owe them?

      The Chinese do not have any special claim to hardships of the past. Nor do they qualify for any sort of financial compensation. Every group on earth has faced discrimination and hardships at some point in their past. How far back do we need to go?

      100 years ago the policies in China were extremely restrictive against westerners. And as I mentioned above, their policies towards their own citizens were so intolerable that many escaped looking for a better life (and many found that better life here in Canada. You're welcome). What redress do westerners have against the Chinese government for their policies 100 years ago? In fact what redress do the 200,000 Canadians that live and work in China today have against racist policies? Of course it's important to note that the vast majority of those 200,000 "Canadians" living in HK and China have never actually lived in Canada nor contributed in any way to Canadian society, and are merely holding a Canadian passport for convenience. But there certainly are a number of Caucasian Canadians living in China, and they fact daily discrimination when it comes to things like joining a health club and other clubs. Do they whine about this racism that's still taking place in 2013? Not so much. They realize that they are free to leave their adopted country any time they choose.


      Oct 30, 2013 at 2:23pm

      Sick & tired of hearing about this. Quit whining about shit that happened 100 years ago. Good grief,the world has more urgent concerns now in the 21st century


      Oct 30, 2013 at 2:48pm

      A verbal apology is plenty to address 90 year old wrongs.

      Surely the important thing is for government to be more transparent and better going forward.

      If you think you can fix things that were done in the past, I guess Canada would have to un-fight Louis Riel, un-fish the Newfoundland cod, put the Avro Arrow back into production, and un-trade Wayne Gretzky.

      But no, you would say, that is stupid and trite. You can't fix that. That would be, I don't know, pathetic.


      Oct 30, 2013 at 8:05pm

      As human beings, we are governed by emotions, informed by science, and encouraged to practice moral action. We also look to the precedents that have given us examples of ethical and just behavior from the past. Apologies, symbolic financial offerings to individuals and communities have been granted to the First Nations, Ukrainian, Japanese, and Chinese immigrants by our federal government. It is not unreasonable to expect the same from the BC government. How far back do we go to right an injustice? As far back as it takes to recognize it and to make amends for it. How far back do we go to see how trauma affects individuals, families and a community? Generations. Jewish people, Germans, Palestinians, Irish, and people all over the world expect their leadership to recognize the nasty, racist, genocidal behaviour of regimes both past and present, and adopt more humanist policies that recognize the historic wrongs. But to be clear, it didn't cost any immigrants money to come to Canada in the past - not the europeans, japanese, americans, british, norweigans, etc. This is the stark difference between offering something to women who didn't get the vote and to a community of people who were singled out to pay an entry tax that came up to 23 million dollars before 1923. BC, Canada and the CPR profited the most, and a symbolic tax refund and apology certainly isn't going to make a dent in our provincial treasury, and in fact will reap good benefits to us all. If the province wants to balance the budget after such compensation, why not create a new "dead railway track" tax. After all, the CPR still has massive property parcels all over the province (which was given to them for free) that they sell off at huge profits when they need it. Tax the rich and give back to those whose back it was taken from.