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.